Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Visit to the Goats -- and Goatherds -- of Knox County

I had a great time today with the 4-Hers of Knox County! The Knox County Goat Improvement Association sponsors an annual fair goat sale, and hosts an educational clinic prior to the sale. I was honored to be asked to be the speaker for the clinic this year! There was a great turn out of 4-Hers and parents at the event, and the goats that were lined up for auction were lovely! What makes a goat a fair goat? Fair goats, or "club" goats, are raised specially to be show goats. They are typically from the Boer breed, or are a Boer-cross goat. Boers tend to have excellent meat, but are rather high maintenance -- thus they are perfect for market goat shows since they flourish under the devoted attention of 4-H members! As a contrast, my goats are "commercial goats". They are not as pretty, but they are low maintenance.

The Knox County Fairgrounds is a lovely site, set on rolling hills. The event was held in the beef barn, and I even had a beautiful "model" goat to use for demonstration purposes! (Her ear tage number? 1013, my birthday!) I shared with the audience of 4-Hers and parents some ideas on goat care, preparation for show, and what a judge looks for in a market goat. To establish my credentials, I opened by explaining to the kids that every animal I ever showed at the fair won grand champion. Every animal! Of course, I only showed one animal at the fair. And it was a rat. But Generallisimo Francisco Franco triumphantly trounced 41 other hamsters, guinea pigs, and ferrets to win the title of 1994 Fairfield County Grand Champion Pocket Pet! I can only imagine how impressed these young 4-Hers were!

We discussed appropriate housing (it's pretty embarrassing when your goat escapes and eats your neighbor's flowers), the importance of nutrition (you'd feel like junk if you ate junk food all the time and so would a goat), and medical treatment of goats (internal parasites = weak intestines that tear = angry Ethiopian customers when intestine-cleaning takes too long). The story of my little goat with lung problems got a good laugh. Last fall Isabelle was suffering from lung issues, probably pneumonia. I began a 3 day regimen of penicillin to treat her. On the first day she did not feel well, so she sat quite still for the shot. On the second day she was better, but still to weak to protest much. On the third day, however, Isabelle was greatly recovered. While I tried to hold her and medicate her properly, she squirmed & squirmed. The next thing I knew, I had given myself a shot of penicillin in the finger . . . OW! The good news: I never got sick this winter!

I encouraged the 4-Hers to PRACTICE and PRACTICE with their goats. Goats are crazy, this is a fact. In the show ring, goats will jump and tug and run. What makes a difference is if the young person has spent time with the goat and knows how to handle this situation! Also -- as my mother always ingrained in me during my 4-H competitions -- it is sooo important to smile. If a 4-Her looks worried or miserable, the judge can tell. If the 4-Her smiles and appears confident, the judge is much more likely to be impressed during a showmanship competition. Goats are incredibly awesome and a show is a wonderful opportunity for a young person to show off their skills. It should always be fun!

Finally, I shared with the 4-Hers what I look for in a market goat. In a show that focuses on a certain breed, I judge based on breed standards. In a market show, however, I judge on what the carcass will be. The goat market rewards a higher price per pound for 50-70 pound goats, so I feel that is the size range which should be encouraged. These shows are to teach young people skills to compete as successful goatherds. Thus, they should not be encouraged to raise 100-120 pound market goats -- these animals eat more feed, which costs more money, and thus creates a smaller profit for the goatherd. Market classes should not be beauty contests. In a breed class I consider such things as the grace of a feminine head, the pigmentation of the goat, and the attachment of teats, but these things have no impact on the carcass & should not impact a market class. While I dislike more than two teats on a breeding goat, as a butcher I don't care how many teats a goat has when I cut up the chops & roasts!

It was a great pleasure to speak to the young goatherds of Knox County today! I sincerely appreciated their hospitality and hope they will come to love the goat industry as much as I do!

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