The 29th Iowa County Dairy Breakfast on the Farm was held last Saturday, June 1, on the dairy farm owned by Dennis and Elaine Schaaf located in the hill country east of Mineral Point.
The 2,000 eaters enjoyed the scrambled eggs, pancakes and ice cream sundaes along with touring the dairy barn, getting an up-close look at the milking parlor and enjoying the antics of the milking herd, all dairy goats, eating and cavorting in the barnyard.
Yes dairy goats - the only animal of the bovine species to be seen was the single Holstein calf, a couple weeks old, who was relegated to a wire enclosure maybe four feet square on display in the "petting zoo."
How can a dairy breakfast be held without dairy cows?
Simple. The Iowa County Dairy Promotion Committee asked the Schaafs to host the event knowing full well that the couple owned "2 Old Goats Dairy" and had milked only goats for some five years.
"Why not," responded Mary Dunn, longtime chairman of the Iowa County dairy promotion committee. "Wisconsin has about 45,000 dairy goats, more than any other state; California is second, quite a ways behind us."
Dunn also pointed out that goat cheese is all the rage these days among cheese eaters and Wisconsin cheese makers make a lot of that cheese. She also mentioned that this was the first Dairy Breakfast on the Farm to be held on a goat dairy and Iowa County was proud to lead the way.
The farm history
Dennis Schaaf milked cows on this farm for a good many years and never had any burning ambition to get into the goat milking business. In fact, about 10 years ago he even sold his dairy cows when heart bypass surgery and back problems put him on the inactive list as a farmer.
The dairy barn stood empty for a bit as Dennis recovered and tried some other work but as an old saying says, "Once a farmer, always a farmer." He also credits a visitor who came to the farm to buy his long idle milk pipeline "in order to begin milking goats."
Dennis and Elaine got to thinking about the goat milking idea and began visiting goat farms to see what it was all about.
"I knew nothing about goats," Dennis freely admits. "Nothing at all, nor did Elaine who had been raised on a dairy farm. So we visited others in the business, did some reading and a lot of listening. "
He also felt that his years as a dairyman (the cow kind) had provided a lot of experience and insight into raising a dairy herd that would help with goats.
After buying a Double 24 milking parlor from a goat raiser at Livingston, they installed half of it to make their Double 12 to milk 160 milking goats they purchased from two farmers.
That was some five years ago.
The herd has now expanded to 240 milking goats that Dennis equates to be about a 50-60 cow dairy herd in terms of milk income.
Dennis and Elaine agree that their goat herd is a lot less work than a dairy herd: Goats have only two teats, are small in size, eat less and produce nowhere near the amount of manure that cows do.
The common perception is that goat milk sells for a really high price: Not exactly true, Dennis says. "Our milk currently brings about $30 a hundred base price from Montchevre Dairy at Belmont and our herd averages about eight pounds of milk a day."
Montchevre, headquartered in California, is the largest goat cheese maker in the U..S and has but one processing plant - that is located at Belmont, about 20 miles down the road from the Schaaf farm.
Last year the company processed about 50 million pounds of goat milk - from 340 dairy farms throughout Wisconsin, Iowa, southern Minnesota and Missouri - into 8 million pounds of goat cheese.
The couple of thousand visitors at the dairy breakfast seemed to have one common reaction when looking at a milking goat close up: "Isn't she cute!" Without doubt, goats seem to like to show off before a crowd and they seem to like people.
Several young goats (kids) were having a great time trying to stand on a pile of big rocks in their pen, others were standing on their hind legs eating from the outdoor feeder and a few were poking their heads through a dangling chain hanging on a gate. "They are funny," a youngster remarked. "I'd like one as a pet."
Dairy goat industry
Many attribute the growth of the dairy goat industry in Wisconsin to Arnaud Solandt, who had worked for a French goat cheese importer in California and reasoned that he could make goat cheese in the U.S. In the late 1980s he began doing so in a small plant at Preston, WI, and in 1995 moved his Montchevre operation into a vacant cheese factory in nearby Belmont.
The company most certainly succeeded and is now known across the country for its goat cheese (Montchevre.com).
In 2008, Woolwich Dairy Inc. based on Ontario, Canada, established a manufacturing facility at Lancaster, WI. Today, that plant processes goat milk from goat dairies in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Dufty Koeller, Woolwich dairy representative, says they have 60 -70 goat dairies in Wisconsin, many in the Eau Claire area and across the state to Colby. The herds average in the 150-200 range and many are owned by Amish producers, he adds. The company employs some 50 people in Lancaster and has expanded from one to three packaging lines.
Dairy goats are not new in Wisconsin. In fact, the Wisconsin Dairy Goat Association was established in the 1930s and currently has some 75 members. President Dan Considine, Portage, and other members of the Considine family in Wisconsin and California have been prominent dairy goat raisers and judges at national shows for decades.
Anyone interested in learning about dairy goats would be well advised to contact this group (wdga.org) for information and guidance.
The Dairy Goat Journal (dairygoatjournal.com) at Medford, WI, that had its beginning in 1916, offers articles about raising, breeding, and marketing dairy goats is another readily available information source.
Although dairy goat farming seems to have a great future, Wisconsin farmers have not rushed into the enterprise. My guess is that more will look seriously that direction now that Wisconsin has several good processors and markets. Jean Rossard, manager of Montchevre in Belmont, says the goat cheese market is growing at a rate of 15 percent yearly.
Indeed, the Iowa County dairy breakfast guests learned much about dairy goats thanks to the dairy promotion committee and the Schaafs of 2 Old Goats Dairy. It was a great idea.
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.