Milking goats makes $en$e
Milking time at the Wade family's dairy goat farm is a noisy affair.
The chorus of baas from the hundreds of impatient goats jostling outside in the yards sees to that.
"Come on, girls," dairy milker Grant Bowman says as he opens the gate to the milking shed.
The noise stops as the goats rush forward, knowing a free meal of grain is on offer, while Gary and the other shed workers quickly attach the milking cups to the goats teats.
The process is over very quickly.
With their stomachs slightly fuller, the goats return to a nearby barn.
Six months into its first milking season, the 550 goats are producing 0.21 kilograms of milksolids per head a day. On a $14/kg payout, that equates to around $11,300 a week.
The decision to build a goat farm was simple economics, Klinton Wade says.
"Basically what happened is that we were going to build a 50-bale rotary because the dairy shed was shagged and the other dairy was looking a bit tired. We looked at spending $1.5 million but it was too dear.
"We looked around and thought, bugger it, let's get into milking goats."
Klinton credits his younger brother, Gary, for thinking of goat milking. Gary was driving a digger for a contracting job on a dairy goat farm one day, and the operation "stirred an idea in my head".
The business is headed by the brothers' parents, Kevin and Robyn Wade, and is based on 100 hectares of farmland south of Te Aroha.
They run 284 dairy cows on 70ha of this land while the remainder is used for the goat operation.
They also have an 18ha runoff that is used to grow crops for the two farms.
The goat farming venture enables the family to diversify their income streams and have a better capital efficiency and return compared with milking cows.
A milk payout of $6.60 to $7.85kg/MS generates a 4.1 to 6.5 per cent return on the estimated $71,875 in capital per hectare if the Wades had built a dairy shed.
In comparison, a goat milk payout of $12 to $17kg/MS results in a 9.9 to 20.8 per cent return on the $137,800 in capital spent on each hectare.
"It just made financial sense to do it," Klinton says.
Gary oversees both the goat and cow farms. Each of the 550 saanen and toggenburg goats is milking 0.21kg/MS a goat a day. Next season they plan to increase their goat numbers to 800.
The goats are milked in a 40-a-side rapid-exit dairy shed which sits next to the housing barn.
The lure of grain is more than enough incentive to get the goats into the shed to be milked. It keeps them happy and distracts them from chewing on any of the rubber lines connected to the milking cups, Gary says.
"The only reason they are in there is that they want the grain.
"The idea is to get them in and out as quickly as possible and milk them as quickly as we can."
After milking, the goats exit the shed at the other end and walk back to the housing barn.
This 84x50-metre structure is divided into thirds, with two lanes running down its length.
The housing pens are lined with sawdust for the goats to rest on, and are equipped with water troughs.
Gary says they spend about $15,000 to $20,000 on sawdust, which is changed about once a week in the summer but more frequently in the winter.
The milking goats are kept in one area of the barn away from the dry goats, bucks (male goats) and kids.
The lanes are wide enough for Gary and the workers to feed out silage and cut and carried grass to the goats, which can place their heads through the fence opposite the lane to eat the feed on offer. It also ensures the feed remains clean.
The goats have their main feed of cut and carried grass at 11am and another feed at 2pm. They are fed silage with molasses after their evening milking as well as extra grain.
They feed the goats their best grass to ensure optimum production. They cut the grass at a 2500 to 2700kg per dry matter pasture cover. Anything over 3000kg is fed to the cows.
Gary says they are putting about 6 tonnes of grass every day into the shed and clean out 500kg of wastage straight after milking, which is then fed to the dairy cows. This ensures the goats are eating fresh grass by 9am.
"Goats are quite a fussy animal to feed, so we're quite lucky that any feed that they don't like the look of goes straight over to the cow farm."
Half the family's nearby 18ha runoff block is planted in maize for the cows and the other 9ha is planted in a mixed pasture, which is cut and carried for the goats.
Gary does a pasture walk once a week to check the condition of the paddocks. They keep the cows off the paddocks that are cut for the goats to prevent contamination in the feed. One of the challenges is that goats are more sensitive to health issues.
"They are a delicate animal and like to be treated that way. Some of the things that you think are normal for a cow farmer that would cross over for a goat - it doesn't; it's not quite that easy."
Their herd arrived on the farm in-kid and kidded in July and August. These kids will be mated in February and will kid in July.
"It's only one year to rear them and they're in the vat," Gary says.
The milking season ends in the last week of May and begins again in early July.
"It's very similar to cows."
The goats are fed out silage and hay over those three months.
The kids have their first feed from their mother and are then ad- lib fed in a separate pen.
The farm has two workers plus Gary and he believes it is about as labour intensive as milking cows.
"It has that label to it. When I go and relief milk over at the dairy shed, I'm no busier there than when he's away."
He says the Dairy Goat Cooperative, to which they supply their milk, was extremely helpful in helping them find their feet.
"They have had all of the information for us that we need to know and the other goat farmers around have been very helpful in sharing their knowledge and giving us ideas. It's been a very easy transition into the goats."
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the goats were milking 1.2 kilograms of milksolids a day that equated to just over $64,000 a week. The correct figures are 0.21kg and around $11,300.
- Fairfax Media