Wisconsin is experiencing phenomenal growth in the dairy goat industry and several large scale dairy producers have advice for those getting into the business, especially when it comes to the most stressful/busy time of the year—kidding season.
"There are many families who think they want to get into the dairy goat business but many of them don’t make it past the first two years, " said Jane Schwartz, a Juneau, Wisconsin goat producer. "I think that’s because kidding season is so stressful. I tell people who are starting out in the business that they need to make sure they have plenty of help at kidding time. Don’t think you can handle milking and also take care of the kids. It won’t work."
Jane Schwartz, Juneau, Wisconsin, dairy goat producer, prefers to keep her doe kids on bottles until weaning age, utilizing a bottle rack system with Pritchard teats to make sure each one gets enough to eat.
The Schwartz family is working to spread out production from their growing herd that now numbers more than 300 does and growing, but Schwartz said it takes time.
Each kid born on the farm starts out with the goat colostrum, but after the first day Schwartz and her helpers get milk replacer into each kid twice a day by bottle.
Schwartz prefers keeping her kids on bottles until weaning time.
For each feeding she feeds five babies on a 50-pound bag of cow-milk replacer.
"I go back to my foodservice training to do the conversions because the instructions on the bag are for calves, not kids," she said.
She has set up a mixing room in the milk house with a digital scale and a rack full of 20-ounce soft drink bottles with nipples to fit them. The special nipples include a ball bearing in them so the bottle won’t collapse when the babies suck the air out of the bottle. She fills each bottle to the 16-ounce line.
"Most people think I’m nuts feeding kids this way. It takes about an hour and a half to feed 100 kids, but using individual bottles I can tell what each one is drinking and there won’t be a more dominant kid preventing a timid kid from getting her share," she said.
Kids on her farm are healthy although there were many lessons learned by trial and error.
When they started in the business, Schwartz said she was having problems with kids bloating and a water test revealed that the pH level in the water was high. She now adjusts the water pH before mixing and has eliminated the problem.
"This is our sixth kidding season since we went into business and we have it down pretty good now," she said.
"Weaning kids is much easier now that I am only raising the doe kids," she said. "I was weaning at six weeks and found that was too early. Now that I’m only raising the girls, I wean them at eight weeks. I find that I have fewer doe kids that need to go back to the bottle because they didn’t understand the concept of eating hay and pellets to stay alive."
She weans two pens at a time, keeping them in the groups they have been in since birth. Once they are well on their way without bottles they are cohabitated into larger groups until they are moved outside in a big pen.
Julie Brandstatter and her family from near Rubicon, Wisconsin are also in the "growth" mode with their dairy goat farm and understand the importance of having plenty of help to care or the newborn kids.
"We spent a couple of years researching the possibility of milking goats and selling milk on the commercial market," she said. "We talked with people, studied goats, looked at farms and went to meetings and seminars."
They went a step further by volunteering to work on a farm with 100 goats, during kidding season, just to see if they could do it.
"We learned the most important stage, birth through weaning, is a very critical time and the protocol applied during these weeks can make or break a goat dairy," Brandstatter said.
She said they remove kids from dams at birth and raise them as groups on five-gallon nipple pails. It saves time and makes it possible to keep up with all the chores involved in caring for the large number of kids born within a short period of time.
Another Wisconsin dairy goat producer, Gwen Zimmermann, Fox Lake, starts kids on their 500-goat dairy with individual bottles but in a few days, as they show they understand the sucking concept, she puts them onto group pails to save time.
The Huitema family, Richard and Penny, with son Tom and his wife, Tina Markesan, strives to improve individual goat production averages and increase their numbers of animals through genetics and embryo transfers. With this kind of investment, kid care is very important.
Tina cares for the kids and starts them out on bottles, using a milk replacer that is a special Jersey cow blend that is richer than Holstein milk replacer. Once they learn how to suck from the bottle she moves them to nipple pails in pens of like-size kids in each.
Optimistic about the future of the goat industry, the Huitemas went from 29 goats in 2006 to their current 800 goats and they are still growing. To improve their herd, they sought the best genetics available by buying bucks from around the U.S. from herds with proven records. They also had semen from one of the top ten bucks in the country shipped to a breeder in Kentucky who does embryo transplant work. The doe kids they will purchase through this venture will be in a combination of genetics form the top-producing doe and this excellent buck.
They plan to continue to purchase top producing does until they reach their goal of 1,200 milking does in order do make best use of their double 12 milking parlor and new goat barn.