There are some things in life against which it’s useless to protest or resist. The weather. The price of gasoline. Chocolate. And the fact that goats are pretty darn cute. They look like they’re smiling, for one thing. And there are the ears, floppy or upright (except in the case of Lamancha goats, but more on that later). And there’s that funny head butt thing that they do.
Least able to resist the charm of goats are the members of the American Dairy Goat Association, in Asheville this month at the Crowne Plaza for their annual convention. Alas, goats will not be in attendance, as the convention is strictly for humans (although everyone got to go to the ADGA’s annual National Show this past summer in St. Paul, Minnesota, a kind of Miss or Mr. America pageant for dairy goats). But this month’s convention is strictly business, with workshops on such topics as “Integrated Gastrointestinal Parasite Management,” “Hands-On Cheesemaking” and the unfortunately titled “Drugs And Drug Use In Goats”.
There will be a tour of Connemara in Flat Rock, famous for its goat herd, and of Spinning Spider Creamery in Matthews, where Chris Owens has a milking herd of 75 does. Chris attended last year’s convention in Boise, Idaho. “It was a wonderful experience,” she says. “I loved being able to meet dairy goat breeders from around the country in a setting where we had plenty of time to talk and share.” The ADGA’s national show, Chris adds, doesn’t allow a lot of time for socializing because of the judging schedule. “But the convention provides a great opportunity to socialize as well as get into some wonderful workshops and class sessions.”
The ADGA, based in Spindale, NC has been around since 1904 and maintains breeding records on more than a million registered dairy goats, as well as providing information and support for dairy goat breeders and promoting the popularity of cheeses, soaps and lotions derived from goat’s milk. “The fat globules are smaller than those in cow’s milk,” the ADGA’s website notes, “and the curd is softer and smaller, making digestion easier.” At the other end of the spectrum, so to speak, are goat droppings, the pelleted form of which, the ADGA says, makes a great fertilizer.
Besides being cute and earning their keep by producing milk, goats are also relatively easy to manage, a big plus for Siegfried Forster, whom friends (and maybe his goats, too) call Ziggy. His Sunrise Farm in Columbus is home to a herd of Alpine goats, floppy-eared Nubians and Lamanchas, which are earless and carry their registration tattoo on their tails. “We previously had chickens, turkeys, pigs and Dexter cattle,” Ziggy says of the decision to concentrate on goats, “but the goats are the animals we found most easy to handle, as well as being intelligent and fun. Even though our Dexter cattle were a small breed, they still weigh more and are much larger than a human. A kick or altercation from them would be extremely painful and could result in a doctor or hospital visit. But a dairy goat can be easily handled even by a child.”
Which is not to say there’s not a lot of work involved managing a herd. Because does lactate more than cows, especially during the spring and summer, the goats at Chris Owens’ farm are milked twice a day, eight at a time, in a milking parlor with a pipeline system similar to ones used for cows. “Our mature does at peak lactation each give between 10 and 16 pounds of milk in a day,” Chris said. Since a gallon of milk weighs just under nine pounds, each doe can contribute up to two gallons of milk daily toward Chris’ cheesemaking operation.
While Spinning Spider is a commercial operation, Ziggy’s Sunrise Farm in Columbus has yet to reach that level. “We don’t currently sell our goat’s milk,” Ziggy says, “because the sale of raw milk is currently illegal in North Carolina.” But Ziggy provides what he calls “home milkers” to families for their private use, along with breeding stock to commercial producers and for show competition, including to customers as far away as South America. “A licensed dairy and cheesemaking facility may be in the near future, but even then we intend to do it seasonally, Ziggy says.
He came relatively recently to the dairy goat world, in 2008, when his girlfriend brought home an Alpine doe. Like most dairy goat people, Ziggy loves showing his goats, including at last month’s Mountain State Fair in Fletcher, where he had both a grand and reserve champion junior Alpine, a designation for does which have not yet borne kids, as well as a grand Champion Senior Alpine.
Back at Spinning Spider, Chris was anxious to dispel some of the popular perceptions about goats, like the one about eating anything in sight. “That comes in part from their curiosity,” Chris explains. “They’re like toddlers putting everything in their mouths. I’ve seen them strip magnetic signs off vehicles and tear them into strips. I’ve seen them chew wiring on trailers and strip the paint off license plates. But they’re actually very picky eaters. If their hay falls on the ground and a goat steps on it, they refuse to eat it.” What about goats as a metaphor for just plain orneriness? Chris has an answer for that one, too. “Bucks can be very aggressive and nasty when in rut. But they’re smart, inquisitive animals that love attention. Sweet and loving.”