We took pictures of the whole place! We were so proud and happy to be there, and we saw such potential for our dreams to come true! We have never been afraid to do a little hard labor, after all, we grew up on 80 acres in Wisconsin – how hard could this less than 20 acres be – IDIOTS! We were also 20+ years younger then and no matter how many times I tell myself “you are only as old as you feel” or “age is a matter of mind – if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”, reality slaps me in the face! Actually, it usually slaps me square in the middle of my lower back, or sometimes my knees, once in a while my shoulders etc.etc.etc..
I still find it funny how I took my adolescent body for granted and now life is demanding payment for all my transgressions as a child. Payment in the form of – remember that time you fell off the horse riding backwards, well here’s the damage you did to that knee now – payment please – OUCH! However, even with all of the aches and pains of growing older, I very much appreciate our little farm!
Back to the story…in August of 2000 we sold both of our houses and bought the farm. The first thing we did was purchase 3 goats – cashmere of course- non-edible. Well, you can eat them since a good cashmere breed will be cross with a good meat goat in the breeding (excellent for meat they are), however, our plans were to not have to kill to obtain an income. So, cashmeres for their fiber/hair it was!
We had thought that through also prior to purchase. We contacted a world-renowned breeder who just so happened to live in northern Colorado and had a huge flock just across the Wyoming boarder outside of Laramie. Chris was her name and she was very knowledgeable!
We contacted her in the spring of 2000, which turned out to be perfect timing! It was time for the annual herd checkup. Every spring she brings in her 1000+ head of goats and then wrangles them up for shots and hoof trimming. I didn’t say “line” them up, (even though we had to get them into a line) because you cant get goats to “line up”- especially when they have been semi-wild running around a huge section of Wyoming territory. They will run from you, run over you, run over each other, run over the fences and basically just run!
Chris brought in the herd to a huge holding pen, then we worked with her to separate about 20-50 at a time. This smaller group was then maneuvered into a large shed/barn building which she had installed a number of shoots. These shoots started out large, then grew smaller and smaller as they were moved to the front of the building. Once at the head of the class, the goat was then grabbed by the horns and dragged to a hitching rack. Don’t confuse this with a hitching post! A post is where a tame animal can be gently tied until you are in need of it again. The rack is just that – it has a platform on the bottom(ground), a long metal pole with a “V” welded on to it (looks like a very large “Y” altogether). There is a semi-heavy chain hanging from the “V”. The goat is dragged (usually screaming – scared us more than them I think!) to the platform, chin placed on the “V” then the chain is placed over the top of the head behind the horns and locked in on the other side of the “V”. Once the goat’s head cannot move they, for the most part, settled down (except for the occasional “twister” that would scare us to death!). Chris showed us how to administer shots and trim feet.
Since these were cashmeres, we were also “combing” them. Combing is similar to shearing of a sheep, however; you don’t shear to get fiber. All goats have 2 kinds of hair. Once is very strong, stiff and straight as a board. These are called “guard” hairs. Then underneath that guard hair is the “fiber”. This is the downy soft, kinky pieces that the cashmere yarns are made of. The kinky part is what is most important! It is called “the crimp”. The more crimp (kink) in the strand, the better fiber it is, thus making the better/softer sweaters. So that is your Farming For Idiots lesson 101 – goat fiber. Just one of many insightful things we have picked up since starting this endeavour!
It actually turned out to be one of the smartest things we did do! We had never worked with goats before (Wisconsin was beef cattle, horses, rabbits, pigs – no sheep or goats.) and before you undertake any new “huge” life changing project, I strongly recommend a “test run” if you can get it! This was a great test run for us. We fell in love with the goats (even with all the bumps and bruises from our goat wrestling day) and the small herd we started with had been raised more as family pets – perfect!
So, a day of testing turned into our first flock of goats – 12 in all. Freaked out the neighborhood! All the goat farmers out here had milk goats, Nubian mainly. A very friendly goat, usually spotted with long floppy ears. We pop up with a herd all black with 3 white (not spotted – full color) and with long hair hanging from their bodies – what were we thinking? We had tons of people just pulling in our driveway to find out what they were.
The other shocker for our community was that the extras we had after birthing, were being sold locally for “meat” – SHOCKING (note: we already broke our 1strule – wanting to raise things that did not have to be killed)!! Even the milk goats here are more like family than animals. The funny thing is, when a local farmer had too many he would take them to auction for a little extra money. We truly believe that they either didn’t know or turned a blind-eye to the fact of what “auction” really meant. Where do you think they go from there-hmm? Most went to food!
A couple of years later we found out that a woman comes in from California once a month to our local animal auction house, and purchases hundreds of goats that are then shipped out of the U.S. to feed people in other countries – amazing! Now that we have had so many refugees move into the state, almost every goat farmer has switched from just milk goats to milk AND meat goats – so my thinking is, we were actually ahead of the crowd in this merging market and it was great planning on our part (planning? Hmmm? More like huge happy accident.)! The downside to this wonderful planning was that the price per pound went way down on goats since they were being reproduced in such abundance. A single female can produce 2 times a year, twins and triplets are not unusual, and best to eat at about 5 months old. Very different from cattle that take years to get to eating size, so they are much more profitable. Oh, and a goat will eat just about anything – safe guard your trees and gardens cuz they are sneakier than pigs (that’s another story).