‘Stay in place’ order has little impact on Montana goat ranch

In this newer new normal for humans, it’s a relief to know that if they can breathe air, eat fresh or dried forage, drink clean water and the guardian animals keep them safe from predators, our meat goats just keep ticking along like a well-oiled machine. When you get to read this, it will still be almost a month before our annual kid crop is due to make its appearance here in North-Cen- tral Montana. The only change to Smoke Ridge’s meat goat produc- tion and marketing enterprise during the national stay in place order and global Covid-19 pandemic is that Craig’s middle-school math teaching is happening from home nowadays. I write this for you to read – and apparently may be doing so for the rest of the 2020 school year – on the computer that I am used to having available constantly, and now have to use quickly while Craig is outside feeding the goats and guardian dogs. I am therefore having to learn to make do with only an hour per day of access to this computer, and must be honest and say that I am thinking long- ingly about school ending for the summer vacation! Then will come kidding, which is always a super fun time of the year with the meat goats, and then it will be summer and the kids will be growing and bouncing and just being kids. Since I have now missed Premier’s hours of operation, I’ll get our eartags ordered tomorrow. Since I have chosen to use a rolling series of colored eartags for every 10 years of production, I don’t choose to use the tags that many states give out to their producers, because – and start laughing, friends who know me – I can’t get the colors and tag numbers that I want for each year. For example, this is year 2020: VERY few of the goats that were born here in 2010 are still with us, but I want this year’s kids to carry 20 as the first two numbers on their eartags. Why? So that in a few years, when the doe kids that we kept for our own use are mature mother-goats, they will be able to calculate their age by simply sub- tracting the 20 on their eartag from the year that it will be then, for example 2024.

In any given year, the kids born that year will always look dif- ferent enough from mature animals to tell them apart. But in 2024, telling a three-year-old doe from a four-year-old doe is much easier by eartag than it would be by having to catch her, hold her still and look in her mouth to count teeth!

And by changing color eartag every year, it’s super easy to run all the goats down the alley and sort off – for example – all the yel- low-tag does. We never cull by age, preferring to keep does who are not sold,

to date that’s almost all been at weaning, to other producers, for as long as possible. Age, rather than natural selection, takes old-lady goats away from Smoke Ridge. The best goats, in our opinion, have produced and raised more kids and for more years in their lifetime than other goats of the same age have.

Someday we might determine and track how many pounds of kids each doe produces as a percent of her own bodyweight, but the fun challenges of evaluating pounds of female kids compared to

May 2020 | Goat Rancher 29


pounds of wethered male kids, compared to pounds of male kids wor- thy of being kept intact as a buck for breeding – by us or for sale to customers… what fun I could have in figuring out a Value Index! I know that other chevon or beef producers may already have done so, and if I’ve completely missed that, you are more than wel- come to tell me. My e-mail address follows this article and I would appreciate learning about it!

If does are sold to other producers, they are also sold by eartag

number. I make up a list of potential sale animals inside, using the computer, before we go and work the doe herd. Any animal that we sell has to have proven herself worthy, by having and raising kids at least as well as does we call keepers. An unworthy female goes to the processing plant with the wethers in the fall and becomes some- one’s dinner.

(This column’s information is based on raising meat goats in Montana and on The Meat Goat Handbook, written by Yvonne and published by Voyageur Press, which is for sale from Smoke Ridge at E-mail questions to

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