Friday, November 03, 2006

Changing America's Dairyland

OK, so I'm on a roll about goats. I can't help it - the media is suddenly in love with Wisconsin goat cheese. I've seen two tv interviews with Wisconsin goat farmers this week and two feature stories during October in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story by Karen Herzog really put Wisconsin goat cheesemakers and farmers on the map. Rumor has it there's even a story coming in the Washington Post on Sunday about Wisconsin's dairy goat industry.

Now I find out that the state just released its first ever official stats on dairy goats and dairy sheep. Ten years ago, I think you would have been hard-pressed to even find someone milking a sheep - now it's an entire "industry." So how many people are actually milking goats and sheep for a living?

The Wisconsin Agricultural Statistics Service, in a report released yesterday, says the state's 165 milking goat herds produced 27.6 million pounds of milk in the last year, with total receipts of $7.57 million and an average price of $27.90 per hundredweight. Wisconsin’s 11 licensed milking sheep herds produced 829,300 pounds of milk, with an average price of $55.50 per hundredweight.

Of the 165 licensed dairy goat herds, 90 farms milk between 1-100 goats, while 56 farms milk 101-200 goats. Nineteen farms milk more than 200 goats. Ever milked a goat? I'm not sure I'd want to milk 200 of them, but since you have to have 7-9 goats to get the same amount of milk as you would one cow, I guess you would have to have quite a few.

On the sheep milk survey, the state’s 11 licensed sheep dairies are milking 2,250 ewes. Sixty percent of the operations have sold sheep milk for six or more years. None said they planned on discontinuing production in the next five years, while more than half plan on increasing the size of their milking herds.

That's a lot of numbers. But what I think is most telling is that more than half of all dairy goat and sheep farmers say they're going to increase their herds in the next five years. What does that mean for us? More Wisconsin goat and sheep's milk cheese. Because 90 percent of all milk produced here - whether it comes from a cow, goat or sheep - is crafted into cheese.

America's Dairyland isn't just about the black and white bovines you see alongside back roads anymore. Tomorrow's America's Dairyland is going to be more diversified with a growing population of dairy goat and milking sheep operations taking over the faded red barns in the countryside.

This is good news for Wisconsin. More milk means more award-winning cheeses.