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Goats, Dogs and the Good Life

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July 11, 2010 by wcobserver

By Steve “Ol’ Goat” Winkler

West Fork- It’s a beautiful thing to see. The view from the front porch rocker looks down on a peaceful narrow valley pasture nestled in the hills overlooking Mineral Springs Road north of West Fork.  The eye is first pulled to the sturdy cedar post, woven wire fencing enclosing a pond and a few tidy pole sheds.  Then the animals come into focus – goats and dogs.

John Jeffers and his wife relocated here in 2004 from out west, found their spot and began to explore the agricultural options for their 17 acre homestead.  Jeffers said he wasn’t interested in large livestock like horses and cattle. After talks with the county extension agent and some research he settled on meat goats.  People have raised goats in this region for generations but it was primarily for the high quality milk produced by dairy goats. Other than the occasional barbeque specialty, male milk goats had little value.

But times change and so do food preferences.  The interest in goats as a meat source changed as the ethnic makeup of the country saw an increase in Hispanic, Caribbean, African and other groups that consider goats a tasty and healthy source of protein.  The supply of domestic goat meat isn’t keeping up with demand, Jeffers noted. The U.S imports over 29 metric tons a year.   Having a growing market along with the low maintenance and hardiness of the animals made meat goat ranching attractive to him, he said.

“There are two ways to derive income from raising meat goats,” Jeffers explained- raising purebred/show stock or developing a commercial herd to supply the growing demand.  There are two main meat goat breeds: the Kiko which originates in New Zealand and the Boer from South Africa.  Purebred show champions can bring $40-50,000. But it’s a long expensive route to get to that point. Each offspring is DNA tested and intricate record keeping through many generations is required.  Jeffers said he first started in that direction but found that for his operation and inclination it was more cost effective to develop a commercial herd.  He has a 60 head herd of primarily Kiko and Boer cross.

Most meat goat breeders in our area sell their animals at the BUB Ranch buying station at Oregon County Mo.  Prices are posted on their web site and guaranteed for the whole sale day.  Goats have three grades based on carcass evaluation and weight. (Their web site also has a slide show explaining the grading system).  The May 29 prices were:  45-60 pound kids, grade #1-$1.65/pound, #2-$1.55/pound and #3- $1.00/pound. Price per pound decreases as weight increases.   A hundred does will produce, on average, 250 kids a year.  One acre will support about 7 goats.  Goats do better browsing the thickets and brush than grazing in pasture, Jeffers explained, not for nutritional considerations but because of the issue with a parasite.

There’s always a downside.  Goats are susceptible to a pesky little internal parasite called the “barber pole worm.” It’s easily detected and treatable, however.  Jeffers said he rounds up his stock and performs a “Famacha check” by examining their eyes using a color coded card that indicates the severity of an infection.  Infected animals are given an oral treatment.  Goats have another weakness – predators.  Which brings us to the other animals that occupy the Jeffers farmstead – dogs.

Interestingly, when Jeffers talks about his dogs he doesn’t so much refer to their breed or appearance but rather what he calls their “area of responsibility.”  He has pasture dogs, yard dogs and house dogs. Sometimes they make their own decision about that, he said.

The Jeffers ended up with 14 catahula puppies in the beginning of the year and kept three to watch over his goats on his property in West Fork.

Dogs bred to protect livestock are called…you guessed it…Livestock Protection Dogs –LPDs or some prefer LGD, Livestock Guardian Dogs.  Their origin parallels that of man’s earliest efforts to domesticate animals for food some 5000 years ago.  The prominent breeds are the Anatolian Shepherd, Great Pyrenees and Akbash. These breeds are known for their loyal and protective nature. They are large dogs yet affectionate and gentle.   These aren’t working dogs in the sense that they herd or lead livestock, nor do they hunt or retrieve.  Their particular skill is in hanging out with the goats or sheep they are responsible for.  They are pasture dogs, moving with the herd, lying down or moseying along, attentive to threats from intruders into their territory. “If they see something that doesn’t belong, they make sure it doesn’t come back,” said Jeffers who is obviously fond of Mr. Biggs and Dandy, his Anatolians.

Like all dog lovers with a rocking chair on their front porch, Jeffers likes to spin dog tales. The day we were there he related how he came to be advertising the Anatolian pups for sale on a bulletin board.  The pups were from an Anatolian that wandered up one day a few months ago. He circulated flyers, contacted local vets trying to locate the owner.  Weeks passed and no one came forward.  He said he began working with the dog in the goat pasture, judging her aptitude as a LPD.  About the time he was satisfied with her potential and his wife had grown fond of her the owner appeared.  They talked.  The dog’s owner suggested the Jeffers might keep the dog but pointed out that Anatolians are pretty valuable.  Jeffers agreed and offered a black buck kid as a trade. They talked some more.  Jeffers said after offering both the buck and a doe plus kicking in $100, he had another dog.

This acquisition brought his dog count to 8.  His chief yard dog is a Catahoula Leopard Hound.  These are Louisiana dogs sometimes called “hog dogs” for their unique skill in herding and hunting hogs.  This breed makes good watch dogs and according to the Cajuns that promote the breed they are equally skilled at herding cattle, hunting anything, swimming, climbing trees and yelping in a distinctive French accent.  Jeffers insisted their tails form the shape of a question mark when they’re on a hot trail.  Well, maybe.  The other canines in the pack around the house appeared to be some sort of mixed responsibility cross – part yard dog, part house dog and part pasture dog.

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