For the Love of Goats
If you want a standard size dairy goat that gives a gallon or more of milk daily, then the Alpine might be for you.
In this episode, we are talking to Emily Thompson of Kara Kahl Alpines in Southeast Minnesota who has been raising goats her whole life with her sister and her parents, who started raising alpines in the 1970’s.
Emily talks about the general attributes of Alpines, as well as why she’s continued to raise them for decades.
She has been a judge with the American Dairy Goat Association for 22 years and is also co-chair of judges training assessment and licensing committee.
The family shows their goats at the national level and even brought home the title of grand champion doe. They are also on milk test.
Want to see a comparison of all of the goat breeds side by side in a spreadsheet, from milk production averages to appearance?
You can visit Kara Kahl Farm online at…
Listen right here…
…or on your favorite platform:
For more information on other goat breeds:
- Angora Goats
- Cashmere Goats
- Experimental Goats
- Fainting Goats (aka Myotonic Goats)
- Kiko Goats
- Kinder Goats
- LaMancha Goats
- Nigerian Dwarf Goats
- Nubian Goats and Cheesemaking
- Oberhasli Goats
- Saanen Goats
- Sable Goats
- San Clemente Island Goats
- Toggenburg Goats
- Choosing a Goat Breed for Your Farm
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.
Deborah Niemann 0:19
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. We are doing another breed profile today, and we are joined by Emily Thompson, who has Kara Kahl Alpines in southeast Minnesota with her parents and sister. She was basically born into the dairy goat world. She’s been a member of the American Dairy Goat Association her whole life, her parents started raising Alpines 10 years before she was even born, and today she’s also a judge with the American Dairy Goat Association and co-chair of the judges training assessment and licensing committee. Welcome to the show today, Emily.
Emily Thompson 0:56
Hi, thanks for having me.
Deborah Niemann 0:57
This is gonna be really fun, because you are totally taking advantage of, like, all the programs. You show your goats, you milk test your goats, you collect your bucks… I can’t really think of anything that a person could do with their dairy goats that you don’t do with your goats. So, this is gonna be great.
Emily Thompson 1:15
Deborah Niemann 1:16
So, did your parents… Like, have you been doing all the things, like, forever? Or did it just start out with a couple of goats for milk? And then, at what point did they get into all of the other fun stuff with the goats?
Emily Thompson 1:31
Yeah, so they… The best source of this information, we were actually on a podcast episode of “Goat Gab,” where it was “sitting down with the Thompson family.” My parents went very much into history in terms of the exact years of when they got the goats, when they started with ADGA and such, but they originally just started with a few milk goats, and they were just going to milk them because they liked them. My mom got a book from the library about Getting Started with Milk Goats, I believe it was called. And then, they got a few goats. And they had them, they moved out to Pennsylvania for a few years and brought all the goats with, and they moved to Northern Minnesota where I was born. And there, they were going to ship milk, and they were part of the whole back to the land movement. But there, unfortunately, was no market. So, my mom was a nurse, and my dad worked for the soil and water conservation, and then the dairy goats became more of a hobby. And so, they got started with AGDA pretty early on, I believe, in the late 70s. And they started just showing.
Emily Thompson 2:31
I’m not sure when they first started with milk test. We were on test for a long time, I remember as a kid, and then we were off for a while just because it was expensive and time-consuming. But then we went back on it, I think in about 2015. So, we’ve been on it for the last seven years now. So… I think I have one doe—my 10-year-old doe went on test when she was three. So, I know that we took a break there for a portion of time, but we were on test for years. And my parents had been involved with AGDA for years as well; my dad was an appraisal and as a judge. So yeah, so my parents have just been heavily involved with the American Dairy Goat Association for my whole life. We always went to conventions and national shows as kids. I was at the 1982 national show as a baby, like, three months old kind of thing. So, we’ve been doing dairy goats through the American Dairy Goat Association, for my whole life. And I turned 40 this year, so a very long time.
Deborah Niemann 3:28
Wow. So, when did you decide to become a judge?
Emily Thompson 3:33
Yeah. Well, my dad was chair of the judges training committee as—that was the former name. Now it’s the judges training and licensing committee. So, he became chair of that when I was a young kid, and we always had to help at the training conferences. And so, we always would have to help handle; it was always two free handlers, my sister and I. So, we went to training conferences just forever. And so, we really knew the process. And we went to shows with my parents, showing our own animals. Sometimes I’d go with my dad when he’d judge, or we’d go with my dad when he judged and make a family vacation out of it. So, I was just around it all the time. And I just knew it was something that I really wanted to do as well. So, to become a judge, you have to be 18. And so, I went for my license the year I turned 18.
Deborah Niemann 4:17
Wow. So, obviously you have so much experience with goats—and not just with Alpines and Toggenburgs, which are the two breeds that you have. But obviously, all the breeds… Like, being a judge, being at the shows all the time, clearly you have seen the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it, all the breeds. So, why do you have Alpines, then?
Emily Thompson 4:40
Well, my parents had Alpines when I was born, so that was the breed I have always known. When my sister was nine, she really wanted a Toggenburg, and we had some family friends that really helped with that by giving her a Toggenburg. I briefly really wanted LaManchas, because I thought, “Well, I want my own breed. My sister got her own breed.” And she, I remember, there was one convention where my mom started to bid on a LaMancha kid, and we didn’t get it. And then I was kind of like, “Well, okay.” I don’t know, I just kind of moved on. I think it was a very brief phase that I went through that I really wanted a LaMancha. But, we just never got one.
Emily Thompson 5:18
And then, when both my sister and I, when we were nine, my parents allowed us to choose one goat in the herd, and they would transfer that one into our names. And then that could be our 4H animal, and those, all of the babies could be ours. And so I picked—they didn’t really want me to pick the one I picked. But I thought, she was just my favorite, mainly because she had some faults. And so, they weren’t necessarily thinking they wanted to keep her, but they did, because I chose her. And that’s actually who all of my goats now go back to. So, it ended up working out just fine—all of my nice does today. But, I think I just started to like the Alpine because I finally had one that was mine. And I got to show her, and her babies, and started showing some of the other lines. And I like the colors. I like the attitude. They have attitude, but I appreciate them.
Emily Thompson 6:05
And it’s also just the breed I know. I know the genetics behind that breed. So, if I’m making breeding decisions or buying decisions, I’m just much more familiar. And it can be daunting, if you want to start with a new breed, to learn all of that. Now you have to learn, “What does this line do? What does this line do? What do these bucks do? What is this breed known for?” Maybe they have different health issues, or different production things that you need to be aware about. So, Alpines or what I know, because that’s what I was born into. And so, it’s always been what I’ve stuck with, because I just do really like them.
Deborah Niemann 6:38
So, they are one of the biggest breeds out there. And then, you have been handling them since you were a little girl—way smaller than the goats. How does that work out for a family that’s got smaller children, and they go for a bigger goat like that?
Emily Thompson 6:54
Yeah. I mean, it was always fine. I mean, we have a really small herd. So, everything was… Everybody’s decent to handle. Nobody’s mean; we don’t keep mean does or anything like that. My parents just kind of said we were going to show, and we wanted to show, so we did. And so, I have two little girls; I have an eight year old and a five year old. And, I’m trying to let my eight year old—she’s gotten to pick out a doe. And so, I let her show her. We had a show a couple of weekends ago, and it was the first time that she was kind of really allowed to… You know, she was just on her own, and got to show her kid, and she’s a nice big kid, and she was kind of being a brat in the show ring—that kid, not my daughter. But, she did really well. And she stuck with it.
Emily Thompson 7:36
And I think that my parents knew that, you know, if we wanted to do something, we had to do it ourselves, and you know, found pride in being able to do that ourselves. And so, we kind of do the same with our girls. I don’t try to… If they don’t want to show them, then they don’t have to show them. It’s not something like, “No, you have to do this.” But I’ve kind of been trying to encourage them to help me with the one that I know is easier. It can be really frustrating if you’re a little kid, and your goat is being mean, and you can’t show them. And so, we try not to make it a frustrating experience, but more of an enjoyable experience. And, I feel like my parents did a good job with that as well.
Deborah Niemann 8:11
Yeah, exactly. How much do the girls help around the farm? In terms of, like, do they do any milking and that kind of stuff?
Emily Thompson 8:19
Not a ton. I think part of it is that they just aren’t tall enough to reach. So, like, our hay feeders hang up on a 6-foot fence, or a 5-1/2-foot fence. And they’re only 3-1/2, 4 feet tall. So, they always come out to the barn and they kind of play. My older daughter, now, I can give her… So, like, when we had all the kids, they can hold the bottles to feed the kids that are in the house. And they’ll help with that. If I fill up a bucket for a pen for the lamb bar, then I have my older daughter, she’s big enough she can carry it. And so she’ll, you know, go feed this pen, go feed this pen, go feed this pen. They can put grain in cams and kind of put that in the trough. They can hand-milk, to a point, but we have a machine finally. And so, it’s currently broken at the moment; we’re getting the pump fixed. But they can hand-milk. But we have been moving towards the machine, which has been a little bit more enjoyable.
Emily Thompson 9:12
So, I think that they come out to the barn kind of more for fun, but they’ll definitely help. We kind of give them jobs we know they can do. They’ll sweep the aisles. They’ll feed the kids if they can reach that, sometimes. We have kids in a smaller pen, and I just want them to kind of run and get exercise, so I say, “Okay, take them outside and just let them run up and down the driveway with you and chase you,” and those kinds of things.
Deborah Niemann 9:33
Emily Thompson 9:34
Yeah, yeah. But a five and eight year old aren’t too helpful quite yet.
Deborah Niemann 9:38
Yeah, we moved out here and got goats when my youngest was nine. And I had a teenage daughter and a teenage son, and the nine year old—after we’d been here for a year—the nine year old came out one day and said, “Can I learn how to do that?” And I was milking, and she was 10, and she picked it up right away.
Emily Thompson 9:57
Deborah Niemann 9:57
And then she got super interested, and, like, she wanted to milk every day, and then her sister got interested, and… But we had Nigerians, and so the size of the child and the goat wasn’t really that big of a deal. So, for anyone who doesn’t know, when we say an Alpine is one of the larger breeds, can you talk a little bit about, like, their height and their weight and that kind of stuff?
Emily Thompson 10:17
Yeah, so they have minimum—it’s just called a “standard breed size.” You know, typically, a mature doe is going to weigh 150 to 175 pounds. Bucks are going to be almost 200. So, they’re pretty big. The kids… You know, our kids, by four months here—we weigh them frequently. Because, we just want to make sure they’re growing well. And we use that coccidia preventative that’s based on weight. And so, you know, our kids at four or five months here are about 75 pounds. They’re getting big. So, they’re not a small breed.
Emily Thompson 10:50
In terms of height, they have a minimum standard that they need to be, which is… I believe does is 30 inches and buck is 32 inches. You know, that’s the minimum. And so, you want them generally taller than that. So, ours tend to be taller than that. But yeah, so they’re not a small animal. But, you know, ours are all very friendly and pretty gentle, so the girls can handle them. And I never have concerns. They’re just not allowed to go into the buck pen, because the bucks can just get ornery, and they could get… I could see them getting pushed down by bucks and stepped on or something like that. So, they’re not allowed to go into the buck pen. But, you know, we have no concerns with them going into the doe or doe kid pens whatsoever.
Deborah Niemann 11:30
And about how much milk do you get a day? Obviously, it varies from month to month and things, so can you talk about that a little?
Emily Thompson 11:37
Yeah. So, we really value production in our does. And so, we are on milk test. We just had test yesterday. So, most of our does kidded in February, and we have some does that are still producing 12 pounds, which is… Eight pounds is a gallon. And so, we really like to see yearlings producing about 7-1/2 to 8 pounds, anywhere up to 10 to 11 pounds a day. And then, I like to see them increase at two, and then by the age of three, I do really like to see them milking 3,000 pounds in that 305 days.
Emily Thompson 12:13
And so, we kind of watch how our does mature. You know, we’ve had some does that as yearlings are giving 6-1/2 to 8 pounds, and then the next year will come in at 14 pounds. And it’s just… They just really can make a jump that next year. And so, we don’t keep those that are not producing well or showing that increase in production. You know, I don’t need does that are milking 4,000 pounds or 5,000 pounds. But I prefer the animal that’s going to be milking between 3,000 and 3,500. It just seems like their udder holds up a little bit more. Now, my my doe that was national champion, she nearly milked 4,000 pounds last year. But she does have the udder that can support that; it’s a very well-attached udder and milks down very well. And so, you know, if they can support that amount of milk, great. But we don’t really push for does that are milking 4,000 pounds. It takes kind of a special animal, I think, to get up towards those levels.
Emily Thompson 13:12
And we’ve had a few. We find tests to be very, very helpful to know how they’re doing, to see… You know, I know I have certain lines that tend to not really ramp down; as we get in these later months and towards the fall, sometimes they even start going back up. I can see patterns in dam lines in terms of, maybe they don’t milk a ton as a yearling, but then they really come into it at two and three. And so, we use test for that reason, too, to just see, you know, “What do we expect from production from this doe and this line? What are we seeing for butterfat and protein?” We really use it to monitor somatic cell count to make sure does are healthy. And again, just really value does that are producing well in our herd.
Deborah Niemann 13:58
So, speaking of that production, what do you do with all that milk? Because that’s a lot of milk.
Emily Thompson 14:03
It is, yeah. So, we feed all of our kids pasteurized milk. And so, in the spring, we don’t have any excess milk. And then we wean our kids around 12 weeks. We feed three times a day. I mean, we don’t let them just have as much as they want at each of those feedings; we do kind of measure it out, in terms of our kids get about 16 to 20 ounces per feeding. We never go above that. And so, once we start having extra milk, we have wonderful neighbors who raise pigs for 4H. Their daughters are all very competitive in showing pigs. And so, they raise about 25 pigs every spring and summer. And then, they take them to the butcher in the fall. And so, we have a whole bunch of yellow buckets, and they come every single day and take all of our excess milk next door to their pigs, and then we buy a couple pigs from them in the fall. So, it works out really, really nicely for us to not have to dump milk, for them to do really well with their animals, and then we get really good pork in the fall. So, yeah.
Deborah Niemann 15:07
And the pigs love the milk. That was—
Emily Thompson 15:08
Oh, yeah. They do great on it. They did great—
Deborah Niemann 15:11
Emily Thompson 15:11
Deborah Niemann 15:13
We don’t have pigs anymore. But we had them for a long, long time. Like, 18 years or so. And they just, like, bury their head in the—
Emily Thompson 15:22
Deborah Niemann 15:23
And just don’t come up for air.
Emily Thompson 15:26
Yep. We used to raise a couple. But this is so much better, because we don’t have to keep the pigs. And then, like I said, we don’t have to haul the milk anywhere. They just come every day in their four-wheeler and a load up the buckets that we have, and take it from us—and I think we give them probably 10 to 12 gallons a day right now. So, it’s worked out great. Because otherwise, you have to dump it. You know, my mom will make some goat cheese every now and then, but we just don’t have a market. And we don’t have the setup to do, like, a grae-B dairy or anything like that.
Deborah Niemann 15:55
That’s awesome. That’s a really good deal, to be able to give that to somebody else to use. So.
Emily Thompson 16:00
Deborah Niemann 16:01
And, about how much is their butterfat percentage?
Emily Thompson 16:05
Yeah. So ours, generally, most of our does are between 3 and 4%. And there’s a few over 4. Nothing’s really below 3. But, they’re kind of more on the… I would say between 3-1/2 and 4.2% butterfat, ours tend to run. And so, you know, it’s nothing like a Nigerian or Nubians would milk; I think LaManchas are also higher. Because these breeds tend to be lower than those breeds. I think the Alpines generally tend to be a little bit higher for us than our Toggenburgs. And I have no idea why. But that’s just generally what we’ve seen, you know, pretty consistently. We have some lines that are a little bit higher in that butterfat, and we do have people that, when they’re looking to buy something, they will pick a certain doe, just because of what her butterfat has been. And so, I can think of at least three or four buyers that have specifically wanted something from the lines that are over 4%.
Deborah Niemann 16:56
Is there anything else? Like, if somebody’s thinking that Alpines might be a goat that they wanted to raise, is there anything else that you tell people before they buy them?
Emily Thompson 17:07
Yeah. Well, not necessarily specific to Alpine: I think it’s really important… If people are choosing a breed, you know, I think things they can take into consideration is to think about the size. And so, Alpines can get bigger. So, making sure that you’re okay with that size. You know, Alpines have the reputation of being kind of bossy in a herd, and we definitely see that. You know, our Alpines are much more feisty with each other than, say, the Toggenburgs are. But they’re different. They’re also, I find our Alpines to be much more friendly. They’re the ones that are kind of coming to the fence for their face scratches more reliably than the Toggs who are, you know, kind of workhorses, and they do their job, but they’re kind of skittish. So, we’ve had a few friendly Toggs, but not nearly like the Alpines. The Alpines are just—for ours—they’re just in your face, and they want their faces scratched, and I just really liked their personalities.
Emily Thompson 17:56
And I also just… You know, the colors are something to take into consideration. So, if you are somebody that likes the variety of colors, that you can get, you know, Alpines can really satisfy that. They’re very curious. And, like I said, the colors can just be any variety from just solid black to, you know, spotted like a Holstein kind of thing. Or, we tend to kind of get those classic colors on a lot of our animals. Classic Alpine colors. If people are ever wondering, ADGA does have a nice section on their website for the breeds and the different colors. And you can look on their website to look through all the different colors, and kind of read more about the breed. Alpines International Club is also a breed club, which I’m secretary and treasurer of. And, we also have a website that goes into depth about the history of the breed, all of the different colors, all of the national champions for the past, I think, eight years or up there, and different opportunities to learn more about Alpines there.
Emily Thompson 18:54
The other thing about Alpines is, generally, they’re pretty official at shows. And so, if you are somebody that wants to show your goats, you generally need ten. You can just show your goats at any time, but you do need ten for them to be ADGA official so you can earn legs. I judge a lot throughout the country. And, Alpines are generally always a breed that has the numbers to meet that sanction. And so, that’s nice. So, we’re not usually scrambling for numbers. And there’s always a lot of competition to show against, and kind of a variety of different genetics that you can use as well with Alpines.
Emily Thompson 19:29
We mainly raise purebred Alpines, or French Alpines, versus American, meaning at some point, there was another breed in their background. And we have one American; the rest of mine are purebred. So that’s something to consider too. And so, generally, if you want to go purebred, there’s a lot of herds you can use animals from, particiularly here in the Midwest. There’s a lot of beautiful American herds as well throughout the country. And so, if that’s something you want to explore as well, Alpines can satisfy that need, as well.
Deborah Niemann 20:04
Wow, that is so interesting! This has been a lot of fun. And it’s really cool to talk to somebody who does so many different things with their goats, and has excelled, and done it for a long time.
Emily Thompson 20:14
Deborah Niemann 20:15
So, yeah. This has been a really great conversation. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Emily Thompson 20:21
Yeah, it’s been a pleasure.
Deborah Niemann 20:24
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!