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He Switched From Dairy Cows To Dairy Goats
Dairyman Jeff Utech more than tripled his dairy herd size without putting up a new building. He just switched from dairy cows to dairy goats. Four years after making the change, he's milking 250 head twice a day where he once milked 70 cows.
"I couldn't add more cows without building, so I needed to make a change," says Utech. "Goat milk prices are more stable, though production varies through the year."
In early December, Utech was getting $34 per hundred lbs. for his goat milk when dairy cow milk prices were down in the low teens. Of course, Utech's goats only average about 8 lbs. per day. His best producers double that during their first four to five months of milking. When breeding season hits in mid September, he says production takes a big dip.
"I was used to dairy cattle where there isn't so much up and down in production," says Utech.
Switching the facility over was easy. He pulled out stanchions and created a large loafing barn. It serves as holding areas for those milked and yet to milk. At one end Utech sectioned off an area for a parlor. He built two large tables at a height that makes it easy to attach milkers. Each table holds a bank of 12 head gates. Six milking units make fast work of one set of goats, while the other table is emptied and refilled.
"I open the sliding doors, and they come in and know right where to go," he says. "I didn't have to make any changes to the milk house. The bulk tank and wash tanks stayed the same."
Another big change with the switch was kidding season. He says goat breeders joke that kidding season is all work, no kidding.
"It's the biggest challenge of the year," he says. "You have to create pens for them to kid in, and they have two to three kids each. Suddenly you are maneuvering all these baby goats around and feeding them."
The kids nurse once to get a dose of colostrum before being put on milk replacer. Male kids are sold young or fed out to be marketed for meat to various ethnic markets. This year Utech is sending one batch of feeders to New York City. Some females are raised to add to the milking herd, which Utech continues to expand. Some are sold as breeding stock to others getting into the dairy goat business.
Getting into the business isn't easy. Utech started with 15 head in the spring of 2006. By 2007 he was up to 175. Getting there involved buying goats throughout the Midwest and as far east as Pennsylvania.
"It was kind of rocky going at first," recalls Utech. "Nobody wants to sell milking goats in the fall because milk production is low and every gallon counts. When you buy them later, you don't know if theyśre actually pregnant or not."
The goats are a better match for Utech's 15 acres of sweet corn and 8 acres of blueberries. People come from throughout the region to pick blueberries on the farm from the third week of July through the second week of August.
"We have a lot of people touring the farm," says Utech. "The goats are a better match for visitors than the dairy cows were. They are easier to display and better for kids and adults to interact with."
Utech and his wife Janet hosted more than 1,000 people at their Blueberry Blitz this last July 25th. Goats played a big role. Events included a catapult launch, blueberry picking contests, and hay rides. They also included goat milking, goat and llama walks, and goat cart races.
"We've done the Blitz for four years now," he says. "The first year we had 400 visitors, and it has grown every year."
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Utech's Rainbow Farm, 3880 Rainbow Drive, Merrill, Wis. (ph 715 536-7271; rainbowgoatfarm@earthlink.net).

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2010 - Volume #34, Issue #2