For Martien Kusters, getting into the dairy goat business was a matter of pleasure and practicality.
The 24-year-old Lambton County resident has kept goats, the dwarf type, for about as long as he can remember. They have also provided a way for the young farmer to work his way into a commercial scale agriculture enterprise.
“That was a big thing for us, starting small and starting simple and learning along the way,” said Kusters who was recently elected to a director’s position with the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-Operative.
“Right now we’re looking for more milk and so we’re looking for more people to get into the business.”
Kusters is in partnership with his parents, Theo and Gerdi. Their goat business along the London Line east of Sarnia started in 2008 in an old bank barn with 70 female kids. (Theo and Gerdi also raise broilers just down the road.)
The milking parlour was built in 2008 and the facilities expanded in 2010 and just last year. Today the family is milking close to 300 does and there’s room for expansion.
“I want to get to 400 to 500 does over the next five years.” Martien said.
Kusters manages the goat herd and does most of the work although his parents and fiancé, who is from a Parkhill-area dairy farm, also pitch in.
The herd is composed primarily of Saanen bloodlines, and there is some Alpine in the mix. The does average three litres per day and reach peak production at around 4.5 litres in May.
Currently there’s enough milk to fill the 4,000-litre bulk tank for twice-a-week pickups. Pricing is based on solids and currently works out to about 85 cents a litre, similar to the price for cow milk.
Goats are seasonal, Kusters said. Breeding begins in late August and continues into the fall. The kids are born from February through April.
Kusters runs his own bucks for breeding. The doelings are bred at about eight months and milked for about a year. Older does tend to milk longer, some for 24 or even 30 months.
They get a combination of baleage, corn silage and dairy pellets.
Disease is not a big challenge although goats are susceptible to CAE -caprine arthritic encephalitis. That can be passed on from mother to kid through the colostrum so instead of feeding goat colostrum, the kids get dairy cow colostrum acquired from nearby farms. It provides the same benefits without the problem.
Kusters said the supply of goat milk in Ontario is managed to a degree.
There are two main groups of suppliers involved. One delivers to Hewitt’s Dairy in Hagersville. The other, to which the Kusters family belongs, is the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-operative. The cooperative’s customers include Woolwich Dairy and several smaller processors. Woolwich Dairy markets goat milk products throughout Canada and the United States and, according to the company’s website, is North America’s “largest and leading goat cheese producer.”
Kusters was just elected as a director with the cooperative.
He said one initiative in the industry is to bring meat goat and milk goat producers under a single organization. Milk goat producers are also part of the meat market, selling their bucks and cull doelings.
Today’s Farmer, Apr 22 2014