Monday, August 25, 2014

Raising goats a growing trend in Maine

Portland Press Herald

BUXTON, Maine — A chorus of bleats greets Marie Clements as she walks across the road toward the pens where she and her husband, Tim, keep a couple dozen miniature goats.
“They’re going to be noisy now because they’re going to see me,” Clements warned, “and they know it’s suppertime.”
One by one, the Nigerian dwarf goats introduce themselves to a visitor. Diva is the light-colored one who, two years ago, produced more milk than any other Nigerian dwarf in the country but lost the official title because she measured an inch too tall at her shoulders. (She did get an honorable mention.)
A snow-white goat named Blizzard nuzzles the fence, looking for attention. Quad has beautiful markings but will never be bred because she has four teats instead of two.
“She’s gorgeous,” Clements said, “and we’ve kept her hoping that somebody will want her as a pet because she’s a love. She’s very friendly, as you can see, and she was just beautiful, and we didn’t have the heart to do anything else with her.”
The Clements, owners of Creeping Thyme Farm, started raising goats when they were looking for a hobby to keep them busy during retirement. They didn’t plan to fall in love with the animals and end up with 30 goats, the maximum the town will allow them on their property. Or to make a ton, literally, of goat cheese in a year (2,027 pounds), which they sell at local farmers markets and farm stands to cover the cost of hay, grain and medical care for their goats.
Marie Clements has even become proficient at “all that stuff that might have grossed me out before,” such as giving prenatal shots and reaching inside a kidding goat to turn the little one around to the right position.
The Clements represent a growing segment of the Maine farming community – goat farms, both those that raise goats for show, and dairies that produce milk, cheese and other products. In 1994 there were just four licensed goat dairies in the state, according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The numbers started trending upward in 2007, but the real surge came in 2012 and 2013; nine dairies opened in each of those years. Today, there are 49 goat dairies in the state. About a half-dozen are commercial dairies that milk 100 goats or more.
The numbers don’t include the farms that raise goats only for show, worrying more about pedigrees and conformation than milk and cheese.
Overall, the goat community has grown so much in Maine that this year, for the first time, the 13,000-member American Dairy Goat Association, the largest dairy goat registry in the United States, will bring its annual convention to Portland. The convention has never been held in Maine before, and it’s been 21 years since it’s been to New England.
The gathering – with seminars, classes, cheese-making workshops and competitions – is a way for goat fans and farmers to get together, share information and compete. The convention wraps up with the “Spotlight Sale,” an auction of some of the best dairy goats in the United States; entrants must provide goat milk production records and meet other criteria to so much as receive an invitation to sell goats at the auction.
“They come into the ballroom with their sparkling glitter on their back (that’s the goats) and their dressed-up showman (that’s the handlers),” said Jennifer Mellet, president of the Southern Maine Dairy Goat Association and co-chair of the convention. “And they go for quite a pretty penny.”
The record is held by an Alpine buck who went for $16,000 at the 2003 convention in Tennessee. But that’s like winning the goat genetics lottery. More typically, unregistered goats on an average farm sell for $100 to $120, while registered animals go for $200 to $500.
Why have goats suddenly become so popular?
Many experts point to the new back-to-the land movement and the popularity of small-scale agriculture in Maine. People who want to dip their toe into farming often find goats’ size and manageability attractive, certainly compared to cows. If you’ve got a backyard of two or three acres, you can have some goats, says Karl Schatz, who cares for eight adult Alpine goats and four kids with his wife, Margaret Hathaway, on Ten Apple Farm in Gray. The couple collaborated on two recent books, “The Year of the Goat” and “Living With Goats” and have been raising goats themselves for 10 years.
“People get a couple of chickens, and then they get hooked on raising animals and they want to raise something else, and goats are an attractive next step up, or in some cases entry,” Schatz said.
Mellet cites another factor. “When the economy is struggling,” she said, “the business at the American Dairy Goat Association goes up.”
Phil Cassette, whose family breeds champion Alpines and Nubians on Chateau Briant Farm in Saco and who is co-chairman of the ADGA convention, said there have been three distinct periods of growth in the goat industry in the United States over the past 40 years. In the 1970s, the growth was fueled by self-sufficiency. The back-to-the-landers of that generation raised goats in order to drink and eat the milk and cheese themselves, he said.
Gradually, that began to change. Though today many restaurants have goat cheese somewhere on the menu, in the 1970s and early 1980s, that was hardly the case. A handful of people at the forefront of artisan cheese making – people like Judy Schad in Indiana and Laura Chenel in California, who became the country’s first commercial producer of goat cheese – helped popularize goat cheese in the United States.
In the past decade there’s been “significant growth” in two additional areas, Cassette said. First, growing American demands for local foods have spurred people to start small goat farms so they can sell goat cheese at farmers markets and restaurants. As he put it: “What we’re seeing is much more of a concern of ‘Where does my food come from and what is in my food?’”
The increasing demand for artisanal goat cheese, yogurt and other products made from goat’s milk in New England is reflected in a new project from Vermont Creamery in Websterville – the Ayres Brook goat dairy. The dairy is milking 225 goats right now, with the hope of eventually increasing the herd to 500 animals, or more. The farm will also serve as a teaching and training venue for people who want to get into the industry.
“The demand for their product is that high,” Mellett said, adding that representatives from Vermont Creamery will be speaking at the ADGA conference.
The second recent growth spurt, Cassette said, began in 2005, when the ADGA officially recognized the Nigerian dwarf breed. With that acceptance, the miniature goats have quickly become the association’s second most popular registered breed.
“It’s a smaller-sized animal, a little easier to handle,” he said. Adult does of larger breeds weigh about 130 pounds, the males weigh about 200 pounds. By comparison, Nigerian females weigh 60 to 80 pounds, while bucks weigh about 120 pounds. Cassette said he hears from seniors who once raised full-sized dairy goats, but are “downsizing,” to Nigerian dwarf goats, which require less space.
Dwarf goats have even started showing up on urban farms in cities like Brooklyn, New York, and Oakland, California, Shatz said.
Still, Nubians, which win people over with their appealing floppy ears and roman nose – remain No. 1, “and we expect them to stay that way for a while,” Cassette said.
Tami Hussey of Biddeford and her daughter Reegan, 15, picked Nubians when they started raising goats (spurred by Reegan’s sensitivity to cow’s milk). When that breed proved a little headstrong and loud, they switched to smaller and gentler Oberhasli goats. Reegan caught the “show bug” and got active in 4-H; she hopes to attend the upcoming ADGA conference on a youth scholarship.
When the Husseys purchased their first Oberhasli goats in 2006, there weren’t many around, but since then the breed has become more popular in Maine. “They’re very quiet in the barn,” Hussey said. “You can actually do things in the barn without them bleating in your ear.”
The family uses their goat milk to feed their goats, pigs and veal calves they raise and eat. (Hussey’s husband runs a custom slaughterhouse.)
It’s hard to make generalizations about the state’s goat farmers. People with show herds might milk 15 to 20 animals at a time because they like the products made from goat milk but don’t want to make it a big business, Cassette said. They either consume the products themselves, or sell them at nearby farmers markets.
Larger dairies, on the other hand, rarely show their animals as it would cut down on production.
“And they are not only selling to farmers markets, they are also selling directly to restaurants,” Cassette said.
But ask any goat owner why they wanted a goat in the first place, and chances are he’ll rhapsodize about the caprine personality. Goats are affectionate, social animals.
“You can have goats that will follow you around as much as any dog will,” Cassette said. And, he added, goats, like dogs, are always happy to see you when you come home.
Marie and Tim Clements say having a goat is like having a 2-year-old. The goats love routine, insisting on lining up for milking in the same order every day. They want to be on the same milk stand every day, and be milked by the same person.
“They hate the rain,” Marie Clements added. “They don’t like getting their feet wet. They’re scared of puddles. They think they’re going to fall through to China. They’re petrified of ice, which in Maine in the winter is not a good thing.”
The Clements became goat owners at about the time Marie was looking to retire from her job at Unum. The couple started out with a female goat to milk and a male to keep her company, but the herd grew quickly. (They now call their farm a “micro-dairy.”) It’s something Marie warns people about when they take her goat classes. In addition to learning how to shave an udder and trim hooves, her students get a math lesson.
“If you want milk, you’ve got to breed them every year,” Clements said. “You’ve got to have kids and figure out what you’re going to do with those kids. We had 48 kids this year. Half of them probably are going to be males and not worth much. The other half are going to be does that you might be able to sell. You can’t keep them all yourself. Each one of these little does, to have milk, has two to four kids. Sometimes one, sometimes five, but two to four is the average per doe.
“You do the math. It happens quickly.”
The Clements rise at 5:30 or 6:30 each morning and spend the next couple of hours milking the 16 to 18 goats they keep in milk at a time. Tim starts chilling the milk so he can make cheese in their on-site commercial kitchen. Marie gives the goats their hay and water, then sometimes makes fudge.
Most of the goats give two to four cups of milk. During the peak summer months, they produce between three and five gallons a day total. That’s not much compared to larger goats, but Marie Clements said they chose Nigerian dwarf goats in part because their milk contains higher amounts of protein and butterfat, which makes for better quality milk. The couple makes plain chevre, garlic and herb chevre, queso fresco with black olives and green peppers, manchego and feta. They also make four flavors of fudge and a yogurt – one of their most popular products – that won best in show at a national competition.
“We try really hard to use everything,” Marie Clements said. “Whey is a byproduct of making cheese, and that goes to a pig farmer to feed their pigs. We bottle the milk to sell, and if we don’t sell it I freeze it and make soap out of it.”
They sell at the Kennebunk farmers market and at several farm stands. Despite calls from other farmers markets looking for a source of goat cheese, there’s only so much milk they can produce. “There’s a great market out there,” Tim Clements said. “We could sell 10 times what we make – if we had it.”
During their classes to wannabe goat herders, the Clements are careful not to romanticize goat-rearing or sugar coat the work it takes. The goats have to be milked every day, which means no vacations and, in Tim Clements’ case, missing his daughter’s graduation from law school. Marie talks about pulling goats across the road, from one pen to another, in the middle of a Maine snowstorm.
And then there’s that pesky math. The Clements sometimes struggle with subtraction: There are a couple of older goats at Creeping Thyme Farm that no longer produce milk, but are living out their lives in the pens around the Clements’ home. (Goats live 12 to 14 years.)
But that’s not always practical. The Clements just got a meat license so they can start selling goat meat. Sending a goat to be butchered can be a rude awakening when it’s a favorite that rubbed up against you or came running when you called.
“Some of us get more attached than others,” Marie Clements said, laughing as she rolled her eyes over at her husband. “Some of us have more of a business head and say ‘OK, we’re getting close to our maximum number. Do we want to keep one of this year’s kids that looks like she’s going to be a really, really good doe and get rid of an older goat who’s almost at the end of her milking?’
“Those are tough decisions to make,” she said still looking at her husband, “and every goat he’s ever met is his friend.”

Friday, August 8, 2014

Grier family to be honored at Iowa State Fair

The Grier family on their Guernsey, Iowa, farm. (Photo courtesy of Iowa State Fair)

 The Grier family of Guernsey, Iowa, will be recognized as one of six recipients of The Way We Live Award at the 2014 Iowa State Fair. The family will be honored in an award ceremony on Saturday, August 16, at 10:30 a.m. on the Christensen Farms Stage in the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center. The fair runs August 7-17.

The Way We Live Award recognizes Iowa families for their hard work and love of farming. The families each exemplify dedication to animal agriculture and strong farm values. Each entrant was asked to submit a short essay describing how the occupation of farming and living on a farm has shaped their lives. Six families were chosen out of 38 entries from a variety of commodities and areas in Iowa.

Ron and Christine Grier and their son, Ryan, began their farming journey in 2005 when they decided to buy a farm and go back to their roots. Ryan had five goats for a 4-H project and those goats soon developed into a 77-head Boer goat operation. The Griers also have three colonies of bees and grow corn, soybeans and hay on their 154 acres.

Both Ron and Christine have full-time jobs away from the farm. As a result, they keep the operation going with hard work and help from family members. Ryan, a computer science major at Iowa State University, often comes home to help out when needed. Ron is a former member of FFA and is currently the vice president of the Tall Corn Meat Goat Wether Association. Christine was in 4-H and has been a Sunday school teacher, a CASA volunteer and a Master Gardener. Both Ron and Christine are youth leaders as well as members of the American Boer Goat Association, the Iowa Meat Goat Association, the Iowa Honey Producers Association and the Farm Bureau.

The Grier family will receive a prize package including $250 cash, fair tickets, free parking and recognition in the Paul R. Knapp Animal Learning Center during the fair. The Way We Live Award is sponsored by WHO NewsRadio 1040 and Tractor Supply Co. For more information on the fair, visit

Thursday, August 7, 2014

SW Mo. Sheep & Goat Grazing/Browsing Academy Sept. 12-13

The Southwest Missouri Sheep and Goat Grazing/Browsing Academy will be held Friday and Saturday, Sept. 12-13, in the Williams Building, Crowder College Agriculture Department in Neosho, Mo.

The cost for the workshop is $45 per person and includes two meals, manual of browsing/grazing materials, FAMACHA card and numerous educational handouts. Call if you want less materials and less registration fees. Preregistration with payment is required.

For more information, contact: Vonna Kesel at 573-681-5312 or e-mail or Jodie Pennington at 417-455-9500 or e-mail PenningtonJ@LincolnU.eduTo register, contact Vonna Kesel at 573-681-5312 or e-mail


Friday, Sept. 12
2:00-2:15 pm      Introduction—Jodie Pennington, Lincoln University, Neosho, MO;  Jay Wilkins, Head, Crowder College Agriculture Department.
2:15-3:00 pm      Fencing and Waterers (in field)—NRCS display; comments from all attendees.                
3-4 pm  Calculate Available Forage and Allocate Goats to Lots (in field)—Steve Hart, Langston University, Langston, OK, and Todd Higgins, Lincoln University.
4-4:30 pm          Soil Fertility—Todd Higgins, Lincoln University, Jefferson City, MO.
4:30-5:15           Management Intensive Grazing—Steve Hart and Todd Higgins.
5:15      Comments—Charlotte Clifford-Rathert, Lincoln University, Jefferson City, MO; Discussion/Questions/Break.
6 pm     Dinner (provided by Crowder College Ag Department).
6:45      Panel Discussion of sheep and goats on browse and pasture (John Hobbs, UME-McDonald CO-- poisonous weeds; planning animals movements, economics, do’s and don’t’s, New Zealand dairy farmer)  -Kevin and Toni Beatty, Carl Junction, MO; Marie Iiams, Jenkins, MO; Ronnie Gardisser, Coclord, OK; Glen Cope, Aurora, MO; Steve Hart, Langston, OK; Dean Troyer, Mt. Vernon, MO; Nick Ventor, Bentonville, AR; Ted Thoreson, El Dorado Springs, MO;  Jay Wilkins;  Others).
8:00      Adjourn.

Saturday, Sept. 13
8:30 am Review (in field—optional for those attending on Friday)-Jodie Pennington.
9 am     Brush Nutrition and Supplementation--Steve Hart.
9:45      Break.
10 am    Browsing Plan and Monitoring (in field)--Steve Hart, Todd Higgins; Evaluate Progress in Paddock (Activity).     
11:30 am           Health Management--Charlotte Clifford-Rathert).
12:00 Lunch (provided by Crowder College Ag Department).
12:45 pm           Livestock Guardian Animals: Jodie Pennington; Panel discussion—Others.
1:20 pm Business Planning/Contract Grazing--Wesley Tucker, UME—Polk CO.      
2:00-3:30pm       FAMACHA, BCS and Fecal Egg Count Training (Hands on Activity)-Charlotte Rathert.
3:30-4:00pm       Discussion of Activities/Questions/Evaluations.
4:00pm  Adjourn.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guidelines for grazing sudangrass, pearl millet and sorghum

A field of sudangrass

By Bruce Anderson
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Summer annual grasses planted this spring soon could be ready to graze. Let’s review some grazing guidelines to help you avoid any potential hazards or problems. 

It’s been said that rules are meant to be broken. One rule, though, that I suggest you never break is this one: never turn hungry animals into sudangrass or sorghum-sudan pastures. Why? Because they may eat so rapidly that they could get a quick overdose of prussic acid and die. 

All sudangrass and sorghum-sudan hybrids can produce a compound called prussic acid that is potentially poisonous. Prussic acid, which also is called cyanide, is nothing to fear, though, as long as you use a few precautions to avoid problems. 

The highest concentration of prussic acid is in new shoots, so let your grass get a little growth on it before grazing to help dilute out the prussic acid. Let sudangrass get at least 18 inches in height before grazing. Since sorghum-sudan hybrids usually have a little more prussic acid risk, wait until they are 20 to 24 inches tall. 

Pearl millet does not contain prussic acid so if you planted millet these grazing precautions aren’t needed. Let your animals graze pearl millet when it reaches 12 to 15 inches tall. 

Summer annual grasses respond best to a simple, rotational grazing system. Divide fields into three or more smaller paddocks of a size that your animals can graze down to about eight or so inches of leafy stubble within 7 to 10 days. Repeat this procedure with all paddocks. If some grass gets too tall, either cut it for hay or rotate animals more quickly so grass doesn't head out. 

A well-planned start, a good rotation, and a little rain can give you good pasture from these grasses all the rest of the summer.

(This article is reprinted from the August 2014 issue of "Forage News", published by the University of Kentucky Extension Service.)

Monday, August 4, 2014

NAILE market goat and ABGA shows planned Nov. 18-20

LOUISVILLE, Ky. —  North American International Livestock Exposition (NAILE) officials announced that the 9th Annual Junior Wether Goat Show will take place on Nov. 18 and 19. It’s open to exhibitors not more than 21-years-of -age and at least 6-years-old by day of the show. Premiums are $2,500 plus jackpot added monies and are paid to entries in each class.  Additional premium money has been added this year for Grand Champion Wether ($500) and Reserve Champion Wether ($250). Entry fee is $25 per head.

The 4th Annual Junior Wether Goat Showmanship Contest takes place on the evening of Nov. 18. There is no entry fee and winners receive NAILE ribbons and belt buckles.

The 15th Annual NAILE Boer Goat show takes place on Thursday, Nov. 20. The American Boer Goat Association is sponsoring and sanctioning the show, and $8,000 in premium money is offered.

Catalogs containing show information and rules are available for download on the NAILE website at Printed catalogs and entry forms are automatically mailed to those who have participated in the NAILE the past two years. Catalogs are free, and anyone wishing to receive one should contact the NAILE offices at P.O. Box 36367, Louisville, KY 40233-6367, by fax at 502-367-5299, or by e-mail at

Entry deadline for Meat Goat Division shows is October 1. Exhibitors may submit entries by mail at any time and on the website beginning September 1.

The 41st Annual NAILE is produced by the Commonwealth of Kentucky at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Kentucky under the direction of the Kentucky State Fair Board. During the Expo’s run November 4 through 21, the facility’s entire 1,200,000 square feet of climate-controlled exhibit space is used. More than 200,000 visitors and exhibitors attend the event annually.