Management Challenges for Dairy Goat Sustainability

2008 Annual Report for FW07-324

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2007: $15,360.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Deborah Giraud
University of California

Management Challenges for Dairy Goat Sustainability


Progress Report 12/1/08

Five goat milk producers in Humboldt County, California; Deborah Giraud, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor, and Steve Berry, UC Davis Specialist proposed a project that has enhanced goat milk producers’ profitability, enhanced enterprise diversification, preserved family farms and their lands and is helping make self-employment in rural counties sustainable. This project supported assistance to our producers in starting milk metering, facilitating an Association and created a new statewide conference for commercial goat dairies. Dairy goat foot rot and other foot problems were investigated and information disseminated.

Project site

Humboldt County is located 650 north miles from San Francisco. Currently there are five local commercial milk producers milking about 1800 goats and all members of the Humboldt/Del Norte Goat Milk Producers Association. A cheese processor, Cypress Grove Chevre, is shipping cheese nationally and is growing 33% a year. There is a demand for goat milk and the local production cannot supply it all.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Goal A) Foot Rot. To determine the types of organisms causing problems in commercial herds and to demonstrate effective treatments and prevention of foot rot.

Goal B) Improve Profitability. The Goat Milk Producers Association will start a doe sampling program that helps producers cull animals that do not meet production standards.

Goal C) Conference. A commercial goat dairy conference will be held in May 2008 at Merced. Foot rot, sampling programs and the Association model will all be covered as well as other topics with expert speakers from the west. This will be advertised throughout the west. DVDs will be produced.


Goal A) Foot Rot Research and Education

Dr. Steven Berry visited Humboldt County twice to look at goat lameness. Sterile swabs were purchased. Samples were taken from lame goats, and sent to Texas A&M lab. No infectious organisms were found. Photos were taken of hooves with problems. Lameness was attributed to hoof problems that for the most part can be prevented with timely trimming and clean conditions. Both of these are difficult to achieve in areas with 50 inches of rain per year, pasture systems, and large numbers of goats to trim. We held a training on foot care at one dairy, with all other producers attended. The need for timely trimming and hoof care was reiterated to all the producers. Prevention is the key, and this process was very helpful in stressing that to the producers. Dr. Berry came back for a second visit as we didn’t get to see another ranch where they felt they had different symptoms. At that ranch we saw just one case of what may have been more of an infectious wart similar to what cattle get. We found the sampling process to be very difficult. It was also difficult to find a lab to process the samples. We had to send to Texas. When the lab reported no infectious foot problems, we did not sample again.

Goal B) Commercial Producers meetings. In Humboldt County producers have met quarterly. The UCCE Farm Advisor, Deborah Giraud, facilitated the meetings and purchased the milk meters, the major project for the year. Twelve milk meters were purchased by the UCCE in June 2008 with SARE funding. Additional meters were purchased with other funds prior to the SARE grant. One of the producer meetings was held at a producer’s barn, and they demonstrated the use of the milk meters, shared the data collected and reiterated to the producers the benefits of the data collection. The other producers are readying their barns to be able to use the meters. While industry salesmen will tell them that it is easy to install and use, the facts remain that each barn is different and the meter hangers may have to be fabricated. With the demands of the daily milkings and feedings, this chore and expense has been put off at several producers. It cost one producer about $1,000 to fabricate the metal bar to attach the meter hangers.

Goal C) Conference. The statewide conference was held on May 15, 2008, in Merced. We had 11 speakers and 19 participating farms; some couples. It was a great day of sharing information and presenting topics useful to the producers. Announcements were in statewide publications such as Ag Alert. Dairy advisors around the state advertised the workshop to their clientele. A direct mail piece was sent to all known goat dairies and processors to distribute. We had three vets in attendance all day. UC Davis Specialists and Advisors from around the state spoke at the conference and helped during the day. Excellent collaboration was evident and interest in goats reaffirmed. A DVD was produced of the presentations and is available to interested producers.

Prior to the conference, a survey for commercial goat milk producers was created and sent by mail to a statewide list. An email version of the survey announcement was forwarded to UCD staff so they could help distribute it, and it was sent to producers to all the email addresses we have. The survey could also be taken online.

A post-conference evaluation was emailed to everyone who attended. Eight evaluations were received with most of the ratings in the highest categories. Very few comments were written in the space provided, with no complaints. About six calls were received from producers who did not attend asking for information. Even four months later producers have called with questions, and several are interested in starting new operations. Two sets of DVDs were sent to interested new producers at no cost to them.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Goal A) The foot rot investigation was a learning experience for the producers and two researchers. No causal agent was found in the lab analysis. The assurance that the problem experienced was not caused by a contagious agent was good news. Only one goat seemed to have an infectious wart, and this was not confirmed by the lab. The sampling is very difficult on the farm, and perhaps a more extensive clinical situation would be needed to ferret out the causal agent, if it is even present. Dr. Berry decided that repeating the sampling was not warranted. Stressing the prevention of foot problems by routine trimming was demonstrated at several workshops. The discussion around how to manage the labor needed to provide the necessary preventative trimming was instructive for all. Dry does that do not enter a barn each day where they can be trimmed more easily, need to be trimmed on a regular schedule. After the workshop, one producer had a hired worker spend ½ day for a month just trimming feet.

Goal B) One of the producers reported to me that the milk meters allowed them to sort their goats into three milking and feeding strings. One hundred goats were culled out of 800 after collecting milk production records over about three testing dates. This information gave them the confidence to cull with sound reasoning. Feeding is being fine tuned for each string of goats, which is a cost savings and beneficial to the animals by being able to supply feed more exactly to the age and production of the goats. The impact of these changes will be immediate to this producer and serve as a model for others. Soon we hope to see the other producers in this county using the meters more extensively. While the meter project was conducted only in Humboldt County, it will serve as a model to others in the region as an accomplishment of a producer’s Association.

Goal C) Conference. The outcome of the Conference was educational presentations delivered to 19 farms and a DVD created that can be shared with many more. Two sets have already been mailed. A pre-conference survey was created to ascertain what topics the producers wanted. We had good response. This resulted in a long list of topics, many of which were addressed. There was no concentration of topics requested and many topics were suggested. A professor in Mexico contacted us and plans are forming for a student and professor visit and exchange. This communication came from the conference publicity and will be an interesting opportunity if we can coordinate something.

A post-conference evaluation was sent to all who attended. Another outcome was the interactions of Cooperative Extension Specialists from campus with county-based Advisors coming together to listen to and help goat milk producers. Planning for future events and research are in discussion. A meeting the night before the conference was held with most of the speakers attending. Several ideas were presented that are in the planning stages, including a doe sale at the State Fair. The Golden Bear Doeling Sale was discontinued years ago, but a producer who was involved is interested in starting it up again. The proceeds would go toward UCD research and extension projects. (2009 is not a good year it turns out, as there is another large sale a month later.)

Goal 1) Accomplished. The UC Davis media group videotaped the presenters and created a 3-part DVD of the presentations. These will be offered to the statewide mailing list of milk producers.

Goal 2) Not accomplished yet. An industry newsletter will be sent to our mailing list of commercial dairies and all cheese manufacturers and milk bottlers to pass it on to all their milk producers. This will contain an article on the foot rot project results and an overview of Humboldt County’s meter program. The agents in other western states are being asked to submit articles and make this a western region newsletter.

Goal 3) Web Site and Trade magazines. Not accomplished yet. A similar article describing the results will be written and sent to trade magazines and posted to our UC goat workgroup web site, with links to and from the animal science department and other goat web sites.

Goal 4) The information generated will be shared at Goat Day held at UC Davis each January. This event will be coming up in Jan. 2009,

Future recommendation: Commercial goat milk producers could benefit from a Statewide association, and a large statewide educational workshops at least every other year. More research and extension educational programs are needed. It is difficult to attract commercial herd owners to workshops; there is no ‘best time to meet.’ Distances in California are extensive and it is very hard for small dairy owners to get away from the farm, as it is expensive to hire temporary help and sometimes very difficult to find. Many are doing the milking themselves and have few or no relief milkers. Many commercial goat dairy owners do not belong to the American Dairy Goat Association. There are educational opportunities at the national convention that they could take advantage of.

Educational materials
a)The UC Davis media group videotaped the presenters and created a 3-part DVD of the presentations.
b)Several photos are available.
c)Educational materials were gathered and handed out at the conference

Results of the Commercial Goat Milk Producers Survey 2008

Most interested in learning about?: write-in response
a) Marketing
b) Out-of-season breeding
c) How to stop government from demanding that goats conform to all cow rules and regs
d) Increasing the basic health of a commercial herd – basics
e) DHIA testing
f) Regulations for milk barns
g) Organic milk
h) Ways to improve goat health
i) Best goat software
j) Tips on raising kids (best practices)
k) Disease control (CAE, CL)
l) Nutrition
m) Off season breeding

Issue of most concern to you to improve your operation? Write in response
a) Marketing
b) Sales of extra milk goats
c) How to stop government from demanding that goats conform to all cow rules and regs
d) Kid nutrition
e) Nutrition @ one year, 3 years, 5 years +
f) Testing milk on site
g) Profitability

a) DHIA and how to test goats Very Interested-3 Interested-1 Not Interested-2

b) Goat nutrition
Very Interested-5 Interested Not Interested-2

c) Foot rot problems in goats Very Interested-1 Interested-5 Not Interested-1

d) National Animal Identification System (NAIS)
Very Interested-2 Interested-1 Not Interested-3

Would you be interested in the following topics?
a) Business skills such as business plans, projecting, financial resource assistance etc.

Very Interested-3 Interested-2 Not Interested-2

b) Off-season breeding techniques
Very Interested-4 Interested Not Interested-3

c) Artificial Insemination
Very Interested-1 Interested-2 Not Interested-3


Steven Berry
2241 Meyers Hall
One Shield Ave.
Davis, CA 95616
Office Phone: 9167521279