After more than 20 years in the dairy goat industry, Jen Ruyter is building her dream operation
OZARK, ARK. – Raised on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania, Jen Ruyter began venturing into dairy goats more than 20 years ago.
“I’ve been passionate about the goats since I was little,” Jen said. “I used to show them throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland and milked there, too.”
About four years ago, she moved to Arkansas for missions work with the Youth With a Mission organization in Ozark, Ark., bringing 11 of her goats with her.
“When I moved here, I used my goats to teach food security and used them in the discipleship training schools,” Jen said.
Jen and her husband David, whom she met after moving to the Natural State, are now building their herd and 4 acres, all while raising 2-year-old twins Ezra and Hezekiah, and 4-month-old Azariah at New Dawn Goat Dairy.
“When we got married and started having kids, we decided to settle down,” Jen said. “But I still have the goats.”
Jen is still milking her herd, selling milk straight from the farm, and making a line of goat milk soap, which she sells at a local coffee shop. She also ships her soap back to customers in Pennsylvania.
Jen raised mostly Alpines in Pennsylvania, mixed with a few Nubians and Nigerian Dwarfs. Today she has added Miniature Nubians to the mix.
“It’s a cross between a Nubian and a Nigerian Dwarf to get a smaller Nubian,” she explained. “Both breeds have the highest butterfat of any breed, and Nigerians are more than double. My goal is to have a high butterfat-producing animal that doesn’t consume a lot. I have the standard and the smaller Nubians, and I’ve been getting Miniature Nubian bucks from Oklahoma and Texas. The Miniature Nubians have gotten more popular the last five years, and there are a lot of online shows. The one I got from Texas just won a show, so it’s exciting.”
Her years of showing drive Jen to find animals with superior conformation.
“It’s all about longevity,” she said. “Better genetics will last longer, and because we are milking twice a day, it’s important to have those good genetics for the animal’s health.”
The New Dawn milking herd is five, but several yearlings will be bred next year, and younger animals are waiting in the wings.
“I get about 4 gallons a day from the five I milk, so they are doing pretty well,” Jen said. “One of my milkers is only 22-inches tall, and she’s milking really well.”
In the past, Jen has taken off from milking in the month of December, but she has opted to change her breeding program to have milk year round.
“I am going to try to have at least two,” Jen said, adding that Azariah came around breeding season last year, so she had to modify the schedule.
To make kidding dates more manageable, bucks are not housed with the females Instead, Jen brings does to the bucks when she is ready to breed them.
“That way, I know when they are due, and I can have one or two in milk most of the time,” she said. “With the Miniature Nubians, they come into heat more often than the standard breeds do, so they are easier to breed in late winter or early fall. I prefer this because I can also be there when the goat is due so I can make sure she’s having a safe birth and the babies are doing OK. I have worked on other dairies, and it’s very chaotic when you have 10 due the same day. I like to spread things out, so the babies get the attention they need. Goats have two or three babies at one time, so there can be a weak one that needs more attention; I try to keep everyone healthy and alive. One of my favorite parts about it all is baby season. You work hard, but you get to see what your new genetics look like.”
To aid in the longevity of her herd, Jen said, does are not put into a breeding rotation until they are a year and a half old.
“I like to wait until they get a little bigger and are more mature,” she explained. “Doing that, they seem to do better.”
Most buck kids are wethered young and sold for meat or as pets. However, some superior bucks, as well as does, go into the breeding program of New Dawn and other herds.
“In Pennsylvania, I had a lot of good customers who came from all over to get milk or goat kids, and a lot of them still know me,” she said. “They like my genetics. I’ve also sent kids to Pennsylvania, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and a few around here. My whole herd is registered, and I have some genetics that go back over 20 years. Not too many people have done that.”
All goats are on pasture, and receive locally sourced, free-choice grass hay and Chaffhaye – a fermented alfalfa.
“They just get a little feed and good minerals,” Jen said. “They also get an herbal dewormer; I try to stay away from chemical dewormers as much as I can.”
Because overall health is key to production, Jen said a quality mineral program and nutrition are critical.
“The healthier they are, the better their immune system is, and the better they can fight parasites,” Jen said. “I’ve been doing this long enough I can tell if something is going on, like if their hair coat is a little off color, or if their weight isn’t right.”
She added keeping the mature animals separate from the goat kids gives the young kids a healthy start.
“The kids are more at risk of getting coccidia,” Jen explained. “I rarely lose any babies doing it that way. The only vaccination I do is CDT for babies when I disbudding them. I used to do a booster annually but, I don’t see a need for it now.”
The entire herd is also negative for John’s, CAE and CL. Any outside animals brought into the herd, which are typically only bucks, must also test negative.
Jen said raw goat milk sales are a little slower in Arkansas than in Pennsylvania, but she sees potential.
“It seems up north they are more familiar with the quality of raw milk,” Jen explained. “It’s growing slowly. I haven’t advertised a lot because we are just getting set up. I am trying to keep a small herd now because it’s important for me to feed my family the products I make, like the cheese and yogurt, but our goal is for my husband and me to be full time on the farm in 10 years.”
In addition to teaching, David has a background in carpentry, and the couple is in the process of building a new milking and processing facility that will allow them to expand the operation.
“We plan on selling cheese and yogurt; that part takes longer,” Jen said. “We’re doing it all ourselves to keep from taking out a loan. Our goal is to be selling cheese in restaurants and we have some friends who have restaurants, and they are waiting for us to get set up. It’s expensive for the equipment to get set up for fresh cheese. We want to grow. We’re also getting into poultry for eggs and meat as well. This has been my dream, but it does take time to build.”