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La Clare Farms finds niche with dairy goats, champion cheese

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 11 June 2014

goats feeding

The on-site café, retail store and creamery at the Hedrich family’s La Clare Farms is as unique as the flavors of their hand-crafted champion cheeses, thanks to one special ingredient – milk from their 600 dairy goats.

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Newly opened last November, the farmstead facility located along the lake front in Pipe, Wisconsin, is a dream come true for Larry and Clara Hedrich. They sought a way to add value to their product and bring multiple family members into the business, all while educating the public on where their food comes from.

Visitors can watch the goats as they are milked through a viewing window in the milking parlor, then peek in at cheeses in temperature-controlled rooms as they age. To bring the experience full-circle, they can then enjoy a chef-prepared meal featuring the flavors of La Clare Farms and other local businesses or purchase the products to take home.

This impressive enterprise goes back to humble beginnings. La Clare Farms got its start in 1978 when Larry and Clara purchased a farm near Chilton, Wisconsin. Two goats came with the property.

BEYOND PRINT: Learn about how La Clare Farms celebrates June Dairy Month .

Over the years, that pair of goats grew into a family hobby and eventually a business. The Hedrich children spent their youth showing the animals at local and state shows.

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dairy goat barn

In the mid-1990s, they began milking 40 goats in a home-built parlor and selling the milk commercially, while both parents worked off-farm jobs, Larry in construction and Clara as a high-school agriculture teacher. In 2001, Larry left his career to concentrate on their growing operation.

As the herd grew, so did the family’s dreams of delivering their own products directly to consumers. This would require increasing production through an expansion, which also eventually brought the interests and talents of four of the five Hedrich children back to the farm.

Today, Greg manages the business, while Jessica takes care of the retail store. Anna assists with herd health, and Katie is the cheese maker. Clara and Larry are both involved in the daily work as well.

Few dairy goat operations of this size and scale exist in the U.S., which is why the Hedrichs sought influence from overseas when designing their barn, milking parlor and cheese-making facility.

Larry, Clara and Katie visited Holland in 2009 to tour a more established commercial dairy goat and cheese industry. They returned from the trip with a vision and an even greater passion to see through the expansion of their operation with an on-site creamery, restaurant and retail store.

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goat cheese

In many ways, the housing and milking facilities look like a downsized version of a dairy cow parlor and bedded pack barn, but there are some special accommodations that make it “goat-friendly.” The rapid-exit milking parlor has 48 units with automatic takeoffs for efficient milking.

During milking, an automated feeding system delivers feed to the goats. This is an important aspect in keeping the curious animals occupied. According to Larry, bored goats get into trouble: biting hoses off of milking units, nibbling on each others’ ears or jumping down for a visit into the parlor pit.

The average dairy goat gives around 1 gallon of milk each day, but thanks to good health, nutrition and management, La Clare’s does are pumping out between 4 and 8 gallons daily.

They also maintain good milk quality with a prepping routine that includes alcohol-based, single-use wipes and follow milking with an iodine-based post-dip. The herd is a mix of all major dairy goat breeds, including Alpine, Saanen, La Mancha, Toggenburg, Nubian and Oberhasli.

The combination of milk volume and quality is essential for meeting the high demand for La Clare’s cheeses. Before building their own facility, Katie spent several years driving daily to area cheese plants where she could make and age her cheeses.

dair goat cheese awards

She received her cheese-maker’s license in 2011, and later that year took home top honors at the U.S. Cheese Championship, beating out more than 1,600 cheeses with her Evalon, an exclusive La Clare Farms goat cheese. She now makes four to five different styles of cheese under the farm’s brand with a dozen variations, such as Evalon with fennel or cumin.

In a short time, Katie has become a renowned cheese maker, but her ambition doesn’t stop there. The facility was built to accommodate Grade A milk processing, which means they will eventually make yogurt and other products, as well as bring their fluid milk bottling from off-site to in-house.

With a one-of-a-kind dairy goat facility, processing plant and consumer-friendly café and store, the Hedrichs have successfully turned a backyard hobby into a thriving family business that will only get better with age. PD

PHOTOS
TOP: The bedded pack barn where the milking herd resides includes a lying area closest to the outside walls, along with drive-through feeding.

BOTTOM: La Clare Farms’ café and store features their own signature goat milk cheeses like the award-winning Evalon, along with other locally sourced foods. Photos by Peggy Coffeen.

View a slideshow with more La Clare Farms photos.

peggy coffeen

Peggy Coffeen
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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