Get your goat: Demand bolsters milkers

Sean Ellis/Capital Press New York producer Bill Newton pets a prize goat in Boise Oct. 16 during the American Dairy Goat Association's annual convention. Dairy goat farmers say increasing demand for goat cheese is a bright spot for the industry.

Rising popularity of goat cheese helps lift industry

By SEAN ELLIS

Capital Press

Rising demand for goat cheese is driving increased dairy goat inventory, according to industry leaders.

While total goat numbers in the United States began to decrease slightly in 2009, milk goat inventory has continued to increase through the economic downturn.

According to USDA statistics, there were 360,000 milk goats on Jan. 1, which was 24 percent more than the 2002 Census of Agriculture and 8 percent more than the 2007 census.

Because more than half of goat cheese consumed in the U.S. is imported from other countries, there's room for more growth, said Stephen Considine, dairy manager of Redwood Hill Farm, which sells goat cheese, yogurt and kefir across the United States.

Considine was among several producers and industry leaders who were generally optimistic about the dairy goat industry's future during the American Dairy Goat Association's annual eight-day convention in Boise, which ended Oct. 20 and attracted about 400 people.

While fluid milk sales have remained steady, "Cheese is the largest growth component in the dairy goat industry in the United States," said Considine, an ADGA board member. "Demand for goat cheese is increasing all over the country."

During the convention, 150 different types of goat cheeses were entered in a products competition.

"If you watch cooking programs, almost all the cheese they're using in dishes is goat's cheese," said Diane Avery, who owns 20 goats in Owyhee County in southwest Idaho. "There's a big movement toward goat cheese."

Convention organizer Tina Abe said the local food movement has been good for the industry.

"I think that movement is really helping the dairy goat industry tremendously, as more people are making their own butter, milk and cheese," said Abe, who owns a dairy goat operation in Nampa, Idaho.

With the growth in the industry, more people are able to make a living by producing goat milk, Considine said. According to USDA statistics, there are 31,000 dairy goat producers in the country.

Because goats don't require a lot of acreage, it's possible for people with 60-100 milkers to run a sustainable family business, Considine said.

"These producers manufacture and market their own cheese direct to farmers' markets and to upscale grocery stores in the area," he said.

After receiving a couple of goats from a friend a few years ago, Avery began turning the excess milk into cheese and yogurt.

"Everyone wanted to buy it off of me," she said, and now she sells her product to friends, farmers' markets and small produce stores.

While the industry's biggest opportunity is cheese, Considine said, its biggest challenge is rising feed costs.

"It's the traditional squeeze for dairy producers, where the price paid for milk does not rise proportionately as the price of feedstuffs go up," he said.

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