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Agriculture

Why We’re Raising Goats for Meat

We used to sell all of our goat kids as pets… Until we realized how poorly pet goats are often treated. Many people will buy goats when they’re adorable youngsters, but aren’t willing to tolerate their adult behaviors, or keep up with routine hoof trimming, or pay for costly feed, mineral supplements, and veterinary expenses for 10+ years. This results in goats that experience years of neglect, goats that get shuffled around from farm to farm, and goats that end up being dumped at auctions. For this reason, we now only sell goat kids to exceptionally well qualified buyers: people who have done their research, and are willing to go above and beyond to provide the level of care that all goats deserve. It is also for this reason that we decided to begin raising goats for meat; we wanted to ensure that the goats we breed will stay on our farm, and lead comfortable lives from start to finish.

Another factor in our decision that may be worth mentioning is that goats are trendy right now, but that doesn’t mean that they always will be. Alpacas and emus were both very sought after at one point in recent U.S. history, but the markets for these species have now become saturated. Eventually, everyone who wants to have goats as pets will have purchased them, and then who would we sell our kids to? It would be foolish to continue to grow our business without having a plan in place for when the pet goat market declines.

Neither of us were raised eating goat meat, but we did grow up eating meats from a variety of other species. When we thought about it, we realized that chevon isn’t really so different from lamb or beef. We value sustainability and humane treatment of livestock above all else, and raising our goats’ offspring allows us to check both of those boxes. Goats are browsers more than they are grazers (unlike most of the other ruminant species that are widely raised for meat), making them the ideal animal to convert forages on marginal lands into lean red meat. Our animals will enjoy an excellent quality of life in our pastures, a quick death when we deliver them to our butcher, and respect at every moment in between. At the end of the day, we believe that our goats are providing our family and our community with a healthy, safe, ethically produced source of protein.

Categories
Agriculture

Top 5 Issues Facing Sustainable Animal Production


I was recently asked to identify what I perceive as the five greatest issues facing sustainable animal production for my Diversified Animal Production class, and I thought I’d share it here too! Here’s my list:

1. Availability of cheap, unethically produced substitute products: It’s hard for me to wrap my head around, but there are people out there (many of them, I suspect) who will still choose the cheapest option even if they know that it’s bad for the evironment, bad for the animals, bad for workers, etc. The fact that these products are readily available in virtually every grocery store in the U.S. doesn’t help.

2. A misinformed public: there are some well meaning people out there who care about animal welfare and sustainability, but they get their facts from the wrong sources, and end up working against sustainable animal production rather than for it.

3. Government programs and marketing infrastructure: both were designed to reward agribusinesses that produce a great volume, with little regard to sustainability or other important considerations.

4. Economic viability: sustainable operations tend to require more land and more labor than their “more efficient” counterparts. This can make it difficult for start-ups to reach profitability.

5. Lack of Scalability: what works well for one sustainable livestock operation won’t necessarily work for another, and that’s ok! However, because there is no franchise model that can be duplicated across the country, increasing the supply of sustainably sourced animal products may be challenging.

Categories
Agriculture

How We’re Helping Small Farmers Gain Access to Capital

Let’s talk about a BIG issue that small farmers everywhere are confronted with: access to capital. In the United States, starting a farm generally costs hundreds of thousands of dollars (for acquisition of land, equipment, inputs, etc.) But agriculture is a business that just doesn’t bank well. It’s a cash intensive business, with low return on investment, and unpredictable cash flow. Beginning farmers are at a greater disadvantage, because they don’t have a financial history for their operations, which means that banks don’t have sufficient knowledge to grant them loans.

While we can’t necessarily do much for other farmers like ourselves in the United States, we do have the power to help farmers in developing nations! Through Kiva, we can fund micro loans to farmers in other parts of the world, where start-up costs are much lower (in terms of USD). This is not a donation, but rather, a very low interest loan that will allow the recipient to purchase materials to kickstart a new farming business, or give their existing business a major boost. The recipient pays the loan back over time, and the money is returned to our account. Kiva loans have a 97% repayment rate. Once one loan has been paid back in full, we’ll find a new project to invest in. The beauty of lending through Kiva is that it isn’t just for the wealthy; through crowdfunding, the platform allows ordinary people like us to make a difference, and to know exactly where our dollars are going and who they’re going to. If you have $25 to spare, YOU can afford to lend through Kiva!

Pictured right is Virgilio, the first farmer that we lent to through Kiva. He is a coffee grower in Costa Rica, and he has been working in agriculture for over 50 years! He used the proceeds from his loan to purchase agricultural inputs to improve the productivity of his plants, increasing his harvest and thus his household’s income.

We know firsthand that the ability to access capital during a farming operation’s early years can make the difference between success and failure. We had a number factors in our favor when we started our business: we both had very strong credit, we had savings (that we quickly exhausted), we had a solid grasp of finance and the banking system, we had some wonderful people in our corner at the Farm Service Agency who helped us secure loans, and we had a supportive family from whom we could borrow. Without all of these things, we may not have made it to where we are today, and we still have a lot of growing left to do! We recognize that we are incredibly privileged, and we want to use our position to spread a little bit of good in the world. We plan to set aside a small portion of our profits each year to be distributed as micro loans to farmers across the globe. In the hands of these farmers, our capital will be put to use creating better livelihoods and more sustainable food systems in their communities. It’s all part of the “Eat Local, Think Global” mantra!

Categories
Agriculture

Sustainable Ag: What It Is, and What It Isn’t

Preface: I’m just wrapping up my second semester of graduate school. I was asked to write a one page reflection on my changed, enlightened, or steadfast views on sustainable agriculture. 

I can confidently say that I am finishing this semester with a changed view of what it means to practice sustainable agriculture. I don’t know that my definition of sustainable agriculture is very cohesive, as there are so many practices that can fall under that umbrella, but I have a clear picture of what sustainable agriculture does not do. It doesn’t deplete the soil, the water, or biodiversity on any level. It is not dependent on fuels, fertilizers, or chemicals that are derived from a limited resource. It doesn’t exploit laborers, consumers, or governments. Sustainable agriculture is not wasteful.

Sustainability is so much more than just a set of practices deployed at the farm level. Sustainable agriculture requires the participation of all parties: suppliers, producers, distributors, consumers, and regulators. It does more than put food in the mouths of the hungry, it nourishes communities by creating livelihoods and connections between people. Sustainable agriculture will play a part in undoing the environmental degradation that has been done, and in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Sustainable agriculture will never look exactly the same in one place as it does in another. It is adaptable to small changes and to large ones. It’s constantly evolving to meet the demands of an evolving food system and world. There are many groups working to further the reach of sustainable agriculture, and while they may never agree about the best way to do it, that’s ok. Focusing solely on optimizing practices seems to have led us astray, so perhaps there’s room for a little bit of disagreement and disorganization.

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Agriculture

Small Farms, Big Impact

I’d like to preface this by saying that I support ALL farms. Big farms, small farms, first generation farms, seventh generation farms, conventional farms, organic farms; they’re all helping to combat food insecurity in their own ways, and they all deserve recognition for their contributions! However, we consumers are often put in a position where we have to choose which type of farm we want to support with our food dollars. When given the choice, I would encourage you to choose to purchase from small farms. Here’s why: small farms have big economic impacts.

Support for small farms translates to support for entire communities. A dollar in the pocket of a small dairy farmer may be spent at the hardware store up the road, the local feed mill, or the tractor dealership in the neighboring town. That dollar stays in the regional economy, helping local businesses to thrive. Large farms tend to be vertically integrated, meaning that they handle their own supply or distribution stages, and thus aren’t dependent on other businesses to meet those needs. Vertical integration is great in theory, as it allows the farms to control their costs and leads to increased efficiency. Vertical integration can also spell disaster for rural communities. For example, a hundred small farms purchasing their grain from the local feed mill will keep the feed mill profitable, but if most of those hundred small farms are acquired by one large farm that produces its own grain, the feed mill will have to close its doors. The few small farms that remain will be left without a feed supplier and may end up closing their doors as well.

Another impact that small farms have on their communities is employment opportunity. Small farms employ more people per acre than do large, industrialized farms. (Fortuna) More job opportunities in rural communities lead to lower poverty rates, lower unemployment rates, and fewer people moving away in search of gainful employment. Technically, small farms are less efficient than large farms because the costs of labor and other inputs are higher per unit of product, but this doesn’t mean that small farms are inefficient by any means. The efficiency difference is marginal in most cases. This may mean that we consumers pay a little bit more for products from small farms, but that’s ok with me. 

I’m not saying that large farms are “the bad guys”. On the contrary, I applaud them for successfully growing their businesses. What I am saying is that many small farms can be a force for good in rural communities, and that collectively, their impact is greater than that of a few large farms. Because of this, the small farms win my food dollars every time, and you should consider giving them yours, too!

Works Referenced

Fortuna, Carolyn. “Economic and Social Impact of Family Farms – and Their Loss.” The Inspired Economist, 26 Apr. 2019, inspiredeconomist.com/2017/01/12/economic-social-impact-family-farms-loss/#:~:text=Economic%20instability%3A%20Areas%20having%20more,is%20spent%20in%20the%20community. 

Categories
Agriculture

Separation of Dams and Offspring

Did you know that in addition to working on the farm, working off the farm, and wrangling a wild 2 year old, I somehow find the time to go to grad school? (I know, I can’t believe it either.) I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Environment, which is something that I get really excited about! Recently I wrote this brief paper for my Agricultural Advocacy course. The assignment was to develop an advocacy plan based on an animal welfare issue. I wanted to share it here on our blog because it explains why we separate our goat kids from their mothers at birth and raise them as “bottle babies”.

Written Response #2: Separation of Dams and Offspring

     Throughout my career in the dairy industry, one question I’ve often been asked is “why do you take the babies away from their mothers when they’re so young?” When I worked with Holstein cattle, my answer was always that it was to protect the calves from being injured. Cows can be very rough on calves for a variety of reasons. An experiment conducted by California dairyman Mark McAfee revealed that only about 30% of his cows exhibited exceptional mothering ability; the other 70% neglected their calves, allowing them to be stepped on by other cows or attacked by coyotes. (Law, 2018) It is often thought that the selection pressure that has been placed on other attributes, such as milk production and confirmation, have led to maternal instincts being essentially “bred out” of dairy animals. 

Now that I work exclusively with goats, who tend to make excellent mothers, that question has become harder to answer. However, in order to be a good advocate for my industry, I need to be prepared with clear, consistent responses that are backed by science. On my family’s farm, we separate the kids from their mothers at birth. I have three reasons for doing this: to protect the newborn from illness, to ensure that the newborn receives adequate nutrition, and to promote the udder health of the dam.

    When calves (and kids) are born, they have no active immune system. (Nash, 2017) They are fragile and particularly susceptible to any pathogens that may exist in their environment. I believe that the biggest threat to my herd is coccidiosis, or diarrhea caused by an environmental protozoan called coccidia. Coccidia are always present in adult goats and sheep, who pass oocytes through their feces. (Metzger, 2018) On other farms, caprine arthritis encephalitis (CAE), caseous lymphadenitis (CL), and Johne’s disease may be of concern. Contact between kids and infected dams is thought to be the main cause of CAE transmission. (“Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Part Two”) All three of these major goat diseases have the potential to be passed through milk. The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) advises that kids should receive colostrum from does that have been tested free from disease, and that milk should be pasteurized if contamination is possible. (“Johne’s Disease”, 2015) 

The kid’s consumption of adequate amounts of colostrum and milk during its first few days of life are key to its survival. As previously stated, young ruminants are born without an active immune system. They depend upon passive transfer of immune antibodies through colostrum. Timing of colostrum feeding is critical, as the newborn is only able to absorb the immunoglobulins during the first day of life. (Selk, 2020) Kids need to be fed at least 10% of their body weight in colostrum within 24 hours of birth. (Bentley) It is impossible to ascertain that these standards are being met if the kid is left to nurse from the dam. Additionally, weaker kids may find it difficult to nurse if the dam and siblings are active. Rearing youngstock artificially allows for all of their nutritional needs to be met and for their growth to be carefully monitored. 

    While there isn’t an abundance of evidence to support a causal relationship between dam-raising kids and mastitis infection in dairy does, my experience has proven a correlation. Does nursing multiple offspring are among the goats most commonly affected by mastitis. (Schoenian, 2017) Pasteurella haemolytica, a pathogen causing chronic mastitis, may be spread to the teat from the mouth of a kid that has pneumonia. (Metzner, 2008) Kids frequently cause injury to the udder as well. In the words of experienced goat rancher Suzanne Gasparotto, “kids are hard on udders and teats; they bump, hit, and sometimes bite when trying to access milk.” (Gasparotto, 2013) To lower the chances that my does’ udders will be compromised, I prefer to milk them twice daily using sterilized equipment, and then bottle-feed the milk to the kids, rather than allowing the kids to nurse.

    Being truthful and outlining the more compelling reasons behind my position is how I intend to advocate for my industry. As a business owner, I am well aware of the importance of public perception. I make a point of sharing facts about livestock and animal care practices via social media, my farm’s website, and by engaging in discussions with the public at farmer’s markets and other events. In the near future, I plan to host farm tours, so that I can educate people about the issues surrounding animal agriculture and create a positive experience that they will hopefully remember and share with others.

Works Cited

Bentley, J. (2018). Colostrum Management for the Dairy Goat Kid. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis Part Two: Preventing and Controlling CAE. Ontario Goat. (0AD). https://ontariogoat.ca/goat-gazette/caprine-arthritis-encephalitis-part-two-preventing-and-controlling-cae/.

Gasparotto, S. W. (2013, April 11). Udders and Teats. Meat Goat Mania. http://tennesseemeatgoats.com/MeatGoatMania/April2013/index.html.

Johne’s Disease – American Dairy Goat Association. ADGA. (2015, May 17). Law, T. (2018, August 13). Why some dairy cows make bad mothershttps://ethicalfoods.com/mothering-instinct/.

Metzger, M. (2018, November 19). Preventing coccidiosis in goats and sheep. MSU Extension. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/preventing_coccidiosis_in_goats_and_sheep.

Metzner, D. M. (2008). Udder diseases. http://www.rinderskript.net/skripten/klw-4.html.

Nash, J. (2017, September 19). Why are Dairy Calves Separated from their Mothers? Milk Means More. https://www.milkmeansmore.org/dairy-calves-separated-mothers/.

Schoenian, S. (2017, April 14). Mastitis is Udder Madness. Lancaster Farming. https://www.lancasterfarming.com/news/southern_edition/mastitis-is-udder-madness/article_2e6176dc-5941-5ab0-97a0-933ef4569d32.html.

Selk, G. (2020, December 15). Most Passive Immunity Occurs in the First Six Hours. Drovers. https://www.drovers.com/news/beef-production/most-passive-immunity-occurs-first-six-hours.

Categories
Agriculture

The Facts On Raw Milk

The sale and consumption of raw milk is a bit of a hot topic. Like it or not, the laws prohibiting the consumption of raw milk were put in place to keep people safe. In my home state of New Hampshire, they take the motto “Live Free or Die!” quite literally. There, the sale of raw milk is legal and almost entirely unregulated. Here in New York it’s a different story. While raw milk sales are legal, it is exceedingly difficult to become a licensed raw milk dairy. We’ve found the licensing process to be cost prohibitive for small farms like ours, so we decided to go in a different direction and sell our raw goat’s milk for pets. There is a thriving market of dog and cat owners who purchase raw milk as a probiotic for their furry companions, however, we recognize that there is probably a percentage of that customer base who aren’t buying milk for the intended purpose. We definitely don’t encourage it, but since there isn’t much we can do to stop it, we want to do our part to educate people so that they can make safe choices regarding raw dairy products.

If you are choosing to partake in the consumption of raw milk, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Sanitation is everything!

  • You should NEVER buy milk from someone who doesn’t use a closed milking system. Dirt, hair, feces and insects can easily fall into a milking pail. Even though these things can usually be strained out, the milk has been tainted and should not be consumed.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your farmer questions! He or she should be able to walk you through all of their sanitation protocols step by step. Some things to listen for are:
    • Washing all of the milking equipment with soap and hot water.
    • Rinsing all of the milking equipment with some sort of acid. This prevents solids from being redeposited after the initial wash.
    • Using teat dip before and after milking.
    • Wearing gloves during milking.
    • Using a clean towel to wipe each goat’s teats.
    • Chilling milk immediately after milking. When the milk comes out of the udder, it is around 100 degrees (the body temperature of the cow or doe). Milk will spoil quickly if it is left sitting in the barn at this temperature.
  • The living conditions of the animals play a big role in milk safety, as well as in the health and welfare of the animals. Pens should be kept clean to prevent the cows or does from contracting mastitis (an infection of the mammary glands). Dirty pens lead to dirty animals, which leads to an increased chance of fecal contamination during milking.
  • Milk should be tested regularly. There are several different tests that can be used to assure the safety of raw milk. Which tests are run and how often isn’t of particular importance, what matters is that your farmer is monitoring their bacterial counts and taking measures to keep them low. I will share more about the different types of tests and how to interpret them in a later post. Testing can be expensive, but if someone says that they can’t afford to test their milk, you should be extremely wary, as this indicates poor management, which may extend to their herd management as well.

I will be making another post soon that will spell out our farm’s sanitation and testing protocols. We believe in total transparency; that’s why we will be making our milk test results available to the public. Our hope is that one day, consumers will become so well educated about agriculture that they’ll be able to make decisions about food safety themselves, and the current ultra stringent regulations will no longer be necessary.