Vermont dairy farm not kidding around as it switches from cows to goat

  • A goat fresh off a truck after a two-day journey from Wisconsin takes a look around the barn at Joneslan Farm in North Hyde Park, Vt., on Sunday, December 6, 2020. Brothers Brian and Steve Jones are the fifth generation to run the farm. They sold their dairy cows and plan to milk about 1,500 goats. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) vtdigger — GLENN RUSSELL

  • A truck carrying 320 goats from Wisconsin backs up into the barnyard at Joneslan Farm in North Hyde Park Vt., on Sunday, December 6, 2020. Brothers Brian and Steve Jones are the fifth generation to run the farm. They sold their dairy cows and plan to milk about 1,500 goats. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) vtdigger — GLENN RUSSELL photographs

  • A goat peers out of the truck that delivered it from Wisconsin to Joneslan Farm in North Hyde Park Vt., on Sunday, December 6, 2020. Brian Jones, right, and his brother Steve are the fifth generation to run the farm. They sold their dairy cows and plan to milk about 1,500 goats. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell)

  • A goat peers out a truck that brought it and 319 others on a two-day trip from Wisconsin to Joneslan Farm in North Hyde Park Vt., on Sunday, December 6, 2020. Brothers Brian and Steve Jones are the fifth generation to run the farm. They sold their dairy cows and plan to milk about 1,500 goats. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) GLENN RUSSELL—GLENN RUSSELL

  • Brian Jones, second from right, helps unload a shipment of 320 goats that arrived after a two-day journey from Wisconsin at Joneslan Farm in North Hyde Park Vt., on Sunday, December 6, 2020. Brian and his brother Steve are the fifth generation to run the farm. They sold their dairy cows and plan to milk about 1,500 goats. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell)

  • Brian, left, and Steve Jones guide newly-arrived goats in their pen at Joneslan Farm in North Hyde Park Vt., on Sunday, December 6, 2020. The Jones brothers are the fifth generation to run the farm. They sold their dairy cows and plan to milk about 1,500 goats. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) GLENN RUSSELL—GLENN RUSSELL

  • Steve Jones tries to corral newly-arrived goats into their new pen at Joneslan Farm in North Hyde Park Vt., on Sunday, December 6, 2020. Steve and his brother Brian are the fifth generation to run the farm. They sold their dairy cows and plan to milk about 1,500 goats. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) GLENN RUSSELL—GLENN RUSSELL

  • Brothers Brian, center, and Steve Jones watch a truck carrying 320 goats from Wisconsin back up to their barn at Joneslan Farm in North Hyde Park Vt., on Sunday, December 6, 2020. The brothers are the fifth generation to run the farm. They sold their dairy cows and plan to milk about 1,500 goats. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) GLENN RUSSELL—GLENN RUSSELL

  • Joneslan Farm in North Hyde Park Vt., on Sunday, December 6, 2020. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) GLENN RUSSELL—GLENN RUSSELL

  • Goats fresh off a truck from Wisconsin are herded into their new pen at Joneslan Farm in North Hyde Park Vt., on Sunday, December 6, 2020. Brothers Brian and Steve Jones are the fifth generation to run the farm. They sold their dairy cows and plan to milk about 1,500 goats. (VtDigger - Glenn Russell) GLENN RUSSELL—GLENN RUSSELL

Published: 12/9/2020 9:40:38 PM
Modified: 12/9/2020 9:40:29 PM

For 310 milking goats, a Hyde Park dairy farm was the end of a long journey last weekend in a truck from Wisconsin.

But that Sunday arrival was the beginning of a new chapter for brothers Brian and Steve Jones, who about two years ago decided to switch from milking cows to milking goats on the 150-year-old Joneslan family farm.

The brothers expect a shipment of 275 more goats from Wisconsin on Saturday, and plan to build up their herd to 1,500 goats over the next two years. That would make the farm the largest goat dairy in Vermont.

The goats, which traveled to Vermont in a large livestock trailer, required some coaxing and herding as they made their way down a ramp to the indoor pens where they will live this winter.

A few neighbors were on hand to see the arrival, along with representatives from Vermont Creamery, the Barre-based cheesemaker that will buy all the milk the farm produces.

“It was kind of good, actually, after being so quiet all summer,” Brian Jones said Monday of the commotion.

He had been preparing for the animals’ arrival for months, and will continue that work as he receives and installs goat-milking machines.

He said he expects only a minimal adjustment from working with a large, slow-moving ruminant to the much smaller and more active ones.

“Of course, they have more personality than cows do,” Brian Jones said. “They follow you around when you’re in the barn.”

Randolph goat farmer Miles Hooper, who helped the Jones brothers find their goats, had transported about 10 male goats, or bucks, to the farmer earlier on Sunday afternoon. Hooper is working on a genetics program with Joneslan and another farm in New York state.

The situation is changing

The Jones brothers, who used to milk 500 cows, decided to switch to goat farming on their 600-acre farm because of persistently low milk prices and other burdens.

They will send all the goat milk to Vermont Creamery, which was purchased in 2017 by Land O’Lakes, one of the biggest dairy cooperatives in the country.

Even before COVID-19 closed restaurants and food service establishments, consumption of cows’ milk was stagnant or declining nationally.

Meanwhile, goat cheese sales have been rising for the last half-dozen years, according to Cheese Market news.

Vermont Creamery and Hooper have been actively encouraging Vermont dairy farmers to switch to goats. Vermont Creamery still gets most of its milk from farms in Ontario and Quebec.

The Jones brothers this year received an array of loans and grants from state entities — such as the Working Lands Program, the Vermont Community Loan Fund, and the Vermont Economic Development Authority — to convert their extensive barns and milking parlor to hold goats instead of cows.

They also got a loan from the Taproot Capital Fund, a partnership of the High Meadows investment fund and the Castanea Foundation, a private organization with a mission of preserving the working agricultural landscape in Vermont and upstate New York.

John Ryan, who operates the Castanea Foundation, said the donors — whom he declined to name — seek to invest in businesses that demonstrate food production is worth investing in, and can yield a reasonable return.

They’re aiming to address some of the problems that make it difficult for conventional dairy farmers in Vermont to survive, Ryan said.

“The problems won’t be solved without focus on what we can do to support the land and people and communities that are meaningful to us,” Ryan said. “That’s what the benefactors have indicated to me: That this is their way of expressing their love for a state that has so enriched their lives.”

Goats are cheaper

Steve Jones expects milking 1,500 goats to bring in the same gross income — with a price set in contract — as milking 500 cows did. But the goats, which generally weigh about one-tenth what a cow does, are less expensive to keep.

Their feed needs are different, and their manure is dry and pelletized, making it far more convenient to handle, transport, compost and sell.

The farm will save about $200,000 because it doesn’t have to plant corn for cow feed — goats eat mostly hay, with some grain — and the two brothers have heard it’s easier to find help when it’s goats that are being milked, rather than cows.

Brian Jones said Monday that he doesn’t expect to need to hire anyone to help, at least for now.

Vermont had 42 registered goat farms last year, and has 47 this year, according to the Agency of Agriculture. In 2015, Vermont Creamery was taking 2.4 million pounds of milk from 3,600 milking goats, half of that from Vermont farmers, said Kara Young, the cheesemaker’s director of communications. This year, Vermont Creamery will receive 16 million pounds of milk from 8,000 goats — only about a fifth of that from Vermont, she said. The rest of the milk comes from Ontario and Quebec.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the Jones brothers’ plans. They had expected to have their goats — and their milking equipment, from Italy — installed by August, and then by October.

“COVID hasn’t changed the plans,” Brian Jones said. “It just extended the time some from when we originally wanted to get going. It took longer.”

Ryan said he expects many people who work in agriculture to be watching as the Jones brothers complete the conversion to milking goats and start sending milk to Vermont Creamery.

“I really admire folks who look at the situation and say, ‘This isn’t working,’ and don’t feel trapped or victimized by that,” Ryan said. “It’s very brave. It’s that combination of determination and resilience and willingness to change that’s really inspiring. We all could benefit from that as individuals.”




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