MADRID, Iowa (AP) — Buying two goats in August 2008 was little more than an experiment for farmer Paula Olson and some entertainment for her daughters.
Six and a half years, 14 milking goats and roughly $300,000 later, she's in the midst of constructing a small-scale creamery in Madrid, Iowa, that's set to feature goat milk, cheese, ice cream and more. And though her creamery isn't yet open, Olson said local businesses have begun inquiring about her products, prompting her to already consider expanding.
Americans' growing taste for more unusual fare has contributed to a steady increase in demand for goat products in recent years, and producers across the country are trying to determine how to secure enough milk to give consumers what they want while continuing to develop their merchandise.
The nation's dairy goat herd climbed 2 percent in the past year to 365,000 animals, but producers said their annual sales are rising even faster — up by 15 percent or more. In Iowa, the number of goat farms has climbed from less than 20 a decade ago to about 200, behind only Wisconsin and California.
Sheep and goat milk accrued $92.2 million in sales in 2012, according to the most recent figures available from the U.S. Agriculture Department's census, with combined sales about a third higher than in the previous 2007 census.
Goat dairies remain a relatively new market, however, so those in the industry are trying out new techniques largely by trial and error.
"It's not like the cow world," said Larry Hedrich, owner of LaClare Family Farm in Chilton, Wisconsin. "There aren't reams and reams of research available."