SALEM, Ohio – The Ohio Department of Agriculture says there are a lot of dairy goats in Ohio, second only to California.
And where there are dairy goats, there has to be goat milk.
A quick check in the dairy case of any Ohio supermarket, however, will confirm that Ohio is not particularly awash in fluid goat’s milk.
With a small herd, 15 or so goats, much of the milk is consumed by the families and friends of the goat owners.
But it is illegal in Ohio to sell raw goat’s milk or even to process raw milk into cheese and sell that out the back door or from a farm market. Goat milk not used at home has to be sold in some other way.
Goat dairy co-op. For a handful of producers who are members of the Buckeye Dairy Goat Cooperative Association, there is a marketing opportunity. They sell more than 3 million pounds a year of Grade B goat’s milk to Fleur-de-Leis plants of Bongrain Cheese, which produces goat cheeses in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
But because it is a closed market, with only one customer, the company dictates the market, and has for several years had its needs met at the co-op members’ current production levels.
The only opportunity to join the cooperative is to buy out a current cooperative member. According to Sharon Baum, co-op secretary, that usually happens only once or twice a year.
In most cases, she said, the member wants to sell the entire operation – goats, processing equipment, and all. There is very little, if any, opportunity to go into the co-op with an already established herd of goats.
Takes large herd. Major shippers to the Bongrain plants milk a substantially larger number of goats. The conventional wisdom is that it takes at least 100 milkers to pay for the investment in buildings and equipment.
Teddy West of Mantua, Ohio, is one of the founding members of the co-op. She has a herd of 250, and milks an average of 150.
In Pennsylvania, some of Bongrain’s major suppliers keep herds of 300 or 400 goats in order to keep their milkers at about 200.
Some dairy goat owners think about going the independent route, putting in their own processing plant so they can pasteurize and bottle or process the milk.
Willow Run Dairy of Caprine Estates in Greene County near Dayton sells Grade A bottled milk. Dennis and Patti Dean have a herd of 1,200 goats and sell milk, cheese, and ice cream out of their store, over the Internet, to a number of Cincinnati and Dayton restaurants, and through a variety of health food, speciality, and grocery stores.
Plan looked good. Sharen O’Brock of North Benton, Ohio, has recently sold most of her herd of 75 goats because she and her husband got too deeply involved in another business.
But she said she had drawn up a business plan for installing a processing plant and selling bottled milk and cheese to health food stores and to restaurants in Youngstown, Akron and Canton.
On paper, she said, it appeared to promise to become a thriving business.
Still, many goat people have considered that route before. Some have even tried. Willow Run Dairy is currently the only source of bottled goat milk and goat milk products from Ohio farms available on the market.
“People call all the time saying they are looking for goat milk. They have a baby that can’t tolerate formula, or they are allergic to milk,” Baum said. “Before we started the co-op, I was considering going that route. But when you look into it, there is probably not a very large market. A baby who can’t tolerate milk will usually outgrow it in a couple of years.
Sales limited. “The research that has been done on the market in Ohio indicates that the grocery stores that do carry bottled goat milk shipped in from out of state sell only 10 or 12 quarts a week,” Baum said.
The goat milk usually available retail is an ultrapasteurized brand processed in California.
“The average family can’t afford goat milk at over $3 a quart,” Baum said.
That roadblock seems to leave only a few other avenues for marketing goat milk.
The milk can be made into fudge and sold, but the market for fudge also has its limits.
Pet food license. Many producers get a state license to sell it as pet food. Its composition is much closer to the milk of most other mammals than cow’s milk, and producers often seek out goat milk for their feeding program.
In this form it can be sold raw and off of the farm.
The other avenue that many goat producers are attempting is goat milk soap and other beauty products. Although not widely available retail, hundreds of people with goat herds offer soap as part of their Web marketing.
Enter goat milk soap in any Web search engine, and it will turn up page after page of suppliers on a variety of farms across the country.
(Next week, a small goat breeder concentrates on genetics and merchandising, and one producer’s marketing success.)