Port Washington Farmer Builds Business Around Goat Milk
It’s hard not to smile when you hear the “voices” of Barry Midtling’s three-day old kids.
The goats spent the first few hours of life with their moms, before being moved to straw-filled plastic tubs. That's where the Midtlings fed the kids with their mothers' first milk. "We’re very adamant about getting enough colostrum into the babies, good quality colostrum. What we’re mostly after is the antibodies, the energy and the nutrients, but also the antibodies. The mother transfers all of that,” Barry Midtling says.
He says once their system is established, the kids could stay with their mothers a bit longer. “I said we bought from clean herds, but still I’m still a little cautious, because I’ve heard of other people buying clean animals and then they end up carrying diseases,” Midtling says.
Midtling started the business just last summer with 200 handpicked goats from established herds from around the country.
Midtling and a friend traveled to each farm to fetch the animals and check the condition of those farms. He says it’s essential to have good genetics and goats free of diseases common to the animal - such as arthritis and infected breaks in the skin.
“So we tried to buy from herds that were clean of those diseases, they’d already did all the work of cleaning up their herds by doing blood tests and continuing to test through the years,” Midtling says.
The other part of the project was turning an old dairy farm – some of its buildings from the turn of the last century, into a goat-scaled operation. “So this building you can see we took off all the steel – one because it leaked but also we try to make it a brighter environment for these babies,” Midtling says.
Across the farmyard, the 115 goats that Midtling now milks hang out in their living quarters. Midtling aims to build his milking herd to 450. That’s not a number he’s pulling out of his head; it’s based on the capacity of his buildings and the tillable land around it.
Midtling plans to create a pasture of “goat favorites” for them to graze. “Likes clovers and alfalfa and grasses, and then herbs because the herbs have an ability to bring up more minerals, very high in energy," he says. "I want to do a big mix because a goat is a browser so that means they have a wide diet. I think it affects their health, their productivity."
Less than a year into the venture, Midtling feels he has a solid footing at Afterglow farm. He is banking his success – and income – on its value as high-quality cheese. He recently began selling his goat milk to Clock Shadow Creamery in Walker's Point.
He says its future lies in the health of its newborn kids and getting them off to a good start.
“Our death loss in the babies is actually less than one percent right now on live born babies, so its exceptionally well,” Midtling says.
The 50-year-old says he tended his first goats when he was eight, growing up in Minnesota. You can see the pride in the quiet man’s eyes when he says this is only the beginning of a new phase. And he intends to share what he learns.
"Hopefully we educate and train and bring somebody in here who will run with this thing. I’m getting old, you know,” Midtling says. Yet Midtling doesn’t plan to “move on” anytime soon. It’s almost planting season. And just weeks ago, his first truckload of milk trundled off to Milwaukee.