Bruce Vandenberg knows all about the challenges and opportunities of milking goats.
He got into the business in 1989 and over the past 25 years has built Mariposa Dairy Ltd., the second-largest processor of milk goat cheese in Canada.
Speaking at the 2016 Canadian Dairy XPO, Vandenberg explained that his home farm now milks about 1,200 goats and supplies 8% of the milk processed at Mariposa’s Lindsay, Ontario facility. The rest of the required milk is produced by 60 Ontario goat farms. Vandenberg chalks up much of Mariposa’s growth and success to a willingness to seize opportunities. “We had great partners and my wife and I were not afraid to pull the trigger. We jumped in with both feet,” he tells Real Agriculture in the interview below.
Ontario currently has 230 dairy goat milk farms. Over the next 10 years, Vandenberg sees tremendous growth opportunities in the province. He believes milk production will more than double; average milk production per animal will increase 25%; and most farms will milk between 300 and 1,000 goats.
Vandenberg notes that about 40% of restaurants now feature goat cheese on their menus and it’s difficult to keep up with demand. “The opportunity is immense, especially in the US. Certain places want to buy goat’s milk and we can’t supply it. They can’t get it anywhere else. They have to wait in line.”
Vandenberg says it’s important for prospective goat farmers to understand both the opportunities and challenges before they take the leap. Ontario has significant processing capacity. “We also have people who have been raised on cow farms that don’t have the opportunity to expand,” says Vandenberg. Those cow management skills are directly transferable to goat milk operations. Location is also important. Farms are clustered together nicely, which allows for milk trucks to pick up milk efficiently.
For farmers thinking about entering the industry, Vandenberg recommends a strong business plan. “The business is not supported by quota. It is a business that you have to generate cash to pay your bills,” he says. “Do a business plan and figure out the right fit. And make sure you have a partner who can help you because you’re on your own.”
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