The demand for goat’s milk is the highest it has ever been in Wisconsin. But turning a profit remains a challenge for some in the industry.
The dairy goat industry has been dealing with climbing feed prices since 2006. But the drought of 2012 sent feed costs even higher, making it hard for operators to stay afloat. Barb and Tony Gerstner of Gays Mills recently sold off their goats and got out of the business. Barb Gestner says the local processor wasn't paying them enough to make a living, “It’s a cost that price we're getting for our milk you can work as hard as you want to work it’s not there, it doesn't pencil out."
Some processors are buying milk below cost, meaning some farmers aren't making a profit. But demand remains high. So much so that former UW Extension Dairy Goat Specialist Jeannie Meyer says some processors are buying frozen curd from Europe to make up for the shortfall in supply, “The processor would be glad to have more producers producing more fresh milk, but whether they're willing to pay the price farmers need, that is a question.”
So far, farmers aren't leaving the industry in large numbers. But small operators remain vulnerable. Gene Zimmerman is a herd manager at Woolrich Dairy in Lancaster, Wisconsin. He says bigger is better. Zimmerman says someone looking seriously at entering the business should have at least 250 goats, “Otherwise you simply won't have enough for your general electricity, your mortgage, your taxes, much less the feed bill.”
While profit remains tough to come by for some, Wisconsin is still a major player in the industry. The state has the largest number of dairy goat farms in the country.