Family careful to build markets before expanding

200 goats for milk and meat | Sustainability, animal welfare and producing good food are goals on family ranch

NAICAM, Sask. — A toddler’s severe eczema and allergy to cow’s milk have brought his parents to the RobLynn Ranch this spring day to buy a goat and learn how to milk it.

Mother and daughter operators Lynn and Tanis Colyn explain how the demand for their dairy goats has outstripped their current supply and led to a waiting list into 2015.

The ranch raises 200 goats for breeding, meat and milk, with the milk produced for their own uses, which includes feeding the free range chickens bound for local egg and meat markets.

“It’s important to have quality animals. Whatever you’re selling, that’s your reputation going with it,” said Tanis, 20, who hopes to create a Class 2 goat dairy here in the future.

It’s a labour intensive operation that has involved many sacrifices for the family of four. They moved to this half section ranch in northeastern Saskatchewan in 2008 from Three Hills, Alta., where they also raised goats.

Rob, Lynn’s husband, returns from a welding job in Alberta every few months to pitch in, often building infrastructure such as feeders for the goats.

“We were not granted a farm from our family when we got in so we had to do it from scratch,” he said.

“It was better for me to stay (in Alberta) and provide for my family and to get the farm up and running.”

Rob plans to return home permanently this fall, provided he can find employment nearby.

“Considering the size of our operation, supplemental income has to be generated,” he said, noting Lynn’s job as a school bus driver and Tanis’s restaurant work.

The family keeps in touch daily on farm operations. Tanis is responsible for the dairy herd and Lynn oversees the meat animals. They receive help from Lynn’s son, Alex, 17, who is considering post-secondary studies after he graduates this June.

The Colyns said sustainability and animal welfare are key to their ranch goals. Tanis has chosen to slowly increase her herd as she tests demand for goat’s milk and builds contacts and customers within the industry.

Lynn also started small by learning to raise doelings before expanding the herd size. She takes a go slow approach, choosing to have someone else do the haying on shares.

“We’ll take that on when we’re bigger,” she said.

Added Rob: “Steps are being taken for continuous growth, quality animals and quality feed.”

He said they do not use growth hormones and use medications only as necessary for herd health.

“We are not organic strictly, but organic enough,” he said. “We want to produce quality healthy products for our customers. The land is what makes your living and for you to have a living, you must respect the land.”

Tanis agreed.

“It’s not just about making money at the end of the day but about how you managed, how you got there, your people relations, what you’re doing for your community, your province and what you bring to the economy overall,” she said.

She chooses free-range production, believing it’s more humane and yields tastier food.

“Commercial barns have come to a point where it’s cruelty,” Tanis said.

She said it takes passion and an ability to predict the market and know where the operation is headed to work in a fledgling industry.

The Colyns chose this property because of cheaper land costs than in Alberta and its abundance of lakes, trees and wildlife.

“It’s a very nice place to live,” said Rob, who was raised on Vancouver Island.

He and Lynn also believed it was the best environment for their children, both of whom were homeschooled for several years.

“To see the children and see what they’ve done, it makes me feel really good,” said Rob, noting how farm life instills a strong work ethic.

All of them relish the freedom farming allows in being the boss and choosing what to do each day and enjoy raising goats sustainably on a small ranch.

They have chosen breeds like Savanna for their good feet, maternal instincts and ample milk.

“I do not sell bad mothers or attitudes to someone else. They go into the freezer or go into value-added products (sausages),” said Lynn.

Tanis has chosen Nubians for the dairy side, a dual-purpose animal that offers higher butterfat and a higher meat to bone ratio.

Lynn hopes to learn how to butcher as a way to reduce abattoir costs of $90 per animal. She now hauls a goat ordered by a customer to a local abattoir, where the customer picks up the meat.

She will also participate in a pasture project near Pathlow this year to determine the value of goats in managing weeds in pastures.

“It’s a chance to educate people with other livestock on the value goats can add to an operation,” said Lynn, who uses goats to graze ditches with the help of a three-strand electric fence. Guardian dogs also protect their flocks.

Lynn attends goat breeder association meetings and educational sessions to keep abreast of industry developments, marketing and disease prevention and control.

“Saskatchewan is not as developed as I’d like to see it,” she said.

“There is potential for the industry to grow just as with bison and Angus (cattle).”

The Colyns want to deal with consumers directly as much as possible to best see who their customers are and where they should direct their sales and promotion efforts.

Marketing is done through Facebook, at roblynnranch.com and with open farm days that show consumers how the animals are raised.

They hope to develop contacts with ethnic markets and communities in the future and explore halal butchering methods for specialty markets. Food sampling of their chevon prepared by chefs will be featured at a medieval feast planned in Melfort, Sask., in 2015.