One of the most significant changes has been the expansion of dairy goats. According to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture census, dairy goat herds across the county increased by 61% between 2007 and 2017.
For South Dakota, the dairy goat industry is still in its infancy, creating several start-up challenges for farmers looking for alternatives to dairy cows.
Keith and Danelle Stohr of Milbank have struggled through the thick and thin of the dairy industry.
“I grew up on the farm in Clear Lake,” said Keith. “I’ve been farming since I was 12. By the time I was 14, I was managing my dad’s herd of dairy cows. Anything that had to be done with those cows was by my own hands.”
The couple settled into Danelle’s family farm after marriage, and Keith quickly got to work fulfilling his dream of managing his own herd of dairy cows. He acquired 130 head of all five major breeds, but a mistake made in the quality of their feed and a struggling dairy market cost the couple more than it paid to produce.
“We wandered into the wilderness and didn’t know what path we were going to take,” said Keith.
They experimented with different types of livestock, from quarter horses to Hampshire sheep.
“We had issues with the ewes not having enough milk, and we were bottle feeding the lambs,” he said. “So, we bought a couple of goats to help keep the lambs fed.”
After tracking the milk production levels in the goats, Keith decided it would be worth investing in the dairy goat industry.
With no goat dairy processing facility in the area, the Stohrs had to keep their goats near Cottonwood, Minn.
“That got sickening, driving 84 miles one way every day,” Keith said.
The couple moved their goats to Milbank with the assumption that they would make it onto a dairy pick-up route. With their goats producing up to 8 pounds of milk a day, they quickly had a full tank of fresh goat dairy.
The couple watched their hopes go down the drain as that anxiously awaited truck never showed.
“We had quit our jobs at United Hardware to do this,” Danelle said.
“The stress of the move, it’s not worth it. I didn’t want that drive. I didn’t want to go back to work for the hardware store. I wanted to farm,” said Keith.
The goats were not going to stop producing, and the couple needed to find an outlet to sell their product. Danelle got to work finding recipes from lotions to ice cream to show folks the wonders of goat dairy products.
“You should have seen the expression on their faces,” said Danelle. “This is goat? Are you sure? You should be able to taste the goat. They were in awe about how delicious my goat ice cream was.”
Goat milk is heat sensitive, so it needs to be kept at 34 degrees at all times. Once it gets warm, the “essence of goat” becomes prevalent and ruins the otherwise delicious flavor.
Danelle makes soap, lotions and goat milk caramels and said she is the only certified, licensed raw goat milk handler in the state.
“The woman we got our goats from, she gave me the best advice ever. Make a goat soap that fits comfortably in your hand,” said Danelle.
To help move product, they will be attending farmer’s markets in Milbank, Clear Lake, Watertown and Ortonville, Minn.
The couple is still hopeful that they can continue to help grow the goat dairy industry in the state. They are looking toward grants to build a small cheese and cheese curd micro-plant on their land. Before they can apply for grants, they must first determine the consumption of goat cheese within the region.