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Leading the Way: Cooperative Strengthens Goat Dairy Farms

Sitting at the kitchen table, Larry Hedrich fondly recalls the origins of his goat farm in 1978. “It all began with a touch of insanity,” he jokes, referring to their modest 22-acre property, which seemed insufficient for many agricultural endeavors.

Larry and his wife Clara experimented with beef, hogs, and sheep before fully embracing the idea of raising dairy goats.

“Back then, people thought we were a bit crazy because goat farming wasn’t common,” added Clara.

Today, the Hedrichs are deeply involved in goat milk hauling and other various ventures on the same 22 acres. Their primary homestead serves as Kidfarm LLC’s operation for meat goats. They’re also the founders of LaClare Creamery, a facility dedicated to dairy goats and the production of diverse goat cheeses for retail purposes.

And they played a pivotal role in establishing the Quality Dairy Goat Producers Cooperative of Wisconsin.

Challenges in Milk Hauling 

Dealing with the logistics of milk is a challenge for goat dairy farms.

“When we started milking goats, individual farmers had separate arrangements with cheesemakers to sell their milk,” explained Larry. “Quality wasn’t a significant concern back then; farmers received a fixed payment per hundredweight, regardless of milk quality.”

The economics of transporting goat milk added to the complexity.

“Unlike cow milk, where a tanker truck can be filled by the production of just a few farms, with goats, it might take 14 farms to fill a truck,” said Larry. “This entails numerous stops and incurs higher labor and fuel costs. While it costs about 75 cents per hundredweight to haul cow milk, goat milk transport can cost around $2.50 per hundredweight, making it considerably more expensive.”

Larry and Clara eventually had the innovative idea of forming a cooperative that united dairy goat producers from across Wisconsin for more efficient milk hauling. This initiative aimed to enhance reliability for farmers and ensure higher milk quality for cheesemakers.


Strength through Partnerships 

The concept originated during a partnership with an innovative cheesemaker who ran a small operation at the time. The cheesemaker struggled to obtain quality goat milk for crafting superior goat cheese and often had to rely on leftover milk loads that other manufacturers didn’t need.

“So, in 2005, around six farmers joined the cooperative,” said Larry. “The cooperative handled all communication with farmers for milk pickups and acted as an intermediary, ensuring payments from cheesemakers to farmers.”

The cooperative also established rigorous quality standards for its farmers to guarantee the delivery of high-quality milk to cheesemakers.

“Our quality standards include butterfat, protein, somatic cell, and plate counts, with plate count being a crucial factor in delivering quality milk,” explained Larry. “We worked with cheesemakers to develop these standards, ensuring that we consistently deliver the right quality for top-notch cheese.”

What started with one cheesemaker and a half-dozen dairy goat producers has evolved into a partnership involving a dozen cheesemakers, along with other industry ventures utilizing goat milk, and about 100 farmers in the cooperative. This accounts for about one-third of Wisconsin’s dairy goat producers.

As membership in the cooperative grew, so did the demand for goat milk. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many cheese manufacturers swiftly transitioned from bulk packaging for food service to smaller retail packages of goat cheese.

The Hedrichs noted that even as food service returns to normal, the demand for retail goat cheese remains robust.

“The quality of goat cheese today is much better than it used to be,” said Clara. “People have become more adventurous with their palates and have positive experiences with goat cheese in other places. Plus, many cooking shows incorporate goat cheese in recipes, which inspires people to buy it for use at home.”

A Unique Partnership with Compeer 

In starting the cooperative, unique funding challenges emerged. Because the cooperative primarily serves as an intermediary, coordinating milk hauling and payments between cheesemakers to farmers, it lacks tangible assets for collateral. So, the Hedrichs called Carmen Michels, their financial officer at Compeer Financial, to find potential solutions.

“Larry and Clara always bring unique ideas to the table,” observed Michels. “When they asked about a nonrecourse loan for the coop, our team dug into the details to find a way to provide a line of credit that bridged the gap between the cheese processors’ payment for milk and payments to farmers. At Compeer, we’re dedicated to strengthening rural America, and this is a prime example of how we collaborate with clients to make it happen.”

Larry and Clara may joke about their endeavors as “insanity” at times, but their mindset is truly a testament to their innovative spirit and ability to see ample opportunities on the horizon. Larry envisions growth for the cooperative through a controlled approach.

“It’s a partnership between the farms and the cheese plants, and I truly believe we’ll continue to add more cheesemakers to our roster as our co-op farmers continue to provide quality milk,” he said.

“When you consider the industry as a whole, there’s immense potential out there,” Clara chimed in. “We’re venturing into specialty meats, but I’m also exploring the idea of bottling goat milk. There’s likely future opportunity in developing baby formula based on goat milk, and the pet food industry holds potential as well. Our goal is to ensure that it’s all financially viable and sustainable.”

Centered on Community, Family 

Involvement in the agriculture industry and community is important to the Hedrichs. Larry serves as president of the American Cheese Society, while Clara’s passion for agritourism and education leaves a strong mark on the industry, notably through her involvement with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Promotion and Education Committee.

Larry and Clara’s family plays a central role in their life and work. Four of their five adult children actively participate in the family’s agriculture ventures. Clara jokes that their non-farming daughter is always on call, ready to provide an outside perspective. With 13 grandchildren learning the ropes of the family business, the Hedrichs wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We knew our kids wouldn’t inherit a big trust fund,” said Larry. “But what we could impart to them are the valuable lessons in hard work; agriculture serves as an exceptional teacher in that regard. It instills a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and I can’t think of a better way for them to learn these life lessons than growing up in agriculture.”


This article was originally printed in the Winter 2023 edition of Compeer Financial's Cultivate magazine

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