You were so excited when you got your first goats, right? I sure was, I still remember the car ride home, I had two goats (our first Nigerian Dwarf doe and her Pygora buddy) stuffed in the back of my old Volvo station wagon and we were heading north through Portland rush hour traffic, trying to get out the other side and back into the country. Stuck in stop and go traffic I was grinning from ear to ear, constantly looking in the rear view mirror to make sure they were ok, meanwhile the drivers behind me were whipping out their phones to take pictures of the cute goats riding in a car. I swear, I thought I was going to get rear ended. Thankfully we got home in one piece and I relaxed into goat watching bliss or "Goat TV" as I like to call it.
Back to you... so you loved your first goats so much that you got a few more. No problem, it only increased the chores by a little because after all, Nigerian Dwarf Goats are small, right? Then you bred them and the kids were so stinkin cute. You were the talk of the town, all your friends wanted to come over and cuddle the cute baby goats. They grew up, you sold some, you kept some. Then you see an add on Facebook or Craigslist for a goat that has what you want, or whose sire is "insert awesome goat here" and you must have those genetics, so you buy the goat. Before you know it you have a real herd going. But hey, the chores aren't too bad, right? You can get hubby or the kids to help.
Then you decide you want to start showing. Breeding season comes around again, your girls decided it was the year they were all going to have quads and oh crap, how on earth did you end up with so many goats? But it's ok, you are super woman, you can do it! You spend the money on show entry fees, you pack up all your supplies and drag some juniors and senior does to the show, drafting kids and friends to help handle and maybe you place well or perhaps your Jr doe is lost in a sea of 30 other Jr. Nigerian Dwarf does. Because, Nigerians are booming in popularity right now and that may not exactly be a good thing for the long term stability of the breed. But we will save that topic for another post. You thank everyone for their help, you pack all your stuff back up and head home. Rinse and repeat, throw in a county fair or two. In between all of that you are milking, weaning kids, listening to them scream, selling kids as soon as they are old enough because you want to get your numbers (and the noise level) down, scooping poop, changing out waters (how the bleep does that doe always manage to poop in her water bucket?!?!), hauling hay bales, running to the feed store for more supplies, etc... and guess what, you are exhausted. Wasn't having goats supposed to be fun?
If you are one of the lucky herds you figure things out, make some changes to keep things manageable and your relationship with your goats enjoyable, and you move on to enjoy many more years keeping goats. On the other hand, you may be one of the many that get burned out and sell out. All in the space of a few years. I see it happen all the time, herds come and go. Dang, I even bought my favorite doe from a herd that rode that rollercoaster, burned out and then sold their entire herd off in the space of a week.
So how do you avoid the burn out? Well, it goes hand in hand with what we will cover in the next post, but for now the most important things to understand are....
1. Goats are not like potato chips! Although you can't have just one, you don't need a whole Nigerian Dwarf sized container of Pringles. Exercise willpower. Don't crawl the Facebook goat group sales ads unless you are actively looking for something specific that fills a need or fits a goal for your herd. It never fails that there you are, scrolling through Facebook and you see some awesome goat pop up. Learn to love and be satisfied with what you have or make strategic, well thought out changes if you aren't.
2. Nigerian Dwarf does have litters. Understand that these adorable little cretins breed like tribbles. Seriously folks. You may have a year where all your girls are civilized and have just twins. Awesome. Two teats, two kids, easy peasy. Then, next year, their hormones go haywire and it was like there must have been some secret doe pact (but you didn't get the memo) and you have triplets, quads and quints coming out of your ears. Cute little bottle fed goat kids start looking more like piranhas coming in for the kill anytime you go out to the barn. Your sweet little herd of 10 turns into a herd of 40 practically overnight.
3. Figure out what you want your relationship with your goats to be. If there is only one thing to understand than this is it. To reflect on this, check your ego at the door and ask yourself... Why did you get goats in the first place? Did you want a healthy supply of milk for your family? Did you want to have something you and your kids could do together like showing or 4-H? Do you want to develop long term breeding strategies? How much time and money do you want to spend on your goats? How much time and energy do you really have to spend on them? How big do you want your herd to be both in the off season and during the breeding season? Be realistic about your (and your family's) interest and energy in doing the hard chores when you are sick or the wether is horrible. Plan for the worst, enjoy the best.
Above all, remember why you love this delightful breed and if you need to, then make the changes that will keep your relationship with your goats a positive one. You don't need to have a big herd to achieve success. Bigger is not always better. Small can be beautiful. It can be tempting to grow when you see big herds out there winning accolades. Just know that your success with goats is a deeply personal metric. What is right for someone else may not be right for you. Grab a cup of tea or whatever and get outside to watch some Goat TV and cuddle your goats. I promise you, they are worth it.
Next up... 5 Steps Towards Developing a Breeding Program
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Located in Ridgefield, Washington