Ontario demand drives dairy goat expansion

Top North American producer | Goat milk is not under supply management so herd expansion is not restricted

SARNIA, Ont. — Ontario is a hotbed for North America’s dairy goat industry, and it is getting bigger.

“We’ve taken on another 15 members over the past year,” said Coby Tenvoorde, general manager of the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-operative.

“Demand is growing so fast it’s been hard to keep up.”

The co-op, which has 110 members, sold more than 20 million litres of milk last year. The average farm-gate price was close to 90 cents per litre, which is similar to what’s paid for cow milk.

“We paid out dividends to members that added up to almost two cents per litre,” said Tenvoorde, who raises goats with her husband.

She expects membership to grow to 120 by the end of the year

Many members are of Dutch extraction, and there is also a large contingent of Amish and Mennonites.

The co-op acts as a broker, delivering milk to Woolwich Dairy and smaller processors. Woolwich, with its facilities in Orangeville, Ont., Quebec and Wisconsin, is described on the company’s website as North America’s “largest and leading goat cheese producer.”

Tenvoorde said the other major goat milk broker is Hewitt’s Dairy at Hagersville, Ont., which also processes goat milk.

Bruce Vandenberg of Mariposa Dairy at Lindsay, Ont., said his company and Woolwich both distribute goat milk products across Canada and into the United States.

“In 1990, Ontario produced about two million litres of goat milk and last year produced 35 million,” he said.

“Don’t be surprised if we’re at 50 million litres in the next couple years. That would be a 40 percent increase.”

Vandenberg said Ontario likely produces more goat milk than any other jurisdiction in North America. Iowa and Quebec are also major players.

Ontario’s emergence in the industry can be linked to differences in how milk production is supported in Canada and the United States, he said.

“The reason Ontario is as big as it is (in milking goats) is because if you want to increase milking cows in Ontario, you can’t do it (easily) and so people are getting into goats.”

Cow milk production can be increased in the United States at the whim of producers, but in Canada it is restricted through supply management

Goat milk isn’t under supply management, but the co-op manages supply by limiting membership and the production shares that existing members can by.

Tenvoorde said there’s been little need to limit production because milk demand, prices and producer numbers have all increased since the co-op was formed in 2002.

Martien Kusters of Sarnia, Ont., has taken advantage of the increased demand by getting into the business in 2008 with his parents.

“That was a big thing for us, starting small and starting simple and learning along the way,” the 24-year-old said.

Kusters has kept dwarf goats for as long as he can remember. He started his commercial operation by renovating an old barn, buying 70 female kids and building a milking parlour large enough to handle future expansions, which came in 2010 and 2013.

The family now milks close to 300 does, and Kusters, who manages the operation and does most of the work, plans to expand to as many as 500 does within the next five years.

Caprine arthritic encephalitis (CAE) has been a challenge.

Kusters feeds his kids colostrum from cows rather than goats as a way to keep young females free of the disease, a least until they start milking.

Tenvoorde said there are a couple of CAE-free herds in Ontario.

The Kusters’ herd comprises primarily Saanen bloodlines, and some Alpine is also in the mix. The does average three litres per day, and the herd reaches peak production at around 4.5 litres in May.

The family produces enough milk to fill its 4,000-litre bulk tank for twice-a-week pickups. Pricing is based on solids. Kusters tracks the productivity of his does on a monthly basis as a way to cull does and identify breeding stock.

Vandenberg said that’s the type of approach all producers should pursue.

He said milk production varies widely in Ontario, with some well below the Kusters’ average and some much better. It’s difficult for producers who are in expansion mode to improve their milking genetics, but it becomes much easier once they reach their target herd size of perhaps 400 to 600 does.

The province needs to catch up with European productivity, which averages four litres, he added.

“I would say our goats are like where our Holstein cows were in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Productivity on the Kusters’ farm is reaching its peak. Goat breeding begins in late August and continuing into the fall. Kids are born from February to April.

Kusters runs his own bucks for breeding. Young females, called doelings, are bred at about eight months of age and milked for about a year. Older does tend to milk longer.

About the author


Stories from our other publications