Goat glory

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Maddie Fenton, 12, at right, stands with her mother, Crystal Fenton, left, on their ranch west of Lowden.

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Curious goats pause in their munching to watch people walk by.

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Goats much on the outside of their fence.

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Maddie Fenton, 12, shows off one of the goats she raises.

Maddie Fenton showed her first goat 10 years ago.

The 12-year-old seventh-grader at Touchet School was 2 years old when she showed a pygmy goat.

This summer, she showed Rata, a wether Boer goat at a national show in Louisiana, winning grand champion in her class.

Despite the win, "I got mostly glory. A big rosette, a feed pan, and cash for the entry fees," she said.

Rata, along with three does, traveled to the show with Maddie, her mother, Crystal Fenton, and her grandmother, Terry Brown. The three-generational team often travels to shows together.

Rosettes and accolades don't count for much if you're a wether (neutered male) goat because Rata is now cut and wrapped in the Fenton's freezer.

Maddie, who is partners with her mother in the goat business, is pragmatic about Rata's and other goats' fates "I don't get attached to them, really," she said.

With 60 to 100 at any one time on the Fenton's ranch just west of Lowden, it would be hard to get attached to very many of the white goats with reddish-brown heads topped with curving horns.

The goats can often be seen along U.S. Highway 12, their short tails perkily pointed skyward as they graze in their pasture.

Although some of the goats are raised for show, most are raised to sell as meat animals.

Maddie, mother Crystal and grandmother Terry, who lives next door with her husband, Jerry, operate Capriole Boer Goats.

They have regular customers who buy two to three goats per year, which they generally butcher themselves.

People of some ethnic backgrounds, including Ethiopian and Hispanic, make up most of the customer base, Crystal said.

Boer goats, originally from South Africa, were first imported to the United States in 1993. Their popularity is evidenced by the number of breeders listed in a Google search of "Boer goats in Washington."

One characteristic that makes them desirable for growers is their fast weight gain, due in part to their willingness to eat through the heat of the day, said an information website about the animals.

Meanwhile, back at the Dust Devil Ranch on a recent day, two new mothers were confined in small pens in the barn to bond with their twin babies.

Expectant mothers don't get special attention, although Crystal says she keeps an eye on them, "but try to let them do it themselves."

Most of the kids are born in late April to mid-May, but babies can be found at the ranch throughout the year. Gestation period for goats is five months, and a doe can be bred three times in two years.

Goats can have one to four kids at a time, but two is optimal, because the mother has trouble feeding four. Third and fourth babies may be transferred to another doe who has one kid.

Young goats are weaned and ready for sale as meat goats at five months.

At feeding time, the goats gather along the fence at the appearance of Maddie and Crystal. Maddie helps her mother with chores everyday.

Raising goats is not a piece of cake, because they are prone to destructive behavior, usually directed at fences. They are great escape artists, and if they can't find a hole in the fence, they'll create one. "They are very naughty," Crystal said.

Fortunately, the escapees remember their escape route, and as dusk gathers, they reappear in the pasture, drifting towards the corner where some of the others are already bedding down for the night.

Goats are herd animals, and really don't stray far from the herd, Crystal said.

Besides the mischievous nature of the goats, there are other challenges to raising goats, including illness. "it seems like goats can contract almost anything," Crystal said.

The animals are regularly de-wormed and de-liced, but when a goat appeals to be feeling poorly "it's difficult sometimes to figure out what the heck is wrong with it," Crystal said.

Predators are also a problem, especially coyotes. The Fentons keep three llamas as guards and Crystal's mother has two Great Pyrenees dogs to protect her herd.

This year, the high price of hay is also a challenge, and Crystal plans to keep the animals on grass as long as possible this fall.

Show goats get special feed, including garbanzo beans. It costs about $250 to raise a show goat, Crystal estimated.

Although profitable, it's not that profitable, she said. "If it was profitable enough I wouldn't be working for the state." Crystal works for the state auditor's office as a field auditor.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

For information about Dust Devil Farm or Capriole Boers, go to www.caprioleboers.com and www.freewebs.com/dustdevilranch eneral information about Boer Goats can be found at the U.S. Boer Goat Association, usbga.org or the American Boer Goat Assocation, www.abga.org

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