Special edition virtual farm tour: Drumlin Dairy LLC
Editor’s note: For this special edition virtual farm tour, we visit a commercial dairy goat farm to compare and contrast management of dairy goats with that of calves and heifers.
Drumlin Dairy LLC focuses on year-round production and kid health
Wisconsin leads the nation in dairy goat production, yet not enough goat milk is produced in-state to make all the goat cheese crafted by Wisconsin cheesemakers. A few years ago, processors approached the owners of Holsum Dairies, LLC in Hilbert, Wisconsin, to see if they would be interested in establishing a dairy goat farm. From that idea, Drumlin Dairy in nearby Chilton was born.
Construction took place in 2016 and Drumlin Dairy began milking in March of 2017. Kevin Wellejus, an owner and a veterinarian by training, serves as general manager of the farm, which runs with the help of 34 employees. Sara Schneider started with the farm as an intern and now serves as the dairy manager. The farm milks about 8,000 does twice a day on a 120-stall rotary parlor. About 4,500 kids are raised onsite. The herd includes the Saanen, Alpine, LaMancha and Nubian breeds.
Wellejus said the first weeks of life is the most challenging phase in a dairy goat’s life. As such, the team invests significant time and resources into caring for young kids.
Newborns are immediately moved into warming pens. Each kid is fed 200 to 300 mL of colostrum replacer, followed by a 150-mL feeding 12 hours later. They also receive ear tags and vaccines in the newborn pens.
After 12 hours, they move into training pens in groups of five. They are bottle-fed milk replacer the first day to monitor intakes. After that, they are trained onto automatic feeders with milk replacer. Buck kids are sold at about one week of age.
After six days, the doe kids move to a new barn in groups of about 40 per pen and remain there for about two months. Grain is introduced after one week in this barn and a small amount of alfalfa hay is introduced the following week. Once weaned, they are moved to another barn and placed in pens of 250 head, where they will remain through breeding.
Does must be seven months old and weigh at least 80 pounds before they are bred. A group of does is bred every three weeks, most with onsite bucks. Wellejus said a CIDR synch protocol has worked well to manage the non-seasonal breeding program. Ultrasound is used to confirm pregnancies.
Schneider said it takes about a month to train newly lactating does on the rotary parlor. Each doe’s production is closely tracked. With a wide range in individual production, the farm averages 5.5 to 6 pounds of milk per goat. High-producing does will continue to be milked until their daily production drops. Medium-producing does will be bred back after a minimum of 160 days.
Wellejus said goats’ tendency to sort feed can make it challenging to push dry matter intake. With a goal of each doe consuming 7 pounds of dry matter per day, Drumlin’s feeding program encourages feedbunk competition with six feedings of a complete pellet per day and a once daily feeding of forage. Does also receive the complete pellet while they are milked.
As a young farm, Wellejus said Drumlin Dairy is still in a herd growth and development phase. Eventually, managers would like to be at a point where they can cull all low-producing does and increase the proportion of high-producing, long-lactation does. Schneider said the industry has a lot to learn about how to best manage dairy goats for health and longevity. As such, the farm team is willing to test new strategies and continually fine-tune their protocols for long-term success in a steadily growing industry.
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