2018 National Goat Conference
Eryn and I were fortunate to be a last minute recipient of a producer’s grant to attend the 2018 National Goat Conference in Montgomery Alabama.As far as we can tell, this conference, planned and hosted every three years by the 1890 Land Grant Colleges across the U.S., is one of their -unintentionally- best kept secrets for goat producers.
This year’s conference was hosted by Alabama’s Tuskegee University. Part of the conference was held at Tuskegee’s campus and farm facility while the other was held at the Renaissance Hotel just a block off the Alabama River in Montgomery, AL. Charter busses were provided to shuttle us to the various locations of these events.
The conference opened with a reception at the Tuskegee Airmen Museum Motion Field. Built in 1941 as the training facility for the airmen, two large hangers now house planes, memorabelia, video clips, and informational displays about the infamous airmen that fought both for victory in World War II and for their rights back here in America. It was at once a beautiful testimony of spirit, determination, intelligence and courage as well as a heart breaking reminder of America’s issue with our own slogan that “all men are created equal.” While we perused the displays, the “Taste of Chevron Cuisine Expo” was being setup in the Airmen’s clubhouse, a restored facility complete with a restored Wurlitzer juke box. The food was delicious—an amazing sampling of everything goat and a worthy representation of how goat meat and milk can be prepared and easily included in an American diet. The music and atmosphere in the hall, from the wood floors, decor, long, screened in porch and the squeaky screen door as we spilled onto the lawn under a starry night, conjured a nostalgic feeling of those days gone by – even for those of us not quite old enough to have experienced them first hand.
The next morning started early with a 6:30 AM bus ride over to the university. Mähendes Lohani of Heifer International started the conference off with a talk about the importance of goats in the world and Heifer’s work with supplying goats and providing in depth training to village representatives for goat care and medicine. His talk left us impressed with Heifer International’s efforts as well as wondering why we don’t have this type of training here where we have lack of goat knowledge in available livestock veterinarians, and in many places, no available veterinarians at all. This was a theme that recurred several times throughout the conference.
The sessions over the next two days were interesting and informative. Topics included the goat industry in general, its history in America, breeding/reproduction, and health. There were specific presentations that dove deeper into health aspects as well as where to purchase goats and how to buy a healthy goat and how to keep them healthy. New trends in goat keeping, dictated by the growing inefficacy of chemical parasite control, included grazing rotations and year round pastures designed for browsers. There were a number of talks on developing and maintaining the unique grazing systems that goats need to stay healthy. Many of the talks now have the word “sustainable” in the title, which is a positive trend in our view. There were also some very informational presentations on goat markets and marketing.
A highlight of the conference, were the hands-on sessions at the Tuskegee University Farm facility. The facilitators had 6 demonstrations running concurrently for an hour and repeating 3 times total. They included a session on carcass fabrication, use of unmanned aerial systems on the farm, guardian dogs breeds & training, FAMACHA, health management practices, and hay bailing and quality. Unfortunately, session locations weren’t clear, none of the loitering students had any knowledge of the event and some sessions had changed or been cancelled. In the confusion of it all, we ended up catching a good part of the health session which seems to be one of the most valuable sessions presented. A demonstration of an electric hoof trimmer was added and it was very interesting both in showing the capability of the machine, and in illustrating what a property trimmed hoof should look like.
The program culminated with a dinner, an interesting and informative talk by Steve Heart of the International Goat Association on the “Current situation and future prospective of goat industry in the U.S.”, and the presentation of the “Innovative Farm Awards” to three farms in the U.S. who are using innovative techniques not only to raise and market goat products, but to provide educational opportunities to their communities.
The conference was well worth the time and expense. There was a wealth of information presented. The speakers all had presentations packed with information that they couldn’t possibly cover in the time allotted but those presentations will all be available post conference and we are really looking forward to downloading them and studying them further. The hands-on activities, while somewhat limited by logistics were also packed with information and what we did learn was also well worth the time. Tuskegee University did a great job overall with the planning and implementation of this conference. More learning events and workshops at their farm facility for local producers will help them fine-tune those types of offerings. All in all, we left the conference with a lot of additional information and even hungrier for more.
Outcomes: Our desire is turn this raw, 40 acre, mostly wooded farm into a showcase for permaculture gardens and a more natural, woodland grazing system like silvopasture. We also care deeply about the health of our animals and wish to create and maintain a system where the animals live and feed in a more natural way that keeps them naturally healthy. The goal is to become a completely chemical free production farm. What we took away from this conference is that all of the goals are possible. We will be applying for grants available for grazing systems and more and develop a teaching farm that will support the efforts of Small Farm Outreach in these areas.