PHOTO: Dave Wilson/Flickr
Goats have proven to be useful animals in the past, providing us with milk, meat and wool. Today, some goats have found new ways to help people. These special goats — represented by many goat breeds — serve as weed-control goats, pack goats for hikers, companion goats and goats that serve as the subject of 4-H projects.
When it comes to 4-H, goats are among the most fun and rewarding animals for projects. These projects are designed to teach young animal-keepers the best way to care for and enjoy their charges. Every animal from hermit crabs to horses can be used as the subject of a 4-H project, but for some youngsters, nothing tops a goat.
Goats are a natural for the 4-H program, which started in the early part of the 20th century. In 1907, 4-H officially became part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Originally created to provide farming education for rural youth, 4-H (which stands for “Head, Heart, Hands and Health”) has grown to be a national network of local clubs, featuring projects that range from computers to cattle.
Open to children aged nine to 19 (and sometimes even younger, depending on the club), typical 4-H goat projects teach children how to feed, care for and handle their goats. The curriculum also teaches participants about goat breeds and showing — those interested in exhibiting their goats are encouraged to do so.
4-H clubs are run by volunteers, usually parents whose children have been involved with the program for some time. Individual 4-H goat projects have leaders. These leaders are people who have had extensive experience with goats and who can act as mentors for the young goat handler.
All 4-H members have a number of responsibilities with their goat project, including the tasks of keeping records, regular attendance at meetings, participation in local activities and junior or teen leadership roles to assist younger members. Just about every goat breed can be used in a 4-H project, although show goats are typically purebreds, or goats bred specifically for market or dairy.
Showing is one of the most popular activities involved with 4-H goat projects. Children enrolled in a goat project learn how to exhibit their animals in a number of different classes, including showmanship, where they are judged on their livestock exhibition skills.
In Clark County, Ky., as in other places around the United States, the county 4-H club has an active goat program that encourages members to show their goats at local fairs and in regional goat shows. Goats are exhibited in market, dairy and meat categories, and each goat type is judged according to its purpose. For example, market goats are shown by weight and judged on their grooming, size, muscle, balance and structural correctness, among other qualities.
Classes are divided by age and gender. Dairy goats are judged in kid, yearling, 2-year-old, 3-year-old, 4-year-old and open-age classes. Some classes are divided by gender.
Carting is another activity some 4-H project members can pursue. Goats taught to pull a cart must learn basic behaviors such as leading with a halter, and the commands “whoa,” “walk on,” “back” and “stand.” They must also learn to pull weight behind them. Any size goat can learn to pull a cart, including a Pygmy goat, assuming the cart — and the driver — are small.
“A young, 6- to 7-month-old wether is shown at halter by a 4-H’er at the fair,” says Janice Hanna, extension educator of 4-H Youth Development for Mahoning County, Ohio. “The next year, this same goat is shown pulling a cart made by the 4-H member. The third year, the 4-H’er rides in the cart as his or her goat pulls it.”
Goats can provide many years of 4-H fun for children and adults who volunteer as leaders for goat projects. There are many learning opportunities and fun activities for young 4-H goat handlers. Adult goat handlers can also join in on exhibition fun. State fairs offer an excellent chance to be involved in showing goats. There are often different classes for meat, dairy and fiber goats as well as opportunities to showcase your goat products such as milk, cheese, meat and fiber.
Excerpt from the Popular Farming Series magabook Goats.