WDGA "Share a Dairy Kid" program winners share memories as long-time director retires

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Gretchen Kelley went on to start her own dairy goat herd after winning a goat from the Share a Dairy Kid program.

The Wisconsin Dairy Goat Association's "Share a Dairy Kid" program is taking a new direction as its long-time leader Cindy Hoehne is looking to retire.

The program, which gives away several dairy goat kids to youth who write an essay as part of their application, has been running for over 30 years, with Hoehne at its helm for 15 years. The program gives the goats away for free and is designed to get youth involved in the dairy goat industry by helping them to raise their own for showing and breeding purposes. The program has also recently begun giving away meat goats.

"I think it's important because it teaches kids skills that they'll be able to use their entire life," Hoehne said. "They may never go into dairy goat farming, but they will learn responsibility. They will learn how to care for an animal and they will learn how to show and present themselves. All things that they'll be able to use throughout their life."

Almost all of the goats given away by the program, between six and eight of them a year, are donated by previous winners as a gesture of goodwill and paying it forward. Youth 9-17 years old can write an essay of at least 100 words explaining why they want to win the competition, and it's open to anyone regardless of experience so that winners can continue growing a herd or get the first one to start it. Goat kids can also be very expensive, so it helps people save money.

"These babies can run anywhere from several hundred dollars on up," Hoehne said. "A lot of the kids already have a goat, probably not a registered goat that they would be able to show. ... It's just a nice way to get kids started and get involved in goats."

Hoehne said the new director will at least be someone from the WDGA, probably someone who is involved in Future Farmers of America or 4-H because of the connection to youth. She said the program is great for youth and WDGA members to create relationships, especially when it comes to donors and winners who form lifelong bonds over the experience. 

Kyle Gau won his Nubian goat from the Share a Dairy Kid program, after which he began a business selling goat milk soaps.

Many winners of the program have gone on to be successful in the dairy goat industry too, like Kyle Gau, who is merely 19 years old and began a goat milk soap business while he's still in college. Gau won a Nubian goat from the program in 2015; he had a few goats before his win, but he applied to win a Nubian which produces more milk than other breeds and is more expensive to purchase. He said he found out about the program through 4-H.

"I started with Nigerian Dwarf goats and I had always wanted a Nubian goat, and that was my drive to apply for (the Share a Dairy Kid program)," Gau said. "It gave me a glimpse of the commercial market. ... That kind of inspired me to want to open up my own dairy business."

Gau said he's donated goat kids back to the program since his win and the WDGA has also promoted his business for him. While he's had to scale back his herd from about 25 goats to six goats due to his school load, he said the program has helped him be successful in life. Gau added that Hoehne played a big role in helping him learn how to show and care for goats, saying she is "selfless."

"I met her at a goat show, and she's one of the 4-H moms that was always there to support you and make sure you had everything you needed. If you needed help trimming up your goat or something, she was always there," Gau said. "She's more than willing to go above and beyond for you and she's super awesome. We need those (people) as leaders."

Cindy Hoehne, left, and Raisha Kolzow, right, after Kolzow won grand champion with her Nubian goat the Wisconsin State Fair.

Raisha Kolzow won a dairy kid from the program in 2009 when she was in high school. Kolzow grew up on a dairy goat farm with a herd of 1,500, but she wanted to start her own herd, so the program helped jumpstart the herd for her. The goat she won, also a Nubian, ended up winning grand champion in her class at the Wisconsin State Fair one year.

"I was almost in tears, I was so happy, especially since I won this goat I felt very honored. And I just remember Cindy having the biggest smile on her face for me," Kolzow said. "We took pictures together. That was a really cool moment."

Kolzow currently works as a veterinary technician, sometimes working with goats in her job. Although she has stopped breeding goats for the most part, she still holds onto a few of the "special" ones as a hobbyist. Kozlow has also donated a goat back to the program since her win because she wanted to pass on the same happiness she felt when she got her chance.

"To win a goat was really exciting, one with good genetics. It was special to me to have that honor of winning something," Kozlow said. "It was important for me to donate back to the program to be able to give that joy and specialness to somebody else."

Even though Hoehne's time with "Share a Dairy Kid" is coming to an end, she said she's excited for its future and hopes it will continue helping youth discover the world of dairy goats.

"It's really awesome to see some of the winners and the donors make lifelong friendships," Hoehne said. "It's a great program and I'm just excited about it, excited for the person who takes it over."