For the love of dairy goats
Dairy goats are playful, intelligent and are full of personality. Nebraska has dairy goats across the entire state, and the Nebraska Dairy Goat Association is a great way for producers to connect with each other and promote their livestock.
The NDGA was originally started because those who had goats wanted to connect with other goat producers. “The Nebraska Dairy Goat Association was the brain child of several goat producers who went to great lengths to contact every goat person they knew to come to a two day conference at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1983. Two days later, we had a functioning club complete with bylaws, officers and a newsletter. It has done nothing but grow since then. We became charter members at that foundational meeting and have been involved ever since,” said Butch Hassler, NDGA president.
He continued, “When the association was formed there was already several regional dairy goat clubs going within the state, but that two-day conference brought them all together. Over the years they have all dwindled and died until the state association is the only fully functioning club remaining. As dairy goat clubs died, and meat goats became more prevalent within the state, the club expanded to include all types of goats. Our directors have a variety of goats, not just dairy goats and our monthly newsletter has adjusted to meet the needs of our diverse producers.”
In fact, the NDGA works with the Nebraska Sheep and Goat Producers as well as the Nebraska Llama Association. “Over the last few years our organization has teamed up with the meat goat segment to hold several successful joint annual conferences. After all, goats are goats. And since our state fair moved from Lincoln to Grand Island, the dairy goats now share the barn as well as the show ring with the llama folk and we are rapidly developing another strong bond there,” Hassler said.
Today the club is composed of 75 members, and encompasses all breeds of goats. “The best part of our organization is the diversity and passion of our members and their willingness to assist anyone in this “goat family.” The best part of raising dairy goats, besides the products they produce, is the unconditional love they give,” he said.
Hassler and his wife Susie have been raising goats for over 30 years. “We purchased our first registered goat, a Nubian, in 1981 from a wonderful lady at the Nebraska State Fair, and never looked back. Now, we raise primarily LaManchas, but have a smattering of Saanen, Alpines and Nubians also. We are not a grade A dairy, but have regular milk customers and use the extra milk for cheese and goat milk soap,” he said.
The Hasslers currently milk 20 head twice a day, pasteurize and bottle feed 40 plus kids and both have off the farm jobs while still being involved with family, church and community.
“I have had the honor of being the reigning club president for the past few years, but while I have the privilege of running the meetings, we have a group of very involved members who actually keep the organization moving forward,” said Hassler.
In addition to running the club, the Hassler’s are also very involved in 4-H.
“Our primary reason for spending so much time and effort with this little ruminant is to have a decent little healthy herd that will provide a quality product for those that appreciate it. However, we also use them as tools,” he said.
He continued, “We’ve been 4-H leaders for more than 25 years. Some of the kids that have passed through our program have been town kids that we let use the dairy goats for a project. They start with a few head and carry them and their offspring throughout their 4-H career. They learn the necessity of daily chores, good herdmanship and responsible care and welfare. They are there when the animals are born and sometimes when they die. The dairy goat project isn’t as traumatic as other market projects, but it does help connect them to their food source and they learn that the culls go into the food chain.”
Shelene Costello, the vice president, enjoys the atmosphere of the club. “The best part is having someone else to talk with about dairy goats and get advice. There are a lot of people who have been there over the years who have given me tremendous help. They are so quick to jump in and give help. They are a good group of people. Most people in the dairy goat world are very supportive of each other. At the local level, everyone helps everyone. To me that is amazing. They really support each other,” she said.
She got into dairy goats in the mid 90s, and raised LaManchas. “We were looking for milk for ourselves. At one point we had 80 of them and were using a milking machine. I like to hand milk and cut the herd down so I could do that,” she said.
Now, Costello raises primarily Nigerian Dwarf goats, although she has owned several breeds over the years. “My sister actually sent me one because she raised them and thought I would like them. Their milk is so rich and creamy. She sent me Rachel and she is now 8, and from there we switched over to the Nigerians. I love their small size, and I still get about a half a gallon a day. They are relatively long lived, and they produce well into a well long age,” said Costello.
She like goats because of their personalities. “My favorite thing about goats is their personalities, first and foremost. I also like the variety. Most dairy goats like people. Even if they are wild, once you start handling them, they are in your pocket. You just can’t beat their personalities. They produce milk, meat and power. I have a couple that can pull carts,” she said.
Costello knows there are more dairy goats in Nebraska than people know about. “There are a lot more than people think there are. When people think about it, they don’t know how many there are. When we first got goats, we saw them as we were driving around and saw some cute little kids playing in the field. We stopped and asked them about them, and they sold me my very first goats. They taught me how to disbud, and then helped me learn how to show. They are everywhere. I’m amazed at state fair how many people tell me that someone in their family drinks goats milk because they can’t drink cows milk,” she said.
Whatever the reason for owning dairy goats, the NDGA allows producers to come together from across the state to learn from each other, and show their goats. The association also has a cookbook with meat and cheese recipes, as well as a goat craft book.