The slogan, “America’s Dairyland,” coined nearly 100 years ago, is an essential part of our state’s identity. As a community, the dairy industry contributes $45.6 billion to Wisconsin’s economy annually. What may surprise you, however, is that it’s not just thanks to our state’s 1.28 million dairy cows. Relatively new to the dairy scene in Wisconsin, dairy goats are quickly making a big splash in the dairy state. Wisconsin is currently home to 47,000 dairy goats, more than any other state.
As consumer demand for dairy goat products has increased steadily since the mid-1990s, the number of goats has followed suit. Since just 2015, the Wisconsin goat population has seen a 60% increase. Goat farms can offer a variety of food products including cheese, fluid milk, ice cream, and butter, as well as beauty products such as soap and lotion.
Eight main breeds of dairy goats can be found on farms throughout Wisconsin: Alpine, Saanen, LaMancha, Nubian, Toggenburg, Nigerian Dwarf, Sable, and Oberhasli. Often, a dairy goat herd will be comprised of several breeds. Similar to differences in dairy cattle breeds, each breed of dairy goat has unique characteristics and personalities that they bring to the farm. Personalities, overall milk production and milk components all will vary with the breed.
The most noticeable difference between dairy goat breeds, however, may be their ears. Several breeds, such as the Alpines and Saanens, have medium-length erect ears, while their cousins the LaManchas appear to have no ears. According to the American Dairy Goat Association, LaMancha goats can have one of two types of ears. A “gopher ear” will reach a maximum length of one inch, and an “elf ear” will have a maximum length of two inches.
Depending upon diet and breed, dairy goat milk production can range from six to 12 pounds, or about one to one-and-one-half gallons per day. According to the Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom program, “Goat milk has fats and proteins that are easier to digest than cow milk. Therefore, goat milk can be better for infants who have weaker stomachs.” Their website also shared that, “Goat milk can also replace cow milk in the diets of people who are allergic to cow milk.”
Next time you are in the grocery store, be sure to check the dairy aisle for the newcomers. Thanks to our state’s innovative dairy processing community, more and more dairy goat products are finding their way to store shelves. This is especially true when it comes to Wisconsin’s award-winning cheeses. Though you may be most familiar with the fresh, spreadable version of goat cheese, chèvre, goat’s milk can also be combined with cow (and even sheep!) milk to make countless artisan cheeses.
Dairy goats not only add to the diversity of our state’s dairy products, but our state’s agriculture community. Learn more about our state’s growing dairy goat industry by visiting the Wisconsin Dairy Goat Association website: www.wdga.org.
Alice in Dairyland Abigail Martin can be reached at DATCP, 2811 Agriculture Drive, P.O. Box 8911, Madison, WI 53718 or DATCPAlice@wisconsin.gov.