Leesa Lewis, Cambrai, South Australia, Australia, classifies herself as a sensible breeder and a goat promoter. She believes in the value of dairy goats as commercial producers so much that she took on the entrenched local goat clubs that did little to improve the outlook for an Australian dairy goat industry, and then formed her own successful organization, prioritized for dairy goat promotion, the Australian Association for Dairy Goats. All this, even though she lives in a region where approximately 80 percent of the population has never tasted goat milk-and most don’t want to try.
"Thirteen years ago I started as a hobby goat breeder in South Australia," Lewis said. "This part of the country is ideal for dairy goats-dry, scrubby and hot. But the powers ‘that be’ (meaning the government) have given priority to cow milk and the entire population is brainwashed into believing that it is the best milk and won’t try anything else. I am one of the many people who cannot tolerate cow milk and have been drinking goat milk most of my life. The last 13 years I have been dedicated to breeding quality animals, which give lots of milk on ‘normal’ goat food-no irrigated pasture and very little grain. This has been difficult as I was working with a goat society that was totally out of touch with the goat as a milk producer. All they were interested in was show animals and these, I’ve learned over the years, were not suitable for commercial dairies."
Austrailian dairy goats must be able to produce in what some might view as less than desirable conditions for a dairy animal, i.e. semi arid conditions with a maximum of 7 inches of rain annually.
Lewis, who hopes someday that Australia will have many mainstream commercial goat dairies, felt that a new organization was needed to propel the concept into positive public reception.
"I always had discussions with other breeders and tried very hard to promote the goat as a viable alternative to cows, but it fell on deaf ears," Lewis said. "The goat shows here were just beauty pageants that the average farmer, looking for a diversification option, would laugh at. It was a common belief that the goat is a great paddock cleaner of weeds but milking goats were not worth the trouble."
Lewis said she was "thrown out" of the other goat society two years ago because she was not able to attend a meeting 100k’s away due to being on a disability pension. It was a meeting set up to "sort out" issues she had with them.
"I was just upset that there were no goat promotion programs in place, shows were never advertised, and outsiders never could see the goat as an alternative dairy animal," she said. "As you can imagine I was angry at the outcome and my father suggested I could do a better job of running a goat association."
Lewis started The Australian Association for Dairy Goats (AADG) in January of 2004 and said this association has not looked back. After one year in existence, the membership role is 234 and continually rising.
"We don’t have umpteen million impossible silly rules. . .the main aim is to promote dairy goats in any way the member sees fit for his or her area," she said.
The AADG now has representatives in five states and is working with the members in all areas, finding ways to put their goats in the newspapers (under human interest stories) and at all farm fairs and exhibitions. Members can take six animals and show the farmer what can be done at these farm exhibitions. They are armed with leaflets and information either supplied by the AADG or the local Department of Primary Industries and we are slowly working towards changing the attitude of the general public toward goat milk, Lewis said.
"One of our members took 12 goats to a farm expo in NSW and sold the lot for $350 each. It was just an experiment as the goats were not registered," Lewis said. "We were online and I sent the buyer a voucher for the papers via an e-mail, right on the spot. . .he did not have to wait two months for his confirmation of ownership. Since then his neighbors have been looking to buy dairy goats from our members."
Lewis said the AADG also promotes "new breeds" of dairy goats, getting away from the traditional restrictions of only having Saanens available as dairy stock. In addition to promoting the Toggenburg, the British Alpine and the Anglo Nubian, they also have the Melaan (a solid black Alpine). They are additionally registering AOVs (Any Other Variety) and there are seven different new breeds being worked on at the moment. All are being upgraded and once 40 have been registered, DNA’d and blood tested for JD and CAE, they then go into the full registry books.
"We do have a shortage of these animals at the moment as now they are wanted by farmers as an alternate source of income nationwide," Lewis said. "I never dreamed that it would take off so well, but not having a mountain of paperwork for our members to plough through makes a lot of difference."
Lewis said that milk awards are important as is the testing of bucks future viability to produce milkers. The AADG is having DNA tests for milk production of bucks in the near future and they are also selling animals overseas.
"The DNA tests are appreciated by overseas buyers because they can be sure that what they receive is value for money paid," Lewis said.
According to Lewis, the dairy goat industry in Australia is about 20 years behind the rest of the world, but with the AADG at the helm, dairy goat breeders from "Down Under" are fast catching up with a promising future.
"We are slowly educating farmers into biodiversity and it appears to be working." she said.
Leesa Lewis, registrar for The Australian Association for Dairy Goats, The Australian Association for Nubian Meat Goats, and The Australian Association for Coloured Pigs, currently has 38 goats including four bucks. Breeds in her personal herd include: Saanens, Australian Blacks, British Alpines, Toggenburgs and a couple of AOV’s. None produce less than 4 kgs of milk in their first lactation and several does have records of production of 10 kgs. and one that is 11.2 in second lactations.