Saturday, May 11, 2013

Interviewing a goat farmer

I just finished writing a massive -- and I mean massive (8600 words) -- article for Backwoods Home Magazine called The Home Dairy. I was asked to write something fairly comprehensive (which explains the article length -- it's a huge topic) and to be sure to include cows AND goats.

Well I know plenty about milking cows, but goats? Not so much. I needed to find someone who milked goats. Preferably I wanted someone who wasn't a commercial dairyist (since the article is geared toward the home milker), but even in north Idaho this turned out to be surprisingly difficult.

After a few inquiries, I connected with a delightful woman named Susan who -- despite my phone call out of the blue from a perfect stranger -- graciously invited me over to see her goats and her setup.

My goodness, Susan absolutely loves her goats -- and it was easy to see why. "Goats are very personable," she said. "It's like having dogs." At the moment she has about 35 animals -- Alpine, Saanan, Oberhasli, La Mancha, Nigerian Dwarfs, and some crosses. She sells kids but does no butchering. She's worked with 4-H for about 25 years and helps many local kids get started with their animals.

The portion of the barn I saw had a large open pen at the end (pictured above), a milking stand, and a series of kidding pens.

This lady is one of the milkers, whom Susan obligingly kept in the barn until I arrived so she could show me how she milked.

This is their homemade milking stand. As with most stands for goats, it's elevated for easier milking. It has a feed box on the other side of the headpiece. Susan milks twice a day but keeps the kids on the does. She milks anywhere from two to four animals, depending on how much milk she needs.

The headpiece is an area where goats can be locked in by the neck so they don't move around during milking. Susan and her husband built a clever one that slides in place...

...and locks in with a nail.

Here's one goat in place.

And two goats.

Look at those beautiful udders! Two teats, not four (like a cow). Gotta get used to that.

Susan milks from the side, with her left wrist braced against the doe's hind leg to keep her from kicking. Couldn't do that with a cow!

The strong hands of an experienced milker.

Susan gets about a half-gallon per milking per animal, or about a gallon a day per doe.

After showing me her milking setup, Susan let the herd loose.

She has beautiful property with a small stream running through.

It was enchanting to watch these beautiful animals frolic in the spring sunshine.

Hungry kids.

This is a breed of dog called an Akbash. He's the herd guardian.

Goats, being goats, like to climb things, so Susan keeps the logs from this fallen tree in the pasture for their amusement.

This little fella is a La Mancha, a breed with tiny ears.

This is the herd sire, also a La Mancha.

It was delightful becoming more acquainted with these wonderful dairy animals. While I love my cows, it's easy to see why Susan is so taken with goats.

My thanks to Susan for graciously sharing her knowledge with me.


  1. Patrice, I think you just coined a new word...."dairyist" ?? When you google that word, 2 links to your article is all that comes up.

  2. I'm with Susan! I have 6 does, 4 of whom I am currently milking. Goats have delightful personalities! One of my does, Nola, loves to get in the house anytime anyone leaves the back door open...I'll walk in and there will be Nola, plopped down on the couch watching tv....and if any of the children are in there, she will also be munching on chips or whatever snacks they are giving her, lol!

    1. My heart just melted when I read this! Nola must be such a character.

      Just Me

  3. (Shoot --- I pressed the wrong button and lost my message. Unless I accidentally pressed the "Publish" that case, sorry if I did that without identifying myself. I wasn't quite ready.)

    I was waxing on about how much I loved my 2 does (female goats) when I had them and how we all enjoyed our "field days" together -- no leashes, halters or fences. Just the three of us romping in a big field of green in the Peaceful Kingdom. The bleats of goat happiness are so delightful and uninhibited.

    I was going to end my message by saying that the only reason I don't have goats now is...well...hmmm. I don't know. I'm probably not ready for "milk prison" again yet.

    I can't wait to read the article. And, maybe we'll start seeing pictures of little goaties in North Rural Idaho???

    Just me

  4. I want a goat ... but Hubby says: NO!!!! (meanie-humph)

    Phyllis (N/W Jersey)

    1. Phyllis,

      Don't give up. After 3 years of gentle prodding, I'll be getting my chickens next spring. I live in western NJ in a neighborhood zoned residential/agricultural. I told him it was proof the county wanted me to have them. I am doing my duty to "encourage the rural and agricultural history of Hunterdon county".


    2. You are just going to love chickens! Poultry show at Sussex County Fair Grounds next Saturday - maybe I'll see you there! (be prepared to bring at least two home with you)
      Warning: NO roosters for at least a year!

      Phyllis (N/W Jersey)

  5. Carl Sandburg's wife Lilian raised goats at their home in Flat Rock, NC. It is a National Historic Site now and I have visited the home and grounds. Friends summer home was only a quarter mile away. All the buildings for the goats and milking equipment remain. Interesting and worth the visit.
    Flat Rock is about 30 miles south of Asheville, near Hendersonville.

  6. Patrice,

    I really enjoyed reading this post and will be reading your article. At the present time we don't have goats, this is a future goal of ours. In the mean time, I read everything I can get my hands on to better understand goats and how to raise and take care of them.

  7. I'm just not convinced of the value of goats. I live in a part of the country where goats are fairly common. I could take you to 20 places near me where they have 2, 3, half a dozen goats. In every case they (the goats) live in squalor. They aren't milked or treated like pets or used for any purpose. They simply are caged inside small fenced pens lie arond in the mud and occasionally the owner tosses some hay at them. I could also take you to goat frams where the goats are well taken care of and milked but these are of course "businesses" not a few goats on a homestead. Why goats? yes I am aware that they give milk but so does every store in the world. I may go camping for three days tomorrow, I may on a whim go to Ireland for a week, I travel in a motorhome for weeks at a time. Sometimes I just stay home and relax. With goats (or cow, pigs and dogs for that matter) I couldn't do any of that. And it's more then not wanting to be tied down by animals it comes down to for what? What can the goats offer me? I can live the rest of my life without ever consuming goat milk or cheese. I certainly have no desire to eat goat meat. I think goat owners (casual goat owners) have a need to own animals much like the cat women you read about with 40 cats living in a small singlewide trailer. To what end??

  8. We had wethers for pets and I just loved them. Mac really was like a dog, he walked on a leash when we moved into to town. We are planning to have goats here on our new farm when all the residents are full time and we can split the care.

  9. Oh I love it! I love the pretty springtime pictures- it reminds me of Heidi. And it makes me want goats! lol

    Honestly, my husband and I are constantly on the fence about cows vs. goats. We've not tried milk goats yet, just cows. I really enjoy cows, but OH my GoodNess I get tired of their enormous smelly cow plops when I'm milking, and stepping in them, and having to scrub them off the udder.... And I get tired of having to dodge scary-huge manure covered cow hooves from kicking me in the face while milking. I love that photo you posted with Susan merely holding the goat's leg back so it doesn't kick! lol (And seeing how I seem to be pregnant all the time, I am extra worried while working under such an enormous animal)

    I am also attracted to the price of goats. Every time our $1,000+ cow shows the slightest sign of illness I get really worried. However, the thought of a $200(or somewhere around there?) animal getting ill isn't quite as terrorizing. I am not uncaring (I love my animals!), that's just reality. We are out a lot more money if a cow dies than a goat.

    I look very much forward to your magazine article! I enjoyed your post about Shari's family as well! That was fun. She's a good friend of ours. All our sheep came from her. :)

    1. Yes, Shari said she knew you well. Small world!

      - Patrice