I guess it isn’t a really fair comparison but I did get your attention, huh? Most people who really know me – I mean really know me – know that I have dedicated most of the past 12 years to studying dairy goats, their health, milk procedures, parasites and everything goat! A conversations with me can start about beans, politics or even the weather and somehow will end up on goats. My education did not consist of picking up a book once a week or reading a couple articles on the internet, I mean I have really studied. Honestly, I came out of college as a teacher and even worked for a while as a teacher but know far more about dairy goats than I ever knew about teaching and that cost thousands of dollars to learn in college! I would wager I easily have tens of thousands of hours invested in this education – way more time than I ever had in college – and there are days I still think I don’t know squat! From the heavy goat medical books from the veterinary world that I have sat with medical dictionary in hand deciphering the sentences that were so far over my head, to internet learning, to helping others and thus learning myself, to the school of hard knocks which I have been a top scholar, it wasn’t a quick process! Each day I am looking up something, reading a new outlook or hunting through past notes to remind myself of knowledge that I need to retain.
And if you have spent just a little time with me, you know I have a couple of pet peeves. Number one smoking – I can’t stand to smell it. While I am not allergic, I just don’t like to smell stinky things – give me a manure pile any day to delight my nose instead of a cigarette! Cigars sometimes are okay if they are good ones and short term exposure. Most of my friends are very respectful and will either step out of “my bubble”, roll down the car window if we are riding together in their car (it ain’t gonna happen in my car) or not smoke at all around me and I appreciate their consideration – these efforts show their mama raised them right. I won’t preach to you to quit (not too much) but I will mention how bad it is for you if I see you smoking. That is my obligation as a friend to do so!
The second thing it doesn’t take long to learn is when I get an email or phone call saying “we just got a couple dairy goats and thought we would go into the dairy business” or some form of the previous that can go from we just retired and thought we would make extra money like you are doing to I am wanting to learn about goats to milk in my back yard and maybe start a dairy too. When they call me saying they just got goats and don’t know a thing about them I really get upset. Would you get a parrot, monkey or a cow without any research?
I don’t know what goes through people’s minds. If you have been around me for any amount of time it is hard not to have a new understanding of goats, how I love my goats and a gain a vast knowledge of goat trivia. I teach the FFA and 4H groups as those are the ones that will take over when I am ready to retire. But are they competent to run a herd or dairy? No way. It takes years of learning to be a competent goat herder and I don’t think I am even close to that as of yet. I have my mentors, Trisha, Sue and a handful of others that were in diapers when they started raising goats (just kidding on that one but most have 30-50 years of experience) and they have been instrumental in keeping my losses down and my health standards optimum. Did I call them and ask them to teach me about goats because I wanted to go into the industry or just wanted a couple for backyard production? No, I didn’t. I did my own homework, asked a lot of questions and developed a mutual respect so they understood that I was willing to put in the effort and they were there when I needed a guiding hand. I never asked them to do my work for me, but asked them questions when I was puzzled along the way. I have fostered friendships with those in the industry, befriended veterinarians that were able to acknowledge that some lay people can actually grasp a fair amount of knowledge without getting frequent visitor awards with weekly visits to the practice, and pestered manufacturers and testing laboratories to explain their products and procedures which I might not totally understand, but one day might be the building block to an eureka moment.
One of the biggest learning tools was from my son and daughter being science fair exhibitors all relating to internal parasites in goats. How about this for a title? “The 11 Internal Parasites Prevalent in Florida Goats” As a goat owner, one of the biggies that can affect milk production, herd health and your sanity is parasites. Had it not been for my son’s project in one of our first years of goating, I don’t think I would ever had received the early basic understanding that I have on parasites or still had goats standing today. That gave me one of those building blocks to competence and I was aided by a kind vet professor that reviewed all of son’s information for the project. Can I teach that to you? Maybe in a couple years, but not in an afternoon.
Do I want to share my knowledge for free so you can be my competition that I spent all that time learning? I don’t think so. If you have a sick goat and call me at 3am to help, I am not going to hang up on you and will hang in there with you until there is improvement but I am not going to teach you my profession so you can go it the easy way. I get well intentioned folks calling that want to “volunteer” to learn. Most don’t think it through and understand the liability issues which relate to a barn. If you are volunteering at my farm and accidentally poke your foot with the pitchfork, it gets infected, the foot ends up being amputated due to gangrene, what happens? My biggest fear is that I end up in court with a lawsuit for the next ten years trying to save my homestead from become sale fodder to pay medical bills and disability claims for the rest of your life because Cantankerous and Cantankerous think it was my fault for being nice and I need to pay. I have volunteers from time to time but it is generally folks I already know, know how they approach life and can trust to have good judgment in this instance. I have to take calculated risks! The childrens’ godparents are both personal injury attorneys so I guess I have been lectured to the ends of the Earth and they have made it a point to scare the beejeebers out of me! I have to ask myself, will a volunteer(s) cost me time or actually save me time and effort with their skills and attitude. I have never had anyone here that wasn’t well intentioned, but I have had many that just scared me with their lack of common sense!
Early on in this business I would gladly allow folks to follow me for the day, asking questions, teaching them how to milk (and sometimes their four kids they hauled along) and it would backfire. I wanted the world to be able to share the joy I had for my goats. Next thing I knew, they had purchased a couple dairy goats (usually from someone that had them for sale cheaper or the .<dread> sale barn – but it was okay to get that free education from me) and were undercutting me on price and still calling me to hold their hand because they didn’t have time to do the research and now they have sick goats! Folks like this come and go. Usually a short lived endeavor, they realize it wasn’t easy money but really a time consuming hard labor occupation. They would fade out to pasture but folks would still remember that cut rate milk price but not remember it may have been for a cut rate product quality. It is for this reason I don’t encourage folks to get in the pet milk business. If every Tom, Dick and Nancy starts milking in their backyard, then someone is going to die! At the very least they will get sick – even thought in Florida we are only allowed to sell for pet consumption only – and it will look bad for everyone in the business. Not everyone has the same standards. One person’s idea of sanitary can be drastically different from another person. That difference in the interpretation of conditions optimum for producing, preserving and distributing milk can be very wide. For that reason some farmer’s markets will not allow dairy products to be brought to the market, for pet or human consumption, unless it is by the farmer themselves. They feel that the farmer knows the product, knows how to transport and maintain the product and will take the pride in something they produce to make sure it is superior!
Please, before you pick up the phone and call me saying you wanted to get a couple dairy goats and thought you would come look over my operations, think if you would ask this of your doctor, hair dresser or even car repair center? How do you think I feel when you have reduced my efforts to something you can absorb in an afternoon?
Part two to follow later.