Monday, December 9, 2013
Have you ever thought about quitting your desk job and hitting the road in search of a new way of life? In 2003 Karl Schatz and Margaret Hathaway did just that when they packed up a U-Haul and began a yearlong exploration of the goat world. Along the miles and miles of roadway they got engaged and planned their wedding between visits with cheesemakers, commercial dairymen, family farmers, a veterinarian working on goat reproduction, and members of various goat associations. The results of that voyage can be seen at Ten Apple Farm, their family’s diversified homestead in Gray, Maine. On ten acres of land, they tend a small herd of Alpine dairy goats, assorted poultry, and a large kitchen garden.
photo by Karl Schatz
With Ten Apple Farm’s Winter Goat Hike coming up this Saturday, January 26 I asked Karl to share the basics on raising goats.
I am impressed with your approach to goat farming. Rather than rush into buying a property and equipment, you drew up five-year goals, attended a business-plan-writing seminar, and found paying jobs. During that time you developed relationships with persons in the agricultural community in Maine and continued your research. What advice would you give to someone interested in keeping goats?
Do your research! Goats are so multipurpose, they can be used for many different things, milk, meat, fiber, land management, showing, pets, and different breeds are specific to different uses (although many cross over between uses). It’s important to know what you want to do with your goats, as this will dictate a lot about what kind you get and your future management needs. We spent a year traveling around the country to all kinds of different farms doing research, but you don’t have to do that much. But do some reading, and visit some different farms with different kinds of goats. Our books, The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese, and Living With Goats: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Backyard Herd (coming out in paperback this March!), are great places to start, and there are other books and resources out there as well.
How many goats should someone with a half-acre of pasture start with? Should they go to a certified breeder?
If you only have a half acre pasture, you probably want to start with one of the miniature breeds such as Nigerian Dwarf goats, or Pygmies, or there are some crosses such as Pygoras (Pygmy-Angora cross) that are small and will make a smaller impact. The general rule that we follow is 4-6 full size goats per acre of land. I would definitely recommend getting goats from a reputable breeder. Contact the various goat associations, such as the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) or American Meat Goat Association, to find one near you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the health of their herd, and especially about their management policies around CAE, one of the common goat diseases. If they don’t have a good answer around their testing policy or if they aren’t sure if their herd is CAE-free, don’t buy from them.
Is there currently a welcoming climate for new goat farmers in New England?
Yes, absolutely. There are a lot of people raising goats in Maine, and many who have been doing it for years, very successfully, and they are all very approachable, so there are good people resources out there locally. Because Southern Maine’s tremendous food and restaurant community there is a good demand for goat cheese, and a growing demand for goat meat from both a growing ethnic community and from the restaurants. We sold goat this past year to two Portland restaurants, El Rayo Taqueria and East Ender that had great success with it on their menus.
What has been required of you to turn Ten Apple Farm from a romantic idea into something fiscally sustainable?
Well, keeping it small for us is critical, and it needs to be said that for us, keeping goats and other animals we raise (and fruits and vegetables we grow), is more about a lifestyle decision than a business proposition. We want our kids to grow up knowing where their food comes from, and how to raise it and cook it themselves. We want them to understand that meat doesn’t come from a cellophane wrapper in a grocery store. It was a living, breathing animal, and it is important that we care for our animals well in life and are respectful in death.
So at this point, we’re not necessarily trying to make a profit from the goats. We both have off-farm jobs that help support our homesteading lifestyle. We try to make the farm and goats pay for themselves, and with the value we get out of them for our own food consumption, the farm is probably close to break even for us. And we have the added benefit and satisfaction of knowing we raised the food ourselves, and it’s good.
You’ve taught a number of homesteading classes. If you could give a piece of advice to an aspiring homesteader, what would it be?
Well, other than take one of our homesteading classes (wink, wink), be systematic with trying new things. Don’t try to do everything all at once. Try raising one new or different animal each year, or growing one or two new vegetables, or add a fruit tree, each year. But make sure you can take care of something well and successfully before taking on the next thing. We started with goats and chickens for eggs. The next year we added chickens for meat. The next year ducks, and then the next year we added Turkeys. Two years ago we added sheep for meat. One year we added a peach and a cherry tree. Then next year we added two apples, then 3 pears. It’s all hard work, but a constant evolution and learning experience, and there’s so much to try. That’s what keeps it fun and constantly interesting and rewarding.
Education, Opportunities to Learn: Basic Home Cheesemaking at Ten Apple Farm: Learn how to make easy homestead cheeses in your own kitchen. Make a simple fresh chévre and Ten Apple Farm’s signature MonChaCha, a firm raw milk aged goat cheese. All day workshop with a potluck lunch, afternoon tasting of American goat cheeses, and evening milking lesson. $40 fee includes cheese tasting and packets of culture to make your own cheese at home. Limit 8 people (Date: Saturday, February 23, 9 am-3 pm)
Periodicals and Books:
The Year of the Goat: 40,000 Miles and the Quest for the Perfect Cheese by Margaret Hathaway - tells the story of Margaret & Karl’s journey from New York City to a farm of their own. Hop in the “goat-mobile” and join them on their cross-country goat trek across America.
Living With Goats: Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Own Backyard Herd - practical information about goat husbandry, stories of life on the farm, and resources for answers to more detailed questions
Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats, 4th Edition
Storey’s Guide to Raising Meat Goats, 2nd Edition
The Backyard Goat by Sue Weaver (for beginners, covers essentials of raising goats for their milk, fiber or to keep as companion animals.
Dairy Goat Journal
Hobby Farms – online reference as well as publication
Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.
When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.
In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.