It feels like a lifetime ago that we didn’t have these beautiful white goats in our lives. But in reality, it has only been two and a half years since our barn was empty (save for some chickens). We met Sara and Carl Davis of Oak Hollow Livestock in the spring of 2013 when we finally decided to take the plunge into at-home milking. I didn’t know anything about the different breeds of goats out there and mused even less about the dairy world. We had owned a couple of pet Nigerian Dwarf wethers (neutered males) in the past, but they certainly didn’t make milk, and I wrongly assumed that all goats were the same.
As I stood in Sara’s kitchen the day we went to meet Violet, an American Saanen that they had for sale, I stared out the window at the stark, stoic shapes lounging in the sun. They seemed a little bigger than I had expected, but it was hard to tell from a distance just how large they were. “Do you like this breed?” I asked Sara. “The Saanens? I do. Their milk is very mild, not goaty at all. And I’m really picky about milk.” She replied. “Plus they’re really quiet, which is nice if you live in a neighborhood.” So far, so good, I thought.
We gathered up our children (she and I each had two under 4 years old) and paced out to the goat pen. As we approached, a couple of the does got up and walked slowly to the gate. They didn’t yell and jump around like our Nigerians would have. They maintained their dignity and quietly assessed us with kind, but careful eyes. One took a long sip of water and then raised her head and blinked as if preparing herself for the formal introductions. There were three adults and two kids in the pen.
One of the kids trotted excitedly to the fence, squeezed her face through the mesh barrier and bucked her little bodily around so vigorously that I was sure she was stuck. But moments later she popped through the other side and trotted over to us. “She’s a bottle baby” Sara explained “And she thinks we have food for her.” Jacob, then only three years old, gripped tightly onto my legs as the little goat bounded over and then nibbled my jeans looking for a source of milk. I squatted down with Kalina in my arms and gently stroked her neck. But that lasted only a few seconds since the kid immediately jumped up on my lap, worked her way to Kalina’s face and began suckling on her nose.
Sara opened the gate for us and we entered as a group, me holding on to Kalina and Jacob holding on to holding me. She closed the gate behind us and then made her way through the animals to Violet. Guiding her over to us by the collar, she told us about this doe and her extremely gentle nature. “We just don’t need three in milk now that our yearling is fresh.” I didn’t comprehend at least three of the words in that short sentence, but I gathered that they had more milk than they needed for their small family.
Violet was sweet. She stood still and let us pet her while we spoke. She chewed her cud and looked around and sniffed us softly as the children became more comfortable around the herd. These were the biggest goats I’d ever seen. Violet’s back nearly reached my hip and I had to bend my elbow to scratch her cheeks. They were slightly intimidating since I was used to miniature goats about a quarter of their size. But the overwhelming calm that they exuded gave me confidence that we had found the perfect family milk goat.
We left that day with a plan to find Violet a friend so that she wouldn’t be alone when we took her home in a few weeks. The second goat would be smaller, I envisioned. Since it would be mostly just to keep Violet company, I wasn’t overly concerned about breed or production ability. But as I perused the web and circled ads on Craig’s List for miniature mixed breeds, I wondered if buying a goat with unknown history from people who had no vested interest in what the animal was bred for was really the right choice. Sara seemed to know what she was doing. And she chose Saanens for a reason. I chose to trust her expertise and decided that we were on board too.
As luck would have it, in the meantime Sara and Carl had decided to sell “Wendy”, one of the other kids that was born at their farm that year. She was three months old and ready to be weaned, but had been dam raised and didn’t want to stop nursing from her mom. Moving her to a new home was the easiest solution, and since Violet was already coming with us (and we needed a second goat), keeping them together eased everyone’s transition.
Wendy became Windy when she arrived home with us. She was quite skittish, not being imprinted on people the same way that the very forward bottle kid we had met the first day was. But she was curious and slowly settled into her new surroundings. We worked together on routine and she followed in Violet’s veteran footsteps, watching morning milking and taking her turn eating on the stand each day. Before long she was bred and we waited, a little scared and a lot excited, for our first kidding. We learned together as we entered the world of breeding, kidding and raising animals for milk production.
She had a single buck her first year, which taught us how to say goodbye to an animal that we purposely bred and raised. This past year she gave us buck/doe twins. Again, we said goodbye to the boy since we didn’t need anymore pet goats. But we chose to keep her little girl, Hailey.
We entered Windy in our first ADGA goat show this summer and saw an entirely different side of the dairy goat world. So far we seem to fit better in the backyard milker category rather than competitive showing, but there is certainly value to the work and commitment that dedicated show breeders exude. We benefit every day from the selective breeding for milk production and conformation that has been done by breeders like that.
Windy has become a beautiful doe and it’s been a pleasure to watch her mature. She is a shining example of what a Saanen should be- sweet and gentle but strong and productive. I can only hope that Hailey follows in her footsteps. So far, so good. 😉
With Shine, our heifer, expecting her first calf in April and four dairy goats that we planned to freshen (come into milk after kidding) this spring, we found ourselves in a similar situation to the one that Sara and Carl experienced when they decided to sell Violet two years ago. Too much milk and too many animals for one little family.
So we made the difficult decision to sell Windy. She has fed us, taught us and kept us company. We raised her, fed her and kept her healthy. But we didn’t do it alone. All along Sara from Oak Hollow Livestock has been there supporting us. She is always kind, knowledgeable and responsive to any questions or requests for help we’ve had. (And there have been a lot of them…sorry Sara!) I’ve told her one too many times that I don’t know what we would do without her. But truly, she has been our savior guiding us into a life of self-sufficiency through the care of our animals.
By a twist of fate, at the very time that we needed to downsize, Sara and Carl felt the need to grow. They were looking for one more mature milker to add to their current herd. Enter Windy. Things have a way of working out. And as I felt the strain of giving up something that I loved, an animal that I had considered part of our extended family, Sara stepped up yet again.
Windy has been back at Oak Hollow Livestock for three days now. And although she will always have a home here, it feels like she has really gone home again. She was with us to teach us a thing or two. And that she did. She also left us a beautiful gift- Hailey, who will remind us of her patient, sensitive and soulful mother each time we look into her kind, but careful eyes.