Ron and Suzanne Klein raise Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW dairy goats on pasture at Windshadow Farm & Dairy in Bangor, Michigan. The picturesque 45-acre farm is surrounded by four farms to the south and west, and is home to around 170 dairy goats.
The Kleins have several goat breeds, including Lamancha, Alpine, Nubian, Saanen, and various combinations thereof, all carefully watched over by two guardian dogs: a Great Pyrenees and Turkish Kangal. The farm is protected by well-maintained perimeter fencing. The goats thrive on the land and do well throughout the harsh Michigan winters. Milking 140 does twice a day, Ron says the goats are gentle on the land, easily managed, and well adapted to their rotational grazing system: “If they had opposable thumbs, they could manage moving reels and poly braid by themselves with great enthusiasm,” he jokes.
Ron’s mother’s family has farmed livestock for generations: “My Grandfather had a gift working animals,” says Ron. “I remember bits of wisdom: ‘You may curse the mud, but never the rain,’ and ‘If you take good care of your stock, they will take good care of you.’” In the 1970s, Ron was active in the Back to the Land movement and owned a small dairy goat farm until deciding to return to graduate school. Ron and Suzanne learned early the importance of holistic management of herd health and its relationship to animal welfare. “Out of that emerged higher standards of care and a deeper responsibility as stewards.”
The Kleins began to work with another certified farm to build the Windshadow Farm & Dairy milking herd. “These certified farmers really understood what we were experiencing, they encouraged us, we purchased excellent stock for our herd and they introduced us to the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW program. We’re excited to have the value of these standards reflected in our cheese and to be part of a greater community of farms that value a higher level of appropriate and meaningful standards of care for their animals,” Suzanne said. “One very important aspect of this program is a recognition that regions of the US differ significantly in many elements of farming and there can even be significant variations between neighboring farms based on soil quality, microclimates and other factors. With AWA, we can have a dialogue about specific practices so we can deal with real world issues regarding professional husbandry practices specific to a farm’s unique location, conditions and operation. The result is a continuing improvement of animal health and wellbeing” Ron added.
Despite the natural fit, Ron acknowledges that pasture-based management takes dedicated work and planning. “Pasture management is no simple task, it must be done well,” says Ron. “We have a refractometer to check Brix levels; we use NRCS grazing sticks to get a handle on the density of our forage base, and do soil tests to understand what we need to do to enhance our forage base.” As part of the Klein’s managed intensive grazing system, animals are started on forage 12-18” high and moved when grazing is down to 6”. Ron’s previous career included working in an Animal Health Research unit that focused on small ruminants—specifically parasitology—and his additional knowledge has been invaluable to managing the herd’s health. “By managing the forage height, we can even break parasite life cycles made worse by over grazing conditions common to continuous grazing systems versus management intensive grazing systems,” says Ron. Ron’s knowledge of how parasite life cycles must be broken and understanding the biology involved is critical. The Kleins have set up an on-farm laboratory so they can monitor for parasites, as well as do dairy related microbiology, bacteria culturing to identify causes of subclinical mastitis and cell staining to determine somatic cell counts. This means Ron and Suzanne can quickly identify any potential problems and change management practices, or select targeted treatments quickly and effectively.
“Being with the animals daily and being constantly attentive to their health, we have learned a great deal about nutritional management for pasture based goat dairies. We have been able use our lab and a science based approach to address several deficiencies important for dairy goat nutrition programs that not all pastures provide due to local soil conditions. We now feed additional chelated-zinc, cobalt, selenium and vitamin E , as well as iodine. A herdsman must know his animals, be observant, thoughtful and curious. Something for all of us eating food from soils that have been essentially mined and depleted of micronutrients to consider is, ‘What health issues may we have that can be traced to these soil deficiencies?’ Just because a pasture is green or even labeled “Organic” does not guarantee the forage base has an adequate nutrition profile to assure animal health. We all need to be better stewards of the land, our animals and ourselves,” Ron said.
Although it involves a dedicated work, Ron is passionate about the benefits of pasture-based management for animal welfare—and the economic bottom line: “The animals benefit from superior physical and mental health and balanced nutrition, allowing them to produce the highest quality milk,” says Ron. “We minimize our supplemental grain costs by providing nutrient-rich forage. Our vet bills are significantly lower, less time is spent on hoof trimming and individual handling, and better milk quality means better cheese quality.”
The Kleins chose Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW certification to gain market recognition for their management practices and to get the word out that there are better and more responsible ways to raise livestock. “The standards of AWA are very consistent with ours and the program offers professional guidelines for appropriate husbandry practices,” says Ron. “Having a third-party review and validate what we do on a continuing and professional basis is of great value. We are very proud of earning recognition by Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW.”
In addition to their Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW certification, Windshadow Farm & Dairy is a Michigan Grade A Dairy certified for Livestock, Farmstead and Cropping under the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). Ron and Suzanne also have served on the board of directors of the Michigan Land Trustees, which has promoted local food, small farms, and rural revitalization since 1976.
Ron and Suzanne have also developed a creamery at Windshadow Farm & Dairy. The creamery and new business – Windshadow Farm Artisan Cheese are now online. Cheese will be crafted and marketed under the Windshadow Farm Artisan Cheese label. “The continuum of sun, soil, grass, milk and cheese will finally come to life. We have tried to capture that magical continuum with our new byline: Windshadow Farm Artisan Cheese- where cheese comes to life.”
For more information about Windshadow Farm & Dairy or to purchase Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW Windshadow Farm Artisan Cheese call 888-893-2040 or visit windshadowfarm.com. Follow on Facebook at facebook.com/WFACheese.