Mega goat farms proposed

Ray Mueller
Now Media Group


Within the past six months, decisions by two entities which operate large dairy cow operations in several states have coalesced to create the possibility that a Calumet County township with a human population of about 1,300 will soon become "the dairy goat capital of the world."

That's the phrase town of Brothertown board chairman Chuck Schneider has used to describe the recent developments in a township which once had dozens of family dairy farms on which much of the agricultural land has become a hub for growing processing vegetable crops such as peas, snap beans, and sweet corn in recent decades. Winter wheat is frequently grown as part of the crop rotation.

If the plans of two dairy goat entrepreneurs reach fruition, the southwest Calumet County township which lies on the east shore of Lake Winnebago will be the home of well over a dozen dairy goats per human resident. For a great majority of years in the 1900s, Calumet County had more dairy cows than human residents.

As of January 1, a statistical survey indicated that Wisconsin continued to be the top state in dairy goat population with 44,000 head – about 12 percent of the nation's total. Yet processors within the state and on its periphery report that the area's supply of goat milk is meeting only about 60 percent of the market demand for cheese and other products.

For both of the new ventures in Calumet County, there is a ready outlet for goat milk at the LaClare Farms processing plant only a few miles away near Pipe in northeast Fond du Lac County. LaClare has its own milking goat herd of more than 500 head with plans to increase that number.

Milk Source Inc. Dairy Goats

The first dairy goat venture in Brothertown, titled as Chilton Dairy, began earlier this year on the former dairy farm operated by Todd Meyer. The herd's approximately 1,100 dairy cattle were sold at an auction in early December.

This occurred in conjunction with the purchase of the property by Milk Source Inc., which has several major dairy cow facilities in Wisconsin and Michigan. After renovations at the site during the winter, about 700 dairy goats are being milked there today.

Permit applications filed with Calumet County for the project indicated the possibility of housing some 9,000 dairy goats at the site along County G just east of the unincorporated village of Charlesburg. The most recent official action has been the seeking of approval for a third manure storage facility which would increase the capacity to that needed for at least 9,000 goats, according to Tony Reali, the county conservationist at the land and water conservation department.

Drumlin Dairy Venture

About five miles to the west, plans were recently unveiled for the establishment of another dairy goat operation with the intention of having a population of about 7,000 milking goats that would produce about 50,000 pounds of milk per day plus 2,000 goat kids. That investor would be Drumlin Dairy LLC, which is based in Roswell, New Mexico.

Drumlin Dairy is represented by co-owner Kenn Buelow, who had previously been exploring other sites for the dairy goat venture. Buelow, who is a Calumet County native and resident, oversaw the development of the two Holsum Dairies (Irish and Elm) in the county during the past 15 years. His fellow Roswell-based investors own dairies and other enterprises.

Buelow had hoped to set up a dairy goat facility along Harvey Road in Jefferson County's town of Aztalan at rural Lake Mills. For several reasons, including a decision by the landowners not to sell, that effort was abandoned in February of this year.

Exploration at another site in Jefferson County was abandoned in March because Buelow concluded that the permitting process would take too long to allow construction and an opening before the end of 2016.

Buelow then turned to his home turf, securing an agreement to purchase 35 acres off Dick Road west of County C to the southwest of the unincorporated village of Jericho. That's about 15 miles northeast of Fond du Lac.

Town Chairman's Outlook

In an appearance at the April meeting of the town of Brothertown board, Buelow outlined his plans for the project. Board chairman Schneider acknowledges concerns about potential odors at the site and potential damage to town roads by trucks serving the facility. He notes, however, that a single truck could transport one day's projected production of 50,000 pounds of milk.

Brothertown has its own zoning law, meaning that Drumlin Dairy does not need to obtain a conditional use permit. Because the land being purchased is zoned for agriculture, no specific action or approval is needed from the town board.

Schneider has received a few calls and comments – both favorable and not – from town residents about the project. He notes that a few neighbors aren't too happy because Dick Road has ordinarily been "a quiet road" in the rural area. Another concern that has been expressed is the possible outbreak of Q fever, which is a disease spread by a bacterium that has been associated with goats and other animal species.

County Review Procedures

Reali indicates that the county requires permits for manure storage, erosion control, and storm water management. As of Monday morning, April 11, paperwork for obtaining those permits had not been filed at his office.

Regarding the plans for manure storage, which must include a nutrient management plan (NMP), the county has 30 calendar days to approve or disapprove the applicant's proposal, Reali points out. He has learned that the intention is to compost the manure at the site. An NMP governs manure application rates based on soil types, crop rotations, and soil nutrient residuals.

For erosion control and storm water management, the county has 20 business days to either approve or disapprove an application, Reali continues. In both scenarios, the periods could be extended if questions arise and responses are needed, he adds.

The overall timetable will depend on the "quality and thoroughness" of the permit applications, which would most likely be provided by a professional consultant, Reali notes. With the Drumlin Dairy goat facility being constructed on a new site, it's likely that sanitary and septic permits will also be required from the county, he observes.

No CAFO Status

Despite the high numbers of animals in the plans for both sites, neither will be required to obtain a Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). That's because the proposed numbers of goats will not quite reach the 1 million pounds of live weight of livestock or poultry at a single site which is the basis for having a WPDES permit and the accompanying operating conditions.

On that point, Schneider indicates that the town's zoning law follows most of what a WPDES permit covers. That permit is required for every Concentration Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), which is defined as any facility with a total of at least 1 million pounds of livestock or poultry or 1,000 animal units (each unit representing 1,000 pounds of live weight).

For calculating CAFO animal units, the ratio of dairy goats to dairy cows is about 1 to 13 or 14. For mature dairy cows, a concentration of about 715 head puts the facility into the CAFO category. In the CAFO formula, the DNR counts a dairy goat as a .1 on the animal unit scale and a mature dairy cow as a 1.4 on that scale for reaching the CAFO threshold of 1,000 animal units.

With more than 3,500 milking cows each, the two Holsum Dairies sites in Calumet County each have a CAFO permit. In 2005 and 2009, respectively, Holsum Irish and Holsum Elm earned a Green Tier certification from the Wisconsin DNR, which is a designation based on following a series of practices protecting environmental resources.

Among the practices at the two Holsum sites are the installation of manure digesters which produce electric power and reduce the level of pathogens in the manure liquids and solids. In addition, the two facilities distribute a large percentage of their liquid manure to area cropland via miles of hoses rather than by trucking.