Current Progressive Dairyman digital edition
Advertisement

Designing facilities for goats: How two Midwest farmers made it work

Kelli Boylen for Progressive Dairyman Published on 06 February 2018
Jim Harter

The criteria for building goat dairies are not well established. Oftentimes, producers take the information they can find and then develop their own design to meet their needs.

Here two Midwest farmers share their experiences in building milking and housing facilities for their dairy goat operations.

advertisement

advertisement

Jim Harter

When Jim Harter wanted a dairy goat rotary parlor, he couldn’t find exactly what he wanted, so he took matters into his own hands – literally.

About 10 years ago, Harter decided to make the switch from dairy cows to dairy goats on his family farm near Petersburg, Iowa.

He had visited a European-designed dairy goat rotary parlor in southwest Wisconsin, and he immediately saw ways to improve upon the design.

During the 90-minute drive home from that farm, Harter mulled things over and worked out a better design in his mind, which included self-locking headgates and how to have the platform be free-hanging from the center pivot with no carrier underneath. After chores that night, he and a friend headed out to make his design a reality.

He started out with a nail and a piece of string in his driveway. He drew circles 10, 12 and 14 feet in diameter and worked out on paper how many goats each size could handle. A 12-foot-diameter circle could hold 24 goats, and that is what he decided to go with. He started with the center pivot and worked out from there.

advertisement

As he built his rotary parlor over two-and-a-half weeks, he would often stop and look at it. If it looked right, he kept going; if it didn’t, he would take it apart and try something different. There were some details it took him a while to work out, such as how to get the headlocks to open and close when needed, but it all came together.

The entrance to the parlor they used for the cows was 36 by 82, so he designed the unit in five pieces so they would all fit through the door.

The facilities at LaClare Farms

Harter says the rotary parlor is designed for two people milking, one putting on milking machines and one taking off. He and his wife, Bonnie, milk their 300 goats in about an hour. A variable-speed motor allows them to make adjustments for slower and faster milkers.

He still to this day does not have any blueprints for his parlor, despite the fact he has built two more. “I have the measurements for all of it in my head,” he says. “I can’t remember my family members’ birthdays, but I can remember that.”

Shortly after putting in the rotary parlor, Harter lowered the headlock so the goats liked them better. On the most recent parlor he created, he moved the drive system to the underside rather than on the outer edge – but other than that, he still uses his original design.

advertisement

In the decade Harter has milked in his parlor, he has had people from all over the country contact him about his design, and he has even had inquiries from other countries including Finland and Canada.

He is not interested in large-scale manufacturing of parlors, but he says he would consider building another. He is very willing to share his thoughts on designs and let others see his setup.

Harter’s goat herd is housed in a 98-by-100-foot barn with four pens on bedded pack, with a 20-foot drive down the middle. There are two 12-by-16-foot doors on each side, and he says they have good air flow in the summer. Youngstock and dry goats are housed in buildings that used to house their cows.

When asked what advice he has for other dairy goat producers looking to make changes, he says, “Always plan for future expansion.”

Although he is satisfied with his parlor, Harter is starting to get into meat goats with the idea of transitioning away from the dairy sometime in the future.

LaClare Farms

In 1977, Larry and Clara Hedrich bought a small farm in Chilton, Wisconsin, which included a few goats. Little did they know back then those goats would someday turn into an 800-goat dairy complete with on-farm processing, a retail store and a café.

They started selling milk in 1996 from their 150 goats. To add value back to their farm, they looked at having cheese made from their milk and, in 2008, their first cheese was made. Just two years later, LaClare Family Creamery cheese won the U.S. Cheese Championship.

The time was right to move forward and build new facilities. Before they did, Larry, Clara and their daughter Katie toured Holland in 2009 looking for the best ways to efficiently raise and milk goats.

In December 2012, they broke ground for a new facility located in Pipe, Wisconsin. This facility included a 320-by-54-foot barn to house 600 goats and a double-24 parlor, as well as the creamery, store and café. In 2015, an additional 200 feet were added to the barn to house 400 more goats.

When setting up goat facilities, Larry Hedrich says a top consideration should be knowing the numbers on your farm for top efficiency. “Figure out what your business plan says you need and go from there,” he says. “You don’t necessarily need large numbers to be efficient; it’s really all relative to what your goals are.”

He adds, “Financials can really be a challenge in the goat industry. You need to know something is viable all the way from the goat milk to the labor to the market.”

LaClare Farms barn

As far as building design is concerned, Hedrich says ventilation is the number one priority. “Goats hate drafts, but they also need adequate air movement.” The Hedrichs designed their bedded pack barn with 2-foot sidewalls and curtains on both sides.

There is currently no mechanical air movement, but they are able to control the natural air flow with the side curtains and an adjustable louvre in the roof’s ridge. There are clear panels in the roof ridge for additional light.

“There are not well-established criteria on goat housing,” he says. “Recommendations range from 11 to 20 square feet per adult goat; we went with 18.”

Hedrich worked with an ag builder who was willing to make adaptions for goats. “Be sure to work with a reputable builder who will build what you are designing,” he says.

The barn is designed with gates throughout that give the option for “infinite pen sizes,” he says. Goats are grouped by stage of lactation. Hedrich says they try to not move goats any more than necessary due to their social hierarchy. Goats are bred year-round, mainly by moving does over 200 days in milk to a pen across the barn that has the breeding bucks.

They use their parlor for herd health, which includes annual vaccinations and ultrasound to confirm pregnancy. Hedrich says the rapid-exit system works well to keep curious goats moving as they leave the parlor after milking.

The former goat milking facilities in Chilton were converted to youngstock housing. The milking parlor and holding area became the nursery. Kids are in a heated environment until they are weaned.

Kids are in pens of 10, where they drink off of a lamb bar. Once weaned, they are transitioned into cold housing and stay at Chilton until they are bred, confirmed pregnant and then move to the dairy barn in Pipe about 45 days prior to kidding.

The Hedrichs have five children, all of whom are college graduates and have worked in other jobs. As the business plan evolved, four of the five chose to come back. Each manages a different aspect of the business and brought different talents back to the business.

LaClare Farms not only processes their own milk, but that from 11 other dairy goat farms in the area. In the creamery, they make more than 15 varieties of goat cheeses, yogurt and bottle milk.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Jim Harter designed and built his own rotary goat parlor about 10 years ago. Photo provided by Jim Harter.

PHOTO 2: The facilities at LaClare Farms include a double-24 parlor to milk 800 goats. Photo provided by LaClare Farms.

PHOTO 3: Ventilation for goats is the number one priority and also one of the biggest challenges, says Larry Hedrich. They have a bedded pack barn with 2-foot sidewalls and curtains on both sides. They are able to control the natural air flow with the side curtains and an adjustable louvre in the roof’s ridge. Photo by Peggy Coffeen.

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer based in Waterville, Iowa.

Before commenting on our articles, please note our Terms for Commenting.

LATEST BLOG

LATEST NEWS