Dominique Ahrens has a passion for animals, dedicating her time to helping youth in Kewaunee County 4-H with animal projects and working on her family’s small farmstead, raising milking goats, Suffolk sheep, chickens and many other animals. Recently, she took her passion for animals, dairy goats in particular, one step further, becoming the first graduate of Southwest Wisconsin Technical College’s Dairy Goat Herd Management Certificate program.

“It was really exciting to be the first to complete the program,” Ahrens said.

A 2016 high school graduate, Ahrens became interested in goats after her sister got her first one. The goat was fun to have around, she said, and caring for it was a little bit different than caring for sheep.

“I really fell in love with them then,” she said.

She wanted to increase her knowledge in the area of dairy goat production, enrolling in Southwest Tech’s program in 2017, when it first debuted. Because of her busy schedule, Ahrens was able to successfully earn her certificate this spring after two years in the program.

In order to graduate from the program, Ahrens had to complete 11 online courses, attend one of the college’s two-day Dairy Goat Academies, which provide hands-on training, and participate in a 48-hour mentorship program. Online courses span a wide variety of topics all relating to dairy goat herd management, including genetics and selection; an introduction to the dairy goat industry; reproduction and breeding programs; dairy goat nutrition; milking facilities and housing; farm records and financial management; goat records and analysis; promotion and marketing; writing a business plan; herd health; and kid management.

Ahrens said there were about 10 to 12 others in the program, and through the use of the Internet, they could all communicate with each other, asking questions and sharing opinions on different topics of discussion. Her favorite topic was kidding as “it’s always so exciting to go to the barn and see what the goat produces.”

The program’s instructor and coordinator is Clare Heberlein, who, along with her husband, owns and operates a commercial dairy goat operation outside of Fennimore. The Heberleins have been milking 300 dairy goats in their custom-made facilities since 2010, with Heberlein’s interest in dairy goats stemming from her childhood.

Ahrens is already applying a lot of what she learned from the program back at her family’s home farm in Luxemburg. She took a particular interest in breeding and marketing and is brainstorming products that could be made from her animals. She also has ambitions to try pasture rotations and hopes to get that going on her farm.

“I would recommend the classes to anyone either looking to get into a big dairy or just doing a hobby farm,” she said. “It has taught me a lot.”

The certificate is meant to fine tune farm management skills and provide the knowledge to support a full-time commercial dairy goat operation, and is a good fit for both the experienced producer or novice goat farmer. Ahrens highly recommended the program because she learned so much — much of which she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to learn unless she spent a lot of time with a mentor.

Wisconsin is the nation’s leader in dairy goats, with 72,000 head recorded by the Wisconsin Ag Statistical Service in January 2019. In fact, milk goat inventory in Wisconsin was up seven percent this year over last year.

For more information about SWTC’s Dairy Goat Herd Management Certificate, see https://www.swtc.edu/academics/certificates/dairy-goat-herd-management. The college will also be hosting this year’s Dairy Goat Academy on Nov. 1 and 2, with further information on that event included on the website as well.