Becoming a leader in one of Wisconsin’s unique agriculture industries, Leslie Svacina found her calling raising meat goats near Deer Park, Wis.
Svacina owns and runs Cylon Rolling Acres, a grass-based goat farm with the help of her husband, Scott, and their two children. When weather permits, the goats are rotationally grazed on their 140-acre farm where they have about 50 breeding stock made up of Boer-Kiko goats.
“All of the animals we raise goes solely into feeding families with nutritious, goat meat,” Svacina said.
The family purchased the farm in 2011 and spent the first few years converting the retired dairy farm to fit the needs of a goat herd.
“I focused on goats because as I started looking at market opportunities for where we could focus our farm, I learned it is really hard to find goat meat in the grocery store,” she said. “Most of the goat meat, if you can find it, is imported from Australia, and the number of imports is continuing to grow. We also have a growing, diverse population in Western Wisconsin and even in general in the Upper Midwest. You pull that together, and there’s really an opportunity for serving our community, and the broader community.”
Located between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Eau Claire, Cylon Rolling Acres markets meat to the Twin Cities and Western Wisconsin through wholesale accounts and the e-commerce website.
“Our meat is easy to access,” Svacina said. “Folks know where it is coming from. It’s not being shipped frozen overseas, so we’ve really seen growth and continue to have strong demand for our product in addition to serving folks who are from a diverse cultural background. We’re seeing folks who are just interested in knowing where their food comes from, foodies who enjoy different types of food and trying out new proteins.”
They are working to expand the herd to keep up with that increased demand. Svacina said they currently have about 40 head of breeding stock. She would like to increase that to 60-70 breeding does. There is a quick turnaround with goats. Depending on how they’re raised, kids can be ready for market in about five to nine months.
“I’m retaining about half of my youngstock because they tend to have twins, so about 50 percent are female,” Svacina said. “Just to keep up with demand, we’re also purchasing some feeder animals from a couple of farms who are farming similar practices to us so we can continue to grow our herd.”
One of the challenges of growing the herd is finding livestock hardy enough to live on pasture in the upper midwest. Additionally, buying goats from the area can be challenging since most are simply fair goats or backyard herds.
“We’ve had to really focus on building our herd from within and purchasing some of our breeding animals from other herds that are grass-based from other parts of the country,” Svacina said. “That’s really helped us strengthen where our herd is, but it’s taking time to get there.”
Because of the novelty of raising grass-fed meat goats, Cylon Rolling Acres did not have as many resources to rely on for information as would more traditional industries in the midwest.
“There’s not a lot of university research related to them compared to other species of livestock,” Svacina said. “That’s the same with industry investment and research. Think about specific products, veterinary medicine, animal health work, even finding veterinarians familiar with goats. Even if there are goat products out there, a lot of them are really overpriced because they are marketed as a lifestyle product, not in the mindset of being a commercial farmer.”
Their farm’s veterinarian has been willing to adapt, but she noted he’s utilizing his own resources to do so since he doesn’t typically work with that species.
“We do a lot of learning on our own, and we also look for other folks who are involved with goats to give us guidance along the way,” Svacina said.
Cylon Rolling Acres is seeing that work pay off. With no traditional “go-to” marketing strategy for goat meat, they have the chance to pave their own way in the industry.
“It’s taking a lot more work, but I think there may also be more reward that comes with it, so that’s been another challenge, but a good one,” she said.
Svacina credited much of their success to community involvement.
“I think that goes into the idea of an in-person and also a digital presence,” she said. “Over time as we started our herd, we’ve met folks who are involved in farming and local foods, and even just community members in our area. As we got to know more people and continued to build an online presence through our website and social media, it’s really built on top of each other. I’ve been able to continue building relationships with our community and potential customers.”
One of those relationships has been with the Farm Table restaurant in Amery, Wis. The restaurant buys directly from local farms in the area.
“If people aren’t going to buy direct from us, that’s a great way for them to experience food through how it is prepared, so that is a great partnership as well,” Svacina said. “It is a way for us to bring a face to our farm.”
In the era of COVID-19, the digital space has been important for interaction. Cylon Rolling Acres maintained communication through an email list, and more recently with the new e-commerce platform on the Cylon Rolling Acres website. Svacina said they already planned to launch online retail and ship meat in 2020 before COVID-19 hit.
“A lot of our sales increased this last year,” she said. “Maybe COVID has something to do with it, but I really think it had to do with the ability of making our meat more accessible and easier to purchase from us. We’re specialty products, and I think we’re seeing more people interested in purchasing from their farmer directly.”
Cylon Rolling Acres does offer its website not only as an online marketplace but also as a resource for information about raising goats.