Words & images by Richard Rennie
For a 26 year old Sam Juby has done much with her life, and her biggest challenge yet awaits as she kick-starts her own goat farming operation in the Waikato this season.
Sam is no stranger to the inquisitive, intelligent animals. She has a family history well founded in New Zealand’s highly successful dairy goat industry, with parents Simon and Melissa long established as goat farmers near Orini, North Waikato.
Much of Sam’s and her sibling’s childhood was spent helping Mum and Dad on the expanding operation that today runs 1,350 head and is often used for field days and discussion groups for established and new entrant goat farmers.
Her parents started dairy goat farming after moving up from a sheep and beef property in Piopio, in the King Country, and the busy operation provided plenty of work through school holidays for the family.
It is an experience she not only happily recalls, but one that has her well positioned in her latest venture with her business partner Floris Melis.
The pair took over the combined 46ha operation late last year near Cambridge, with a view to start milking from this coming winter supplying to the Dairy Goat Co-operative.
The property has had milking goats on it before, but Sam and Floris have had a busy summer and autumn getting the leased farm back into shape for the intensive kidding period that kicks off in June.
The 40 aside rapid exit milking shed is almost in order, goat sheds are being prepped and there is maize well established to be harvested for silage feed through autumn-winter.
They have been knocking back the gorse patches on the hillier country and tidying up the property’s fences as the June 1 start date starts to loom now they are well into the new year.
In the meantime they have been busy purchasing young does from other goat farmers around the region as the foundation for the milking herd that will initially comprise of 700 head.
With the Dairy Goat Co-operative based in Hamilton, Waikato has become a hub for dairy goat milking, with 72 farmers now supplying the low profile business that has been quietly building its markets in high value infant milk powders over the past two decades. For Sam and Floris entry to the co-operative included buying into it and purchasing shares to match their intended production. They have also purchased the dairy shed, plant, and other buildings on the property, and lease some smaller blocks nearby to supplement their grass supply.
Experience on her parent’s farm, and help from them means they have played and continue to play a valuable role in her efforts to set up her own operation.
Their close attention to kid rearing, one of the most challenging aspects of getting a good start for goats, has been aided a heavy emphasis on regular weighing, ensuring daily weight gain targets are met, with birth, weaning, mating and kidding weights ultimately all closely monitored.
The benefits Sam’s parents have found from close monitoring has resulted in does being up to 10kg heavier than they were in earlier years. That linked back to heavier healthier birthweights, a weaning weight minimum of 16-17kg and mating weights of 40kg by February 1.
Close attention to cleanliness and feeding routine has also done much to help reduce disease issues in kids which can have a devastating effect upon ongoing health and ultimately growth rates.
Sam also embarked on overseas travels that took her to Europe for nine months where she worked on different goat farms.
She says the inquisitive friendly animals and of course their small stature make a goat farm’s work environment a relaxed, fun place to be for much of the year.
“The most intensive time is around kidding, when you have about 80% of the does kid in the first 10 days. It also differs from your typical dairy cow farm in that you expect to have multiple births with twins, and even triplets sometimes.”
The risk of disease spread means the kids are fed a powder formulation through to weaning, and the quality milk powder forms a significant part of the business’s costs.
When it comes to grazing goats, the operation is an indoor “cut and carry” one, with the entire feed diet being brought to the goats’ sheds and distributed via a conveyor feed system to them.
Holding goats indoors reduces the risk of parasite worm infestations, given they are not grazing open pasture with its worm burdens ingested at ground level.
They are also averse to rain and one look into their shed confirms they are happy, lively and content with their herd mates on the dry sawdust covered facility.
If rearing the kids using powder formula is one part of the operation’s major expenses, the other is the need to harvest the herd’s feed and deliver it promptly to them at the sheds.
Sam’s tractor is well set up with a front mounted mower and forage trailer and that will run as frequently as three times a day delivering high quality pasture blend to its hungry clients.
“They do like a variety in their feed, other than just ryegrass and clover. They enjoy plantain, and for winter feed they will have grass silage, and we aim to feed maize silage out over early lactation.”
This season has proven a bumper one for Waikato maize crops, with most looking to yield 25t dry matter a hectare, and Sam’s 1.5 ha crop is no exception.
The fledgling herd Sam and Floris have nurtured from kids comprises of does from other farmers around the Waikato.
Dairy goats typically go to the buck in February, but some farmers can, and do use artificial breeding to select genetics. The main aim for many is to lift the valuable protein content of the herd.
“It is possible to lift your goat herd numbers relatively quickly. They are milking at one year old, and gestation is only five months, with most having multiple births.”
Typically disease issues among dairy goats are relatively few. The biggest headache for dairy goat farmers is CAE (caprine arthritis-encephalitis) caused by a virus and can develop when goats are under stress which results in them having hard udders and stiff joints. It is a disease without any cure, and its elimination is a key focus of a collective effort by the dairy goat industry.
Sam and Floris have plenty to fill their days between summer and the first crop of kids in early winter, and Sam is confident between them they will meet that looming biological deadline.
“Kidding is typically the most intensive time of the year, you have lots of multiples (births) and need to be around to help any does that need it.”
Typically, young goats will produce 80-90kg milksolids a year, with older goats producing up to 120kg milk solids a year. The goats earn their weight in what they return, with farmers being paid about $18 a kg milk solids. Sam says she would welcome the opportunity to lease any more land that may come up to harvest grass and crop from as they work towards lifting their herd’s per head production and ultimately herd numbers.
Meantime she and Floris are looking forward to seeing their summer’s hard work start to pay off as they join the ranks of a new generation of young goat farmers keen to make their mark on the land.
Farmers: Samantha Juby and Floris Melis
Location: Pukemoremore, Cambridge Waikato.
Size: 46ha combined area.
Contour: rolling to flat.
Herd size: 700
Farm dairy: 40 aside rapid exit design.
Supply company: Dairy Goat Co-operative.
Grazing system: cut and carry.
Expected production: 70,000kg Milk solids
Why goats milk?
Anyone who is farming goats will happily talk about their inquisitive, friendly nature, but all goat farmers also have solid economic reasons for choosing these interesting animals.
The Dairy Goat Co-operative has maintained a low profile over past years, quietly building up an international reputation for delivering high quality, high value goats’ milk while also building up farmer numbers back home, to now total 72.
In Hamilton the Dairy Goat Co-operative has a state of the art purpose built plant for the processing of fresh goats’ milk into high value formula.
Formed in 1984 from the amalgamation of several goat milk co-operatives the company has established high value markets in 27 countries around the world.
Goat’s milk has gained popularity as a substitute for cow’s milk, with its oligosaccharides similar in structure to human milk oligosaccharides, and at levels 10 times higher than cows’ milk.
As an infant formula base, goat’s milk only requires the addition of small amounts of two amino acids to deliver the essential and semi-essential amino acids needed for infants.
In contrast, cow’s milk can require the addition of lactose and fatty acids, vitamins and iron, along with additional processing steps to remove and replace fat and protein elements. Goat’s milk formulas also do not require the addition of vegetable oils, retaining goat milk fat that is more readily absorbed by infants.
The Dairy Goat Co-operative has also developed technology to reduce damage to the fragile fat molecules in their product, and as a result remove the “goat” smell that can accompany products with damaged fat molecules in it.
For parents seeking a sustainably produced formula for their infant, the co-operative has also developed technology that does not require the formula to be modified by the addition of vegetable oils that can include palm oil.