What the Hedrich family describes as â€œan integrated agriculture enterpriseâ€ drew hundreds of visitors from nearby and afar to its grand opening celebration on the opening weekend of November.
Constructed within the past year, the new LaClare Farms complex along Highway HH just off Highway 151 in northeast Fond du Lac County was unveiled to the public with facility tours, cheese sampling, wine and cheese pairing tastings, and informational activities.
LaClare is derived from the names of Larry and Clara Hedrich, whose new venture also directly involves four of their five children.
Attendees included owners and operators of large and medium-sized dairy farms in the area, visitors with rural and urban addresses from throughout Wisconsin, and Wisconsin 6th district Cong. Tom Petri (R-Fond du Lac).
Also on hand were the more than 600 dairy goats, breeding bucks, and a few protective llama who comprise the centerpiece of the operation.
In addition to the free-stall type barn that houses the goats in pens, the facility includes a retail store, a cafe, and a creamery geared for the production of a variety of dairy products.
This includes several varieties of cheese made from goat cheese - one of which is the Evalon that won the 2011 U.S. Cheese Championship for the Hedrichsâ€™ daughter Katie (Fuhrmann as of Oct. 19).
The 32,000-square foot facility, which is an investment of approximately $4 million, is sited on land that was owned by Larryâ€™s grandparents.
LaClare Farms has access to 160 adjacent acres for raising grasses for dry hay and baleage, alfalfa, corn, and wheat (for straw) for the goat herd and for the disposal of the manure.
Goats require a high protein diet that is supplied by the alfalfa. Grain is fed - at the rate of 1.5 pounds per milking - while the goats are being milked twice a day.
As of early November, the milking herd included 454 goats - mainly of the Saanen, LaMancha, Toggenburg, and Nubian breeds, Larry Hedrich told visitors who took the tractor-driven wagon tour during the grand opening weekend.
He noted that another 200 head are due to kid in the coming months, thereby raising the milking herd to about 600, which matches the current capacity of the facility.
The Hedrichs have a goal of one gallon of milk (just over eight pounds or the equivalent of 80 pounds for a dairy cow) for each goat on twice a day milking.
Yet to begin in the 48 milking units is Dairy Herd Improvement Association testing of the milk production and components for each goat.
Based on that information, breeding and culling decisions will be made, Hedrich pointed out.
This would enable the replacing of the bottom 25 percent of the herd each year, thereby, â€œat least on paper,â€ leading to boosts in milk production and overall herd quality, he remarked.
A limited amount of artificial insemination has been conducted. A practice thatâ€™s under consideration, once records are compiled for individual goats, is to group the milking herd according to production or other traits, Hedrich disclosed.
With an average of two kids (singles and triplets are not unusual) per goat, there would be 1,200 kids to be raised per year, Hedrich noted. The kids are taken to the familyâ€™s home 22-acre farm near Chilton, 12 miles away.
Kidding is scheduled throughout the year on a breeding program designed to produce five pregnancies per day for a theoretical birth of 10 kids daily after the five-month gestation period.
Young goats are bred at seven months for kidding at the age of one year.
As with dairy cows, a normal milking lactation for dairy goats is 305-320 days.
Responding to a visitorâ€™s question, Hedrich said the milking herd has had a few animals who reached the age of 10 and the oldest milking goat he knows of lived to age 13.
He has frequent contacts with other dairy goat owners through his additional role as manager of the Quality Goat Milk Cooperative of Wisconsin, which was created in 2005.
When the Hedrichs married in the late 1970s, two goats came with the farm property that they purchased just to the southwest of Chilton.
As the children reached 4-H membership age, showing goats became a major family project for decades with the novelty of having each of the children choose a different favorite breed.
By 1996, enough milk was being produced to start shipping it.
In 2001, Larry left his supervisory position with a construction company for full-time management of the goat farm.
Clara is an agriculture education teacher and FFA chapter advisor, formerly at Chilton and now at West DePere.
As the years continued, the facilities at the home farm became overcrowded, prompting the Hedrichs to begin searching for answers. That took several years, which included the lining up of financing from several sources for the new facility.
The new goat barn has curtain sidewalls, cross ventilation, and an open top ridge.
The goats have access to outside roaming lots at all times but they tend to venture out only on pleasant autumn and spring days and certainly not when it is raining, Hedrich stated.
Whatâ€™s in place today was possible only because four of the five Hedrichsâ€™ children are committed to the multi-pronged family venture at one site.
At the moment, this does not include daughter Heather, who is still fulfilling her parentsâ€™ requirement of working elsewhere for at least two years before joining the family business as an active partner.
The Hedrichsâ€™ son Greg, a former teacher, is the business manager.
Daughter Jessica is the full-time manager of the retail store and cafe while daughter Anna (Zastrow), who still works as a sales representative for Animart, is set to take over management of the barns at both Pipe and Chilton.
Daughter Katie, who is a licensed cheese maker, will oversee the creamery that is designed to process fluid milk, ice cream, yogurt, and kefir in addition to cheese.
The creamery, set to open this month, has 5,000- and 11,000-pound vats and will also be available to other producers who want to make cheese. The facility also has rooms already being used for the aging of cheese.
At the moment, the familyâ€™s plan is to complete a 10-year transition to the younger generation.
The senior Hedrichs plan to continue a leading role in LaClare Farms for five years before gradually handing over the reins.
Following an official groundbreaking last December and construction by Keller Inc., the milking herd was moved to the new site in June, the retail store (stocked with cheeses, wines, other beverages, and other items) opened in July, and the cafe started serving diners in August.
A fish fry was staged on Friday, Nov. 1, as a prelude to the grand opening weekend.