Ag edition: Cashtown Dairy Goats

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“The goats love me,” declares the Sterrenburg’s two-and-a-half year old niece upon entering the barn.

She is visiting her aunt and uncle at their Cashtown Corners farm, home of Heidi Sterrenburg’s Rural Roots nursery and Edwin Sterrenburg’s Cashtown Dairy Goats, where the two operations co-exist on a 100-acre plot – although Edwin jokes that the two acres dedicated to the nursery is encroaching on the goats’ territory as expansion looms.

Tucked in behind the barnyard is a full-fledged goat milk operation housing more than 700 goats, a mixed herd of Alpine, Saanen and Toggenburg.

The goats are very curious animals and small amounts of time in their presence leaves one sufficiently nibbled.

Visitors are a big distraction for the animals who otherwise follow a contented routine of eating and milking.

Edwin’s day begins at 4:30 a.m. as he prepares for the morning milking. He makes his way out to the custom built barn where 450 of the goats will be milked, 48 at a time over a couple of hours.

The goats know the routine and trot willingly into the milking stalls waiting for their turn. Edwin then attaches the milking device which calculates exactly how much milk he is getting from each animal. This way, he can track output and productivity.

The goats are milked twice per day, yielding up to 7,500 litres of milk per week at their most productive time in the summer months. As part of the Gay Lea Foods cooperative, the milk is trucked to Lindsay each week where 85 per cent of it is made into goat cheese, and the rest sold as milk and related products for people who are lactose intolerant. The goat cheese bears the Celebrity Goat products label in Ontario and there is a chance that the cheese purchased in local stores is made in part with milk from the Cashtown farm.

Edwin immigrated to Canada with the dream of being a farmer.

“Once upon a time there was a little Dutch boy who wanted to be a farmer but grew up in a greenhouse,” says Edwin with a smile.

His parents grew cut flowers in Holland but Edwin had other plans. He took on a summer work term on a local farm when he was 17 as part of an animal sciences program at college. In 2001 he returned to Canada and rented the Cashtown farm for a couple of years before purchasing it and starting a family.

In 2012, a decision was made to build the new barn but Edwin says he has no further plans for expansion at this time as the scale works well. He has enough land to grow feed (hay and corn silage) and is able to dispose of the manure on the fields. Plans may change, he says, if their young daughter develops an interest in the business.

Edwin says he got into goats because there wasn’t a quota at the time, however to control supply the cooperative has since put limits in place as it is a very niche market. Cashtown Dairy Goats is one of about 250 licensed producers in the province and one of a handful in the county.

In order to replenish the herd, Edwin uses hormones to force three kiddings throughout the year, where left to nature the goats would only kid in the spring. (The goats kid once each year but are divided into three breeding groups to even out milk production throughout the year.)

The unproductive females are sold at Cookstown Stockyards and the young males are sold to Mennonites in the Dundalk area who market them for meat.

There’s money in goats, says Edwin, but also a lot of commitment.

“That’s why people don’t stick with goats, because it is a lot of work.”

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