HOMEGROWN Life: The Farmer’s Truth About Keeping Goats
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.