Got a 6-Pack?

Posted: April 8, 2013

As printed in Lancaster Farming, April 6, 2013 By Jessica Rose Spangler, Reporter

Mother-Daughter Duo Run Thriving Dairy Goat Operation

NEWPORT, Pa. — A large dairy goat operation was never part of the plan, but that’s just what Cathy and Gwen Soult have today.

When their family farm, Wayside Acres, was established in 1975, they raised sheep and cattle.

But in 1978, the first goat found a home at Wayside Acres. Cathy’s husband, the late Ned Soult, received a call from a friend, asking if they could drop in for a cold beer and a visit. Without beer on hand, Ned made a quick trip to a local vendor. But while he was there, another customer in the building asked if anyone wanted to buy a goat.

When Ned inquired as to how much the goat owner wanted, the family story says that Ned simply traded a 6-pack of beer for the goat.

And thus, the goat, later referred to as “6-pack,” became a resident at the Soults’ farm.

From that point forward, the farm became the community outlet for unwanted, “wayside” goats, Cathy Soult said during a recent Pennsylvania Women’s Agriculture Network meeting at the farm. She said they had found the goats to be useful for brush control as they expanded pastures.

When Ned died in 1993, Cathy and then 10-year-old Gwen were faced with the question of what to do with the farm. Deciding they wanted to keep it, expanding the goat herd seemed to be the most lucrative way to achieve it. So they brought in more Nubians and added Alpine goats. The herd now also has LaManchas and Saanens, plus grade dairy goats.

By 1996, the mother-daughter duo began selling does and exporting groups of bred females to the Philippines and Mexico. But when reports of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), also called “mad cow disease,” in the U.S. caused the Mexican border to temporarily close to livestock trade in the early 2000s, the Soults were left with a group of 25 bred goats and no facilities to milk such a large herd.

With Gwen studying away from home at Bucknell University, Cathy remembered: “I called her and told her I was going to spend her inheritance on a parlor.”

Not having much experience with building requirements, Cathy put together a team that included Fisher & Thompson Inc.; milk sanitation experts from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture; and a construction company. Together, the three helped to design and build the new milking parlor, milk house and milk processing room.

The building became operational in 2006, with a single-8 parallel milking parlor.

While the building discussions were happening, Cathy recalled how worried she was that she wouldn’t have a market for her goat’s milk. She was reassured by a Fisher & Thompson representative, who told her: “Don’t worry. The market will find you.”

And find her it did.

The sales growth of Wayside Acres dairy goat products — raw milk, pasteurized milk and Chevre and Feta cheeses — has been the success of word-of-mouth advertising. They have not done formal advertising in publications.

Recently, Wayside Acres’ 80 milking goats — 250 total goats — had a rolling herd average of 1,585 pounds of milk according to the farm’s February DHIA test, as reported in Lancaster Farming’s Eastern Dairy Reporter section.

The farm currently uses all of its milk. Forty percent of the milk is processed on-farm into cheese and sold locally at Newport Natural Foods. An additional 20 percent of the milk is sold there as pasteurized dairy goat milk.

Twenty percent of the milk is sold on-farm directly to customers as raw goat’s milk. No pasteurized milk is sold directly from farm to consumer.

The additional 20 percent of the milk is pasteurized and fed to the goat kids on the farm.

While Cathy and Gwen Soult were having their milking and processing facilities built, they also had to obtain all the permits required to have such an operation.

They now have licenses to sell raw milk on and off the farm within Pennsylvania, and are working to predominately sell off-farm, which requires an additional permit to sell the milk in stores. Sales of raw milk across state lines are prohibited.

They also have a license to sell pasteurized milk on and off the farm within Pennsylvania. They are currently working to have a lab installed on the farm to test for antibiotics — a step required for the sale of pasteurized milk across state lines.

The permits required to sell their cheeses are part of the aforementioned milk licenses, but the facilities for cheese-making have to be separately inspected. Wayside Acres is selling pasteurized cheese plus raw milk cheese that’s been aged at least 60 days.

The farm is entertaining a proposal from a New Jersey business that wants 100 gallons of pasteurized Grade A milk per day. If the goat herd can be expanded and the permits acquired, this could be a new outlet for Soults’ thriving business, all thanks to word-of-mouth publicity.

The facilities the Soults use for this extensive operation are quite modest, and were assembled as inexpensively as possible. During the Pennsylvania Women’s Agriculture Network tour of their farm, Cathy was as honest as she could be concerning the price of the operation, starting with a building that cost $60,000 when all was said and done.

But, speaking frankly with visitors on the tour, Cathy emphasized that starting up a dairy goat operation takes a lot of money, and anyone interested in doing it had better be sure they like the operation before starting. She recommended buying a few dairy goats to start, and then gradually growing the herd from there.

At the Soult’s farm, milk is quality-tested twice a month at a cost of $100, plus an additional $200 is paid each year for two pathogen tests.

The milk house is home to the bulk tank they purchased used, a mechanical bottler for the sale of raw milk, sinks and other milking equipment. The floor is concrete with an epoxy covering.

The floor is one area of the operation that Cathy said wishes she would have done differently. She would have installed a commercial grade tile floor instead. Because of the acids used for cleaning the milking equipment, the floor is quickly showing its wear and tear.

For pasteurization, the milk is pumped from the tank, through the wall and into a used pasteurizing vat they purchased for $2,500 — its installation and the needed piping around it was an additional cost. The processing room floor has a special tile floor to meet regulations.

Cathy cautiously warned that a new pasteurization tank could cost $17,000-$20,000.

There is also a mechanical bottler that is used for pasteurized milk. It was designed by a Lancaster County, Pa., Plain Sect man for $8,000. Prior to purchasing it, Cathy had the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture write a letter stating that the bottler would pass inspection for bottling Grade A fluid milk, a cautious move on her part to prevent any limitations for her business in the future.

During the farm tour, Dairy Foods Research and Extension Associate Kerry Kaylegian continued to reaffirm attendees that if they were planning on starting a similar operation, there are countless regulations that must be followed, and those regulations would continue after building as well. She also emphasized that being friendly and working with the milk inspector helps during the planning process.

Just like any farm, Wayside Acres is planning for the future. While there is a transition plan in progress, Cathy is the sole owner at this time, though Gwen does own some of the goats.

The mother-daughter team does the bulk of the work on the farm, but they currently have two female interns and two family friends that help with chores.

Despite the growing workload and consumer demand, Cathy and Gwen Soult have no thoughts of slowing down. Wayside Acres plans to keep expanding their goat herd and striving to keep their customers happy.