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Fun With Goats

Each in Their Own Way

By Nancy Nickel

My grandmother used to say, "There is more than one way to skin a cat." But I am sure that she would have modified this maxim to include goats if she had been aware of all the different ways there are to enjoy keeping goats and the multitude of benefits they bring to the well-being of the goat keepers. There is fun to be had, at home on the range, and also on the show circuit road. Each goat enthusiast can find different ways to enjoy their caprines, no matter what the perspective or emphasis of the goat herd owner.

Fresh air and exercise are guaranteed for those who give heart and lifestyle to keeping goats. There is no need for a costly membership at any other health club, as in the course of daily chores, a goat keeper experiences the use of every major muscle system. Upper body strength is increased as one hoists buckets of water over the fence, bending and stretching muscles fill mangers and arm firming, small muscle dexterity is increased by milking. The average workout will yield 384 flexions per gallon for the hand milker. Then there is the bench press routine-country style-factored in when yearlings are learning the milk routine, as it is always necessary to lift a few on or off the milk stand.

My nearest goat neighbor makes use of all the benefits described and adds a hike through the woods night and morning. She takes the herd of 30 Nubians with her, directing them by voice, with a succulent branch of browse waved overhead, or by a steady hand on the herd queen’s collar. Guardian dogs usually bring up the rear of the procession in a leisurely manner. Even in winter the goats choose soft twigs and dried leaves or broadleaf weeds to supplement their diet. An hour in the woods twice daily benefits the hay bill by close to $500 annually. This herd needs foot care less often and seems to have fewer kidding difficulties than herds we are familiar with who live in dry lot fashion. There seems to be less money spent on their worming program as well.

Great good is done for the rumen of these goats that can pick and choose what they will on these daily goat treks. Ketosis and acidosis are kept at bay seemingly by the fresh forage and great variety. This is the goat’s natural inclination. Browsers take a few nibbles here and there, moving on to the next species of plant. Their inclination to look for food up and away from the ground is noted. When given a choice, one hardly ever finds them eating closer to the ground than eight inches. Whether this tendency, the benefits of the time spent on clean ground, or some natural chemical ingested causes the need for worming less often is undetermined. But we have noted that this herd does indeed require less maintenance from chemical wormers.

Many older goats in this group are still productive, kidding with no difficulty at 10 to 12 years of age. These old gals would dramatically shift the meaning of "aged doe" defined by the show ring standards as five years and over! The walking keeps their top lines firm and their feet and legs youthful as well.

To be aware of what goats enjoy eating when they are offered a smorgasbord is very useful in treating rumen upsets and goats that go off feed. We take our animals a bouquet of browse whenever we have goats that become ill. Willow twigs picked at any time of year are a delicacy and serve as a mild analgesic, we have been told by American Indian lore. Maple, elm, and oak are also enjoyed. Broadleaf varieties of common weeds left to dry in the field seem to be as big a treat as when freshly cut in the summer. Thistles and other species that are thorny or prickly are on the list of treats. These items serve to provide a source of course fiber, which is cudded for an extended period of time. During the cudding process the goat is able to make an antacid for herself, creating a nature’s baking soda to aid digestion and neutralize the rumen. The benefit from woody browse, like long stemmed forage, is essential to a healthy rumen as it scratches the sides and renews the follicles that are needed for digestion. Hospital walks along the fencerows are taken during periods of convalescence, although our fun with goats yields a different exercise program in general.

Spring finds us sprinting to the barn with regularity, checking for new arrivals. More human exercise routines include power walking goats around in circles, teaching the benefits of standing with all four feet square and head held high. These typically develop the muscles of the handler’s right side. Many goats begin their show training in the barnyard being supported in the long neck-head high carriage by a strong show partner. Like learning to dance, there are many hours of conditioning supporting each graceful performance.

Loading the trailer also provides exercise and muscle power with the goat equipment needed to take a show "on the road," plus grooming, tack, and camping equipment for a weekend spent in the show barn-lots of lifting required. But the result is enjoyment for all. Meeting friends for a pre-show supper adds to the fun of showing. "Campfire" talk contains news of friends afar, tips for next year’s breeding, or feeding for better growth or production. Sleeping in the aisle near one’s favorites creates a bond that is life long. No goat need feel worried about being in a strange pen if one’s people are near at hand.

Camping in the goat barn makes a rich experience for a family that has willingly traded their Coleman tent for an air mattress on a wooden frame. Cheerfully the fire pit and cast iron kettle has been traded for a crock-pot. Morning sounds now include a grinder for gourmet coffee beans and an electric drip instead of the bubbling of the granite coffee boiler. What could be more delightful than to awaken at MidSouth Fair in the heart of Memphis, Tennessee to the trilling and babbling of a host of mocking birds in the trees that skirt the goat barn?

The public that attends the show never fails to ask about this nomadic life style and in the process gains an insight to the benefits of goat keeping and the reasons that we love it.

We have met people from all walks of life as well as six of the seven continents. Each has a story to share and something to offer. They tell us of goats they have known in their native lands. They relate the stories of health benefits they or their acquaintances have received from drinking goat milk. The people we make contact with are always willing to share the goat experience as they help to broaden our worldview of life.

Our show team has always contained a young person. Nieces and nephews all have received lessons in public manners, which have stood them in good stead as they have matured and gone into life. One nephew got a job at a pet store to support college needs because he told them he had lots of experience with animals working on the farm and that animals always liked him. Another of our show team has gone on to win awards in public speaking based on the confidence she gained showing her goats. Being goal oriented as a teenager is easily developed through managing a show string. Prioritizing one’s life is a benefit from having many choices to make as a youngster.

We have learned that form follows function in dairy goats. Blending pedigrees and performance records in our breeding program has created many positive situations in the show ring. We have found that the first priority is to examine the pedigree for potential indicated by the actual performance of the ancestors. To see the goals met close up gives an indication of the potential a breeding holds. This is the excitement that drives the daily exercise program in the barn and draws us to camp out at show after show. To develop an eye for the grace and beauty of the goat, and anticipate the realization of goals set for the herd has helped all involved to develop a greater appreciation of art in daily life.

To be drawn along through the seasons of life dictated by the year of the goat gives us a reason to be enthusiastic about the process of living.

Seeing one’s goals become flesh is an invigorating reward. To share goals and achievements with friends and family presents a unifying satisfaction not common to daily life in other venues this day and age. It is our duty and goal to maintain them in a worthy manner as they in return provide us with the opportunity to improve and maintain our strength and skills.

Spiritual rewards are a great benefit for all goat keepers whether one maintains a homestead herd and enjoys the quiet of the woodsy walks or the challenge of the show ring. We feel that we are stewards of these creatures. The serenity of daily chores and milking is a gift of the goat offered freely to all who keep them.

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