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Jean New

Dairy Goat Ambassador to the world

By Nancy Nickel

Jean New, a volunteer with Winrock International, ACDI-VOCA (Agricultural Cooperative Development International-Vocational Overseas Cooperative Association), the Peace Corps, USDA and other organizations dedicated to the dissemination of information designed to improve life and living through more efficient agriculture, is a caprine ambassador to the world. She got her start in Alexander, Arkansas as a schoolteacher, but her love of sharing knowledge and helping people has taken her far afield. She has always remained connected to dairy goats however. As a long-time goat keeper, New uses her experience to share valuable, useful information to those involved with sustainable agriculture, particularly in third world or economically berift countries.

In 1992, New’s first goat-related assignment was to partner with Hazel McTeer as a caprine ambassador in Russia. However, last minute changes sent New to Malacca in Saharan Northern Africa where she worked with the Berber tribes helping women realize more production from the native goats. New was given a one-way ticket and a $3,000 stipend to sustain her total needs for a six-week stay in Malacca. The assignment stretched over four months and New reported she returned home with $2,700 of her allowance in refund! Her one major purchase was a $50 mattress, which she carried from village to village as she said she never learned to enjoy sleeping on a rug spread out on the sand. Her willingness to live with the people she served (and continues to serve) in the manner that they live, made her message more believable and acceptable.

New is often requested for by name by government agencies that know her work from prior contacts. She is sometimes "loaned out" from one agency to another because her knowledge of goats and the production of goat products are invaluable in areas such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Republic of Georgia, which is her current assignment. She may be expected to help with record keeping and management of agriculture-based business or the care and production of different species of livestock in addition to goats. Part of the challenge is not knowing what the needs of the local producers may be, or what local support could be offered until she has arrived.

Often New’s task is to help improve the health and production of indigenous goats. In the Republic of Georgia a typical dairy doe produces as little as a liter of milk a day. (This converts to about a quart a day, or two pounds.) Total yield for lactation at this level of production might be expected to be in the 450-pound range. This is less than what is needed to raise two kids, and would leave very little to sustain a family. Forage in this part of the world grows along the mountainside and in mountain valleys of high altitude. Summer is short and winters can be rigorous. While the keeping of cattle in this region is very taxing to the resources of the land and its people, dairy goats can make their way quite efficiently and are the livestock of choice to co-mingle with the native sheep.

Projects undertaken to import American genetics to this part of the world have been only partially successful. American dairy goats are often unprepared to live on the native feeds available. Disease vectors also take their toll as the animals arrive stressed from long travel and come in contact with compromising situations for which they have no immunity. Management techniques and advice disseminated from one hemisphere to another often are a poor fit when it comes to providing what is best for the animals sent.

Project volunteers like New help smooth the way in some cases and create the way in others. One of New’s most successful endeavors was to establish a center for goat stud service where local farmers could take their native does for breeding. In this manner the bucks that arrived from America were kept under watchful eye and all the farmers within traveling distance were encouraged to bring their does for service. Genetics to improve growth and production spread from this center and many were able to realize greater milk production.

New uses her personal experience and knowledge of the dairy goat score card to target animals from local herds who will make a positive impact on production. This method of herd improvement is being dictated by more stringent health regulations not only of the host country, but of every country where the imported animal must pass in reaching his destination. Dairy goat kids bound for Georgia, for instance, must be tested and quarantined to meet specifications of not only the Republic of Georgia but also France or the Netherlands where they would change planes. For 2005, an embargo on importation of cloven-hoofed livestock from the United States, makes getting proven production genetics to needy countries difficult. The alternative route to The Republic of Georgia would then be through Moscow by plane and perhaps a 1,000 mile trip by motor freight to Tblisi, Republic of Georgia. The cost of such involved transportation-more than $1,500 a head-adds yet another knot to the snarl.

New works with an interpreter and understands a bit of Russian. Her prior trips to this region have given her experience in the local systems of baksheesh as well, and a time or two, kept her out of jail when border crossings were not smoothly executed, or the volume of paperwork exceeded the expected. Currently New is working on two facets of providing help toward better dairy production in the countries of Eastern Europe where she volunteers. It is hoped that four dairy bucks from high producing lines will be added to the seed stock already in place. But in the mean time, New is off to the Republic of Georgia where her current mission, funded by ACDI-VOCA, is to educate the local producers in the selection of seed stock within their own country that is likely to respond in the most positive manner to improvements in management techniques. And in addition to this, New will share what she knows about the benefits of improved sanitation for health of dairy goat, products from goat milk, and for people who use their products.

New became familiar with the production of local goat milk cheese in the Republic of Georgia on a previous trip. She was invited to enjoy some local cheese. This cheese was cultured using a small square of milk-fed kid stomach, some egg shells and some local grass that was pre-chewed by the lady who was New’s hostess. The cheese was left to "work" in a warm place and the whey was drained off when nearing the final product. There was no refrigeration available in that home, so cheese making was a long-standing method of extending the benefits of dairy products. Acceptance of the local cultural values as well as encouraging more modern methods making use of better sanitation is a dichotomous proposition for New and other volunteers in many cases.

The challenge is one New embraces and hopes others will too. Her work with spreading the benefits of raising dairy goats in all environments should be an inspiration to those with the opportunity to meet and hear of her experiences. It was to the Nickel family last winter and it changed the way we look at the world of dairy goats.

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