Goats touted as versatile farming option

Rainy River District is well-known for the quality and variety of livestock farming that takes place here. Besides cattle, one can find elk, bison, and some pig farming.
But Carol Inkster has gone one step further. She operates a goat farm on Allan Road, north of Emo, where she currently has 37 head consisting of eight different types of goats, for which she has a number of uses.
“Some are milkers, some are eaters, and some are for fleece,” Inkster said as she watched over a group of pre-schoolers from Fort Frances who were visiting her farm last Thursday.
“Some, like the LaManchia and Nubien, are dual purpose,” she added, meaning they produce both milk and meat.
Although goats are fairly common in the district, and across Northern Ontario in general, Inkster said few of them are registered or of show quality. She stressed people are missing out on a good thing.
“They’re fairly low-maintenance and they mature quickly,” she noted.
In fact, they mature so quickly that Inkster finds it necessary to separate the males and females a few weeks after birth because they are able to mate within a few months.
Most goats live for about 15 years, although occasionally some will reach almost 20. They are much more intelligent than sheep and apparently are not susceptible to diseases like scrapie and BSE.
They do have one characteristic Inkster finds unacceptable, though.
“I don’t like horns. That’s why I have them all de-horned as soon as possible,” she remarked.
Inkster’s aversion to horns is understandable—her daughter nearly lost an eye when she was accidentally gored while playing with a goat. Ever since then, Inkster has taken no chances.
That’s not to say goats are difficult animals to deal with, however.
“There are a lot of myths about goats,” Inkster said. “For one thing, they don’t usually eat everything in sight as some people think.”
In fact, Inkster said her goats actually are fussy eaters and will not touch food they feel has been contaminated.
Sometimes people will see goats apparently chewing on odd things like boots or rusty nails, but appearances can be deceiving.
“A goat’s sense of taste is much keener than its sense of smell,” she explained. “If a dog sees a nail lying on the ground, it will sniff it and walk away.
A goat will pick it up and move it around in its mouth to find out what it is before spitting it out.”
There are times when goats will eat bizarre things, but that is a sign of malnutrition, Inkster noted.
“Goats have a high metabolism and high mineral requirements,” she remarked. “They have a particular need for copper and selenium, and when they don’t get it, they start eating weird things.”
Goats actually are more like deer than sheep, added Inkster, noting they are browsers as opposed to grazers. That’s why every day during the growing season, she takes her goats out to the bush on her property and allows them to browse for at least an hour.
In addition, she provides them with mineral supplements, which they eat whenever they feel the need. This is particularly necessary during the winter when their diet is restricted mostly to hay, which does not have the high mineral content they need.
“The amount of copper they need would actually kill a sheep,” Inkster said.
Inkster does have two sheep on her farm, as well as two llamas. The llamas were bred to their close relatives, alpacas, and recently gave birth to hybrid young, which are known as harwitzos in their native Peru.
There was a reason for this. Although much smaller than llamas, alpacas are noted for having superior fleece and since wool is part of the reason Inkster raises goats, she felt it was a good match for her farm.
Inkster also has some Angora goats, which are raised exclusively for their fleece, whereas others—like the Boer—are butchered for their meat. She also raises Toggenburgs, Saanens, pygmy goats, and alpine goats.
From these, she gets milk, which is used to make cheese as well as a line of soaps, lotions, and paints. These she makes in her house and markets them under the label of Willow Tree.
The fleece from the Angoras and the llamas is carefully washed and then carded through a special machine Inkster bought from a man in Vancouver.
Although expensive, the machine quickly smoothes and separates the fibres so they are ready for spinning. Inkster spins the yarn on an old manual spinning wheel and makes hats, mittens, and scarves.
She also has found a cheap, effective way to dye the wool, too.
“I use Kool-Aid powder,” she said. “There’s a water-fast dye in that stuff that stays in after you’ve rinsed the powder out.”
To prove her point, she displayed a pair of mittens she made several years ago. “These have been soaked and dried again and again, and they’re still fine,” she stressed.
The goat milk is turned into cheese, yogurt, butter, and even paint. In fact, Inkster said she painted her entire barn with a home-made paint based on goat milk.
The meat she has butchered privately and makes up a substantial part of the protein in her diet. Some is turned into sausages and bologna while some is eaten as a roast or stew.
But most of all, Inkster said her goats are tame and friendly. Since she also runs a petting farm, it is this characteristic that most endears them to her.
“They’re my babies,” she admitted.