(Courtesy Photo)

  According to the United States Department of Agriculture, goat inventory increased in 2020, up one percent from 2019. In January 2020, goat inventory totaled 2.66 million head. Included within that total are milk goats and meat goats, which both saw a two percent increase in 2020.

   So why goats? Dawn Reha, longtime Shiawassee County Fair supporter/organizer and 4-H club leader, is quite likely the premier goat expert in the county and has easily earned the honorary title of “Shiawassee County Queen of Goats.” Reha’s goat journey began in 1997. She had been raised around Holstein cows, showing cows at county and state fairs, but for various reasons her father decided to sell the cows off after she was married. He opted toward raising goats at that time, so eventually when her daughter, Taryn, who had attended her first goat show at just 3-months-old, fell in love with goats, Reha found herself completely drawn into the goat world.

   Her goat passion started with registered Nigerian Dwarf goats. She purchased her first Nigerian Dwarf in 1997, sharing it was “love at first sight.” Goats are social animals, so she soon realized she needed more goats and purchased five more. At one point, Reha had fifty goats on her Krouse Road farm, though that number has now been reduced to seven plus two kids (baby goats) she has recently kept in her house because the doe – mother goat – died soon after birth.

   The Nigerian Dwarf is a dairy goat. Goats are defined by breed standards and broken down into different categories with dairy goats and meat goats as two of the largest categories. Goats can also be bred for fiber products, though that is a smaller market. Along with the Nigerian Dwarf, some other dairy breeds include Alpine, Lamancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Recorded Grade, Saanen, Toggenburg, Sable Saanens and Guernsey. The Reha family has been directly involved with six of these 10 dairy breeds.

   Regarding meat goats, which include the Kiko, Spanish, Myotonic, Pygmy and Boer breeds, Reha shared that Shiawassee County is seeing a larger influx of the meat-producing breeds. Dairy goats are bred to produce high-quality dairy products, with goat milk being the closest milk equivalent to human breast milk. Goat milk is used for everything from dairy to cheese to soap – and can be used at home or sold. Reha raised her daughter on it. One milk goat (doe) can produce six to 12 pounds of milk per day and the average goat lactates for 284 days per year – ensuring a lot of milk production. Extra goat milk can also be fed back to other livestock, particularly hogs.

   Likewise, meat goats are bred for the quality of their meat. According to Reha, goat meat is extremely healthy, surpassing beef and even venison. The Boer goat is seeing an increase in popularity in Shiawassee County at this time, with county youth fair exhibitors seeking meat goats for fair projects.

   Fiber goats include the Angora, Cashmere, Pygora and Nigora. Goat fiber products include clothing, floor rugs and even doll hair.

   Reha shared that goats are also currently being used as brush control in regions with high fire potential, like in California. Goats are also being used and trained as therapy animals and pets.

   Some of Reha’s numerous accomplishments involve her contribution of 24-years as a 4-H Club Leader; showing goats at county, state, national and international levels; judging goats throughout Michigan and in Ohio for 17-years; serving as a member of the State 4-H Goat Developmental Committee, longtime member of the Shiawassee County Fair Board of Directors – and treasurer of the Michigan Dairy Goat Society.

   Beyond all of her accomplishments and years of involvement with goats, her interest has never waned. She is as excited as ever about goats, about her 4-H students and the upcoming 2021 Shiawassee County Fair … and the multitude of other fairs she will be judging.

   “I’m known as the crazy goat lady of Shiawassee County,” she said. “I get a lot of random phone calls. If it’s something I can help them with, I do. If I can’t, I have the resources or contacts to shift them over to the most knowledgeable goat person.”

   For those interested in becoming involved with goats, one of the first requirements is an appropriate enclosure. Reha said a large calf hut is more than enough space. Her two bucks – male goats – are in a 16-by-16-foot enclosure. Beyond that, two goats are required to begin, along with hay, fresh water and appropriate shelter. Dairy goats need grain in their diet and of course, proper vet care is needed for all livestock.

   Reha said she sometimes suggests starting out with a whether – a castrated male – because they are less of a financial investment, particularly for children interested in beginning 4-H/FFA projects. She offered that one whether would sell locally for around $75, compared to $175 or more for a show-quality kid goat. The whether goats are pet quality and can be trained to interact with children just like a pet dog.

Other interesting facts about goats include:

• There are over 300 distinct breeds of goats in the world.

• In 2011, more than 924 million goats were alive in the world.

• Goats have rectangular pupils, giving them a fuller range of vision. They can see 320 to 340 degrees around themselves without moving their heads.

• Goats have a four-chambered stomach, helping them digest tough roughage like grass and hay.

• Goats are extremely agile. Mountain goats can jump around 12-feet in a single bound.

• Goats can develop accents. They change their sound depending on where they live and whom they live with.

   Reha was recently honored as the first guest lecturer at the new Baker College of Owosso Vet Tech Center. She shared she was pleased to share her knowledge with the students, offering some hands-on experience since she had taken Evie and Oma, her orphaned kids, with her to the lecture. As a side note, Evie and Oma have garnered a lot of attention on social media as Reha often shares photos and videos of the adorable pair.

   If interested in owning goats or becoming involved with goats through the youth programs at the Shiawassee County Fair, contact Reha at (989) 666-4044.

The Shiawassee County Queen of Goats Talks Goats was last modified: April 14th, 2021 by Karen Elford