by KAREN BRIGGS
William and Sara Zondag, of Sunny Days Acres in Port Dover, Ontario, were the recipients of Ontario’s first annual Goat Farmer of the Year award, at the International Goat Symposium’s Ontario Goat Industry Celebration banquet, held at the Orangeville Fairgrounds on Nov. 3.
The Ontario Goat Farmer of the Year is a new award, created to recognize goat meat, milk, or fibre producers who exemplify innovation, serve as ambassadors for the industry and demonstrate involvement with youth.
“We were surprised and excited to win this award,” said Sara Zondag.
Sunny Days Acres is a dairy goat operation “with a commitment to quality and continuous improvement,” said Ontario Goat executive director, Jennifer Haley. The Sunny Days herd numbers about 500, the majority of which are Saanen, with a few Alpines and La Manchas. Three hundred does are actively milking at any time.
Over the past 10 years, the Zondags have focused on herd improvement and year-round milk production, and were the 2010 recipients of the Platinum Award for Quality from Hewitt’s Dairy, which processes almost half of the goat milk produced in Ontario. They raise their kids to be Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE)-free by heat-treating their colostrum, and have recently implemented an acidified milk replacer feeding program for the kids. Sunny Days Acres also uses an artificial insemination (AI) breeding program, using the natural heat cycle of the does.
Sara Zondag has been involved in a variety of industry initiatives and committees, and the farm is one of the pilot farms for Ontario Goat’s GoGen Dairy Goat Herd Improvement Pilot Project, a three-year goat genetic improvement program incorporating the use of milk recording, classification, registration, genetic evaluation, AI, young sire testing, and development of on-farm health protocols.
Farm tours and open houses at Sunny Days Acres also help promote goat farming in Ontario.
The Zondags have no employees, running Sunny Days Acres as a family operation, with their two-year-old daughter, Anna, eagerly lending a hand with milking. “The farm started with my dad, who originally had dairy cattle and then got into goats,” said Sara. “Over the past 10 years my husband and I got involved and gradually bought him out. We have 180 acres so we also do some cash crops, but as far as livestock it’s strictly the goats. They keep us pretty busy.” BF