Tom and Kari Riley enjoy raising their children on the farm along with a variety of animals. Although goat farming wasn’t something that the family ever planned to pursue. What started as a 4-H project for their daughter, Everlah, turned into a new niche that they have grown to love.
“If you would have told me that I was going to be a goat farmer five years ago, I would have thought you were kidding,” said Tom.
While they didn’t start milking goats until July 2017, they have always been in the dairy business.
Tom grew up on the farm they live on in Amherst. He showed pigs through FFA but when he graduated high school in 1992, he remodeled the barn and bought his first cows. Kari grew up on a dairy farm in Waupaca.
The couple has five children who have been, or currently are, active in 4-H and FFA. Their oldest, Ethan, carried his love for agriculture into his career at Agropur, a dairy processing company. Elisha, the second-oldest, is attending UW-River Falls. She served as a Wisconsin State FFA officer this past year and shows pigs, dairy heifers and rabbits at the Waupaca County Fair. Everlah is a member of 4-H and FFA and along with her younger brother, Elwood, enjoys showing pigs, dairy heifers and goats. The Rileys also have a four-year-old foster daughter named Auroara and her two-year-old sister, Ember, who visits often.
While the Riley children help around their school schedules and on the weekend, the day-to-day chores are mostly done by Tom and Kari. Tom takes care of the family’s 28 organic dairy cattle while Kari mostly cares for the goats. This summer they will have about 120 milking goats and 70 doelings. They also have 20 wethers (meat goats).
While most people think of cows when they hear American’s Dairyland, goats serve an important role in Wisconsin’s dairy industry. In fact, Wisconsin ranks first for the number of dairy goats in the country.
Kari says that the biggest misconception about goats is that they eat everything.
“They do not eat everything,” said Kari. “But they do nibble on anything. They are foragers not grazers. They would rather eat your rose bush than grass.”
The Rileys have been Waupaca County Farm Bureau members since 1995.
“My uncle Wayne encouraged us to join and participate in the Young Farmer program,” said Kari. “We were finalists in the Young Farmer Achievement Award, participated in the Discussion Meet and traveled to Washington, D.C., on a Farm Bureau trip in 1999.”
Formerly, Tom served on the Waupaca County Farm Bureau board as the Young Farmer and Agriculturist chair and now serves as membership chair. Kari is the Ag in the Classroom coordinator for Waupaca County.
The goats are milked in a parlor at the Riley’s farm in Amherst.
Story by Amy Eckelberg. Original version appeared in the June/July 2018 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.