Single buyer defines goat milk co-op

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SALEM, Ohio – The Buckeye Dairy Goat Cooperative Association has been a spectacularly successful enterprise for the goat milk producers who explored the possibilities, found a buyer, and got it off the ground in 1990.

In the past year the co-op producers shipped more than 3 million gallons of goat milk, for which they got $30 to $40 a hundredweight, depending on fat and protein content.

The co-op’s success has encouraged other goat people to grow their herd and develop their milking capabilities, thinking they could become a part of that success.

Don’t get goats. “The first thing I tell anybody who asks,” said Teddy West of Mantua, one of the co-op founders, “is don’t get any goats.”

“They can set themselves up to become goat milk producers, but goats are readily available. And maintaining a milking herd can eat up a lot of resources for someone waiting to get into the co-op who has no market for their goat milk.”

West said the cooperative came into being in the first place because of the problem of selling goat milk. A friend of hers, Harold Gershner, began contacting brokers, making inquiries into where goat milk might find a market.

What they found was the Fleur de Lait plant of Bongrain Cheese in New Holland, Pa. Alan Tobie, Bongrain’s manager of special projects, had recently completed his own market study that predicted continual growth in sales of the Chavrie spreadable goat cheese it was producing.

Needed production. The company realized the large number of small producers they were purchasing milk from in Pennsylvania would not be able to meet their growing needs. They were already importing goat curd from Spain.

They were open to the idea of purchasing the guaranteed production from the Ohio cooperative.

The co-op started with a milk route of 650 miles, delivering all its production to New Holland. But when Bongrain purchased a plant in Watertown, Wis., in 1994, it transferred most of the Buckeye producers to that plant. Now the co-op truck travels 1,800 miles on its round-trip route through Ohio and into Indiana and Michigan to pick up milk from co-op members and then return to Wisconsin.

At the present time, West said, there are 18 producers in the co-op. That has been as high as 24, she said, but when Bongrain reduced its demand, the cooperative had to reduce its production.

Waiting list. The cooperative maintains a waiting list for those who would like to join.

Sharon Baum, co-op secretary, keeps the list, but uses it only to refer names to cooperative members who are interested in selling their operations.

“We can’t take new members since Bongrain does not need more milk than we are already producing,” she said.

Tired of waiting. And that is the reality that Gail Peterson of rural Columbiana County discovered after she had left her name on the Buckeye Cooperative list for six years.

Peterson at first kept goats because she became really interested in breeding for good body conformation and superior milk production.

Decided to dairy.

But when she heard about the co-op, inquired about membership and was told she could add her name to the waiting list, but that it would be awhile, she decided that her future was in goat dairying.

“The wait was all right with me,” Peterson said. “It gave me time to get ready.

She bred her herd to 100 goats. Her husband worked out a light synchronization program to make the goats freshen in the fall for the fall and winter milk production the co-op said Bongrain was looking for.

Pouring out milk. While they were waiting, Peterson said, they were still hand milking, and pouring out at least 10 gallons of milk a day that they were unable to use themselves.

It was when they started planning to build a milk house to put in a bulk tank and automatic milkers that Peterson finally checked with the co-op.

They told her they didn’t need any more production and were not adding new producers. “My husband and I don’t have the money to buy anyone out,” she said.

But Peterson had also fallen in love with her “girls.” She has kept 15 goats to have six milkers, and to “find out how my breeding program is going to come out.”

The goats she had ready to freshen in the fall were all sold, but the program was successful, she said. Now she is preparing to put her most recent six kids under the lights and get them ready for fall production.

“I know several families in the same situation we were in,” Peterson said.

Her frantic research when she discovered that she would never be able to join the co-op only proved to her that while Ohio is designated as milk deficient, it is a real problem to market goat milk in Ohio.

(You can contact Jackie Cummins at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at jcummins@farmanddairy.com.)

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