Some families camp, dive into a half-dozen sports activities or play music together. Greg and Maurine Brown and their 11-year-old daughter, Rachel, raise and show miniature dairy goats.
With the recent births of 18 kids, 38 Nigerian Dwarf goats roam several acres in the Brown’s Zebulon backyard, mowing the lawn and gnawing on loose hanging branches from the surrounding woods. Two furry dogs, a Great Pyrenees and a Pyrenees mix, mingle with the goats, protecting them from wildlife, or usually, the neighbor’s dog.
The Browns moved out of their subdivision within the past year to make room for a hobby that has rapidly expanded from three goats five years ago.
“We do it because we enjoy it,” Maurine Brown said. “It’s a whole family type thing.”
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It’s not exactly the most lucrative past-time, but it’s fun, teaches their daughter hard work, and provides their family with fresh dairy products. One goat can produce a quart of milk daily, which their family can drink or churn into cheese.
Maurine, who works as the director of the Zebulon Farmer’s Market, milks nine goats twice a day – those that aren’t feeding babies.
Backyard goat farmers are an “eclectic group,” she said. In one of her goat clubs, a teacher raises a few in her backyard, or a veterinarian keeps a herd on several acres.
Preparing for the show
Zamia, a tan goat with a white circle circling her middle, reigns as the Brown’s permanent grand champion.
“The number one thing on her is her udder,” Greg Brown said. He works full-time with BB&T, but spends evenings restocking the hay bales or weekends trucking the goats to shows.
At the shows, the goats are judged by their angular back, straight withers and sickle-shaped, widespread back legs.
“Dairy goat judging is a lot like judging figure-skating. It’s a little subjective,” Greg Brown said.
Nearly all of the Brown’s 20 adult goats hold grand or Reserve – first or second place – ribbons. It’s hard for the Nigerian Dwarfs to be mentioned as overall show champions, since they are relatively new to the show scene and the American Goat Society.
The Browns attend about five shows a year, even traveling to the N.C. Mountain State Fair near Asheville. They started their first show this year Friday.
The payoff isn’t bad – a championship ribbon at the N.C. State Fair offers $50 and winning the show can fund their hay supply for the year. Selling their goats around the country also helps them break-even – each registered kid can sell for around $300.
In preparation, Maurine will milk them to prepare them for the goat milk contest and trim their course hair in “buzz-cut” fashion.
Rachel has been showing her goats since she was 6. She pulls out a shoebox overflowing with ribbons, and displays her first one, a light blue ribbon from a youth show.
“My first year I didn’t know how to show them,” she said. “But someone helped me and I won.”
This year, as a veteran dairy goat handler, she’s prepared to win some more. She might just need a bigger box.