By Connor Lynch
CURRAN — After his boss retired from the dairy business, that left behind a barn and an opportunity for his long-time farmhand and nephew, Justin Ryan.
Buying out the quota was too expensive for the budding farmer, so he had to find another animal to milk, and first looked to sheep.
Ryan talked to a sheep farmer down the road, Chantal Gillet, hoping to buy shares in her operation and take it over one day. Gillet was happy to partner up in another operation, but sheep are a lot of work to milk, the market is unreliable and unpredictable, and Gillet does on-farm processing to transform the milk into cheese and yogurt, and markets it all herself. Expanding would’ve been too much. “I didn’t want to double my shifts,” she said.
So it was back to the drawing board. This time, Ryan thought of goats. And it just so happened that Gillet used to have a dairy goat herd. After Ryan read up on dairy goats, he liked what he was seeing. A few visits to some dairy goat farmers and he was sold.
Thankfully, the fledgling farm had a location all ready to go, as Ryan’s boss, Reg Presley, was more than happy to make his barn, his milk line and even some feed available to the starting farm.
Even with the helping hand, however, Ryan figured that he and Gillet have invested $150,000 into the farm between milking equipment, such as the two-person, 24-goat milking stand which cost $5,500, new LED lighting for inside the barn, new water bowls which cost about $2,600, and the goats themselves.
“If we had to build an entire new place, it would’ve been easily double that,” said Ryan.
They’ve opted away from on-farm processing like Gillet does for her sheep because it would mean far too much work. All of the milk will be going to the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-op in Teeswater. Each of their 170 goats that they’ll be starting with should produce about 1,000 litres of milk in a year. The pair has a contract for 240,000 litres annually that cost them $8,195, including the membership and administration fee.
Neither farmer was terribly concerned about handling the 170 goats that were due to arrive June 1. “We both kind of work a lot. We already know the first week will be a nightmare, but after that it’ll be fine,” said Gillet. Within a year, they plan to expand to 250 goats, and be milking over 300 by December, 2018.
Making the goats work in a cow barn will have some growing pains as well, said Ryan. For one, the manure system already in place works on liquid manure, but goats have solid manure. The barns gutters need to be filled so a tractor can come in and scrape the solid manure away to be mixed with leftover water from washing the bulk tank and put through the manure line. And the first winter will be spent watching the temperature gauge; goats give off less heat than cows, so Ryan is concerned the water lines in the barn could freeze.
He’ll be keeping his job in town for now, but Ryan is hoping that within a year, he’ll be on the farm full-time, thanks to Presley. “If it wasn’t for him and Heather, we wouldn’t have been able to start,” said Ryan.