Goat farmer never expected to be … a goat farmer
By CARLY TAMBORSKI
Every farmer takes a different path into the world of agriculture. While some go into farming because their parents did, others participated in 4-H or the local FFA programs and go on to have careers in the agriculture industry.
To most, the idea of farming puts images of large scale operations and sun-up-to-sun-down hours of sweaty labor into their minds. Rarely is it thought of as a hobby or done so successfully on the side. Those who want to ease into the industry should take a lesson from Susan Loudon, a goat farmer just south of Georgetown.
Loudon, now in her 50s, never expected she would one day be a goat farmer. But when you see a baby goat, it’s hard to turn away.
“I fell in love with it,” Loudon said of why she brought home her first goat.
She and her husband Keith have two sons, now 37 and 34, who became highly involved in 4-H during their youth.
It all started in 1989.
“The boys wanted to get into 4-H and they wanted sheep,” Loudon said. “So we went to Carol Saner’s and got sheep. When we were there I fell in love with a goat that she had, so I brought it home and it’s expanded from there.”
Loudon grew up in Georgetown, graduated from Georgetown High School, and lived in town until she married Keith in 1975.
They met in high school, as many couples in Brown County do.
“My husband and I raised the boys in town, and then we moved out here about 15 years ago,” Loudon said.
Initially, the goats were all dairy, but the Loudons rarely milked them.
“We didn’t make milk products,” Loudon said. “We never milked, if we did milk it was just for fun to make a pie or ice cream with it.”
And they did it by hand.
But for the most part, the Loudon boys used the dairy goats for their 4-H projects with a few organizations, including the Georgetown Hooves and Halters.
Eventually, they moved on from sheep.
“The boys just lost interest,” Loudon said. “They started raising goats and they got into cattle, too.”
And eventually, the Nubian dairy goats started breeding.
“We just started breeding them and we had little kids,” Loudon said. “Then we decided to go more into the meat goats because we weren’t milking our dairies, so we’ve had meat goats ever since.”
Since 1995, the Loudon farm has been all meat-goat. The Loudons prefer to raise Boer goats. The Boer buck was used to breed the dairy goats, and the operation has grown from one to almost 40 goats.
“Right now we have nine does, we have 20 babies that have been born since Jan. 20, we have nine yearling does and one buck,” Loudon said.
“Yearling” means they were born last year at this time. Out of the 20 babies, 13 bucks were born. The baby bucks are referred to as “market weathers,” meaning castrated males.
“Those will all be sold for 4-H projects within the next couple months,” Loudon said. “And then our baby does that we have, we’ll decide which ones we want to keep for replenishing our herd.”
The Loudons used Artificial Insemination for a while but got out of it when it became too time consuming. Luckily, the job was just as easily accomplished by letting the Boer buck mingle with the does for a few weeks.
“Usually we put them out in the field together,” Loudon said. “I leave him in for at least five or six weeks and then we take him back out, but he usually does his job in about 10–12 days. And he was a young buck this year — he was only six months old when we used him.”
Loudon can tell which goats are pregnant due to their size.
“They get very huge,” she said.
Because of the timing of the fair projects, the Loudons try to schedule the breeding to align with fair clients.
“It takes five months for them to have their babies,” Loudon said. “We usually don’t breed until Labor Day weekend — that puts us to having Feb. 1 babies — but my buck jumped the fence this year.”
4-H clients have to get their goats by early summer.
“Usually by the end of April and first of May they’ll be coming to pick out their goats and they have to have them in their possession by June 1,” Loudon said. “Then they keep them and feed them out for the fair.”
“They’ll come and pick them up and take them to their farm or house, and they’ll have a pen for them,” Loudon said. “Usually with a goat, you play with it, you run it and get muscles built up on them.”
The lifespan of a Boer goat is usually 10–12 years.
In September, students will take the market weathers to the fair, show them, and then sell them through the fair sale.
And when their 4-H customers do well at the fair, the Loudons benefit as well.
“We benefit if they place first in their class or get grand champion, and that comes back reflecting on our herd, that we have good stock,” Loudon explained.
And the goats have won many times. In fact, Loudon has a nephew in 4-H who got first place in two of his classes.
“He was very excited,” Loudon said. “We’ve had grand champion four or five times over the years.”
Although the Loudons do not slaughter their goats, many are eventually used for their meat through the fair sale.
“The goats that go for 4-H, the kids understand that they have a terminated project and that they’re raising this for somebody to eat down the line,” Loudon said. “For us to sell to a meat producer, no, we don’t do that. We have a tremendous amount of calls — people wanting to get started in the goat herd, or who want does, and we’ve provided several does for people to get started.”
As for the does, they try to sell them and advertise them for sale, which keeps business pretty steady.
“We usually don’t have a problem getting any of them sold,” Loudon said. “We do keep some of our little does. Those will be used to replace anything in our herd that we don’t feel is good enough any longer.”
But not everything in the process was so easy.
“When I first got into this, yes, it was very hard to see them go,” Loudon said. “But you kind of get it in your head that you’ve got to let them go because you would have so many animals that you couldn’t take care of all of them.”
Except for the time when they used artificial insemination, the Loudons use no technology in their goat farming.
Their 44-acre farm was part of Keith Loudon’s childhood farm. When his parents passed away, it was divided between him and his brother. Keith and Susan Loudon took one side of the road while Keith’s brother has the other side. An average day on the Loudon goat farm is much different than a cattle operation.
“For me, the goats are small, they’re easier for me to handle, where cattle are larger and they sometimes scare me,” Loudon laughed.
In the mornings it takes about half an hour to do all the feeding. “We have three little bottle babies so that takes a little bit more time,” Loudon said. “And then my husband works second shift so when he gets up in the morning, he goes to the barn and does all the watering and taking out of the hay, and then I have another half hour to 45 minutes in the evening of feeding and taking care of them.”
The feed is about 16 percent protein, and is corn and oat-based.
The Loudons have one big barn and one smaller barn that they call their “kidding shed.” For Susan, the most stressful parts of goat farming exist shortly before mothers have their kids.
“The hardest part is when they get ready to kid and the weather is so cold,” Loudon said. “We have to be at the barn a lot, and we have an intercom system so we can listen for the babies being born and get there and get them dried off so they don’t freeze.”
When the goats have their babies, the Loudons place them in the kidding shed to watch them, to make sure that they’re nursing and to make sure that their mothers are stabilized and doing well.
Another stress are the changes in the industry, especially the rising cost of materials.
“The feed is very expensive, the price just keeps going up,” Loudon said. “And then you have to increase the price of your goats and you hate doing that to the kids in 4-H because you want to give them a chance.”
But there is a big payoff.
“My favorite part’s when you go to feed them and you get to watch the babies jump around in the pen and play on their mommies,” Loudon said. “Goats have such a sweet personality and they love to be played with. The more attention they get the more they want.”
Susan Loudon doesn’t know how long she’ll stay in the goat business, but recommends goat farming as a great way to farm on a smaller scale, especially if those who are interested in it already have primary careers.
(Carly Tamborski is a reporter for the News Democrat and Ripley Bee, located in Brown County.)