Wisconsin Dairy Goat Industry Drooping as Drought Lingers

The severe drought affecting southern Wisconsin may have a severe impact on the number of dairy goat farms left in the state by year’s end.

With a sharp increase in feed costs (due to lack of forages), and a sharp decrease in milk production (due to heat stress), dairy goat farmers are predicting a mass exodus unless the pay prices that cheese plants pay for goat’s milk are significantly increased.
“I am doing what I can, and writing to the people who buy the milk to try and deliver the message that we can’t keep going when the price we get is less than what we can make it for,” one goat producer messaged. “We all need to keep spreading the word so we can save our farms.”
A cheese processor, Montchevre in Belmont, Wis., did just that last week, temporarily bumping up the price paid for 100 pounds of goat’s milk to $33.50, up $1.50. In a statement made July 31, company president Arnaud Solandt said: “We trust this pricing adjustment will provide some sensitive relief. We also hope it will either influence other goat cheese manufacturers to do the same, or incite goat milk producers to come to Montchevre.”
While goat farmers who ship to Montchevre said they appreciated the temporary bump in pay price, others said a permanent increase in milk prices must happen if Wisconsin doesn’t want to lose the majority of its 196 licensed dairy goat farms. 
Case in point: an analysis posted on a dairy goat email list by a goat milk producer on August 1 stated dairy goat farmers need another $10 per hundredweight to bring them back to last year’s profit levels. 
His analysis showed the following:
  • The base price of goat milk shipped to cheese plants for 2011 was $32.19 per hundred pounds. In 2012, it has been, on average, $33.58, a 4.3 percent increase over last year.*
  • In July 2011, the milk price was $30.50 per hundred pounds. Hay, even with the Texas drought, was $150 a ton for good quality. Grain was around $330 to $340. The break even point on feed costs was 3.5 pounds of milk per goat per day. So a herd of 100 goats would have to ship 1,400 pounds of milk in four days just to cover the feed cost.
  • In July 2012, the milk price was $32. Hay is now going for $250 a ton and grain is now $400 a ton. The break even point is now 4.6 pounds of milk per goat per day. So now, a herd of 100 goats has to ship 1,840 pounds of milk in four days just to cover feed costs.**
Therefore, the dairy goat farmer said, the $1.50 temporary price bump from Montchevre is “like a 1/4 inch of rain on this drought. It helps, but it is not going to fix the problem goat producers have in staying in business.”
Another goat producer, who started milking three years ago, was forced to sell his herd on June 30 and rent out his facility to a large goat farm, just to keep making the farm loan payments. He hopes to save enough money in the next four years – if feed prices go down and the drought subsides – to build back the herd. Even with his recent loss, he thanked Montchevre for increasing the pay price last week.
“Thank God Montchevre is trying to do right by their producers, but as of this moment, nobody else is,” he said. “I am afraid I will be working for the next four years for nothing, as will a lot of other people.”
Kenny Burma, who started goat farming in 1996, retired, and then came back with a new facility, is now running a 600-goat farm in Green County. On August 3, he told the Wisconsin State Journal that a square bale of hay that cost him $45 six months ago now costs $100. Feed pellets that cost $229 a ton a year ago now cost $436.
“Is the increase from Montchevre enough? Maybe not, especially for those farmers who are recent to the business and have loans to pay,” he told veteran reporter George Hesselberg. “If you are living milk check to milk check now, you will not survive this winter.”
With roughly a third of the 196 dairy goat farms in Wisconsin estimated to be in business less than three years, it is doubtful that they – much like many Americans in this economy – are doing much more than living from pay check to pay check, after paying the bills and buying food for themselves and their animals.
Burma summed it up this way: “You have to wonder if it’s worth it. Why am I getting up at 4 a.m. every day and losing money? I could do that in Las Vegas and have a better time.”
* The average price was figured by adding up total yearly milk prices and dividing by number of pay periods.
** The total quantity of milk a goat gives each day is considerably less than that produced by a cow. A good dairy goat provides between 6 to 12 pounds of milk a day for about a 305-day lactation. In comparison, a good dairy cow provides almost five times that amount. — courtesy of UW Cooperative Extension.

On Location: Sainte Maure de Touraine

Today, on day 4 of the 10-day Wisconsin Cheese Originals’ Grand Cheese Tour of France, we toured the largest castle in the Loire Valley, learned how to make Sainte Maure de Touraine, nearly got crushed by a hay loader, and sang along to French show tunes in a tiny restaurant in downtown Tours.
You know, just the usual day in the countryside of France.
After an amazing morning tour of the Chateau de Chambord, its double-helix five-story central staircase, 282 fireplaces and 426 rooms, our Wisconsin cheese bus wound its way to the La Ferme du Bois-Rond farmstead goat dairy in Pussigny, France, where the husband-wife team of Dominique and Marie-Therese Guillet provided 20 members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals with a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime personal experience of the making of Sainte Maure de Touraine.
Sainte Maure de Touraine is an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) designated cheese, made only in the Loire Valley, about 30 miles south of Tours, in the central region of France. It gained AOC status in 1990, and today about 240 goat dairies in the region are authorized to make this raw-milk, whole goat’s milk, soft-ripened beauty.
Dominique showed us the farm, while Marie-Therese provided an amazing tour and cheesemaking demonstration in the farmstead creamery. But like any farmstead cheese, the story starts with the milk. And this is a story best told in pictures. So here we go.
A herd of 340 dairy goats, made up of eight different breeds – Poitevine, British, Toggenburg, Alpine, Nubian, Boer, Saanen and La Mancha, are milked twice a day at the farm. Quick science lesson: in order to give milk, goats must have babies. In order to have babies, goats must be bred. With a five-month gestation period, and a due-date of February 15, guess what time we arrived at the farm? That’s right, breeding season. 
For three weeks every year, Dominique puts a group of bucks (male goats) in with the does (female goats). When we visited, the bucks were only on day 4 of their 21-day breeding season and already looked tired. Dominique said some of the bucks had already lost 20 pounds due to “being so busy,” which our translator had trouble saying with a straight face.
To give a good amount of milk, goats need to eat well. Dominique feeds his goats a mixture of grains and hay everyday, and the goats get two hours on fresh pasture each morning. He couldn’t wait to show us his barn’s super-nifty hay-loading/unloading roller-coaster machine, made by French manufacturer Griffe a Foin. After a demonstration of its cab that runs on rails attached to the barn ceiling, with attached giant hay-scooping hook that he arced out above us, threatening to scoop us all up (with a smile of course), we decided we all wanted one, whether we needed it or not. It’s amazing technology that I have not seen in the U.S.
When he’s not playing with his super cool hay unloader, Dominique milks the goats twice a day. The evening milk is combined with fresh, warm morning milk, and placed into 58-gallon mini vat tubs in the farm cheesrie where it is warmed to 68 degrees F. Rennet is added and the milk is then left to coagulate for 24 hours.
The next step is hand-ladling the curd into specially curved forms, where it drains naturally. 
After it is set, the new cheese is removed from the form, and a rye straw that is marked with the AOC seal and a number indicating the producer is inserted into the middle of the cheese log. This helps the log keep its shape for the next step of the process.
Once the straw is in, the log now has enough stability to be rolled in a mixture of salt and charcoal ash, which gives it its unique grayish/blue color and contributes to its taste.
The cheese is then allowed to dry overnight before being placed in an aging room, where it is hand-turned daily for a minium of 10 days, as outlined by AOC regulations. Marie-Therese actually ages her St. Maure de Touraine for 12 days. Once a week, she ships wooden boxes, each holding 12 precious logs, out to a host of retail shops, who then have the option of aging it longer or selling it immediately. Marie-Therese told us she believes the peak time for her cheese to be eaten is at 45 days.
Keep in mind that this is a raw-milk cheese, and you’ll understand why we don’t see this cheese very often in the U.S., as American laws dictate a raw-milk cheese must be aged at least 60 days before being sold to consumers. 
After the farm and creamery tour, Marie-Therese and Dominique set up a wonderful tasting session for us, where we got to taste both fresh and aged Sainte Maure de Touraine. What a treat! Thank you so much to the Guillets for opening their farmstead dairy to a cheese geek group from Wisconsin. We appreciate you!