“We’ve been on this journey for 30 years,” said Clara Hedrich.
Clara and Larry Hedrich and their children recently opened a 35,000 square foot dairy plant, retail store, café, milking parlor and barn for 600 milking goats. They broke ground last December on a modern dairy processing facility to produce high quality dairy products. The retail space opened in July. The café began serving in August and the cheese plant went online in November.
From the onset, the Hedrichs wanted a clean, comfortable environment where customers could see a raw product made into something. Within the café dining room are viewing windows to the milking parlor and cheese aging rooms.
With a capacity of 120 people, the farmstead café offers daily lunch and dinner menus. Their chef answers customers’ questions about recipes including goat cheese. The store offers specialty cheeses, craft beers, wines, ice cream and other Wisconsin-made products. The facility will host special events like church dinners, wedding rehearsals, business happy hours and baby showers.
Featuring an area where outside visitors can watch the cheesemaker’s at work, the cheese plant is equipped to process Grade A and B goat, sheep and cow milk products, including cheese, cultured products and bottled milk. In addition to crafting their own LaClare Farms products, the Hedrichs perform custom processing and aging, and work with other dairy entrepreneurs to develop new products.
“Quality, small-scale is our goal,” Clara said.
LaClare Farms already has a reputation for quality. The Hedrich’s daughter, Katie, was named the 2011 U.S. Champion Cheesemaker. The farmstead dairy plant will allow the Hedrichs to expand their already diverse offering of cheeses (Evalon, Fresh Chevre, Cheddar, Fondy Jack and an array of other originals).
The couple’s son, Greg, is the business manager, and daughter, Jessica, runs the retail shoppe/cafe. Another daughter, Anna, works part-time in herd management while continuing her off-enterprise job. All Hedrich siblings hold university degrees in subjects ranging from marketing to human resources to dairy science to education. LaClare Farms employs 20 full and part-time employees.
Larry hauls milk and manages the farm. He was a co-founder of the Quality Dairy Goat Cooperative. Today, six farms currently produce for the co-op. Only milk from LaClare Farms is used to craft Evalon. Milk is purchased from the co-op on an as needed basis to make the other cheese and products. LaClare Farms produces the only bottled goat milk in Wisconsin.
Since June, the Hedrichs’ goats have been milked twice daily in a milking parlor equipped with automatic take-offs and an electronic feeding that distributes a pelleted ration with oats and corn. Dry hay is fed in the freestall barn. Milking 48 goats at a time, it takes one hour and 45 minutes to milk the entire herd. There are plans to grow the milking herd to 600 head. Recently 430 goats were in the milking string, with another 120 dry. All six of the original dairy goat breeds are represented.
The Hedrichs grow most of the herd’s feed on their 160 acre farm previously owned by Larry’s grandfather. Members of the Calumet County Farm Bureau, Larry and Clara live on another farm, 12 miles to the north, near Chilton. It was there they raised their children to understand the value of work.
They bought their farmette in 1978 and started out with two goats, two peacocks and some chickens.
Clara grew up on a dairy farm near Armstrong Creek, WI. The UW-River Falls grad teaches agriculture at West De Pere High School.
Larry grew up in town, but spent much of his youth working on his grandfather’s beef and mink farm. He worked for Lunda Construction Company.
Since the 1980s they had wanted to do something productive with goats. Back then there was not a viable market for goat’s milk. They both had full-time jobs and five kids to raise. By the 1990s the kids were involved in 4-H. Their son, Greg, didn’t like showing dairy cattle so a friend got him into showing goats.
“Our show herd turned into 30 goats. We were milking them by hand. We thought, something here is not right,” Clara said with a chuckle.
“The goats were a family affair,” she recalled. “So we had a family meeting with the kids to decide if they would ‘go commercial’ or sell the goats. Our daughter, Heather, was five years old at the time. She thought the word ‘commercial’ sounded fun. So there was one vote for keeping the goats.”
By 1996 they began shipping milk to Bresse Blue in Watertown. An entrepreneurial spirit was sparked in Katie when she began making goat milk soap.
“It was great for the kids. They all had goats as FFA projects, learned how to milk, and had a job milking cows elsewhere at some point,” she said.
In 2000, Larry retired from the construction business and went full-time into farming with goats. After Bresse Blue moved away from the area, he formed the Quality Dairy Goat Cooperative in 2005. A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped write a definition of quality goat milk, which helped fetch a better price. With a grade A licensed farm, low somatic cell count and a quality milk taste, the Hedrichs began distinguishing themselves.
A dairy goat farmer from Holland who was visiting his brother in Appleton found the Hedrichs family via Google. Like Clara, he too was an agriculture teacher. He was milking 400 goats and thriving.
At the time, curds from goat milk imported from Holland were cheaper than those made in the United States.
“We need to do something different here,” Clara remembers thinking.
They met with an dairy exporter from Holland and later traveled there with their daughter, Katie, and another cooperative member.
“They were 20 to 30 years ahead of us with technology,” Clara said.
Except for the built-in café, much of what they eventually built in Wisconsin was first seen in Holland.
LaClare Farms is located at W2994 County Road HH, just off of Highway 151 in Fond du Lac County’s tiny town of Pipe on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago.
Story by Casey Langan. Original version appeared in the December/January 2013-14 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.