By Debbie Blake, The Batesville Herald-Tribune, Feb 14, 2014
When Mike Hoopengardner announced to friends and strangers, “‘We’re going to build a goat dairy and make goat cheese,’ people thought we were absolutely nuts,” he told about 50 attendees at the eighth annual Food and Growers Association of Laughery Valley and Environs seminar Feb. 8 at the Batesville Intermediate School cafeteria. This year’s theme was “Small Farm Enterprises = Big Opportunities.”
He and wife Kristy Kikly own Redbud Farm, home of Caprini Creamery, Spiceland, one of three goat dairy creameries in Indiana. Daughter Jessica, 16, who does the milking, “is as big a part of our operation as Kristy and I are.”
The itch to become farmers began when the family had two goats and two llamas on five acres in Fortville. Whenever Kristy Hoopengardner tells her husband, “‘Mike, I’ve been thinking,’ I just cringe,” he joked. The Eli Lilly scientist with a Ph.D. “does research and she thinks” all day. Now she was pondering their home life. “‘Is there a way we can make money with these goats?’” she asked him.
They traveled to goat dairies and tried goat cheese.
Seven years ago, the couple purchased 57 acres, 7 wooded and 50 covered with corn stubble. Hoopengardner bought a Massey-Ferguson tractor. “Next to my wife and daughter, it’s my best friend.” He installed over two miles of fencing and will add one more mile to complete the couple’s rotational grazing plan.
The speaker highly recommended using Natural Resources Conservation Service expertise if building or amending a farm. “We have this cost-sharing plan … We ended up getting $35,000 in cost-sharing. They gave us additional money to build fences.” He installed a 5-foot-tall one to keep goats in and predators out. The posts are 10 feet apart so it will last longer.
The farm’s watering system was suggested by NRCS. “Instead of a standard 4-inch well, we put in a 6-inch well 300 feet down.” Water lines are 1.5 inches thick instead of the typical 0.75. “We used a lot of this money to make this system better and make my life easier as we get older.”
“We wanted goats to eat grass instead of grains … We looked at how can we maximize our pasture system in order to help our bottom line?” The budding farmer met NRCS employee Robert Zupancic, who told him, “‘I’m your grazing specialist. Can I come out?’ He was like a kid in a candy store. ‘This kind of grass will grow in this kind of soil.’ He spent like three hours just running around the property,” then devised a pasture layout of various grasses to keep goats and llamas feeding for about nine months each year.
Hoopengardner spent three days planting $10,000 worth of grass seed. “Fortunately, the grass grew.”
Each kid (young goat) is treated with a wormer before being put on grass. Once they feed on chicory, which has natural tannins for parasite control, wormer no longer is needed for the mature goats. Chicory is cheaper than wormer, they learned.
Resources can not only save a producer money, but also provide technical knowledge. Other valued resources the Hoopengardners tapped were the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Indiana Board of Animal Health Dairy Division. The Indiana Dairy Goat Association (www.idga.net) also can be useful.
“When we had dirt and flags and a dairy designed on draft paper,” BOAH employees were summoned. “We laid it out for them. They asked if they could be consultants on our project … They were such a huge help. They probably saved us between $5,000-$6,000 in supplies” and discussed health requirements the family wasn’t aware of, such as installing a washable, self-closing door on the bathroom.
The farm is inspected every six months, and the cheese processing facility every three months. “They come out and help us run a cleaner dairy … they help us make a better cheese product.”
“We did as much of the work as we could” to build the 32-by-56-foot dairy barn with 10-foot-high walls. A specific drainage and septic system was designed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for the cheesemaking room.
The milking parlor has washable walls. The milk stand is almost shoulder high so humans aren’t bending over. The goat milk goes into a bulk tank, then is pumped to a cheese vat pasteurizer, which was imported from the Netherlands. He observed, “When you’re spending $30,000 on a piece of equipment,” the company’s track record and warranty are important.
“We do everything. I shovel the crap and deliver the cheese … Kristy is the cheesemaker. This year we want to milk between 60-70 goats. As we grow, if we get so big we have to hire a bunch of employees, we’re going to slow down.”
Advances are constant. Now his wife, the scientist, is using a milk testing machine to do fat testing. Why? “Higher milk fat makes better cheese.”
“We are watching our business grow by leaps and grounds …. We get to make good money,” sometimes selling about 150 units of five flavors (plain, rosemary, cracked pepper, chive, and maple and cinnamon) between $6-$8 at the Carmel farmers’ market, taking in around a cool $1,000 in one good morning. Caprini cheese also is stocked at 12 locations – Traders Point Creamery, Goose the Market, Pogue’s Run Grocer and the Good Earth Natural Food Co. in Indianapolis and several Bloomington and Muncie spots. It can be ordered online through Hoosier Harvest Market and Indy’s Green BEAN Delivery.
About 15 more locations are interested, including Whole Foods, but that chain is “too big for us.” He concluded, “We’re going to make a great living. Kristy will soon be a cheesemaker full time. We’re going to be really tired, but we’re going to be happy.”
He recommended that farmers “try to be as personal as possible” with customers. “Especially now, people want to know where their food is coming from. Invite them to your farm. Get to know them.” He invited persons with questions about goat farming to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-498-0422 or check the Web site, http://caprinicreamery.com/.
Hoopengardner closed by saying, “The future of farming in Indiana is not only corn and soybeans … but hoping our kids someday can afford to buy 50-100 acres and start niche farms. There’s room for both big and little farms.”
Reflecting on how Redbud Farm has changed their lifestyles, he said, “It means a lot to us.”
• The family decided after talking to a district forester to create a classified forest on part of their property. They planted 1,700 tree seedlings on 10 acres and had the land deeded that way. In addition to reducing their taxes, they feel good knowing that portion is always going to be a forest. Its value for tax purposes is $1 per acre. A future purchaser not wanting a forest would have to pay back taxes, meant to discourage the owner from changing the land from a forest. • The couple designed a passive solar house with high-efficiency appliances, geothermal heating and cooling and environmentally-friendly building materials. The utility bill for the all-electric 4,000-square-foot home and barn heaters was $220 last month.