WHAT started out as a necessity for their eldest child has led to a major business enterprise for the Jessen family of Clifton.
Dan and Peggy Jessen's eldest son Craig was allergic to cow's milk as a baby, so they decided to get a goat to milk.
Fast forward about 20 years, and today they operate a 1200 head goat dairy on their 260ha property Cranley Park, south of Clifton.
It is good money, but a lot of hard work, as it's a niche product.
Son Marcus and other family members help out.
They run one of only seven goat dairies in south east Queensland.
They started the enterprise with a few stud dairy goats in Toowoomba and were just getting enough milk to supply their own needs.
"I also showed the stud animals at local shows and at the Toowoomba and Brisbane shows," she said.
In 2004, the Jessen's proudly presented the Supreme Exhibit at the Toowoomba Royal with their british alpine doe.
Peggy is now a show judge too and recently returned from Tasmania where she was a guest judge at the Brighton Show.
"For a long time, it was just a little stud venture and then everything got out of control," Dan laughs.
They now have 2000 goats, predominantly saanen, with some british alpine and toggenburg breeds.
"We milk twice a day from 4am to 8.30am and 2.30pm to 6.30pm," Dan said.
"All our milk is contracted to Pauls and our goats produce about 2500 litres a day."
Peggy said the family bred all their own goats, operating a closed herd.
"We don't buy in anything, except the occasional buck, and we are very particular about what we buy," she said.
"We only buy one or two each year, and the remainder are what we have bred ourselves. We sometimes have an oversupply of kids, which we sell to dairies in Victoria and South Australia.
"We have at times exported our kids to the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Korea."
The Jessen's moved to Clifton 10 years ago, and converted an old dairy into their modern, 30 aside, swingover goat dairy.
"We had to buy new milking equipment as goats only have two teats, as opposed to a cow's four," Peggy said.
Disease isn't a problem for the family enterprise with their closed herd, but any animal bought in is tested before it's "used".
The Jessen's have no plans for expansion at this stage.
"We are happy to stay where we are, as it seems to be working for us," Dan said.
"It is good money, but a lot of hard work, as it's a niche product."
The goats produce more milk in summer, but are "pushed along" in winter with the use of artificial lights in the large shed which houses the milking goats, Dan said.
The shed also changes the daylight hours for the goats, Marcus said.
"We changed the daylight hours with the use of lights in the shed, so we can kid out of season," he said.
"Naturally they kid in spring, but we have them kid in autumn. They are susceptible to the cold and wet, as well as the hot and dry, and can go off the milk."
Kidding is a busy time for the Jessens, as is breaking in new stock, as they are doing now. They have 300 new goats to be introduced to the dairy and spend extra time getting them used to the routine.
"Goats are pretty quiet animals, but there are always a few with a bit of attitude," she said.
Marcus believes it is a good lifestyle, but he doesn't party late.
"I still go out at night, but probably leave before everyone else," he said.
As well as family members, the Jessen's employ eight
part-time staff to assist with the milking.
They also have four maremma dogs, which live with the goats to fend off predators, such as wild dogs.
"We used to graze all the goats, but now they are all housed, so the dogs aren't as critical," Marcus said.
"Fortunately we have never lost any goats to wild dogs," he said.
Nutrition is a critical factor, with the goats dining on good lucerne, sileage, grain, and a custom mix which includes trace minerals.
"Like any animal, it is 50% breeding and 50% nutrition," Peggy said.
"The goats produce an average of 2-3 litres of milk a day and we have to have enough storage in refrigerated vats for up to four days," she said.
"We have three day and four days pick-ups, but when we had the floods of last year, the milk tankers couldn't get through from Brisbane for a week.
"We just had to open up and let the milk go. We lost about a week's milk supply."
The Jessen's are enthusiastic about the health benefits of goats' milk.
"Goats' milk is good for children and adults who are lactose intolerant and it is quicker to digest than cow's milk," Peggy said.
"While it takes five hours for cow's milk to be digested, it only takes 20 minutes for goat's milk," she said.
"It is also good for allergies, including eczema."
People used to keep a goat in their back yard and milk it, but Dan says those days are gone. "Lifestyles have changed, people can now buy goat's milk from the supermarket."
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