Breeding Season: A Pivot
It’s almost breeding season…a fact that has been weighing heavy on my head and heart pretty much since we wrapped up the last kidding season.
Because as dairy farmers we are directly responsible and accountable for all those babies that are born. Or at least that’s how we think dairy farmers should feel. For the past three seasons we have worked tirelessly to find pet homes for our goats. 100’s of hours talking to potential buyers who never actually buy goats from us, managing all the people coming on and off the farm to pick out their goats, saying the words, “I’m sorry, I don’t have anymore Nubian Moonspotted Doelings” 50 kajillion times…it’s exhausting. Side Note: I think it’s some kind of universal rule that the people who take up the most energy from you are also the least likely to fill your cup in any way (emotionally or monetarily).
I’m not complaining. Just giving context. For a majority of dairy farmers, male kids and calves are taken off the farm in the cheapest and fastest way possible to be processed for veal, dog food, etc. This process is called “early disposal” and it’s one of dairying’s true “dirty secrets.”
This isn’t the fault of the farmer. This is the fault of an industry that just doesn’t care. We want our milk and we want our cheese and we want our goat milk soap and we don’t care how we get it. I can guarantee you if a farmer could make a profit, or even break even, growing out male kids and calves, they would. But for them it’s a choice between feeding their family or going under as a business. Dairy farmers, like many farmers, are beholden to what the market will bear and this particular market has decided they’d rather pretend the problem doesn’t exist.
And so, going into our fourth breeding season, we are making a few changes.
Starting with this guy.
Meet Mune: The Guardian of the Moon.
He’s a Boer Buck. Well, technically a buckling since he was born in January. If you’re not familiar with the breed he’s a meat goat. There are two main “types” of goats. Meat and Dairy. The main difference is that meat goats grow infinitely faster and are much hardier than dairy goats.
We have a plan.
The kids from the breedings to Mune will go to VETS_CAFE, a non-profit in Chehalis, Washington (just down the road from us) that works to support veterans and allies in acquiring skills that launch or refine careers in Conservation, Agriculture, Forestry and Ecological Design. It’s an incredible resource for those who feel a calling to farm after they leave the military and we’re proud to be part of it (especially because I am a Veteran). We will be donating the goats to them so they can raise them out on pasture, ethically and responsibly, and help to fill the void in their community for locally raised goat meat. (Did you know the US is Australia’s number one customer for their $218 million market when it comes to importing goat meat?)
It’s taken us a long time to get to this point. For the past three years we’ve managed to re-home all of our goats to pet homes, by giving them away to 4Hers and selling them at an impossibly cheap price. And we will still do that. But, a few situations this year, where former owners asked for goats to come back to us, got me thinking about the sustainability of this model and, it’s why we’re pivoting.
We will still have full dairy goats available for those who want backyard milkers or 4H projects (both dairy and meat, Mune’s kids can be registered as a percentage and showable in ABGA shows).
Our farm eats meat, we raise pigs off the whey from our cheese, we grow out chickens in our pasture for our freezer, and we have been known to harvest the occasional goat when their personality doesn’t fit in our herd. As meat eaters we have always been very cognizant of the lives these animals led prior to becoming nourishment and none of that is changing.
What’s important to us is that we are honest with our community on every step of the process. Kid and calf management tends to be one of the things that dairy owners “sweep under the rug”. Let’s face it, no one wants to think about where those creatures go after they’re born.
But we should be thinking about it, and we should care. We should care that the animals producing our milk are given rich and full lives and we should care that the offspring they produce are treated equally well. Matthew and I refuse to be one of those dairies that dumps babies in slaughterhouses or local rescues and so this is our answer to a problem that has been slowly building over the years. It is, what we hope, the right solution for us as we continually work to build a sustainable business model that allows others to mimic what we are doing and start their own microdairies, while making a living wage.
We hope you’ll continue to support this farm and, we hope that you’ll keep asking the hard questions that help make sure your consumer dollars are creating a world that values animal welfare. Those daily choices, many of which are happening in the supermarket aisle, can make a difference.
And if you need a little nudge, just do what we do.
Look for the peacock on your cheese and you’ll know that your food was made with love, not just for the consumers but also for the creators of the cheese!