Modernization and consolidation in the dairy industry has become a fact of life as families strive to find ways to succeed producing milk. The trend that is happening in the dairy cattle industry is also occurring among dairy goat producers.
Two enthusiastic dairy goat producers are Kiersten Zimmermann Hoeg and her sister Raisha Zimmermann, whose goats produced 800,000 pounds of milk last year.
Their business is in the growth mode, thanks to help from their parents, Gene and Gwen Zimmermann.
Gene milked dairy cows on his family's Fox Lake farm when he met Gwen, a dairy goat enthusiast who started her own dairy goat enterprise on their farm soon after they were married.
Gwen grew up with dairy goats and Gene jokes, "The goats came with her when we married. They were her dowry."
Eventually her dairy goat enterprise became so successful that they discontinued milking cows and expanded the dairy goat business.
Their daughters shared their interest in the business and eagerly got involved in studying pedigrees and management techniques that would increase daily production in their herd.
They sell their milk to Woolrich Dairy at Lancaster.
Kiersten married their milk hauler, Wayne Hoeg, last summer. He lived in Colby and encouraged the family to consider relocating their business to Clark County where they had more room for expansion and modernization.
When a Fox Lake grain farmer offered to buy the Zimmermann farm the entire family decided to make the move.
In fact, Gene's parents, Ray and Nordeen, decided they wanted to be near their grandchildren so they bought a home in Colby. Now Ray, 77, enjoys coming out to the newly established farm to help with milking and other chores.
CONVERTED COW DAIRY
The family bought a dairy farm and set out to remodel the facilities to accommodate their dairy goat herd.
They removed the freestalls from the dairy barns to give the goats plenty of room to romp around on the straw bedding.
Side curtains make temperatures comfortable and they utilized the existing exercise lot for outdoor pasture by simply changing the fencing to keep the active goats inside.
They also remodeled the existing milking parlor to accommodate goat milking. They have a Surge/Westphalia system that includes monitors that report daily production. They use color-coded tape on the goat's legs to indicate the production level.
They milk in a double 14 parlor, quite a change from the two double six parlors they had at their Fox Lake farm. They also have automatic takeoffs in order to avoid over-milking.
It is a low-line parlor with gravity flow. It is warmed in winter by ultra red heaters and cooled in summer with a home-made air-conditioner box that blows cool air into the parlor.
Goats come into and exit the holding area through doors that are controlled according to the temperatures.
Kiersten says, "We can lower them so goats just fit under them in winter and have them all the way open when it is warm."
She says, "This parlor is the first of its kind in the U.S. It's just like a parlor used for cows but there are just two attachments instead of four and it takes up less room."
Milk flows through a plate cooler with the water then used to provide drinking water for the goats in the holding area. They have a 2000-gallon bulk tank and milk is picked up twice weekly.
They moved their Fox Lake herd to the farm in April.
They comment, "It was less stressful on the animals than we thought it might be. They actually went up in production when they got here and we believe that is partly because the water is really good here. They are also less crowded in the facilities here."
The remodeled barns have higher ceilings and better air circulation and they are able to clean everything with a skid-steer loader.
The family says they are very pleased that they decided to make the move. They say their neighbors are great, and many of them came over to help with the remodeling projects and welcome them to the neighborhood.
Gene says, "This area of the state is the new hot-spot for dairy goat producers. That means more choices of vendors for goat feed and supplies and more knowledgeable consultants in the area."
ROOM FOR EXPANSION
The farm includes 150 acres of land, enough to produce feed for their herd of 600 milking goats and the accompanying younger goats.
"We can house more animals here," says Kiersten. "We could have as many as 2000 animals on this farm if we wanted to so that means there is opportunity for growth."
Right now the two sisters work for their parents who are owners of the business. Raisha, 19, is hoping that she and Kiersten will eventually become partners taking over the business full-time.
While both sisters are involved in genetic improvement in the herd, Raisha has her own registered herd, Starr Blue Nubiens.
While artificial insemination has made its way into the goat industry, they prefer to improve their herd by purchasing top quality bucks. They currently have 20 bucks that have their own housing area.
They also board some goats for a friend who had developed an award-winning herd.
Raisha says, "AI work is used more by those showing animals. We feel it's too expensive for our needs."
Raisha's graduation gift from her parents was a buck who they hope will contribute to the increased production in their herd. She also enjoys seeking out good bucks around the country to improve their herd.
Raisha also does all of the vet work on the farm.
They are especially happy with their baby goat facilities that make it easier to keep them healthy and get them into the production line as soon as possible.
Next to the maternity pen is a nursery where babies are hand-fed colostrum and milk for a few days until they are moved to what they call "babyland." There they train the babies to suck on bottles in a group feeder.
From there they are moved to a greenhouse barn where they start out in one of four group pens that house 50 animals each.
Each pen has an automatic group milk feeder that mixes milk replacer with water and provides free choice milk from a series of nipples in the pen.
The sisters monitor the animals daily to make sure they are all drinking. They stay in that pen about four weeks before moving on to the yearling pen for breeding.
"We breed by size, not age," Kiersten points out. "Usually they are 9-10 months when they're bred and they freshen just over a year old."
She adds, "With good quality hay and feed and the automatic feeder they seem to grow faster and stay healthier."
Their mother, Gwen, who started the family's enthusiasm for goats so many years ago, is still involved doing book work and caring for the new-borns on the farm.
Gene is generally in charge of cropping and equipment repair. He is pleased that the new farm has a heated shop in one part of the machine shed, something he didn't have on his former farm.
Gwen continues her love for dairy goats with her business, Milkmaid Creations Embroidery. It combines her love of sewing with her love of goats. Check out her website at www.milkmaidcreations.weebly.com.