Dairy goat farm focuses on raising healthy, high-producing kids
With the goal of raising healthy, high-producing dairy goats, the team at Blakesville Dairy Farm in Port Washington, Wisconsin, focuses on care and management of kids to enhance lifetime health and performance while continuously being progressive in their farming practices.
Blakesville Dairy Farm’s staff currently milk approximately 1,100 goats with a total of 1,500 animals housed onsite. The farm was established 10 years ago on a site previously operated as a dairy cow farm. Whitney Sakal has been part of the Blakesville team for six years and is the farm manager.
The farm is in its fourth year of operating its farmstead creamery, Blakesville Creamery. A variety of Blakesville Creamery artisan cheeses are sold locally and distributed throughout the Midwest and Northeast.
The herd was originally established with Saanen and Alpine, however, Saanen bucks have been used exclusively for the last seven years. The farm manager has established a breeding program by tracking production per animal and buck genetics to advance the herd’s genetic potential for increased production and extended lactations.
Kids, and first-freshening yearlings, are all housed in a retrofitted heifer barn, which Sakal said presents a challenge of large swings in temperature mostly due to their proximity to the lake and the greenhouse ceilings. Curtains are kept closed during the winter months and cracked open to improve air quality when temperatures reach about 40 degrees. Straw bedding is used in the kid pens year-round, and staff are focused on keeping bedding dry to limit respiratory disease.
Sakal explained that kidding is traditionally January through May, but it will extend into July this year due to weather conditions that allowed the does to keep breeding into February. Usually there is a day in early January when the does stop breeding.
Immediately after birth, the kids’ navels are dipped with iodine. Kids are soon placed in small, sterile pens for one to two days. They receive their first dose of a colostrum replacer via esophageal feeder soon after birth and a second feeding 12 hours later.
Next, kids move into a wire pen with three to four other kids for about five days and continue to be fed with bottles. Once they easily stand to be fed, they are moved to training pens where they are grouped with 9 to 11 other kids, and they learn to use autofeeders. After another five days, they move to their permanent pen with 15 to 20 kids.
Sakal explained the farm previously fed cold milk in the autofeeders to prevent gorging. In the last year, they switched to feeding warm milk and are pleased with an increase in growth rates. The autofeeder nipples and machines are cleaned and sanitized daily, and the nipples are replaced every four to five days. The autofeeder pens also include automatic waterers that are cleaned twice a week. Cleaning is a key component of kid rearing on the farm.
Weaning is a two-week process that begins at eight weeks of age. To help decrease stress, kids remain in the same pen for a few weeks postweaning.
Kids are introduced to a pelleted starter feed in the first week of age. They continue consuming the pellets until they reach three months of age, when they are slowly transitioned to a TMR containing corn silage, haylage, grain concentrates and molasses.
Mature Doe Management
Sakal said she is focused on developing a dairy herd with outstanding lifetime production. In addition to genetic selection, she focuses on animal comfort and health to increase herd longevity. The breeding program and dry doe and lactating doe management protocols revolve around those goals.
Adult pens are bedded daily and completely cleaned out every two months. Used bedding is composted onsite and then applied to the farm’s 250 acres used for growing forage crops.
All forages used in Blakesville’s unique TMR are grown on the farm and are stored in bags and straw is purchased locally. Many goat farms are not using a TMR, but Blakesville has been feeding a TMR for numerous years and it’s designed to eliminate sorting.
Does are milked twice a day in a double-24 milking parlor, where they receive a mix of corn and oats during milking. The goats are milked twice per day starting at about 5 a.m. and then 4 p.m., with an average of about 5 ½ to 6 hours per milking, depending on stage of lactations.
“In the last three years, we’re really starting to see the kind of dairy animals we like,” Sakal said. “We want to keep developing this herd’s potential.”
Dairy Goat Performance