Goat dairy | Former ranchers take on a growing goat herd and organic milk processing
PONOKA, Alta. — When Patrick Bos graduated from college, the last thing he expected to do in the future was own a goat dairy.
He would have been even more shocked to see a goat and cow milk processing plant in his future.
“I would have said they were crazy,” he said.
Today, Patrick and Cherylynn Bos operate Rock Ridge Dairies, one of the largest goat dairies in Alberta, and one of the largest on-farm milk and cheese processing plants.
The couple milks 900 goats and hopes to be milking 1,200 in their new rotary milking parlour by spring. They process 18,000 litres of goat milk and 10,000 to 12,000 litres of organic cow milk each month at the plant.
The young couple started their farming career with 50 beef heifers, but it didn’t take much math to recognize that the heifers wouldn’t pay the farm bills.
Instead, the couple began milking goats and shipping the milk to a new goat milk dairy, Nutricia Dairy, in nearby Ponoka. However, payments were sporadic and the Boses were forced to keep their day jobs to pay the farm bills.
“It was frustrating to get up at four before work and maybe not get paid for that work,” Cherylynn said.
“It was a tough place for us to be, but we felt we were meant to stay in.”
The deal with Nutricia ended after four years when the plant closed, and the couple began shipping their goat milk to another plant. The owner wanted to retire and encouraged the Boses to start their own plant.
“We didn’t know what we were getting into. We were very young and naive,” she said.
They slowly learned to make chevre and feta cheese with their goat’s milk and establish a market for their fluid goat’s milk.
Saxby, an organic cow milk processor, went out of business a few years ago and the Boses took on the production of organic milk production as well. It was one more revenue stream and another use for their expensive, stainless steel processing equipment.
“It gave us some legs,” Cherylynn said.
The cow milk is organic, but the goat milk isn’t.
“It’s already a very niche market. If we were organic on top of that, we could never get the returns,” she said.
They also bring milk from other goat dairies for processing.
The cow milk is pasteurized and separated into skim, one percent, two percent and 3.25 percent. Coffee creamer and whipping cream areproduced before bottling.
They have four children, aged three to 11.
“Time is precious.”
It hasn’t been easy establishing a processing plant with complicated food production. The stainless steel equipment is expensive, and it is tricky making sure the milk is pasteurized and processed correctly.
“We couldn’t have picked any more high-risk, low-return industry to get into,” she said.
The machine that washes the cheese bags cost $14,000. A grant from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, helped pay part of the bill.
“I’m not ready to dish over more money for a dryer just yet,” Cherylynn said.
“The money does come in, but it goes out just as fast.”
The family might have a family vacation for the first time in 17 years.
It’s not just finding workers to milk the goats and work in the barns; it takes another skill set to process the milk, she said.
“Our knowledge is slow and progressive.”
The work week begins on Sunday at 8 p.m. when Cherylynn starts pasteurizing milk and preparing the machines for processing or cheese making.
She finishes her shift at 1:30 a.m. and Patrick takes over bottling the milk until 5 a.m. The other employees join the shift ,and Patrick heads to the barn to start feeding animals and milking.
Cherylynn gets the kids ready for school and then returns to the processing plant to clean, make cheese and separate the organic cow milk
The rest of the week is similar with both Cherylynn and Patrick working long days.
Friday afternoons are dedicated to marketing, returning emails and other paperwork.
Cherylynn knows more could be done marketing and selling their product, but marketing is not her strong suit.
“I’m not generally good at selling stuff. For me to go to the city and meet someone I have never met before, it is hard.”
Patrick hopes a new 90 goat rotary milker, large enough to milk 900 goats an hour, will help reduce the workload in the milking parlour.
“We think it will be the most automated and user friendly milking system in the world,” said Patrick, who travelled to Holland to get ideas for the new parlour.