EPWORTH, Iowa (AP) – When Craig Koopmann was 10, he asked his godmother for a goat as a gift.
Since then, he and his brother Jack Koopmann have expanded Pleasant Grove Dairy Goat Farm to include a herd of 300 goats.
The brothers have been working together since 2016, but they both shipped goat’s milk before regrouping the herds. Craig has worked in the dairy goat industry since 1988 and Jack since 2007.
Goat’s milk from the farm is sent to Mount Chevre in Belmont, Wisconsin, to be made into cheese. The wives and children of the two brothers help with the agricultural tasks.
“We take care of all the operations,” Jack Koopmann told the Telegraph Herald. “We have minimal outside help.”
The Koopmans are part of a growing industry within Iowa, which was the focus of the Iowa Dairy Goat Farm survey recently released in the fall of 2019 from the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. The survey examined the operations, needs and future of dairy goat farms across the state.
Iowa ranks third in the country for dairy goat producers, according to the survey, with 214 licensed herds and 34,000 dairy goats.
Dubuque County has three dairy goat producers noted in the survey. Clayton County has 30 producers, the second largest behind Johnson County’s 42.
Jennifer Bentley, a dairy specialist and lead investigator for the survey, said part of the reason Clayton County has so many dairy goat producers is that many are part of the Amish community.
“Usually we do a dairy cow survey every five years. It gives us a good overview of the dairy industry on any changes and what’s going on, ”she said. “We’ve never done one (before) specifically for dairy goat producers.”
Bentley said there has been growth in the industry in recent years, with an average of 155 goats per herd, about half the size of the Koopmann’s farm.
A majority of goat’s milk is made into cheese, Bentley noted, but some is also sold to customers as liquid milk.
Within the Iowa dairy goat industry, the survey results showed a multitude of different milking and management styles used by producers, Bentley said. The majority of milkers use some sort of parlor system to milk goats, but a third are still goats to be milked by hand.
The Koopmanns milk around 140 goats per hour in their parlor, they said. However, they milk three times a day for about two hours each time.
“We’re the only farm I know of that does (that many milkings),” said Craig Koopmann. “It’s better for the udder health, and the goats end up living longer.”
He added that many dairy goat farms handle things a little differently. While the Koopmanns keep their goats in groups of 32 – that is, how many fit into the living room at a time – other farms house all of their goats in one pen or group them together in even smaller numbers.
Many goat barns are redeveloped buildings, including the Koopmanns. Craig Koopmann said their barn housed pigs before the brothers moved into their goats and made some additions to the building.
Many survey respondents indicated that they plan to expand their operations. On average, producers plan to add 88 dairy goats to their herds over the next five years, and 30% of respondents plan to update their facilities and equipment within the next 15 years.
“It’s great to know that our industry continues to move forward and look to the future,” said Bentley. “… It is reassuring that they feel they are profitable.”
With already twice the herd size of the survey average, the Koopmanns said they had no plans to expand their operation but would stay in business for a long time.
“We are where we want to be,” said Jack Koopmann. “If you keep putting on weight, it starts this ripple effect where you deal with people more than animals.”
“I would much rather manage animals than manage people,” added Craig Koopmann with a laugh.