Curious goats welcome Walworth County Dairy Breakfast visitors

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Jim Dayton
Sunday, June 18, 2017

DELAVAN—The kid goats at Lester Sterken's farm in Delavan are a social bunch.

Curious kid goats would welcome any visitor that walked through the nursery barn's center pathway. The goats jockeyed for position and climbed the fence to sniff and lick strange fingers.

There were plenty of newcomers for the goats to greet Saturday. The Sterken farm was open to tours for Walworth County Dairy Breakfast guests, shuttled from the county fairgrounds in Elkhorn to the farm via bus.

Goats are slowly becoming more popular in Wisconsin. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show there were about 27,000 goats in the state in 1997. There are now more than 61,000 as of the most recent census in 2012.

The consumer demand for goat products has grown. Goat milk fetches about $40 per hundredweight at market, while cow milk is hovering around $16 per hundredweight, farm owner Lester Sterken said.

Sterken and his brothers still milk cows. But after several years of milking a few goats on the side, Sterken established an operation separate from the cow farm in 2015, he said.

“That's my living down there,” Sterken said, pointing down the road to the cow farm. “This is the fun. We built this just to have something different.”

Adding goats was not an economic response to lower milk prices. The goat profits don't go toward the cow operation, and Sterken stressed that goat farming is more fun than handling cows.

Goats are easier to handle and don't eat as much as cows. While the goats' curiosity in new people seemed to wane between the nursery and the adult barn, they remain social animals, with Sterken calling them “pet-like.”

Sterken started with two of his “pets,” steadily adding until the goat herd reached 30. Despite a fire that killed most of the goats, he decided to restock his operation.

“I got to do something,” Sterken recalled of his decision. “I either got to get rid of them or go all in.”

Now, he milks 500 goats in addition to caring for more than 300 kid goats.

Visitors walking around the barn were glad to see how much space the animals had. Sylvia Baker was impressed with the facility and thought it was evident how comfortable the goats were.

“You don't hear anything crying. They're just happy,” she said. “That's fun to see, especially with such big numbers.”

Ray Anderson brought his grandkids to tour the farm because he thought it was a good learning opportunity. He thought it was important for people to understand the time, money and labor behind agriculture.

His grandkids, Peter and Katie, were a little young for such a big lesson. They most enjoyed petting the goats, he said.

Sterken was happy to partner with the Walworth County Farm Bureau and use his farm as a platform for education. It's common for people to be uninformed about agriculture or believe animals are mistreated, he said.

It doesn't make sense why a farmer would want to hurt his animals, he said. Judging by the expansive goat pens inside Sterken's barn, animal comfort was clearly a priority.

“It used to be everybody's grandfather had a farm so you knew what a farm was about,” he said. “If you're removed three or four generations, you don't have a clue. But we just want to do a good job.”

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