FREE PRESS AG FOCUS: Goats providing new opportunites for area families

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Dairy goats are providing a way for some area families to get into farming in an era when getting into farming on your own seems nearly impossible.

Many of the family goat enterprises seem to begin with children in 4-H projects, and move on to bigger and better herds.

Or as Jennifer Stultz said of her family goat herd southwest of Hillsboro, “I sometimes think God led us through the goat project, especially financially.”

At least, she said, with the goats and the family flock of chickens, the family always has milk, cheese, yogurt and eggs to eat.

She even thinks in terms of “how many goats will we have to sell to make a down payment” on land they might want to purchase.

Stultz paraphrased verses from Proverbs in the Bible that seemed to speak to her on the goat project: “Pay careful attention to your herds, and take care of them, for the goats will provide your sustenance, and care for your maidens, and provide the price for your field.”

The goats are providing excitement and fellowship in the Stultz family for her, husband Harold, and children Grady, 13, Cameron, 11, Keenan, 6, and Shelbi, 4.

The positive experience extends to friends who also have gotten into the goat business. The group is beginning to pool resources and have discussed cooperative efforts, possibly with the help of federal grants.

Members of the “goat group” include Tony and Jessica Bowers, Dennis and Alice Huxman, Denny and Diane Kruger, and probably others-many of them people who have been enabled by goats to begin business projects on small five- to seven-acre plots.

The Stultz family has its herd of 15 to 20 female goats on only seven acres, but looks forward to expanding the acreage in the near future.

Discussions on what they might do range all the way from cooperative purchasing of feed rations to marketing of products.

All of these families have children involved, especially through 4-H, and the rewards for the kids are many.

The Stultz family returned home Sunday evening with a fist-full of ribbons won at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson-all getting nibbled by goats as Grady led the way with them through the goat lot.

Grady’s Alpine doe, Elegant, was grand champion of breed and best doe to show in the 4-H division among 181 entries.

Cameron’s doe, Sunflower, an Alpine-Oberhasli crossbred, was reserve champion recorded-grade doe.

Keenan and Shelbi participated in the peewee showmanship class, and took first and second, respectively. Keenan showed Snowstorm, a Saanen doe, and Shelbi showed Shavelle, an Alpine doe.

The family took first place for a group of three does out of the same sire, and many other awards. They have done the same in other shows in places like Des Moines, Iowa.

What may be just as important are shared memories, such as Shelbi milking a goat to the delight of a crowd at Hutchinson, washing and shaving goats to show together, and winning the doe, Lucky Licking, at the Kansas Youth Show.

Jennifer also is editor of the Dairy Goat Journal, which is published out of Withee, Wis. The job gives her deadlines to meet once every two months.

Taking care of goats and milking them is a labor-intensive job, but Stultz said the financial rewards are there for a job well done.

Goat milk sells for $5 a gallon and a round of cheese made from a gallon for $12, she said. Sales are to word-of-mouth customers who come usually because they are allergic to, or can’t digest, cow-milk products. Some customers believe goat milk has “organically produced” benefits such as being more free of antibiotics or hormones-things that cow-milk dairy owners dispute.

The Stultz family can’t advertise milk products until they are certified by the state as a commercial dairy. They are working on accomplishing that and have plans to build a new building under state guidelines.

The cheese rounds they produce are queso blanco-a plain, white cheese, also called chevre goat cheese.

Jennifer Stultz said she may add salt, garlic, onions, different kinds of peppers or Italian seasonings to the cheese, or leave it plain-whatever a customer or her family prefers.

Occasionally, she also will make cottage cheese, sometimes using it for the Mennonite dish, verenike.

Stultz will sell goat yogurt with or without the family favorite additive to sweeten it, Jell-O. Another favorite is goat milk ice cream.

Usually some of the buck goats born during a year are wethered (castrated), and Harold smokes them after slaughter with fruit wood in a smoker he made from a propane tank.

Jennifer said the smoked goat meat is a favorite ingredient in borscht-the meat, potato and cabbage soup.

Goats are milked twice daily with average production for the Stultz herd at about a gallon a day-8.5 pounds of milk to the gallon.

The top producers, Jennifer said, which also are the does that top shows, turn out about 12 pounds of milk a day.

Currently the goats are machine-milked on the farm with three “stand-stalls” using Surge belly pail milkers.

Harold said his preliminary plans for a commercial milk operation include a 24-by-24-foot metal building that can be washed down top to bottom with proper drainage.

The 15 to 20 does produce twins or triplets for a baby goat crop beyond their numbers, 39 babies this year.

The babies immediately are taken away from their mothers, and fed heat-treated collostrum milk-the first milk from mothers-for its antibiotic, immunizing effects.

The heat treating at 135 degrees, Jennifer noted, also serves to stem potential infections of coccidiosis diarrhea and pneumonia.

Goats also are tested for disease prevention, and facilities are kept clean. Jennifer said prevention and cleanliness reduce the chances for problems later.

The Stultz family keeps back some of the best weanling does, but the others have been sold for $200 a head through a marketing firm in Missouri that exports them to places such as Mexico and Taiwan, or sells them in states where demand outstrips supply such as Arkansas and Wisconsin.

The goats are fed a custom-feed mix of sunflower seeds, beet pulp, corn, alfalfa and oats plus profile pellets made by Countryside Feeds of Hillsboro.

Although the family has Alpine, Oberhasli, Toggenburg and Saanen goats in the herd now, they plan to specialize in Alpine and Oberhasli.

Jennifer said only two bucks are needed on the place although at times as many as five may be on hand until some are sold.

She said the family’s goat history has followed a familiar route for many families involved in the business. They tried other farm enterprises, such as raising pigs, that continually lost money. They had a pet goat when she and Harold first married that they didn’t take too seriously. Then the kids got into 4-H, and the goats expanded.

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