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It is important to do research before entering into any business involving large amounts of money, and commercial goat dairying is no exception. Those in the business will tell you very clearly that you should not start construction, or buy goats until you know for certain that you have been accepted on a milk route. In fact, you will find that many lenders will not loan you money until they have written verification from the company that you have been accepted on a route.
Be aware that if you buy an existing goat operation, you are not automatically guaranteed a place on the route that served that farm in the past. You will have to call the owner of the cheese plant to make sure that they will take milk from you, especially if you are buying a turn-key operation where you get the farm and everything left as is, and you plan to just walk in and start milking. Some sellers actually charge you for the value of being guaranteed a place on a milk route as part of the selling price, but this is not legally binding on the cheese company, so don't pay for it.
In addition, understand that about a third of the milk producers leave the business in three years or less. The reasons for leaving are:
1) Undercapitalization of the operation. That is they either couldn’t get enough money from the bank to buy enough goats to make a go of it, or they underestimated how much they would need to get on their feet. When they got into financial trouble the bank wouldn’t loan any more money.
2) They did not make enough money to pay their bills.
3) Someone got sick and they had to get a job with health insurance.
4)They worked themselves to death during birthing season and never wanted to do it again..
5)Their spouse was not as interested in farming as they were, and after not making enough money, and not being able to go anywhere because they had to be home to milk seven days a week, and not seeing their spouse for extended periods during birthing season, the spouse became upset and wanted out of farming.
In any case, leaving did not solve all of their problems, because the money they borrowed for the business had to be paid back.
Breeding for conformation, increased milk production and components
A Quebec study took 26 goat herds where farmers followed selection protocol-based traits that were balanced to 60% production and 40% conformation. The traits were: Milk protein, fat yield, fat and protein percentage, eight conformation traits of general appearance, leg strength, dairy character, body capacity, median suspensory ligament, front and rear attachment of the udder, and teat quality. They made their selections of the young stock based on the performance of their mothers and other related does. After 4 years there was an increase of 34.1-39.6 lbs of milk per goat per year, and annual average increase of 0.7-1.14 lbs. of butterfat and 0.7-1.10 lbs. of milk protein per goat. This increased income by $1400-1600 per year per farm (minimum). Records of the mothers and grandmothers are important indicators of milking ability in the present generation. If the sellerhas those records, pay close attention to them. When you are a new buyer, it might be helpful to have the seller mail you the records, so that you have time to go over them when you are not under pressure, and then go and look at the goats.
Most dairy contractors will tell you to set your bulk tank thermostat so the milk is held at 38 degrees. That is ok for cow dairies because they are getting their milk picked up every other day, but when you increase the length of time between pickups to every 4th day, as the Kolb Lena goat milk producers have to do, then you will get increases in plate count, which in turn decreases your income. Goat dairies should have their tank set at 33 degrees.
What happens is that over time condensation forms inside the top of the bulk tank, and that is where the bacteria grows. The more time it has to sit in there, the more liquid forms in the top of the tank. When it reaches critical mass it starts to drip into the milk. The bacteria multiplies, especially when the milk is warm, so you need to cool the milk down to a lower temperature to slow bacterial growth. Check the thermostat every day.
Also, make sure you have a timer put on the bulk tank so that you can turn the agitator on for half an hour when you start milking. This ensures that the warm milk coming into the tank gets thoroughly mixed in with the cold milk. If you don't do this, especially in the flat top tanks, the warm milk will just sit on the top of the cold milk, and the bacteria will multiply rapidly.
The following information is the advice of Harvey Considine, summarized from his book Dairy Goats for Pleasure and Profit, 1996, Considine Creations, Portage, WI, pages 31-39..
1) Buy from a breeder who has his herd on DHIA test so he/she has records, and who lives within driving distance of your home. Ask for the names and addresses of other people who have purchased goats from them. Call those people and find out how they feel about their relationship with the breeder. If you get bad reports, seek another breeder.
2) When you find someone you can trust, call him/her and tell them how many goats you want, what breed, what milk production, what butterfat and what protein you expect in each goat. Ask him to select the animals he feels fit your criteria and to send you the paperwork on them.
3) Look over the materials the seller sends you.
4) After you have made your selections, call the breeder, give him the numbers of the goats you are interested in, and tell him that you need a health certificate for each animal. (You should expect to pay for this.) Let him know which goats you are interested in so he can have a veterinarian examine the goats, test for CAE, Johnes and other diseases as needed. Tell him/her to have the vet send the reports and the bill to you.
5) When the reports arrive, go through them, discarding those that indicate the goat is ill or has CAE. Make your final selections.
6) Call the breeder and give him your final selection (reserving the right to examine the goats and accept or reject them at the time of pickup.)
7) Arrange with the breeder for a date and time for pickup.
8) Tell the breeder that you will need all of the health records, including vaccinations, deworming and other health information.
9) Tell the breeder that you would like to buy two days worth of the breeders ration for the goats, and that you will need a copy of his feed ration so you can transition the goats slowly to your ration. (This will also give you time to have some of his ration made up at your feed mill, especially if you are buying goats over the weekend. You will need to leave the goats on their former ration for two days, then slowly replace some of the breeders ration with some of your ration each day until the animals are eating your ration entirely. Make this transition very slowly to avoid illness.)
Go to the Conformation page of this website to get information that will help you choose healthy goats.
As of 2005, you are required by law to register your farm and be assigned a farm ID number. This is so they can track diseased animals back to the farm they came from if there is an outbreak of a dangerous disease, or if people get sick from tainted meat etc. You can register online at https://aii.wiid.org/WLIC/public/user/postLoginProxy.do. You will receive a premises ID card that you have to keep somewhere safe. It can take up to two months for our card to arrive. It takes about twenty minutes to fill out the paperwork on-line. They need to know what types of animals live on your farm, and the animals are listed if they are on the premises, no matter who owns them. If you move, the farm I.D. number stays with the farm.
Go to the Goat Dairy Library's Forms page to find some sample contracts:
Note: Most people do not use contracts for the sale of goats, and that leads to big trouble when things go wrong. Take a minute to fill out a contract. It spells out each parties obligations and prevents problems in the future. Buyers can print these forms and have them in the car, just in case the seller doesn't have anything ready
Many goat milk producers say that you can expect to lose about 20% of any herd you buy, due to illness and culling, so you'll need to buy extra goats for that reason. Goats get sick from being moved, even if it's just across town. A full 1/3 of our herd was sick with shipping fever (pasteurella pneumonia) by the time they got here. It cost us nearly $1000 to save them. They cannot tolerate wind blowing in their faces at all, as they get pneumonia very easily, so if the truck has openings that allow wind to blow, you are in trouble right away.
As far as finding goats, be very careful to buy only the best quality. Buy fewer, very high production milkers, guaranteed CAE and Johnes free, with good conformation, instead of lots of 2nd rate goats. The future of your herd is dependent upon the quality of does and bucks you buy. When you buy from a commercial herd, unless the owner is going out of business, he would not be selling his best milkers, so be careful. Often you are buying goats with problems, or goats that are old. It is best to take along an experienced commercial dairyman when you go to buy your goats.
Some people buy young goats from a good herd, and then raise them, making them the foundation of their herd. If you can afford to feed them for a year before they have babies and milk, you can end up with a nice herd..
Be careful of dishonest sellers. Often, when people are getting out of the business, they are in deep financial trouble, and in their desperation to sell their goats, they will be dishonest. Talk to other goat milk producers in the area to find out what has been going on.
Example: One family paid a $10,000 down payment on a herd, and when they went to pick up the goats, there was a government agent there saying that they couldn't take them because the man didn't pay his loan, and since the goats were collateral on the loan, they were being confiscated. They couldn't get their money back because the dishonest seller used their money to pay a lawyer to help him declare bankruptcy for the third time, and there were 18 creditors ahead of them!
How do you avoid this? You get the person's name and address, and you go to the courthouse in the county the seller resides in, to find out whether there are any liens against the goats, before you buy. The owner cannot sell them until the lien is satisfied. You also look up the person's name in CCAP, which is Wisconsin's on-line court records. Many times a dishonest person will have a long list of court cases that show a pattern of behavior that does not make them trustworthy.
Make sure that you write the numbers of the goats you are buying on the contract form. Your trucker should check the neck tags or ear tattoos when he picks up the goats you buy. They should match the numbers on the contract. One family purchased goats after looking at them in the seller's barn. and didn't write their numbers on the contract. When the trucker delivered the goats to the new owner, they discovered that the seller had sent all his cull goats, instead of the goats agreed upon.
When you bring together animals from multiple farms, you are inevitably going to bring illness into the herd, and losses can be very large. Buy the best stock you can afford, and buy as many as possible from the same farm.
If you are buying from a breeder that has registered goats, be sure you know how to read the American Dairy Goat Record sheets before you go. The American Dairy Goat Association site www.ADGA.org has instructions for the forms.. If the prospective goats are on DHI test, read the excellent section on DHI records at the AgSource website at hhttp://agsource.crinet.com/page249/DHI.
A good place to find goats in is the Wisconsin State Farmer Newspaper. They have a regular goat column in their want ad section where goats are sold. Realize that few dairy goats are sold between October and March, as that is the base price-setting period for some of the cheese plants, and producers need every drop of milk they can produce in order to get their base price up during that period. They will be willing to sell goats before or after that time. They also will have young replacement stock for sale after birthing periods, which are generally from February through May for the natural birthing season, and October and November for those goats bred out-of-season (under the lights).
In 2005 people expected to pay $250 dollars for an average milk goat, purchased from someone going out of business. In 2006 that price went up to $300-350 because there were so many people trying to get into the business and the demand drove the price up.
Read Goat Dairy Library’s section on "Body Scoring" on the Medical page and study the Langston University body scoring pictures at "How to Body Score Goats" (directions and photographs) at http://www.luresext.edu/goats/research/bcshowto.html before you go out, so you know what to look for.
If you don't have a goat, practice on your dog, so you learn how to feel the fat and muscle.
When you go to the farm, look over each and every goat. Do not stand outside the pen and look at them all at once.
Ask the seller for all written records on the goats and history of problems with the herd such as CAE, foot rot, soremouth, abscesses, Johnes. If the goats have any latent problems they will come full bloom once they are moved, as goats do not handle the stress of moving well at all, so don't buy problem goats. Especially avoid hoof rot. Do not buy a single goat, even if it is symptom free, from a farm that has had any cases of foot rot. You will bring it to your farm and never get rid of it.
Also see the Conformation page on this website.
Wisconsin producers who have been in the business a long time will tell you that you cannot begin to have an adequate milking operation with less than 150 goats milking at all times.
The largest goat cheese producer in Canada, Tony Dutra of Woolwich Dairy, states that the most efficient goat dairy is 250 goats. Smaller than that, you can’t make a good living. Larger than that, the management load becomes too heavy. He says that one full time farmer (and spouse) can handle 150 goats alone, but for 250 goats you must hire a full time person to help your family. (Dutra)
Several old-timers in the industry state that because expenses are so high right now, they fear that anyone with a loan to pay might not be able to make it. They said that those people who have their farm paid for before they start, have a much better chance. Many farms have one person working off the farm in order to stabilize their income and provide insurance.. This is critical when half the herd is dry and your milk check bottoms out. But if you are thinking that you and your partner can both work full time at outside jobs and still milk goats, you will find that it is impossible to do this during birthing season. Plan from the outset to have one person at home full time. If you birth twice a year, natural season, and under the lights, then you will be dealing with birthing goats, and feeding young stock for approximately 6 months of the year.
You need to have property/liability insurance with a clause that says that it will pay if you contaminate the entire truckload of milk. If you contaminate a truckload you will have to pay everyone that had milk in that truck, as well as testing feeds and dumping fees.. According to the Kolb Lena field man, Harvey Zeimer, it would be approximately $35,000 for a full truck.
(Informatin from Milk Plant List for Wisconsin http://datcp.wi.gov/uploads/Farms/pdf/WinterDairy2010.pdf
CAPRINE SUPREME LLC
W5646 State Road 54
Black Creek WI 54106
(920) 984 - 3388
CARR VALLEY CHEESE CO INC
S3797 Cty Rd G
La Valle WI 53941
(608) 986 - 2781
CEDAR GROVE CHEESE INC
E5904 Mill Rd
Plain WI 53577
(608) 546 - 5284
DREAM FARM LLC
8877 Table Bluff Rd.
Cross Plains WI 53528
(608) 767 - 3442
6378 Rosy Lane
Ridgeway WI 53582
(608) 924 - 1266
KOLB-LENA* (in the past called Bresse Bleu Inc.)
3990 N. Sunnyside Rd.
Lena, Illinois 61048
Plant phone:(815) 369-4577
*a division of BC Cheese Inc., headquartered in Pennsylvania.
LACLARE FARMS SPECIALTIES LLC
855 Hickory St.
Cleveland WI 53015
(920) 849 - 2926
LAMERS DAIRY INC
N410 Speel School Rd.
Appleton WI 54915
(920) 830 - 0980
S.W. WI. Dairy Goat Coop
Mt. Sterling Cheese Factory
505 Diagonal St.
P.O. Box 103
Mt. Sterling, WI 54645
336 S Penn St.
Belmont WI 53510
(608) 762 - 5878
QUALITY DAIRY GOAT PRODUCERS
COOPERATIVE OF WISCONSIN
W2282 Cty Rd E
Chilton, WI 53014
(920) 849 - 2926
WISCONSIN PRIDE CHEESE CO INC
1042 E State Street
Mauston WI 53948
(608) 986 - 2781
WOOLWICH DAIRY USA INC.
425 S Roosevelt St
Lancaster, WI 53813
Fax (608) 723-3105
There is a charge for milk pickup. Kolb Lena charges $30 per pickup, It costs between $210 and $240 a month total, depending how many pickups there are.. (Quality Coop charges $20 per pickup. I am not sure what the others do.) This amount is removed from your paycheck.
The milk truck has to be able to get in and out of your farm easily, in all kinds of weather. You have to have a very solid rock or tarred driveway area right up to the barn. We had to bring in stone just to put between the end of the tarred driveway and the milk pick up area, which was the length of the tanker truck itself, and that cost us $482.88. You have to have a milk hose chute installed in the window/wall of the milk room so the driver can put the hose through it to pump out the milk from the bulk tank.
Milk withholding (see antibiotic residue in milk)
The following information applies to Kolb Lena. I do not know what the other companies do.
Kolb Lena will assign you a farm number. The field man should give it to you. Kolb Lena has its milk tested by Ag Source labs, and you can access your reports online using that patron number at http://cridata.crinet.com/comlab/patrons.Those on-line reports are available about 3 days after the test is taken. If you get accepted on the Kolb Lena line, you can call the Stratford Ag Source office yourself to arrange to have the reports put on the website. (715) 687-4165.
Kolb Lena pays for the regular milk tests. They do plate count, a regular somatic cell count (very inaccurate), and then sometimes they’ll do a green stain somatic cell count (the only accurate test for goat SCC.) Somatic Cell Counts are looking for for mastitis and inadequate cleaning of udders before milking and Plate counts are looking for inadequate cleaning of milking equipment. See articles on “Troubleshooting High Plate Counts”, and “Milk Quality and Mastitis” in the continuing education section of this site. You will receive penalties if your milk tests are bad. You will receive bonuses if they are very good.
If the milk pickup is on Friday or Saturday or the day before a holiday, you won’t get testing done because the lab is closed on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. If you hit enough milk pick ups in a row which fall on weekends, it will be a long time between tests. You do have the option of running tests and paying for them yourself. You can get milk test vials from the trucker or you can call the lab and they will send them to you. You put the milk in the vial and drive it to the milk testing lab in Stratford. Make sure the vial is labeled with the farm name, farm number assigned by Kolb Lena, date and tests needed. You can request that they e-mail the test results s so you get them quickly.
Kolb Lena will allow you to have MUN tests run periodically to make sure you are not overfeeding protein, or that the protein/energy balance is ok in your feed program. But if you want regular MUN tests, you will have to cost share those.
Goats usually lactate for 8-10 months and produce about 750 quarts of milk during that time. (Considine, 1996)
Tatiana Stanton of Cornell University (Stanton, p.19) estimates that a commercial fluid milk operation needs more than 2000 lbs. of milk production per head in order to be profitable. That means that goats in a commercial dairy should give at least 8 lbs. of milk per day. Make sure you see the milk production records on the herd you are buying.
Your regional Dept of Ag office can send you a copy of the regulations so you set up your barn and milk room properly. They will also give you the regulations on milk production, and they give you some summary sheets that help you make sense of the regulations..
To find your regional Dept. of Agriculture office, see this website: http://datcp.state.wi.us/core/aboutus/locations/index.html
You can find all of the regulations online at http://datcp.state.wi.us/core/regulation/food/.
The dairy contractor or other person who is going to install your milking equipment has to submit a plan, and an "application for plan approval" form, to your regional Dept. of Ag office, and it should be approved before you start work. There is a $25 charge for plan review. They will write to you when the review is complete. Make sure the diagram you send has all of the measurements between pieces of equipment, sink, floor drains etc. for your milk room, and that it complies with all regulations.
The field man from your cheese plant will need to run a water sample a week or so before you start milking. Caution: Do not take that sample out of any tap that has new pipes attached to it. Take it out of a tap that has been used frequently. The new pipes have sand and debris in them that ruin the water test.
When you are ready to start milking, the field man will inspect your whole set up and approve it, then he will send out the inspector from the Dept. of Agriculture for the final inspection and licensing. The final inspection takes place just days before you start milking. Make sure everything is done right before he comes or you will have to do it again.
Note: You will be re-inspected every other year, on the same date as your first inspection. You do not have to schedule it. The inspector just shows up. Also, the inspector can come any time he or she wants to, if they receives a complaint about your farm.
For additional help:
You can find all of the ag extension offices in Wisconsin at http://www.uwex.edu/ces/cty/
You can find all of the tech schools in Wisconsin. Many of them have a Farm Business Advisor that will help you: http://www.wtcsystem.org/office/college_directories.htm.
If you are going to sell any goats at the livestock markets you have to put Srapie tags on their ears. If you don't, the market will deduct $5.00 for every goat. To get the tags, call (608) 270-4000. They ask you how many goats you think you'll have this year, then they round that number up to the nearest one hundred, since the tags come in boxes of 100. They send them to you free of charge. With the first order you also get the tool to put them in the ear. We don't put them in all the goats ears routinely, as we are afraid of them tearing out, so we just attach them when they are ready to load in the truck to go to market. They will assign you an animal ID number (NOT the same as the Farm ID #), which you need to write down somewhere, because you need it to reorder. They would like everyone to order enough so they only have to send the tags out to your farm once a year.
According to H&R Block, all money paid out for expenses before the first milk pickup (considered your first “sale”) are not entered on your tax form as expenses. They are entered as “start up costs” which are amortized over a long period of time, similar to depreciation. You may want to consider only buying the supplies you absolutely have to have to get through you first milk pickup, and THEN go out and buy the other things.
NOTE: Please read the "Start Up Costs" section above, so you don't buy things too soon and screw up your taxes for years!
Supplies needed for birthing
Summarized from www.goats4h.com/Pigman.html, and personal interviews with experienced producers
Supplies needed for milking
Supplies needed for feeding grain , making milk and colostrum for a 100+ goat herd
Supplies needed for breeding
For pen breeding:
For individual breeding:
For artificial insemination:
Supplies needed for medical care
Supplies for cleaning quarantine pens:
DO NOT expect to milk alone when your herd arrives. You simply can't do it. Even if you have the same type of milking stand that the goats are used to already, and have a similar pattern of entering the milking area, you still will have a lot of trauma for about two weeks. If you have a different stand and a different pattern to enter the parlor, you will have absolute bedlam. This is normal. You should have two or more easy-to-put-on dog collars and leashes. many times, one person actually has to get in front of the goat and pull, and the other has to get in back and push to get them on the stand at first. Our first milking, with two people working, took 8 hours. We stopped milking and then started all over again. Do not plan any other family or outside activities for the first week. You won't be able to do anything but milk and fall into bed. Our friends had 5 people working for the first week, and it still took 5 hours to milk. After a week or two, the goats get the hang of it, and things gradually get better. You will cry, laugh, and curse your goats for a while.
The best way to make your goats go where you want them to go is to use a water spray bottle. Don't buy the cheap ones as they don't hold up. Buy sturdy sprayers. We have one in the holding pen, one on each end of the milk room, one at each end of the barn, buck house, kid pens, young stock pens. Goats hate to get wet, so if you get behind them so that you are facing the direction you want them to go, and then spray the water mist over their backs, they will move straight ahead in front of you. After a while, all you have to do is to get out the bottle and they will move. You don't even have to squirt the water. I see people all the time yelling at their goats, pushing them, and just generally upsetting themselves trying to move the herd. Once they learn this water bottle trick they are so relieved! Of course there are some goats who will totally ignore this too.
The Small Business Tax Workshop (video) http://www.irsvideos.gov/virtualworkshop/
Many drugs are not approved for use in goats, so the label directions for dosage, route of administration and meat and milk withhold times, meant for other livestock, may be incorrect for goats. By law, all drugs which are not approved for goats, must be given under the supervision of a veterinarian who works with your herd on a regular basis. Do not treat your goats without consulting with your local veterinarian first.
Keep a notebook of accurate, dated records of all phone calls and conversations with your veterinarian. The laws and regulations regarding the administration of medications to livestock are complicated and they carry penalties. If you ever have a problem, a written record is good protection.
Once your veterinarian knows you, he or she can give you standing orders and treatment protocols that enable you to do some of the medical work on your farm yourself. You should get those in writing, and make sure they are dated and signed by the vet. The legal guidelines the vet must follow when leaving medications at your farm for your use are listed in http://luresext.edu/goats/field/dawson10.pdf in the Health section.
It is cost effective to learn to examine your animal and take it's vital signs. That will help you identify all peramiters of the problem, and get organized before you call the vet. If they come out, hand the vital signs over to them when they arrive. This saves the vet time, and you money. Remember that most vets are working long hours and may be very tired. Anything you can do to enable them will be greatly appreciated.
Keep good records of all illnesses, vaccinations and treatments. There are record-keeping forms on the Forms page of this website.
Whenever possible, call the vet early in the morning during normal working hours Monday - Friday. Do not wait until Friday afternoon or during the weekend or right before or during a holiday to call for help. Keep in mind that many vets will not be inclined to come out to your farm on a weekend or holiday to treat your goats if you haven't done business with them before that. Support your vet, and he or she will take good care of your herd.
This section is one producer's story about getting on the Kolb Lena milk route.
"We called Kolb Lena and told them we wanted to get on the route. The field man called us back and asked us to send him a letter telling him who we are and why we wanted to be on the route.
Then he came out to our house. He looked at both the house and barn and visited with our family for about an hour and a half. He told us later that the very first thing he looks at when he is thinking of taking someone on his route, is the cleanliness of their house. He figures if their house is clean they are going to treat the barn and the goats the same way.
After he looked over our farm he asked us when we would be ready to ship milk and we gave him a date several months away. He accepted us on the route.
He said that Kolb Lena would like you to have enough goats to provide a 2000 lb. milk pick up every time the truck comes, but they give you a year or so to build up to that level.
He said he doesn't expect your whole place to be set up before he takes you on the route. He knows that you cannot make the investment in equipment before you are accepted, because most banks will not loan you any money until you get on a milk route and have proof in writing that you are on the route. Obviously, you can't start remodeling and buying equipment until you get a loan, so they do understand that it will take you a while to get the barn ready. But, if you get your planning done while you wait to get on the route, things will go more smoothly when you do get accepted. (Red River Farm)
It is sometimes very difficult to wait to get on a route. You are stuck in this holding pattern where you have a lot of interest and energy in moving forward with your plans, and yet can't do that without some reassurance that your operation will be viable. You feel an urgency to get ready just in case the route opens up, yet you can't get a loan until you're accepted on the route. It is a very frustrating time, further complicated by the fact that cement, plumbing, drainage, construction, fencing and dairy contractors lay out their work calendar in January and February for the entire year, and if you don't get your name in the bucket at that time, you often cannot get the work done until the next year. Also, cement contractors cannot work in the winter at all, and they can't work in the spring until the Highway Department announces a release date, which indicates all the frost is out of the ground and the cement trucks can be out on the road, usually in May.
What do you do in the meantime? One of the things that might be helpful is to realize that there is a tremendous amount of planning that goes into creating a working dairy operation, and you can do an awful lot of work toward your goal while you wait to get on a route. This is not busy work. It is actually the same work you would have to do if you were going to get set up right away, but you are lucky enough to be able to be able to take your time and plan well before you start.
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