HOMEGROWN Life: The Farmer's Truth About Keeping Goats

Reader Contribution by Farm Aid And Homegrown.Org
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This time of year, there are things going on on the farm that tend to
focus the mind. There are choices to be made. Which projects do you put
off? Which projects do you stick with? What gets to live and what gets
to die (or at least what gets to share in the benefit the farmers’ time
and/or money?)

I’m in the middle of what’s best described as a
“flash drought” and have been since the beginning of planting season.
While spring in Missouri is always unpredictable, you can nearly always
count on lots of rain to come sometime between April 1 and early June.
This year, not so much.

That means I’ve had hours and hours of
time standing behind the water hose for a literate farmer’s lessons
learned. And I find myself, both with chores and in my thoughts,
returning to the humble goat.

I am one of those open-minded live-in-the-moment types. It’s both a
great strength and can be problematic at times. Not sure where to place
that great goat adventure, but here is how it all happened. My business
partner at the Root Cellar calls me up, says our goat cheese producer
has a bunch of kid goats needing to be moved out the door. $10 each. And
we could use them to sell at the store and for our Barnyard Box weekly
meat and dairy subscription  program later in the year.

Sounds
like a good idea, I say. We talk about it as a family and decide to go
with it. How hard could it be, really, to let the browsers do their
thing for 6 months and earn a little extra income while getting some
weeds eaten and serving up local, natural meat for our customers?

So I drove the 14 week-old kid goats 150 miles home in the back of our
Jetta Wagon in a big watermelon box. We put them in the chicken house
and commenced to feeding them raw milk we got from a Jersey milker
across the County. And for four weeks our lives revolved around
wrestling goats and trying to get them to stay alive.

Flash-forward
to now and we and our goats have worked out a sort of truce about how
things are going to work. But in between it’s been a great struggle. Some points of interest include:
Constant neediness for attention from their bottle-feeding “mommies.”
This means these smart creatures are difficult to fence in and will risk life and limb to leave their fences in order to follow us around the farm.

They don’t get along well with electrified net fencing. They get stuck in it and bum-rush it to help their friend goats escape.

Goats
are picky about water. They want crystal clear water. This is difficult
when attempting to keep goats with chickens and ducks
sharing the same source of water.

They really do climb on everything. And chew up everything.


So, yes, I have become a lover of goats (and ducks have won me over,
too). But the truth is, I can’t wait to eat the boys. They have been,
and continue to be, a lot of trouble at times. They are too smart to
let their herding instincts keep them penned up and cooperating with
the human plan. This means that I am haunted by the day they are big
enough to become tacos, pulled goat sandwiches and goat sausage.

We’ve
decided we’ll keep the girls, though, to establish a goat breeding
herd. Maybe they will be good mommas and their kids won’t need us human
mommies so much. Maybe this will help to guide them through a less
troublesome kid-hood. Maybe. We shall see.

Now it’s time to get
back to the water-hose. I am waiting for an answer on the size of
water-pump I need to complete an irrigation project. So until then it’s
water, water, water. Try to keep the plants alive. And keep thinking
about all of the uses for tasty and delicious goat meat treats.

We’ve earned it after all.

Bryce is a farmer, father, writer and rural economic development
entrepreneur. He works with his family to raise organic vegetables,
beef, lamb, chickens, goats and manage the bottomland forest woodlot in
Western Missouri. He has helped to launch numerous social enterprises
including a sustainable wood processing cooperative, a dairy goat cheese
processing facility and a conservation-based land management company
that incentivizes carbon sequestration in forests and grasslands. Bryce
currently co-owns the Root Cellar Grocery in Downtown Columbia,
Missouri, where the local food store operates a weekly produce
subscription program, the Missouri Bounty Box (www.missouribountybox.com). Bryce, along with 135 other farmers, sells his produce through this program.