Teddy West of Portage County grew up on a dairy farm, so milking has always been a way of life for her.
“I milked cows from the time I was 13 until I got married,” West said.
Though cows supplied the milk when she was a child, it was always her dream to milk goats commercially.
“Many years ago I started like everybody else with one goat,” she said. “I wanted my own milk so we bought a goat — a Saanen. From that point, it progressed to about 11 goats.”
But milking the goats in her small herd didn’t fulfill her dream of milking goats on a much larger scale, so West was always looking for an opportunity to grow her herd and market her milk.
“I always wanted to milk goats commercially, and the opportunity came about to join a co-op,” West said.
In the early 1990s, a small group of Ohioans was beginning to build a co-op to market its members’ goat milk.
“We started out with eight producers in 1990,” she said. “We shipped milk to New Holland, Pa.”
Although the group grew in size and shipped millions of gallons of milk, their relationship with the plant in Pennsylvania terminated in the early 2000s.
“In about 2002, they picked up producers closer to the plant, and they no longer needed our milk,” West said. “At that point, we had 28 producers in the co-op and we were shipping over 4 million pounds of milk a year. This was all goat milk.
“The plant g
ave us 30 days and cut us off. That was pretty tough. A lot of people quit immediately.”
Never one to back down from her goals, West became the broker for the new smaller version of the Ohio co-op.
“We landed a contract with Minneapolis, Minn.,” she said. “We shipped there for two or three years until we lost so many producers that it was no longer feasible. It was costing more to ship the milk out (2,300 miles round trip) than the milk was worth.”
The co-op disbanded and West search
ed for a new avenue to market her milk. Though she has sold her milk to several different companies through the years, she currently markets it to three different companies — Cuyahoga Creamery, Middlefield Cheese, and Coach Farms.
“Right now there is a great demand for this milk,” West said.
Even though there is a great demand for goat milk, not every goat farmer can manage to make it a profitable venture. It takes a large number of milking does to make commercially milking goats worthwhile.
“If you milk 100 goats at your peak, I consider that a breakeven point,” West said.
West milks her goats 365 days a year twice a day. At peak production, she milks about 160 does.
“This is all Grade B cheese milk,” she said. “I milk year round, but I like the bulk of my milk in the winter time because that is when the cheese plants really want the milk for cheese. September through March is when they want the bulk of the milk.”
Her rolling average is 6.5 pounds of milk per day per animal. Her herd focuses on Saanens and Sable Saanens. All of her goats are registered with the American Dairy Goat Association.
West milks 100 goats an hour. She brings 44 into her parlor at one time. Her total time in the parlor is about 1.5 hours per milking session.
“We bought a whole milking set up,” she said “It is all used. We use universal cow claws, and we cut off two ports and plugged them.
“We have 12 claws; six on each side. Each claw milks about four goats — two on each side of the claw,” West said.
West owns an 800-gallon milk tank, but because the milk is picked up more often now by her three buyers, she said she really only needs a 500-gallon tank.
Once the goats are old enough to have freshened and join the milking herd, they spend 100% of their time in either the parlor or a very large free stall barn.
“The biggest reason for that is milk consistency and quality,” West said. “You never have to worry about any off flavored milk. We can control what they eat.”
Although in all herds small health issues can pop up from time to time, West has a very healthy herd overall. Even coccidia and worms are not a problem for her.
“The mineral mix we feed has Rumensin right in it,” she said. “You just mix it with your grain and it works beautifully.”
The Rumensin works to ward off coccidia, but not much effort is needed to prevent worms in West’s herd.
“I have a microscope so I can check fecals,” she said. “I check the milking goats periodically and there is nothing in their fecals. I also check eyelids with the FAMACHA system, and I can also tell by their hair coats and weight. I deworm as needed, usually mostly the yearlings after they freshen before they go in with the whole milking herd.”
Because West has put forth so much effort into developing and maintaining a healthy herd through the years, her herd is free from many other health risk factors as well.
“We have been totally CAE negative for at least 10 years and we don’t have Johne’s disease,” she said.
Because of her history of negative tests results for these diseases coupled overall excellent herd health, West is able to often skip bottle feeding the kids if she chooses because she knows the does won’t pass disease on to their kids. When she chooses not to bottle feed, this relieves the extra labor involved with hand raising kids.
“We leave the kids on the dams for 8 weeks,” West said. “Then I move them into another building.
“I still milk that dam twice a day. During those 8 weeks, sometimes she doesn’t have any milk if she has twins or triplets.”
Raising healthy kids with minimal manpower and overhead is an important part of West’s ability to make the goats profitable because she keeps most of the offspring for several months after they are born.
“I keep all the does, but not necessarily as replacements,” she said. “I have a lot of orders. Most of the time you have to raise them up to breeding age or sell them as bred. Buyers don’t want them milking. It is too hard to ship them.”
Ease of shipping is an important consideration because West ships all over the United States and even to regions outside of the country.
“Right now I have an order for bucks to go to California,” she said. “Last year, we shipped 125 head to California. In January, 16 head went to Trinidad. If I had had more, they would have taken more.”
West has also sold goats to Mexico and Canada.
In addition to breeding age does sold to customers wanting milk, West has sold show animals and periodically has a few buyers that want bucks. This year she is trying a new marketing strategy for extra bucks.
“We have a small herd of Boer goats and we are going to put the excess dairy males with them and take them to Mt. Hope to an auction and see what happens,” she said.
By October all the buck kids from the spring freshenings will be gone. In order to keep milk flowing all year long, West often breeds does for fall freshenings.
“In the past, we have done a light treatment so that we have fall and winter milk,” she said. “In December, we have the lights on for 20 hours a day for eight weeks. In February, we turn everything out and then by the end of March or early April they are cycling and then they freshen in September or October.”
Keeping goats milking year round requires quality feed year round. Most of what the goats eat is raised on the 250 acres that consist of her farm and a nearby farm owned by her son.
“We raise everything except our mineral,” she said. “We usually trade the beans for bean meal.”
Milking has nearly always been a part of West’s life and although it wasn’t always goats she milked, it is clear that milking goats is a dream come true for her. Living her dream every day as she cares for her goats gives her extra passion for her work, which pays off in quality goats, which in turn keeps her goats and milk in demand.
Though West has been milking goats commercially for about 23 years, she doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.
“I’d like to milk until the day I die,” West said.
When your work is you passion, as with West, the result is often a good one, which is the case on this farm where a happy dairywoman grows happy and healthy goats that produce quality milk.