From alpacas, to horses, and hounds - we'll be featuring the best of our creature features from The BRJ archives, so check back often for new posts!
It is early March, early in the spring lambing season, and I make sure I'm up at the barn by 5:30 or 6 moving silently and swiftly in the dark chill. Read More
It was a mild summer day at a rural airport in New Jersey. A team of specialized volunteers were on hand, waiting for the arrival of a plane that had taken off that morning from somewhere in the Deep South. As the cargo doors swung open more than a score of big, black, glimmering eyes peered out from within... Read More
With its black, dun, or red color, sandwiching a white middle, curious onlookers have dubbed this shaggy beast the “Oreo,” “Panda,” and even the “Police Car” cow but it is, in fact, the Belted Galloway. Read More
“No goats!” my husband said emphatically. I was in my Pygmy Goat phase – completely smitten with these miniature caprines. Read More
I am awake these days by 4 am, reading intently, waiting for The New York Times to arrive at 5:00 or so. It is early March, early in the spring lambing season, and I make sure I'm up at the barn by 5:30 or 6 moving silently and swiftly in the dark chill. I'm looking for ewes that have separated themselves from the flock, whether they're standing or lying down, and I'm looking more particularly for smaller silhouettes, a little head or two bobbing underfoot. When I see a separated ewe with no bobbing heads, I find myself looking for stationary forms, lifeless prone forms, corpses of the stillborn or little ones with problems.
We are breeding lambs this year with our small flock of Cheviot ewes to a Tunis ram. The Cheviot breed is a white, handsome Scottish mountain sheep originating in the Cheviot Hills which separate Scotland and England. They have sharp angular heads with black facial and eye highlights, the latter artfully and somewhat seductively looking like mascara. The Tunis is an ancient northern African breed with a large snout and a reddish brown face and legs. He did not hesitate for a moment when he saw what his role was; he knew precisely what to do.
My early morning reading has veered from my work editing sporting books to looking into the history of my little four-legged friends. I have a copy of what is undoubtedly one of the first books published in the United States solely dedicated to the subject of sheep: An Essay on Sheep, by Robert L. Livingston (1809). The author's family, as it so happens, is the namesake of the Essex County (NJ) town of the same name, and ancestors of former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, a neighbor here in this part of Somerset County. The author makes the case that because of the sheep's utter defenselessness - they can't run, bite, claw, or gouge, and by their very timidity invite attack - they then must be the earliest tamed of domesticated animals, being so dependent on man. I am still pondering the veracity of this and find myself thinking about it at all hours of the day.
I have also been led to Sir Herbert Maxwell, a Scottish angler and naturalist who kept and published monthly journals of his years titled Memories of the Months (1910). He describes a dozen or so Scottish Blackface sheep lost in a massive snowdrift during a blizzard in northern Scotland in the late 1890s. After extricating most, the farmer had to leave the remainder for dead. Fully twelve days later, he noticed several melted and steamy air holes and found some hardy survivors that immediately re-joined the flock, seemingly none the worse for wear. To those who know sheep, this is more than just amusing, it is very funny, as it points directly to the beguiling charm of these animals. The supercilious horseman would like to think that his horse would survive, and the cattleman would of course root for his animal (bovine pride); but the fact is they would each kick and fret and worry themselves into a frenzy and perish. Sheep, on the other hand, are accustomed to defeat; they have accepted it and manage to live with it, quiescently and peacefully. After an initial panic, they would settle down in calm resignation - ready for anything that might come their way.
Ovine nature celebrates innocence, and embraces an equanimity and simplicity that is compelling. An amusing story here in Far Hills is of a local matron who owned a spectacular property of commanding views and rolling fields. She would walk through the adjoining woods to a neighbor's farm and open his sheep gates so his animals would walk over to her property. She enjoyed viewing them from her patio and sunroom, grazing on her grass. One day, this neighbor walked over to speak to her about this and found her inside the house with several of his sheep - socializing. Eccentric? Possibly. Understandable? Absolutely.
Here in this part of the state, the mix of agriculture and exurbia can be striking. Open land is hard to come by, it is extraordinarily expensive, and motorists with places to go don't generally like to come upon a tractor creeping along a country road. On a recent morning finding unexpected twins in a pasture, I was late for an annual appointment with my cardiologist. To complicate matters, several pregnant ewes got out of a gate left open (by me) and had to be coaxed back into the barn with no little effort. So, now sweaty and with my blood pressure elevated, I walked into the professional offices of the Summit Medical Group to announce my tardy arrival. Turning around at hearing a minor commotion, I saw a trail of sheep manure and clumps of bedding straw tracked across the expensive-looking blue carpet by my boots. My doctor found this quite amusing, but for some reason, the nurses in the office most definitely did not.
Our lambs are bred for what is known in agricultural circles as the "ethnic" market. These spring and Easter lambs are cherished both culturally and gastronomically by many of Mediterranean descent along with certain other groups. We sell them at 30 to 50 pounds, privately, and I pride myself on their condition: no scours (diarrhea), worms or other parasites, and all are fed high-protein grain and timothy. There are no pesticides, herbicides or hormones used in proximity to these animals, and all have had happy, pampered lives, however abbreviated.
But it is the magic of birthing that electrifies me. By 5:30 or 6 at this time of year, now approaching the vernal equinox when the sun's arc pierces the equatorial plane, our hills come alive. The two main pastures slope down to a pastoral spring creek, its pellucid, perpetually cold water gently flowing down from the springhead up in the ravine, gurgling up and out of the ground - a treasured godsend. This is the source of life for this farm and I notice that the ewes are more attracted to it as their delivery times approach. They smell it, they sense it; the musicality of the constant flow of clear water over the rocks is soothing and comforting, a soft lullaby.
In the dark one recent morning, as the sun was just beginning to lighten the sky over the ridgetops, I found yet another set of twin lambs down near the creek under an exhausted ewe. Both were still quite wet but were more or less up on their wobbly, oversized legs. There are foxes and coyotes here and predation is never far from the door. I picked up both lambs - their skin feels like a warm and wet three-day beard of stubble - and led the ewe up to the barn by the baby-like cries of her separated lambs. With little flesh covering their ribs, I could feel their hearts beating strongly and purposefully in my hands. I knew at that instant that I had the world at my fingertips. I was part of a profound confluence of place and time and my thoughts turned to privilege - and it was blessedly mine - for it was me, me alone, there in that dark fecund meadow, that at that moment was connected, connected to the heartbeats and origins of life on this wonderful planet.
Local authors, Bill Trego and Katherine Newcomer, have formed the Starlight Creek Writer's Workshop to "advance and support fine writing at all levels -- across age groups, genres, and skill levels." They meet at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Gladstone NJ. The cost is free but they request a simple emailed brief biography stating your interest. All are welcome!
It was a mild summer day at a rural airport in New Jersey. A team of specialized volunteers were on hand, waiting for the arrival of a plane that had taken off that morning from somewhere in the Deep South. The wind was 30 degrees at 6 knots, there was a clear ceiling overhead and 10 square miles of visibility, as a Piper Saratoga II HP approached the field, touched down and taxied to a stop. The cabin of the Piper Saratoga had been stripped of its seats to accommodate a payload of carefully stacked crates, and as if on cue, the crew of eager volunteers went into action, scrambling to unload the precious freight. As the cargo doors swung open more than a score of big, black, glimmering eyes peered out from within and blinked back the daylight. One of the volunteers smiled broadly and wiped away a tear, as two-dozen, tail-wagging Chihuahuas began to yip in happy unison…
The volunteers belonged to Home for Good Dog Rescue, a foster-based, non-profit dog rescue with offices in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, one of the vital and intrepid rescue groups that rely on the services of pilot, Matt Kiener of Flypups, Inc., a registered 501 (c) nonprofit, single-plane, air transport operation with a unique mission - to save desperate canines waiting to be euthanized in overcrowded kill shelters and fly them to freedom and the hope of a new, loving home.
Kiener is a big-hearted, detail-oriented man, with an honest countenance and cheerful smile. He started Flypups, Inc., in 2011, but admits that he came by his love of dogs somewhat reluctantly. “I didn’t grow up with dogs,” he confessed. “My wife is a big dog person. She was the one that convinced me.”
Kiener was bitten by his first case of “puppy” love when he got his first dog, a beagle that he named “Squire.” “I came up with these rules that he’s not going to be on the couch, he’s not going to be on the rug, he’s not going to be allowed upstairs or on the bed and all this kind of nonsense,” Kiener recalled. “And I was the one to break all the rules. He’s my best friend.”
Ironically, the first dog of the pilot who logs hundreds of hours in the air on behalf of rescue dogs, all at his own expense, isn’t a rescue dog himself. “I had a terrible misconception, which I think is prevalent among a lot of dog owners,” Kiener admitted, “that if you’re getting a dog from a rescue that it’s got issues and that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, it’s kind of the contrary…they’re terrific dogs and my experience has been that they’re perhaps more loyal or grateful, if you will.”
The rescue dog that convinced Matt Kiener of this fact was actually a result of his first airborne liberation mission. “There was a guy down at the airport who had signed up to do this dog relay flight and his plane had to go in the shop,” Kiener said. “So, he called me and asked me to do it.” I said, ‘You know what kind of plane I’ve got, right?’ I have this little two-seater aerobatic plane, there’s no room for anything. He says, ‘I know, I know, it’s just five puppies, no problem.’ So we met down in Sky Manor Airport in Pittstown, and we offloaded the pups, put them in our crates, put them in the plane, and off we went.”
“We’re flying up there, and I’m distracted looking at them, playing with them, and I’m thinking this is the greatest thing in the world. I love dogs. I love flying and I’m helping. I mean I would have done it, you know, just transporting dogs for the sake of being in the company of the dogs, but I’m actually bringing them from harm’s way. There are certain days in your life that are life-changing and you kind of feel it at the time. It was one of those days.”
When Kiener got to the airport in upstate New York, he was given permission to let the dogs run around for a few minutes while he went to an office to deal with some paperwork. “I get to the door and I happen to look down and I see this one puppy had left her siblings and followed me,” said Kiener. “I picked her up and I was going to bring her back and I said, ‘Do you think you’re coming home with me?’ and she started licking my face and I was like, ‘Oh, no’. So I called the wife, I said ‘I’m bringing one home.’ She said ‘Are you serious?’ I said, ‘Yeah’. She goes ‘Cool, I’m going to get puppy stuff.’”
Kiener’s wife, Jess, a passionate horse trainer and dog lover, who retrains Off The Track Thoroughbreds for Dressage competition, is dedicated to Flypups’ mission. She can often be found doing the “dirty” work behind the scenes, like cleaning and disinfecting the crates after each mission and acting as a “co-pilot/stewardess to the dogs” on flights.
“Jess is terrific,” Kiener beamed. “There are times when we have to overnight the dogs. I’ll bring six, ten, twelve dogs home and they need to be fed and medicated and this and that. She just jumps in takes over. She’s awesome. She’s incredible.”
After his initial rescue flight, Kiener knew that saving kill shelter dogs was going to become a priority in his life, but to do it, he would have to upgrade to an aircraft that was “capable of going faster, further, and carrying more.” He decided that the most affordable option would be a Piper Saratoga, a seven-seat, single-engine plane known as the SUV of light aircraft. To help him stay focused on accomplishing his goal, he named his new rescue dog, a German shepherd/English foxhound/beagle mix, “Piper,” and according to Kiener, it worked.
“Every time I said, ‘Piper, Piper come here, Piper whatever,’ I was thinking about it,” Kiener said, “and within in six months I upgraded to this phenomenal plane.”
Kiener and Flypups, Inc. has flown as far west as Tennessee and as far south as Florida to rescue imperiled canines like Radar, a pit bull puppy used as bait to train fighting dogs, and then tossed in a ditch alongside an interstate in Pennsylvania, to bleed to death when his injuries rendered him too feeble to be of any use in the ring. Radar was discovered by a passing police officer and subsequent media attention made him a cause célébre in the Philadelphia area, where the community rallied to not only to mend Radar’s physical wounds but his emotional scars, as well. Kiener was called upon for the flight to Radar’s final round of healing in Ohio.
“So I get to the airport…and there are no less than 30 or 40 people waiting to see this dog off… I’m just overwhelmed by the support for this dog,” remembered Kiener. “The handlers were saying, ‘Okay Matt, you’re going to transition this dog to Chuck, who is the behaviorist out in Cleveland that would be working with him, so we want to introduce him to you but he’s not very trusting with people, he doesn’t get along with people.’ So, we’re nervous… but I assured them that I would be fine. So, I sort of squatted down on the ramp and they let go of the leash. He lunged towards me and you hear clicking of cameras like Lindsey Lohan is walking by or something. He just jumped up on me and engulfed my nose with his tongue. Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge the sad reality that not every dog can be saved. It’s just not possible. And to put this much time and money and effort into a single dog, especially a lot of people would say, a bully breed, might be wasteful, but I can assure you, this is the sweetest, kindest, most amazing puppy.”
For Kiener, transporting a single dog is a very rare and special circumstance. On most flights, the cabin is stacked with four-legged passengers in tidy crates. “Generally, I can’t do one dog,” he explained. Since I’m paying for all of this out of my own pocket, and appealing to organizations, I need to be responsible with the money. I have a cost per dog in fuel that makes sense to me. So, will I fly down to North Carolina for a dog? No, I need to get at least six, hopefully a dozen dogs, and then it makes sense. The cases for the single dogs, those are special and rare. There was a Great Dane that needed to go from Maryland out to Ohio. Normally I wouldn’t do that except that there were four dogs in Ohio, three of them needed to go to New Jersey and one of them needed to go to Florida. This is the way it went. I flew from Jersey to Maryland. I picked up the Great Dane, I went to Ohio. I dropped off the Great Dane and picked up the four dogs. I brought them back to Jersey, three of them got adopted here in New Jersey. One of them was going to go down to Florida. Again, I’m not going to make a trip with one dog all the way down to Florida but I was bringing fourteen dogs from Florida back to Pennsylvania, picking up a fifteenth in Virginia. Of the 14 that I brought up to Pennsylvania, I believe six of them were entering a program for veterans. So these dogs would be trained to serve veterans who were suffering from PTSD. When I do a transport and the dogs go to something like that… I mean it’s always a win when you’re saving a dog, but when you’re helping others in conjunction, it’s a great day.”
Like, Radar, most of the dogs that Flypups wings away to safety come from heart breaking situations, such as the 24 Chihuahuas that belonged to a deceased hoarder in North Carolina and were scheduled to be euthanized. “Twenty-three of them slept, one of them yapped the whole way,” Kiener recalled with a smile.
Then there was the litter of puppies kept in a fetid, windowless basement and forced to fight for kibbles and scraps of food tossed to them by their owner. “An advocate that I know down there found out about them and she called me and said, ‘Look a friend, of a friend, of a friend, knows this guy and I might be able to get them out. Do you have a home for them?’ And normally I’m not the one that makes those arrangements. They’re made and I’m called to fly from A-to-B. But I made some phone calls and I found a place for them. So the advocate I know, Laurie, she went to the guy’s house and talked to him… There was no care being given. He wouldn’t separate them so there was a runt who was abused because they all wanted the food and some of them were more aggressive than others.”
“Usually it takes just a couple of minutes to put each dog into a crate and get them onto the plane. It took over an hour for these six. They were so traumatized…The light from the sun was just more than they could handle. It was the one time where I was really sort of concerned because every other transport, the dogs were happy and excited. They knew they were going someplace special. But they were really struggling. You don’t want to force them into the crates, they’ve been through enough and you want to just be patient, take your time, coax them and work with them and I think that went a long way, taking that time. By the time we got to New Jersey, they’d come around. They’d started to relax. They were playful and one of them licked me when I was unloading him. And I was like, ‘Thank God’.”
It’s uncommon for Kiener to become personally involved in the adoption process and he is almost never involved in the selection of dogs to be rescued. Instead, Flypups offers their services to a select group of rescue organizations that, in his words, “get the hardest part of this.” These organizations have the painfully difficult task of visiting the kill shelters, deciding which dogs can be rescued, and then nursing them back to health and adopting them out to new families. “I’m not strong enough to do that,” Kiener admitted in his humble way. “I can’t even take my dog to the vet. A lot of time Flypups gets the press and the pictures and I feel a bit guilty about it in many respects because I’m just the bus driver.”
While not every rescue dog has the luxury of being flown to freedom, Kiener feels strongly that it is more efficient and much less stressful on them than a grueling road trip, which can mean hours or even days confined in crates in the back of a van. A belief that he was even more convinced of when plane trouble forced him to rent a panel van and drive a rescue mission from Nashville, Tennessee to Long Island.
“It gave me an even greater appreciation for when we do fly and what we’re doing for them (the dogs) because I know what that trip did to me. They’re not coming from great circumstances so when you can reduce the stress…it’s just like us (humans) - would you rather drive down to Florida or jump on a plane and be there in 2 hours?”
Kiener is also convinced that the dogs are very aware of what is happening to them and are grateful for the second chance. “One of the most special components to this is when you’re bringing the dogs on to the plane,” he said. “They know - and you will never convince me otherwise. They have a sense that they’re going someplace better. They’re enthusiastic, they’re excited, they know we’re going on an adventure and it’s going to end well and everything’s good.”
Kiener made a conservative estimate that his beagle “Squire,” makes him smile around twenty times a day, and that over the past twelve years that has worked out to over 88,000 smiles. “Who gets that much joy from any one being?” he mused. “Not only do I get the joy and excitement from helping and saving the dog, but the realization of what I’m bringing back to somebody, I’m giving them 88,000 smiles, I’m giving them all these kisses and all this attention and excitement in their lives. Sometimes I lose track of that. Sometimes I’m so focused on the dog getting a better life. But there’s also a person or family who’s getting a better life because of this dog.”
While Flypups, Inc. would like to help every rescue organization that needs their services, they only have the time and resources to aid the organizations that they already working with, but you can help them expand their mission. Monetary donations are greatly appreciated but you can also help in an almost effortless way, by “liking” them on Facebook. The more “likes” that they receive, the easier it is for Flypups, Inc. to approach large sponsors for assistance in keeping them in the air. Flypups, Inc. is also always interested in volunteers to support their mission and prospective adoptive families that are interested in giving a deserving dog a new life.
FlyPups transports dogs from desperate situations to fosters, no-kill shelters, and fur-ever homes. To learn more, please visit flypups.org
Above photo courtesy of Flypups, Inc. See more images on our Photo Gallery page.
Watch a video and interview with Matt Kiener of Flypups, Inc.
While the site of Herefords and Angus cattle grazing in a grassy field is fairly common, there is a newcomer to the pastoral scene that has been turning heads.
“I’ve got a story idea for you,” long-time reader, Carole Weiss, exclaimed, pulling us aside one morning in front of the Black River General Store. “What are those black and white cows in that field off of Burnt Mills Road?” “You mean the “Oreo” cows?” our animal-loving publisher replied, just as excitedly. “Yes!” Carole said, “They do look like Oreo cookies.” “I don’t know,” we admitted, “but we’ll find out.”
With its black, dun, or red color, sandwiching a white middle, curious onlookers have dubbed this shaggy beast the “Oreo,” “Panda,” and even the “Police Car” cow but it is, in fact, the Belted Galloway or as it is more familiarly known, the “Beltie.” This hardy Scottish breed of cattle hails from the craggy hills, wooded glens, and rugged moors of the seacoast region, in the former Galloway district of Scotland. The solid-colored, polled (hornless) Galloway is believed to have evolved from an ancient Celtic breed, but exactly when and where selective breeding of the belted variety began remains a mystery, though a logical theory suggests that they are the result of a cross, that occurred sometime in the 16th century, of Black Galloways with Dutch Belted dairy cattle known as Lakenvelders.
Belted Galloways arrived on the shores of North America in the late 1930s, becoming truly established in the 1950s with the founding of the American Belted Galloway Breeders Association, which incorporated under the name Belted Galloway Society, Inc, in 1964. Once concentrated in Maine and other areas of New England, Belties can now be found throughout the U.S. To get a closer look at New Jersey’s resident Belted Galloways, we ventured out to the Forbes family’s Southdown Farm, off of Burnt Mills Road in Bedminster.
Bordered by the North Branch of the Raritan River and hidden from the roar of I-78 by a tree-line border, Southdown Farm, part of a 500-acre holding, offers a flat, sweeping plain, unusual amidst the noted hills of Somerset; a topography that made the property ideal for the old polo grounds once located here. Ten houses dot the working farm, one of which is home to manager Michelle Ogle, who has overseen the cattle and haying operation here for 18 years. Michelle is originally from upstate New York, and holds a degree in animal science from Cornell University. She relocated to New Jersey to work on nearby Dunwalke Farm, and came to Southdown in 1993 to help expand the cattle operation. The Forbes’s were already running Herefords on the farm when they saw their first Belted Galloways, in Maine, and asked Michelle to investigate the breed. They purchased their original stock in 1994 and are now the largest registered breeders of Belties in New Jersey, showing and selling their award-winning cattle nationwide.
“We are a purebred breeder,” Michelle explained, “which means we are looking to produce breeding stock. So we’re looking for that ideal within the breed.” Michelle has enjoyed working with Belties and is returning to a seat on the breed association’s council, which she held for a decade before taking a four year hiatus to enjoy the birth of her daughter. “It ended up being a lot of fun getting into the Belted Galloways,” Michelle said. “They are one of the most alert or intelligent breed of cattle I’ve ever worked with. You notice none of the Herefords are walking up to us,” she pointed out, as she entered the pasture with the respectful confidence of someone who has spent a career working with large animals. “They’re not as alert… if I come into a group and go to a farther fence as if we might move them to another pasture, every Belted Galloway will meet me at the gate. The Herefords are kind of… ‘oh did you call us, why are they running’… it’s a difference in alertness in the breed.”
The Belties’ striking appearance is its most noticeable attribute and these beautiful animals are showing up in the pastures of hobby farms and agro-tourism operations; stopping traffic, posing for photo ops, and drawing in customers. “We get a lot of people… that see them and just have to have them…” Michelle said. “Nobody just drives by and sees the Angus and the Herefords in the fields and says ‘I want one.’” But those who get to know the Beltie quickly discover that they are more than just a pretty face.
While Angus and Herefords are still the predominant cattle bred for beef in the U.S., the Beltie is gaining in popularity, not just for the high-quality of its meat but for its durability, toughness, and ability to adapt. Thrifty and moderately sized (a mature bull at age 5 weighs 1,800 to 2,000 pounds), Belties have a strong instinct for self-preservation and have retained many of the natural survival traits lost to traditional breeds. During a particularly devastating flood in Kentucky, residents of a farming community were forced by rapid rising waters to evacuate their farms, leaving livestock to fend for themselves. One farmer reported that when he commandeered a rowboat and returned to his farm, he found all of his Belties huddled together on the highest ground they could find. The entire herd had survived for three days without food submerged in water up to their backs while in contrast his neighbor had lost 27 of his 30 Angus.
Having evolved in the capricious weather of the Scottish coast, Belties can endure climates that range from icy cold to sweltering hot, and unlike most breeds that rely on a layer of back fat for warmth, the Belties come equipped with a double-coat of hair that is shaggy and weather-resistant on the outside with a soft, mossy, insulating undercoat. As efficient grazers, they do extremely well in grass-based operations and will dine on natural forage spurned by most cattle. “Personally, I think the Galloways are going to be the type of cattle used for more sustainable farming,” Michelle predicted. “Because of their slower growth rate, they are very good utilizers of natural forage,” she explained. “Suitable for the range, suitable for brush conditions… these cattle will eat leaves off of a multiflora rose, which around here is a good thing. They will even eat the young fur-de-lance, things like that, that you don’t see the other cattle eat unless they are in a deprivation situation.”
As recently as 1994, the Belted Galloway was listed in the “rare” category on the American Livestock Census’s Conservation Priority List, meaning the breed had an estimated global population of less than 5,000 and fewer than 1,000 in North America. But thanks to handsome good looks, a little charm, a bit of Scottish tenacity, and the careful attention of breeders like Southdown Farm and groups such as the U.S. Belted Galloway Society, this robust bovine is on the rebound; creating its own niche on the commercial market, riding the wave of rediscovered sustainable farming practices, and finding its way into the hearts of enthusiastic supporters.
“No goats!” my husband said emphatically. I was in my Pygmy Goat phase – completely smitten with these miniature caprines. But since we lived in Suburban South Orange and already had two dogs, a rabbit, an Amazon Parrot, plus a few small pet birds, it didn’t seem like the right time to push for a Pygmy.
We live in Hunterdon County now and our animal family has grown. Our parrot is 50-years-old, and we also have a horse, several dogs, two rabbits, 20 small birds and a Koi pond. There’s certainly no lack of inspiration for an animal writer around here. And I dare say, we may have a few pint-size Pygmies in the future.
What is the allure of goats, miniatures in particular? First and foremost, they are just too darn cute. Even their names are adorable. Young goats are kids: the boys are bucklings and the girls, doelings. But city dwellers and suburbanites might wonder “what can you actually do with a goat?” “Plenty!” New Jersey country folk would respond.
To start, both Nigerian Dwarfs and Pygmy Goats make wonderful pets and show animals. Sixteen-year-old Maeve of Somerset County and seventeen-year-old Jana of Hunterdon County both enjoy participating in their County 4-H Goat Clubs. When Maeve was younger, one of her friends was involved in the 4-H with her goats. At the time, she had three new kids and was looking for help with them. Maven instantly fell in love with the goats and decided to try to train one to show.
Today, Maeve has two Nigerians of her own, Frodo and Pippen. She enjoys taking them on long walks in the pasture and preparing Pippen for shows. At 4-H Fairs, she likes to share her special animal companions with other children who are eager to pet them and learn about goats. She also enjoys participating in breed and obstacle classes.
Jana has owned goats for about 12 years and has been breeding them for seven. Her family purchased their first two in 2003, so she and her sister could join the 4-H and participate in various 4-H and Open Goat shows (Not affiliated with the 4-H. Open to anyone with registered goats.)
“We started out with two little Nigerian Dwarf Dairy goats because they are much smaller than standard dairy goat breeds, and suited to the small three acres that we live on,” Jana explains. “We also wanted a dairy breed so we could use the milk to drink, cook with, and our favorite thing to do, use the milk to make soap!”
Jana also likes to show her goats. She particularly enjoys the preparation. “I love clipping, grooming, and making them look the best they can for each show,” Jana says. Being able to see them succeed in shows is very rewarding and reminds me of all the hard work we put into our herd. When it’s not show season, however, I enjoy hanging out with the goats and walking them around our yard. I especially like playing with the kids and always have my favorites.”
There are several different ways to show goats. Maeve explains some of them, “Showmanship classes judge how someone handles their goats. You are judged on your ability to control and also present your animal in the best way possible. There are also Fitting classes which focus on grooming and clipping the goat and how clean they are. The judge checks how well their hooves are trimmed in this class.
Then there are Breed classes where you compete against other goats in the same age range and breed as your goat. This is judged on specific breed characteristics that change depending on the breed. These classes are split into Wether (neutered males), Doe and Buck classes, and then normally divided by ages if there are enough goats at the show.”
Although owning and showing goats is a lot of fun, Maeve is quick to point out, it’s also a lot of work. “Goats need to have their stalls cleaned frequently even in the middle of winter to make sure they are clean and happy. They need to be put out in their pasture daily, unless there is bad weather. They should be fed at least two times a day, sometimes more during winter. Hooves need to be trimmed almost every month.
Another important aspect of caring for goats is that they are herd animals, which means you need to keep multiple goats at the same time, adding to the work required. Some people also own milking goats, which must be milked twice a day, or every 12 hours. I only have pet goats so it is a little less work.”
Jana adds, “It’s always better to have more space for your goats then less. They shouldn’t be crowded. Goats enjoy having platforms to hang out and sleep on inside and outside of the barn. Our pastures are around 50 X 80 feet for approximately 15-20 goats.” Continuing, Jana says, “If you plan on milking, you need a clean space to set up the milk stand and other equipment. You’ll need storage space for feed and hay. We like to clip the goats for the summer months because it helps to control external parasites. You have to be vigilant about internal parasites. They should be on some kind of worming schedule.”
Talisa, also of Hunterdon County, is smitten with her Pygmies. “I love their cute chubbiness,” she says. While does and wethers are usually recommended as pets, Talisa relays, “The breed is very sweet and playful. People are always amazed how loving and personable they are even my old does and bucks. Their size and temperament make them totally safe to keep with horns. All of my goats have their horns and in 10 years, I’ve never once had the slightest problem. About 85% of our kids go to homes with young children and I always receive great pictures and comments on how well the goats get along with the children.”
Donna grew up in Brooklyn but always dreamed of living on a farm. Finally, she had the opportunity to move to Hunterdon County and fulfill her dream. The property she and her husband, Vinay, purchased already had a small, two-stall horse barn. They updated and expanded the barn by replacing the dirt floor with pavers. The original feed room was turned into a medical room and a new goat section was added. The latter boasts three Kidding Pens where does give birth and care for their kids. There’s also a large common area for the older female goats to play in. The walls of the pens and common area are only a few feet high so visiting children can easily see the goats. (In addition to goats, the Desai’s have three horses including a mini, Alpacas and one Llama, as well as a flock of chickens and guinea hens.)
Vinay, a native of India, is a pharmaceutical scientist. He developed a line of Goats’ Milk Ayurvedic soaps. (*Ayurvedi is an Indian science of natural healing through herbs and plants.) Combined with essential oils and herbs, the various soaps are hypoallergenic and moisturizing. Using his last name, the soap is called Dr. Desai Soap. The Desais also have yarn and apparel made from the hypoallergenic fleece from their Alpacas. The soaps and fleece products are available for purchase in their at-home boutique.
Donna, Vinay and their daughters thoroughly enjoy their farm life and like to share it with others. The couple encourages families, especially those who have children with special needs, to take advantage of all the farm has to offer. Appointments for private visits can be made throughout the year free-of-charge. Of all their animals, Donna is particularly smitten with her goats. “They are very intelligent and like to play,” she says. Known to be affectionate she adds, “They’ll even cry for you.”
Looking to retire, horse owner Lori and her husband, Donald, bought a farm with property that was in Farmland Assessment. The original owners grew hay, but Lori was interested in trying something more interactive. Donna encouraged her to raise dairy goats. Intrigued, and already an animal-lover, Lori followed up on the suggestion and purchased six goats from Donna in 2010. She now has a herd of 53! To say she has fallen completely in love with goats is an understatement. Lori especially enjoys showing her goats and breeding for kids with lovely general appearance and correct udders, whether they’ll be headed to show or pet homes. (Udders are judged in breed classes.)
Expounding on the virtues of goats, Lori says, “They know their names. They’re easy to handle and are very friendly.” Lori’s miniature goats are Nigerian Dwarfs. Kids are disbudded (horns burned off) when they are very young which is a common practice.
When I went to visit Lori and her goats, she had two, six-day old doelings, Pandora and Cheyenne. It was difficult to resist scooping one up and taking her home.
Goats just seem to find their way to Wade and Bonnie of Warren County. It all began in 2008 when Wade’s nephew, Michael, an animal control officer, found a stray, bedraggled Alpine goat wandering around a suburban area. Knowing his kind-hearted uncle was an animal lover, lived on a country property with a barn only used to house a car, Mike asked his relatives to adopt the goat. At first, Wade was skeptical. He knew nothing about goats and assumed the stray would be disinterested in people. But since he and Bonnie were long-time dog lovers and had rescued several canine companions, they decided to help the goat. It would become the start of a long-time passion for rescuing goats.
Bozeman, as they christened their new pet, wasn’t particularly friendly. He didn’t seem to have had much human contact. Plus, he was sad, lonely and crying a lot. The couple soon learned from their caprine vet that because goats are herd animals, Bozeman needed a friend. So they set out to find him some company.
Over the years their herd grew. Almost all have been rescued. They have both standards and dwarfs. “They are my life,” Wade says. “I love them to death. They kiss and hug (us) and will follow us around the property.” In fact, in good weather Wade particularly enjoys walking the grounds with his goat herd.
From breeding to showing, to making soap, and just having them around, goat
fanciers endlessly enjoy and are entertained by their special pets. Go goats!
For More Information
American Dairy Goat Association (adga.org)
American Goat Society (americangoatsociety.com)
Nigerian Dairy Goat Association (ndga.org)
National Pygmy Goat Association (npga-pygmy.com)
A devoted animal lover and member of the Dog Writers Association of America, Loren Spiotta-DiMare has been writing about her favorite subject for over 40 years and specializes in animal subjects for adults and children. To date, she's had 20 books published including reference, coffee table, picture and chapter books. Her newest title is Sergeant Reckless: Hero War Horse. Find out more at: lorensreadingroom.com
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