Our "starter" dairy goats come from the world-renowned Govardhan Gardens, run by Sadhu Govardhan. We have one buck, Ravi, and three does, Amani, her sister Mayani and Goatita.
Our goats eat the best quality feed and leaves from our organic trees, including mango, guava, breadfruit, breadnut and gandules. They live in extremely sanitary conditions. They spend their days outside playing and exercising in an enclosed pen/play area. From day one they are socialized with other goats and humans and they’re accustomed to living with dogs and cats. They respond extremely well to affection.
Please note: we will not sell our goats to anyone who wishes to eat their goats or kill them for any reason. They come from excellent linage and all available kids will make excellent dairy goats and sires.
How We Became Dairy Goat Farmers
We first contacted Sadhu toward the end of 2011 to ask him to consult us about the condition of our farm. Concerned that decades of using nitrogen-depleting fertilizer, pesticides and chemical weed killer had irrevocably damaged the plants and trees, we hoped the consultation would yield good news. We’d always known we wanted to plant trees that aren’t commonly grown on Puerto Rico, and we had done research on the Internet and discovered Sadhu.
We were instantly drawn to him for a variety of reasons: his tropical fruit tree collection (all of which he sells), his incredible knowledge, but probably most important to us were his goals for the environment—both short and long term.
They resonated with our own.
Sadhu visited our farm March 2012, and he spent several hours with us. He walked every square inch of the farm with us and afterward he gave us good news.
Although it would take hard work to rehabilitate the soil and existing trees, all the damage was reversible.
The three of us mapped out a plan of what should be planted “here,” what should be planted “there,” and how to make the best use of and learn to love our sloped terrain. Sadhu took into account types of soil in different regions of the farm, which areas get direct sun, which don’t and the overall aesthetics of things.
Prior to our visit with Sadhu, we had been open to the idea of getting dairy goats. We knew the best way to ensure we were using organic fertilizer was to produce it ourselves.
Both of us lactose intolerant and recognizing that we don’t have adequate land to keep cows, goats seemed a logical way to produce both dairy and manure.
In addition to buying the majority of our tropical fruit trees from him, resonating with Sadhu’s dedication to sustainability, it seemed a “no brainer” to buy our starter goats from him.
The advantage to starting a farm in the second half of our lives is that we’ve been able to draw on our life experience and observations to make evaluations about the way people raise and house their animals—both farm/livestock and domesticated ones.
All too often—both when we lived in the U.S. and since we moved to Puerto Rico—people think of animals’ comfort and needs as secondary or even tertiary to their own.
From chained up dogs, horses and goats with no respite from the elements to housing that is unsanitary and quite frankly, unlivable for anyone, we knew all too well what we didn’t want for our goats. We just weren’t entirely sure what we did want or what would be best for our goats.
Again, we consulted Sadhu.
Rather than the typical concrete housing we frequently see on Puerto Rico (assuming housing is offered to them), Sadhu built adjoining rooms using wood.
Using his plan, we emulated his pens. On one side of our mesa (one of only three flat areas on the farm), the does and kids live communally (each doe has her own pen, with weaned kids sharing a pen). On the other lives Ravi, the sire.
Raised three feet above the ground, when goats urinate and defecate, thanks to gravity and a slatted floor, both drop below.
This serves two important purposes:
• Goats aren’t forced to lie in their own feces and urine, which is obviously more comfortable and sanitary, and
• The pellets can easily be collected and added to compost
We used 2x6 pieces of lumber for the walls, because they’re sturdy and can withstand the force of a buck in rut (more on that later). The tropics can get oppressively hot and humid and this construction also provides ample ventilation. We live in the mountains, which is certainly cooler than at sea level and provide breezy days; temperatures, however, can get up into the 90s, with humidity sometimes hovering into the high 90s as well.
Roofs are made from wood, with sheet metal on top. This keeps things cooler inside, while providing shade from the sun.
Our pens can withstand normal winds and rain associated with summer thunderstorms. Although they could probably take the force of a tropical storm, not taking any chances, we built hurricane shelters below our house in 2013. These are made of concrete with reinforced steel.
In fact, they are as strong as our own home. Both the goat hurricane shelters and our home can survive up to 150+ mph winds.
These are important things to know when living in the tropics. They’re especially critical if you plan to keep animals.
Contrary to a commonly held belief that goats eat everything, including tin cans, goats are surprisingly very picky about their food.
Goats are herbivores who prefer foliage to grain. In fact, in most of the developing world, that’s all goats eat.
Left up to the goats—or perhaps phrased another way, goats who aren’t dependent upon human beings for their survival and nutrition—they’d eat a nutrient-rich diet consisting of leaves and vines.
We feed ours a variety of greens, among them:
• Mango leaves
• Breadfruit leaves
• Breadnut leaves
• Gandules more commonly known outside of Spanish speaking countries as pigeon peas. They can eat the entire thing, stems, branches and the actual pea pods.
• Avocado (Although dangerous for a pregnant doe; she can miscarry)
• Johnson grass
• A certain type of bejucos (invasive vines)
We supplement with alfalfa, Timothy grass and hay.
It’s our goal to grow sufficient amounts of the above greens to be able to eliminate the need grain. This is a few years off, however.
For the first three months of their life goats nurse off their moms. Kids are naturally curious, and they mimic what their parents do, so within a couple of weeks they're already eating leaves, vines and bejucos. Between the third and fourth week we introduce them to grains. The purpose to doing this so methodically is to stimulate the rumen.
As with all mammals, the older we get, the less energetic we are, however, this doesn’t mean we don’t need to walk around, stretch our legs and so forth. It just means the kids who put on acrobatic shows, slow down to a leisurely pace as they get older.
Going back to living conditions, we’ve seen (both in the U.S. and on Puerto Rico) animals being chained up and/or living in a space not even big enough to turn around. If this isn’t acceptable to us, why should it be for an animal who is expected to give you dairy (food) and fertilizer to grow your food?
Each goat sleeps in a pen that is five feet by five feet. Their fenced in area for them to run and play is 40 feet long by 16 feet wide.
Sometimes goats just like to leave their pens to stretch their legs and have a change of scenery, and then lie down. This is normal, especially in the summer.
Kids run, jump, twirl in the air, and they learn at a young age how to head butt. This is their way of establishing pack order among themselves. They, of course, try this with adults who have no problem putting them in their place.
Ravi lives on his own, segregated from the does and kids. This is best if we want to keep him from impregnating the does before we’re ready for them to kid again. It’s also necessary to keep him from trying to mate with his own kids. He has no idea whether a doe is available to him or off-limits. ☺
His pen is eight by eight feet and his play area is equal in length and width to the doe/ kid play area.
We’re still learning about goats. From housing and play areas to the food they eat and how much water they drink to maintaining their health and what to expect when does are expecting and delivering are the result of research, trial and error, listening to our goats and asking advice of knowledgeable people, like Sadhu and our vet.
Goats are naturally friendly and curious. Walk into their pens and play area and you've got one behind you trying to eat your pocket and another in front eating your shirt. Bend down and one will kiss you and another will lightly butt you with her head.
From day one we handle our goats. If we are fortunate enough to be around for their kiddings (we were for both Amani, Mayani and Goatita's firsts), we have literally been handling the kids since the moment they're born. In the case of Mayani and Goatita, this proved pretty critical because both Talulah and Zinha and Akia and Amari were in distress. So much so that Paul had to play midwife and help deliver both sets of kids.
For the first month and sometimes two of their lives we weigh them once a week. This helps us track their growth and discover any problems early on. As long as we can pick them up and hold them we do.
We don't just feed our goats and walk away. When we feed them greens (several times a day), we hand feed them. Although this isn't necessary because they can certainly eat on their own, it's our time to bond with them. Nothing says trust like hand feeding an animal.
So when we open their pens and the play area, we never want them running away from us. We want them to come to us--even if only to say hi.
With the exception of when Ravi is in rut (brought on by a doe going into heat or when he wants to make a doe go into heat), his demeanor is sweet and gentle. His favorite pastimes are showing us where the vulnerable spots are in the fence surrounding his play area, popping his head through the service window we made him and having his head scratched just behind his horns.
When he’s in rut, nobody on the farm is happy—least of all him. Well, of course if he’s able to mate with Amani or Mayani, he eventually calms down.
We bought Ravi in August 2012.
Once she had her first set of kids, she began to “chill out.” Although she might be considered sweet for her, she’s just not the goofball that her late sister Amani was.
Both Amani and Mayani are the offspring of Mohan, a pure Alpine sire from a renowned line. Their grandmother is Mohini (predominantly Saanen). Both Mohan and Mohini are Sadhu's goats.
Akia is one of the two sons of Goatita, who died in February during labor. His brother Amari is living in a town called Calle and is doing animal assisted therapy with children who have Down Syndrome.
Because a working farm can only have one intact male, both Amari and Akia are castrated. It's for their own safety. We didn't want to sell Akia to someone who might eat him and so we kept him but we can't keep him as a full stud because Ravi wouldn't love that.
Akia and Amari were born in April 2015.
After Amani and Goatita died in January and February respectively, we mourned their losses (and we still do) but we also had to get back to what we came here to do. We learned a lot about does and labor from those two back-to-back horrible experiences. So when we set out to buy a new girl, we had to ensure her mother or grandmother didn't have a history of their cervixes clamping shut during labor. We also wanted to make sure we found a girl with the potential to be a good milker.
In our small town is a man who has been breeding dairy goats for 40 years. Photos of Amelia's mother, grandmother and many sisters proved she could give us the milk we needed, would be easy to milk and the best was that she was already socialized from birth.
We brought Amelia home at the end of April 2016. She was born in January and so she'll sit out this mating season. We'll introduce her to Ravi in 2017.