Goat cheese is the new veal

I have two new goats.

In a nod to Tom Sawyer and his fence, I told my sons the goats are for me only, and I want to take care of them. When my sons thought of 100 names for each goat, I told them that the person who takes care of the goats gets to name the goats.

So the goats are named Samuel and Snowflake. And I am supervising feeding instead of feeding.

I know you're not supposed to name farm animals you are planning to eat. But last summer my son bottle fed a calf that did not have a mom to take care of it, and now my son seems to be fine with the idea of killing the calf.

The farmer made the idea more palatable to my son by telling him that my son will get money for taking care of the calf. My son asked for $10,000. The farmer pointed out that we cannot sell a calf for $10,000 and when all was said and done with the financial lesson, it became clear that if you add labor, and milk replacer, and the small size of the orphaned calf, it costs more money to keep the calf alive and slaughter it for meat than it would have cost to kill the calf when it was born.

“We don't kill our animals here unless they are in pain,” said the farmer to my son.

So it was easy to explain to my son why our goats were free. “The dairy goat farmer doesn't want them,” I said. “It costs too much in labor and feed to keep the goat alive. That farmer would lose money.”

I didn't tell my sons that farmers all over the cheese belt of America are banging goat babies on the head to kill them as soon as they are born.

If this were a PETA blog, there would be really gross pictures. But my kids go to school with tons of dairy farm kids, so I have to be careful.

But here's the problem with the milk industry. To get milk from animals they have to give birth. And their milk slows down if they don't give birth a lot. If the dairy cow gives birth to a girl, there's hope that the girl cow will give milk when she grows up, so it's not a total waste of money to keep the calf alive.

If the dairy cow gives birth to a boy, there's not really anything to make it economically sensible to keep it alive.You have probably never had a dairy cow steak in your life—they're just not that good. But dairy cow meat can go into low-cost food like McDonald's hamburgers. So McDonald's is saving the lives of tons of boy dairy cows by creating a market for them.

The dairy goats are not so lucky. Just like the cow business, there are meat goats and dairy goats. But there is not enough money is the goat meat market for people to pay a decent price to kill dairy goats for meat. There's not enough meat on the dairy goat to make it worth raising the dairy goat.

So farmers that provide goat milk to the cheese industry kill the boy baby goats.

You can get angry at the farmers if you want, but what can they do? They could raise the prices of goat milk, but someone would undersell them. And people who are great at raising goats can't switch their farm over to something else. They don't know how and they don't have enough money for a capital investment.

We have seen this business problem before. We see it in corporate life all the time. It's much easier to make money without the burden of a moral compass. Until you go to jail. But also, most of us have our own moral compass and we are always trying to balance ethical problems: feeding ourselves and our families and being the good person we envision ourselves to be. Making real world business decisions requires a constant recalibration of the right and wrong of our own perspective against what's at stake.

The type of business makes a huge difference. Take Bernie Madoff, for instance. It's hard for me to understand the laws he violated and the numbers he faked. So who knows what I would have done with the opportunity to make decisions for him? But when I first met the farmer, I could look in his pig pen (technically called a “farrowing pen”) and see that I really don't like how he's birthing pigs. He has the moms immobilized so they don't roll over onto babies.

My perspective: It's inhumane to tie down an animal during birth and if pigs would roll over onto babies in natural childbirth then probably that's why there are such big litters—because some would die naturally.

The farmer's perspective: His whole system is set up this way and it's too much to change right now and it's just balancing the pain of a birthing mother versus the pain of a baby being squashed, and who am I to guess which is more painful? (This is what most animal arguments with the farmer come down to: “Don't anthropomorphize the animals!”)

So it's never absolutely clear to me what is right and what is wrong on a family farm. And most of these goat milk farms are family farms.

What is clear to me, though, is that goat cheese is like veal: If you had any idea what animals are going through to get you this meal, you would be horrified.

The great thing about awareness, though, is that once people understood the horrors of the veal industry, the veal industry tanked. And now a new industry of veal cows with a high quality of life has emerged.

So, I got two boy goats from a woman whose specialty is taking boy goats from milk farmers who don't want them. Here's a photo of Samuel today. Four days old.

The farmers control the births so they get an optimum price for milk. Milk prices are high now. So babies are being born in the coldest part of winter. They are not in heated barns because it's too costly to heat a barn for animals that make so little money at slaughter. Of the boy baby goats that are not intentionally killed at birth, a large percentage of them die from frostbite. And even more die because when you take them away from their mother, they have no will to eat.

Because I make money from something other than goat milk, and I can afford to turn my boy goats into sort-of house pets, we have two in a small heated shed. I am having to force-feed them to teach them how to eat. It reminds me a little of feeding my own boy babies that hadn't learned to latch onto the nipple.

Here's my idea. I'm going to learn about how to take care of boy baby goats, and then I'm going to figure out how to change the goat cheese industry so that people understand that the moral cost of goat cheese is very high right now. But it doesn't have to be. Somehow I want to try to figure out how to make morally responsible goat cheese.

Does anyone have ideas? Also, if you want to know what it looks like to figure out a new idea for a company, here's what looks like: Going down seemingly insane paths, learning skills that may or may not be useful in life, meeting a wide range of people who may or may not help you, and then telling everyone your idea in order to get feedback.

Photos by Melissa Sconyers.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Fulfillment
189 comments on “Goat cheese is the new veal
  1. Alan Wilensky says:

    Ok, Ok, I’ll take a goat. Fedex overnight box with holes in it?

  2. Chris says:

    Add them to chickens and bees as the next step in urban farming. Though goats are “browsers” not “grazers” and can’t really be used as lawnmowers (sorry Google ), maybe you could rent them out to <a href: http://www.grist.org/article/getting/) clear brush.

  3. Lucas Reis says:

    Off topic:

    Your new camera is really making a difference! ;) Congratulations on them!

    Lucas

  4. Steve says:

    Why not start a company that sells Goat Meat which would come from mature free range goats? people would pay for that.

    • Wysiwyg Mtwzzyzx says:

      Eat some and you’ll understand why that won’t work. People like their meat tender and flavorful- old goat isn’t tender, and free range (unless you’re really lucky) isn’t going to impart good flavor to the meat.

  5. Natalie says:

    This is absolutely sad. I hate thinking of animals dying for no reason. I do love goat cheese.

    What is a goat’s original purpose on a farm? Milk? What do the male goats do?

    I like the clear brush idea.

    • Wysiwyg Mtwzzyzx says:

      Goats original purpose is to procreate, keep the vegetation in check and provide meat to predators.

  6. Joe Fusco says:

    A well-written piece. The Penelope Sweet Spot — combining the intimate and personal with a relevant business insight.

    • Stu Langley says:

      Yes, I was impressed too. Penelope has a wonderful woman’s brain (yes, what else would she have ) that freely encompasses all that is around here- kids and farmers and goats- with an entrepreneurial brain vs. the typical male brain that is more narrowly focused and maybe more hemmed in by perceived realities.

      • Melissa Breau says:

        I like the pet food idea. I work for a pet business magazine, and pet food is doing all sorts of odd things right now. People want to believe they are feeding their pets the best they can…and if that meat is cheap, but still 100% “real meat” people will pay to feed it to their pets.

  7. Julie says:

    Perhaps goat meat could be used for a more naturally produced pet food? and… agreed. Urban farming could adopt the use of goats on small scales. If you’re creating a sustainable farm on your tiny acre and a half or less, managing a goat to manage brush, etc. and perhaps its waste as added fertilizer combined with vermiculture, bees, etc. could work?

  8. Bevin says:

    Lots of people (us included) do not bang our male baby goats on the head. In fact, most goat raisers that I know actually will wether male goats (castrate) and try to sell them first as pets and brush-clearers. Goats are incredibly efficient at that.

    I think the answer is not in banning goat milk entirely but rather, finding out what the practices at the farm that provides YOUR products are, whether that be milk from a cow, chicken from a…well…chicken or beef, or pigs or any of the other animals that we use for food in any way shape or form.

    Just for reference, my family is mostly strictly vegetarian (no factory farmed meats, eggs, or milk), but we will eat cheese made from the milk of our own goats, eat eggs from our own free-range chickens and will support local farmers that promote sustainable and humane animal husbandry on the rare occasion where my husband and children do decide to eat meat.

    • Becca says:

      Who doesn’t love cheese? However, majority of people have no idea how many baby animals die in order to keep producing great cheese. I think this is a concern for the most passionate foodie who does care about where the food is coming from and how it got to the plate. My husband will soon obtain his Wisconsin cheesemaker lisence and the only problem or obstacle we both face is how we want to represent the cheese we make.
      Local,organic, and my personal favorite cruelty free. But this is the hardest ethical debate when it comes to food. How much( how often and how many baby animals of the dairy business) do we have to kill in order to meet the supply and demand tug of war in efforts to feed and sometimes pamper our mouths?
      In any case, it’s easy for most of us to turn a blind eye and just eat. That seems to be whats keeping the business alive because if most of had to actually kill our own animals to satisfy our appetite for meat and other dairy foods, most of us would probably be shocked into being a vegetarian or vegan.

  9. David says:

    Thanks. We have to stop the bastards.

  10. Bevin says:

    Meant to add, but hit post too fast…

    We also don’t take them away at birth (unless the mother rejects them, which is why we’re raising a little boy in our laundry room right now), separate them early (our goats are dam-raised, and only separated at night starting at two weeks), and are currently snuggled up under special heating lamps designed for our goats that birth in these cold winter months.

    We’re not the only producer to operate this way, but because we operate in a humane fashion, we can’t get the throughput that others can, and our prices will be higher. If that’s worth it to you, pay the prices.

    That’s what will change the industry. Be willing to do some work for your food.

    • Elle says:

      Exactly! I think the answer lies with the consumers. Be informed. Be concerned. Be willing to accept that ethics and higher quality come at a higher price, and be willing to pay it. Only then will things change.

    • brooklynchick says:

      Bevin, where is your farm? I bet some of us would love to be customers!

    • @TheGirlPie says:

      Bevin, your stories of “this is why our prices are higher” needs to be part of the marketing and packaging of every unit of goat-anything that you sell, anywhere. A big read headline ala (but better than): “this is why this costs more” and printing out your (well-crafted) story — giving the consumer the info that most of us (me) had no idea went into the whole deal — this is educating the buyer and letting them make the decision. But it would be really hard to reach for the cheaper stuff after reading your “be aware” packaging… at least without thinking of your story.

      Kudos to Penelope for wrapping a global business lesson inside a new biz brainstorm process around an intimate life experience. Rock on.

      • Bevin says:

        Good thoughts, and maybe that ought to be a part of any local food packaging, eh? Because in every single local food there is a story, and that’s why they are more expensive in general. From not using pesticides that damage the earth, to humane rearing methods to hand-crafted care…every single locally produced item has a story.

        Thanks for the thought!

      • MJ says:

        Excellent comment string – I think that the cost factor is critical. People who care simply have to make this choice – either eat randomly and don’t care or eat less meat/dairy, but when you do, buy the better, local, humane stuff (unless money is no object, then please buy vigorously from local sources). We have a sheep farm an hour from our house (that you can visit, with good conditions) with extraordinary lamb – I don’t eat it all the time, but it is totally worth the extra money when we can get it. I’d rather have that once a month than random factory meat once a week.

    • Lisa says:

      Thank you for your informed response to this very inaccurate story.

      We have raised hundreds of goats over the course of the past 18 years and never once killed our bucks (boys) at birth. They are often castrated and a few get to remain “intact” to be used for quality breedings. We love our boys as much as our does (girls) and always give them the same attention and healthcare that the does receive. Every attempt has been made to see them go to good homes, usually as pets. Only on a couple of occasions have they been eaten. AND dairy goat bucks ARE very good for eating purposes, usually around 4 months of age.

      I’ve been involved with the dairy goat world — locally, regionally and nationally — and the majority of goat owners do not kill their bucks at birth because there is a market for them. There still are a few dairies that use this practice but if you know the source of your favorite goat cheese and look into their practices, you can avoid those folks.

    • Alyssa says:

      Thank you, Bevin! After I read Penelope’s article I swore off goat cheese until I could do enough research into local farms that do not kill off their male goats. Thank you for all that you do to treat these gentle animals right – at the end of the day, a goat, a cow, a dog, a cat – they are all animals like humans, and they deserve their life just as much as we do.

  11. Elle says:

    The best thing any concerned person can do is buy from a local family farm, then visit the place and ask questions. Many goat farms sell the boys as bottle babies for meat, which is at least better than clubbing or drowning them. You can find one near you on localharvest.org producing any number of products, very often in a more responsible and ethical way. Big agribusiness is usually not hard to beat in the quality and ethics departments, after all.

  12. David says:

    Actually steak from a dairy cow is just as good as from Angus cows. We have a few acres and have taken calves from a dairy farmer nearby to raise for their meat, and everyone who has had them loves the steaks from them. The issue is that it is a bit more economical to raise beef cows to sell for meat than to raise dairy cows for the meat.

  13. Alaina says:

    Well damn…I was just starting to love goat cheese. I’d love to hear if you cone up with a solution.

  14. Nancy says:

    I googled “Kosher goat meat” and didn’t come up with much, except people complaining that they can’t find any.

    Maybe this is a calling?

    • Wulfwen says:

      Nancy, try “Halal Goat Meat.” Halal food practices are similar to kosher. And Halal is more practiced in geographic areas where they appreciate the tastiness of goat, it seems!

  15. Harriet May says:

    Ok, so I always wanted a house pig. Pigs are smart, and clean. And everyone always asks you if you’re a dog or a cat person, but what if you’re a pig person, and you never even knew? And Byron had a bear at Cambridge because there was a rule against having dogs, so maybe that’s inspiration for having a pet to surprise people. No, of course that’s not a good reason to bring an animal home. I know because I once brought home a ferret that I named Francisco Pizarro and it didn’t go over that well. But sometimes putting animals in places you don’t expect does work (with a lot of thought). Can you herd goats, like sheep? I heard on NPR that some people are renting flocks of sheep to keep their border collies busy. I have an Aussie. In the city. I would rent her a flock of sheep. Or goats, whatever.

  16. RJ says:

    I’m living in a little village in southern France where goat cheese is a primary food. I don’t know the goat cheese practices here, but food ecology and ethics on the whole seem to be approached from a position of respect. Might be worth researching?

  17. Tara says:

    Oh, my gosh this is awful. I had no idea my brie was encouraging the death of boy goats! I eat meat, and I love a good steak, but I won’t eat veal, and I don’t even eat in restaurants that serve foie gras. I don’t know if I’m a hypocrite, but either way, I can’t be consuming goat milk products if boy goats ar being treated like baby Chinese girls.

    I, too, am perhaps guilty of anthropomorphizing the animals, but I don’t particularly care. This is just awful. I hope there is an industry, at least, for sending the boy goats out to stud, but probably not much of one. *sigh*

    No more feta or other goat milk cheeses for me. Though I did hear that goats are doing well with eating debris for landscapers. Maybe they could only use male goats? Oh, forget it. I’ll just stay away from the goat milk. Feh.

    • K00kyKelly says:

      Most feta is cow’s milk, nowadays. Traditional feta is made with sheep’s milk… not sure if there is any goat cheese feta. I only know because my boyfriend is lactose intolerant. Goat cheese has almost no lactose and sheep’s milk has none. Cheese he can eat = :)

    • Wysiwyg Mtwzzyzx says:

      ” I can’t be consuming goat milk products if boy goats ar being treated like baby Chinese girls.”

      Yeah, because goats are just like Chinese girls. When you equate animals with people, you don’t get a society that treats animals better, you get a society that treats people worse.

      But, as you said yourself, you don’t care.

  18. Amy Parmenter says:

    Penelope: I do not doubt that you will have a positive influence on the goat industry. I want to say I will officially sign off on goat cheese as a result of this post…but I also don’t want the farmers to lose their livelihoods. And there in lies the dilemma that you’ve described….

    Unfortunately I have nothing of greater value to contribute… except to say I support your efforts.

    Amy Parmenter
    The ParmFarm (not dairy… :0))

  19. Chris McLaughlin says:

    There’s a technique, Microsort, that is said to do a pretty good job (90%) at separating male and female sperm. So if you did that and used artificial insemination, you’d drastically reduce the male offspring population. It would add to the cost, though. Do we think goat life quality includes mating? Now there’s a conundrum.

  20. Anonymous Coward says:

    I don’t understand. If it is okay to kill adult animals why is it not okay to kill the babies? Just because they’re babies? If you don’t have a problem killing animals to eat them, why would it matter how old the animal was? If anything, killing the babies before they lived long enough to suffer is the greater kindness.

    Some have also argued that it doesn’t matter how well you care for an animal you intend to kill because, well, you intend to kill it. Anything else you do to care for the animal amounts to mitigating your guilt OR optimizing the product to maximize its value to the intended consumer (who wants to assuage their guilt).

    I do thank you for the info on goat cheese which I’ve only bought from local producers, safely adding that to the list of things I don’t eat. Meat obviously being one of them.

    The youngest subculture of vegans have always annoyed me for being so holier than thou, irrational and judgmental. I’m starting to understand how and why they get that way.

    • tamlyn mills says:

      I agree, I do not understand the difference between killing a baby goat and an older goat. The capacity for pain during the actual death is the same. I care more about the method of killing than the age of killing. Ideally all animals would have a free, natural life in the wild before being humanely killed for food. That is of course impossible with so many humans to feed. And the world will never all be vegetarian, people love their meat and many people dont have teh luxury of other protein sources. So farming and killing anaimals will never end completely. The quality of life for the aniamls is what matters in that case. That means higher overheads, and higher cost to the consumer. Which means meat and dairy etc need to become occasional treats not daily staples. But every meat eater I knwo literally must have meat in every meal.And realistically to stop eating fast food meat. I do not know how to persuade these people to have less of the meat they love, even if it does mean a better tasting, ethically superior meat, they cannot imagine eating less.

      • Brandon says:

        I believe in-vitro meat is the answer, scientists say sometime in the 2020s this will be technologically and economically viable, that is within a generation. Once we have a humane (no animal lives involved) way of growing meat, I believe raising and slaughtering live animals for meat will be seen, first as a luxury, then as barbarous, and eventually illegal to some degree. I think we should all work towards this eventuality, encouraging investment into this alternative, and exploring other biotech solutions (I’m no expert, but what else can we produce in the lab that would save animal lives?).

      • Wysiwyg Mtwzzyzx says:

        ” Ideally all animals would have a free, natural life in the wild before being humanely killed for food.”

        In the wild, goats are killed by predators that have no qualms beginning their meal before the goat is even dead. Nothing like fresh, warm organs if you’re a wolf or puma. It’s called humanely because we’re the only ones who would even think of acting in that way. Almost any life short of torture in captivity is better than life in the wild for prey animals. Predators are a different story.

  21. Suzy McQ says:

    Penelope,
    I am so happy that you are using your brilliance and business acumen to help animals, which is really assisting for the better good. I hope that the energy you put into this project makes you feel good about yourself and gives purpose to your life on the farm. I have no doubt that the goat cheese industry, as well as you, will be all the better for it.

  22. Alan Wilensky says:

    where’s my goat?

  23. Lisa says:

    Fascinating. But I’ll take a break from goat cheese. I’m a carnivore, but not a kill babies so we can use their mom’s milk kinda person.

  24. brooklynchick says:

    I found this farm (they sell at whole foods), but I don’t know the details about “humane certification” and what it really means:

    http://www.redwoodhill.com/our-farm/certified-humane

    • goatlady says:

      @Brooklynchick, Redwood is very well known in the dairy goat community and highly respected both for their animal care and their products. But “Humane Certification” is a dubious accreditation given by filling out a form and mailing it to HSUS. There is no inspection. One of the worst farms I’ve personally seen was “humane certified”.

      • brooklynchick says:

        Really helpful (if depressing), thanks. My favorite east coast cheese is from Shelburne, which is humane certified. Sigh.

      • cabrita says:

        I am afraid there is much misinformation in the post that I am replying to. I am a dairy goat farmer who produces milk for Redwood Hill. We are also Humane Certified. There is most certainly an inspection! There are hundreds of areas of compliance that must be met in order for Humane Certification. Please do not pass along misinformed comments as if they were truth.
        We work very hard every day to make the lives of our animals comfortable. Our goats are raised with great care. They are NOT artificially inseminated. They are bottle fed so that they know us well and are easily handled as adults. All does are named, as we will have them for many years. They each have unique personalities, and we know each one, even though we have over 200 milking does. Males go to pet homes or brush clearing, and yes, (gasp), people do eat them. Most of the world outside of the US survives on goat meat and milk.
        Sorry to sound off so strongly, but I have read so many misguided comments on these pages that it is truly frustrating.

  25. Irving Podolsky says:

    So I live in Pasadena. How do I find out which farmers are baby goat killers, which ones are baby goat castrators, and which ones raise baby goats under heat lamps? I don’t think that info’s printed on the label. I’m so confused! I could certainly give up eating goat cheese. But how do I give up Wall Street? These guys are killers too. Even when the heats on.

    Irv

  26. Micaela says:

    And … you officially have won me over, and I’m thinking about a solution so you revamp the dairy goat industry. Thank you for raising my awareness and for wanting to find a solution.

  27. Tzipporah says:

    I wonder if the by goats can be used as mobile lawnmowers, or brush clearers, when they’re grown? That would recoup some of the cost of their raising.

  28. Lynny Young says:

    I love your articles, Pentelope! I especially love the photo of you at the top cuddling the baby goats. I think you should keep that one in the happy folder. You look filled with “joy”.

    When I was 10, my family moved from suburban life in Northern CA to a farm. We did get a few goats, who had babies and one even tripplets. We named them Winkin, Blinkin, and Knod. Baby goats are just so much joy to watch leap and bounce about.

    When we first went to the farm we adopted 10 baby sheep from a meat packing company. We got them home in the back of my mom’s Cadillac all safely packed into hollowed out cigarette cases from the local supermarket. Thus, they all became named after cirgarette brands: Camel, Winston, Benson, Lucky Strike, etc.

    At some point, we did have the talk about ‘you live on a farm now and we will be eating what we raise.’ Of course that only came after my father told us that a nice man we knew was going to swap his two sheep for our two sheep – and we werent really eating “our pets.” Great, but I was a smart child: “Daddy, Mr. Barker lives in a house without a farm. Where does he keep his goats? And, when they take the coats off the sheep, how will they know which ones are Waffles (my sheep) and Daisy (my sheep)?”

    Your story tickled me. Keep up with the great photos, too!
    PS: Mom switched us to a goat make only diet, and eventually started making soft goat cheese at home for the family. Goats are wonderful weed eaters as well. Around here in Northern CA people rent their goats out to farms who need their weeds eaten down in a pasture or along the roadside.

  29. Lynny Young says:

    Oops “Penelope” .. sorry, I spelled your name incorrectly.

  30. Elisabeth says:

    Someone from the city came up with the idea that you can’t name animals that you intend to eat. I have been naming animals all my life and they always have tasted good too!! (Of course it’s always been cows and chickens…not sure if they were to like live in my house with me or something…that maybe would be wrong! LOL)

  31. Elisabeth says:

    Okay, I just read your whole article. I just have to say that goats aren’t that great. Someday when you get a call from the local school district complaining that the children on the school bus saw the goat humping the dog right out in the open will be the day that you realize that these male goats may be more trouble than they are worth! (And this is a true story). P.S. I live in WI too.

    • Kay says:

      Gosh, I would have paid good money to see that!

    • Izzy says:

      Well that’s why most of the male goats are castrated. LOL That would have been hilarious. Life on the farm…and all that!!

    • Randomizer says:

      Were you offended by this because some dude in a dog collar told you sex is dirty and should be hidden? Isn’t that just for people?

      You should watch what happens when there are multiple intact boys in the same pasture… you get chains of them rutting away on each other. I always wondered if the one in the front feels left out or just used… Funny as sh*t to watch.

  32. GenerationXpert says:

    Penelope:
    I have a feeling you and I would get along really well in person. The reason is, the whole time I’m reading this, I’m thinking, I would have named the goat Earl instead of Snowflake. And I have a feeling that you would think, “that makes sense” (not necessarily naming the goat Earl, but getting stuck on naming the goats.)

    Good luck with the goats.

  33. Miss SJ Albany says:

    sheep go to heaven goats go to hell…

  34. lynne whiteside says:

    Penelope you have hit a very big nerve! Take for example, the slaughter of horses, 10,000 a MONTH will die a horrible and cruel death to be used as food, and the major population in the U.S. has NO clue.

    I say, “Save All Animals, No Killing” .

    • Randomizer says:

      And where do you plan to put all these animals?

      In an area without predators or other population control, animals will overbreed until there is a population crash by starvation or disease. Would you like to watch that?

  35. TheVoiceoftheLobster says:

    I write an occasional blog on food issues. Dairy (and its associated birth requirement) is one of the big reasons vegetarians are usually fooling themselves about the pain their food occasions. All those boy animals. However, goat cheese and meat are still probably better from a cruelty perspective than cow’s milk (as are sheep cheese and lamb): goats are rarely raised in confinement, they are usually fed a diet that does not make them painfully ill (unlike cattle), killing baby goats right away avoids the terrible suffering of veal calves, and anyway the farmers I’ve visited raise all the kids under heat lamps and sell the boys for slaughter or occasionally brush-clearing later on. In any case, no kind of dairy approaches the brutality of pig or chicken agriculture.

    One thing that would change the economic calculations you describe is reviving dual-purpose breeds, which provide enough meat and milk to be used for both. To do this, you also need to expand the market for goat meat so it’s worth raising any goats for meat. Finally, keeping a billy on the premises changes the flavor of the milk, because they are stinky stinky creatures. Thus, the most likely scenario is something where new farmers start meat-goat farms, getting the babies for free from dairy goat farms.

  36. Amanda G says:

    I had no idea boy goats were so “useless”… I guess I never really thought about it though. Thanks so much for sharing! I can’t wait to add this to the list of reasons why my parents should have gotten me a goat growing up in the country. I’ve always wanted one and as soon as I have the means there will be a baby boy goat on my little “farm”. I wonder what the dog will think…

    Thanks again, good luck and keep us posted!

  37. Gina Marcell says:

    Good post Penelope
    We raise goats humanely, and struggle with the idea of having to breed them to get the milk that we use for drinking and making cheese and yogurt. We always try to find pet homes for the babies – it is not easy. We end up keeping most of them – I would never ever kill them. They get to be with their mothers until they are weaned, then we take over and milk the mom’s for about 9 months or so. If you want more information on feeding and caring for your baby wethers please contact me at the above email address. It is extremely easy to kill babies with milk replacer and overfeeding. Please do not use milk replacer – it causes scours – you should really use goat milk or cow milk instead.

  38. goatlady says:

    Maybe this varies from state to state, but the demand for goat meat is very strong here, so all the bucklings are raised to 50-70 lbs. I know of several Grade B (cheese grade) goat milk producers that keep milk cows to feed their kids. There are also a lot of goat owners who can’t sell surplus raw milk that buy bucklings from commercial dairies to raise for meat.
    Some goats will milk for two years or more, reducing the need to rebreed every year and increasing the total milk per doe.

  39. Deena McClusky says:

    An article in Rolling Stone got me to stop eating pork years ago, eventually leading to becoming a vegetarian. After this article I am definitely quitting goat cheese, and seriously debating quitting cheese altogether. Thanks for the information. As far as purposes for the boy goats, there is some charity, and I cannot recall their name, whose entire purpose is to provide goats to poor families in Africa. Maybe they could be a part of resolving the goat issue?

    • Michael Carwile says:

      I’m pretty sure you’re thinking of http://www.heifer.org. They do what you’re talking about.

      • Kerani says:

        Heifer (formerly Heifer International) would not be a placing organization for these animals. Heifer purchases local breed animals (already adapted to the climate and diet) for their programs – this has the added benefit of supporting local farmers with excess animals to sell.

        The idea of ‘dual purpose’ breeds may have some merit, but my experience with ‘dual purpose’ breeds is that, regardless of species, they don’t suck at producing milk (or eggs) as the meat breeds, and they don’t suck at producing meat as much as the milk/egg breeds, but they’re not really good at either.

  40. goatlady says:

    Goats make engaging, intelligent and loving pets. Castrated males can be taught to pack like a mule or trained to harness and pull a cart. They are much quicker learners than horses. My 180 lb wether is taller than some ponies and is also broke to ride.

  41. Zom G. says:

    The male goat problem is classic.

    Fact: If you can monetize the system you can revolutionize it.

    Opinions/Queries: How do you monetize the value of life. Guilt? It worked on brooklynchick.

    But unlike Elle, I do not believe the answer is in end-user markets. Consumers are reactive and not proactive.

    So then.

    How do you turn the cost of keeping unwanted farm animals alive? Grow exotic mushrooms on the male goat poop? Wean suburbia off of lawn mowers and onto goats? Turn droppings into a lower-cost-than-the-grain-it-takes-to-feed-them, low-polluting biofuel?

    Clearly, I’ve thought about this before. I dashed it all and moved on to sheep. May you come up with something better.

  42. Elizabeth says:

    I like this direction you’re going. A lot of people care about animal rights, eating well and gourmet food. You have some options here. Plus it sounds like goats are a joy to watch. Make some videos while you’re on this path of a new business venture. And props to Melissa Sconyers on the beautiful photos!

  43. Katie says:

    raise them for fiber. Cashmere comes from goats… along with a bunch of other types of fiber used for knitting and knit clothing…

    • Jim C. says:

      There are actually three types of goats, not two: meat goats, dairy goats, ands wool producers (think of the Angora breed). The wool producers don’t produce as much milk as the dairy ones do, and so on.
      Ever wonder why lamb is available at a reasonable price and suckling pig isn’t? It makes no economic sense to slaughter a piglet when, for a small additional investment, you have a big hog to send to slaughter. (See, you have already spent a lot feeding the sow, getting her bred, etc.)
      On the other hand, sheep are raised for wool, not meat. But ewes average two lambs a year. (They mostly have twins, and a ewe will have triplets about as often as a single lamb.) Unless the producer is trying to grow the herd quickly, the lambs will go to slaughter when they are a few weeks old.
      The same principle also holds for dairy animals. Kids are a byproduct of the dairy goat industry. It is pure economics.
      Veal used to be a byproduct of keeping dairy cows, but with recombinant bovine somatotropin, dairy cows produce more milk and have fewer calves, so veal isn’t available any more. But don’t feel good about that. Instead of veal calves, you get cows with swollen udders, mastitis, and other ailments. (I won’t buy milk or butter from cows treated with rBST.)

  44. adventurose says:

    Wow Penelope ! Thank you for wanting to change the system and inspiring us to think of a sustainable solution. I support the mission and will spread the word so please keep us posted.

  45. Laura says:

    You and Obama… my heart is swelling with innovation.

  46. Jennifer P says:

    That last photo is such a gorgeous composition – Brava!

    I love the way your mind works, Penelope. Gorgeous post.

  47. TheVoiceoftheLobster says:

    Deena, you would be foolish to stop buying goat cheese and only goat cheese to avoid supporting potentially cruel animal husbandry practices. All dairy is the same basic plan: separate a mother animal from her infant and steal its milk. The male infants are always a problem in this scheme. You could be vegan, although that has its own set of issues.

    I eat dairy, myself, but I’m particular about where it comes from and I don’t kid myself about being morally pure.

  48. Prime says:

    This is a v well written post. Business lessons encapsulated in a story telling format. The photos also look great

  49. HeyCarl says:

    Goats can be helpful in maintaining cattle pasture – they prefer broadleaf weeds and browse plants, leaving grasses behind. You can add 1-2 goats per cow without changing stocking on good pasture – more if the brush level is higher. Fiber is also an option – while angora is a breed, all goats produce cashmere in their undercoat.

  50. tracy says:

    They make great companions for hiking and backpacking. Are able to carry a great amount of weight with little impact on trails, unlike other pack animals. There are companies in Oregon which rent them for this purpose. I see others have mentioned what a great job they do of clearing yard debris.

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