STEUBEN — “Be careful, goats are addictive” is the cautionary advice that Lisa Reilich was told before she brought home her first goat. She laughed it off at the time, but over time has come to tell others the same thing.
“Goats have hugely impacted our life,” she said.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many Mainers are raising some produce for the first time at home while others are expanding their vegetable gardens. The sale of chicks has been brisk to newbie chicken keepers or those increasing their flock. Some may even be considering getting a goat or two.
This is where the Painted Pepper Farm proprietor steps in. Reilich and her teenage daughter Margaret Mae run the 40-acre Goods Point Road farm, where they tend 50 to 100 Nigerian dwarf dairy goats in a given year with assistance from their Great Pyrenees guardian dogs Sunny Day and Daisy Duke as well as farm apprentices and volunteers. The mother and daughter also produce award-winning cheese, yogurt, kefir, fudge and gelato on their farm from the rich goat’s milk.
And, in her spare time, Reilich offers workshops for would-be goat farmers. She began teaching one at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s annual Common Ground Fair in Unity, but then expanded her class offerings because “there are a lot of questions.”
Reilich cautions people against getting goats on a whim, because “they live a long time.”
“If you buy baby goats, you’re in for an 8- to 14-year journey,” she continued. “It’s also important to consider who will take care of your goats when you’re gone.”
Apparently it’s easier to get a dog walker than a goat sitter. Goats are social. “Two pet males” make a good, manageable combination. Neutered males are called wethers. They cost less than does, which can be milked, or bucks which can be used for breeding.
Does, if you milk them, are much more labor-intensive.
“If you’re milking goats, going on vacation is unlikely,” Reilich said. She calls milking goats “a lifestyle choice.”
That is not to say Reilich doesn’t derive much satisfaction — even joy — from her herd.
“On the other hand, they’re wonderful,” she said, adding, “They’re also very silly.”
Goats take a lot of planning and preparation. The whole process — from the first to actually bringing the critters home — usually takes from six months to a year.
Prospective goat farmers must determine where their billys, does and/or wethers — and potentially kids — are going to reside. Where will their hay and grain come from and what veterinarian will attend to the animals?
Reilich recommends having a veterinarian lined up before the goats’ arrival. Specifically, “a veterinarian who will ‘do’ goats.”
All goats require a clean, dry shelter and space to roam, but how much room depends on the breed. Nigerians, which Reilich raises on her farm, are small and need about the third of the space that full-sized goats require.
“I don’t promote any one breed,” she said, stressing it’s more important is to get goats that are healthy and disease-free.
“Don’t get goats from auctions,” she said. “Go with reputable breeders. Disease-test your goats before and after you get them home.” Common illnesses are CAE, CL and Johne’s disease.
Come to learn that “social distancing” is old farming practice the animals.
“I don’t wear my farm clothes to my friends’ farms,” she said. She called this “herd biosecurity.”
As for milk, Nigerians are referred to as a desert breed, meaning their milk is rich in butter fat and protein.
At Painted Pepper Farm, Nigerian goats are bred and sold to good homes. For would-be goat farmers, it’s a good idea to tour different creameries. The Maine Cheese Guild (cheeseguild.org) is a good source to find out who raises what breed and where they are located.
For Reilich, finding a mentor was crucial when she got started. She found the dairy farm community to be friendly and welcoming.
“People in Maine who are micro dairy farmers just want to help,” she said.
To contact Reilich or for more information about Painted Pepper Farm, call 598-662, visit the farm’s Facebook page or go to paintedpepperfarm.me.