What started out as a goat rescue mission 20 years ago, turned out to be a National Show success story in the making for Holly Buroker, her son, Drew, 11, and family support team members back home at HOANBU Dairy Goats, Bellefontaine, Ohio. At the 2011 American Dairy Goat Associations National Show in West Springfield, Massachusetts, July 22-30, Buroker was name Premier Breeder of the show, an award which culminated a week of championship wins and top placings in several breed competitions.
"Ever since I registered my herdname HOANBU (the first letters of her first, middle, and last names) with the American Dairy Goat Association in1988, I’ve dreamed of being one of those ‘influential’ breeders who get featured in Dairy Goat Journal," Buroker said. "I am humbled to win such an award in the midst of so many other great breeders and amazing animals. I really didn’t expect it. I won the Reserve Premier Breeder last year in Louisville and was totally caught off-guard…I honestly didn’t even know they gave out such an award! I had no disillusions of ever being so lucky as to ever win something like that again. What’s so neat about this, for me, is that it’s not just my award…it’s a reward for all the hard work, sweat, and tears of so many people who have helped my family and I along the way. I owe so many people for their help, support, and influence over the past years."
Buroker got her start in 1985/86, when, as a young girl she went with her father to some property they had rented out, only to find several animals that had been abandoned there by the renter.
"There was a poor little goat there that had survived by eating with the dogs out of a dog food sack," she said.
Buroker admitted her heart went out to that little goat and she convinced her father she could keep and care for her. Then she realized she needed another goat and went with her father to a local auction barn. An elderly man there needed help unloading chickens from his car and a helpful Holly was rewarded with a kid from the back seat of the car for $15.
"Those first two goats were named Goatsy and Floopy," she said. "And I built my herd from there."
As part of a rural farm family, Buroker knew from the start that she wouldn’t be able to go out and buy expensive goats to further her dream dairy goat herd.
"All I ever wanted to do was to be able to show my dairy goats in 4-H," Buroker said. "With my family’s situation the way it was, I put my emphasis on breeding to the best bucks I could find and built my herd in that way."
Buroker credits some very special mentors in her early goat years for helping her get off to a good start, once she had been exposed and fallen in love with dairy goats.
"Lynette and Gail Heath were my good 4-H friends, mother and daughter," she said. "They took me to sanctioned dairy goat shows, helped me find good bucks to breed to, and just encouraged me in so many ways."
Buroker actually won her first purebred registered goat in an essay contest in 1988.
"My first registered goat was actually a nice Toggenburg," she said. "Shortly after, I did buy a purebred Nubian doe, Charisma, and all my does since that time were from my own lines, built by breeding to the best bucks I could find and afford."
Buroker said there were many youth her age into dairy goats in Ohio at the time she started and the friendly competitions and rivalries inspired her to try and do better.
"There were so many outstanding breeders here in Ohio at that time," she said, mentioning Billy Woodward, Mark Baden, and many others. "It was the era of the Willow Run Dairy and, as a teenager, I got a job working for Patti Dean, which just influenced my life tremendously."
Buroker said she learned so much from her contemporaries in those early years and always was inspired to try and breed better and better dairy goats.
"Looking back, dairy goats were such a driving force in my life," she said. "There were tough times and tough choices to be made. Some of my priorities others didn’t understand, and always, there was hard work involved every day."
Buroker also said, looking back, she can see how important her family has been to her and to the success of the HOANBU dairy goat herd.
"I just treasure the precious time I have been able to spend with my family and the support they have always given me," she said.
Her parents have always been partners in her dairy goat endeavors with her father raising and putting up all the hay consumed by the dairy goats and her mother helping out with other chores, especially when she and son, Drew (now age 11) would travel to shows. Two sisters and their families have also been important support factors as Buroker found her way to the top of the national dairy goat scene.
"I’ll never forget all the miles we’ve traveled together and the hours I’ve racked up with my dad, especially, working together on the farm," she said. "It’s just something we all enjoy doing together."
Buroker currently works full-time off the farm, in social services, but appreciates the flexibility her local job gives her, with an hour off at noon, and close enough proximity that she can still milk her does every morning and evening.
"I am the main milker, fitting trimmer, bottle baby feeder, etc." she said. "We keep the lower maintenance animals over at Dad and Mom’s farm, but the does in milk and the kids are kept at my place."
Son, Drew, also helps with the dairy goat chores, and especially enjoys learning to drive the farm equipment from Grandpa.
Buroker said the key to having a successful dairy goat herd is to keep numbers at a manageable level so they can be cared for properly with time left to watch them and learn to know each animal’s personality.
"I breed for stability in the lines," she said. "High stress, high maintenance animals, or those that are super needy just don’t stay here long."
Buroker keeps a running count of milkers at 12-16 does, sometimes freshening as many as 25, but often selling enough to keep the numbers down. Kids are sold to 4-H project members, dairies, other breeders, etc.
"There always seems to be a ready market for good quality Nubians," she said.
All kids are raised with CAE prevention methods, more so because the daily contact with kids makes them nice and tame to work with in the future. Buroker has kept a CAE negative herd for years, verified through testing, but prefers to hand-raise kids as opposed to the dam-raise them because of the manageability point.
"To be successful in the show ring, you just have to have a tame animal," she said. "It’s just smarter, easier, and a better selling point to put in the time and raise those babies by hand."
Buroker said she milks her does pretty much 10 months of the year, then dries them up for two months for a break.
"I always try to take a few months off after the North American show in fall," she said. "The family enjoys a break from the heavy chores at that point."
Just two weeks after the 2011 ADGA National Show was completed, Buroker, like many other dairy herds with ADGA registered animals, participated in a Linear Appraisal session, which she said helps her improve her breeding plans and see what the strong and weak points in the herd might be.
Apparently there weren’t many weak points this year, as HOANBU boasted six does with scores over 90 (Excellent) and the highest at 92, adding proof to the National show wins that Buroker certainly seems to be on the right track of fulfilling that 20-plus year dream of being an influential breeder in the dairy goat industry.