When Allison Hooper and Bob Reese began Vermont Creamery (formerly Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery), they had a vision for the future. That vision was a “Vermont landscape dotted with goat farms.” Now, almost 30 years later, Allison and Bob have taken the first steps toward making that vision a reality with the creation of Ayers Brook Goat Dairy.
Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, in Randolph, VT, is the first demonstration farm of its kind in the United States. Its mission is “to demonstrate the financial viability of the farm.” Future and current goat farmers will be able to learn the ins and outs of goat dairying, including how to devise a ration for goats that results in good milk production, the best way to raise good forages in Vermont and other places in the country, how best to use existing infrastructure that dairy farmers may have in place, and how to make the entire goat dairy operation a profitable enterprise.
“We really need to get into the business and be able to supply new farmers with very good breeding stock and a better understanding of the finances of the enterprise,” says Allison. “We can do it and be transparent about it. If it’s successful, others will do it. We have farmland here that’s still productive, so let’s make an attempt to hold onto it and keep it in agriculture.”
Allison, Bob, and farm manager Rene DeLeeuw have already been hard at work getting Ayers Brook Goat Dairy ready. Renovations to the existing barn on the farm were completed last fall, and Rene has sourced goats from around the country. They also spent last winter raising the necessary capital to build a new barn and milking parlor. Construction started on the barn and milking parlor in June and should be completed next month.
There are currently 270 goats on the farm, including the bucks. The goats are predominantly Saanens, LaManchas, and Alpines. Rene, a renowned goat expert from New York State, manages the herd. His role, according to Allison, is to “transfer the knowledge he has accumulated over 30 years to the next generation who is going to get excited about this animal.” Around June of this year, Rene bred the goats to freshen in October. The current focus is to get the herd up and running and to get all the animals fed and cared for properly.
Allison expects the teaching component of the goat dairy to start next year. “There will be animals milking, there will be a track record of costs, and we’ll really be able to go over things with prospective farmers and let them know what it costs to get into this.” The dairy will be transparent, so farmers can get a true feel for everything.
The goat dairy will also welcome cow dairy farmers who are looking at switching their operation over to goat dairying. Expanding a cow dairy operation in Vermont is difficult due to increased feed needs and having to gather feed from across the state, and Ayers Brook Goat Dairy thinks goat dairying “is a way of looking at how they could reduce their footprint on a farm enterprise and get a little more money out of the entire operation,” said Allison.
Ayers Brook Goat Dairy has also partnered with Vermont Technical College to offer students the opportunity to work on the farm in exchange for housing. The Dean of the program has always encouraged students to try alternatives to conventional dairying, and milking goats is one of them. Allison predicts that once the dairy is up and running, “the students are going to get jazzed about living at the goat dairy. It’s something you have to do and allow people to experience, and it’s not until they do it that they say, ‘oh, I get it, I see what you’re trying to do.’” Current students will also likely visit the farm this year to do some hands-on learning for their classes.
Ayers Brook Goat Dairy is hoping its goals of providing best practices in goat dairy farming, supporting regional agriculture, and offering a teaching venue for potential and current goat farms will pay off. “I think that we have an opportunity to really convey this kind of agricultural activity and show all the aspects of quality through the supply chain,” said Allison. “It will foster growth in the industry, and we’d love to see 10 new farms milking 500 goats in Vermont.”