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Get Your Goat: Kitsap County residents interested in raising goats
It's time for Shannon Harkness' daughters to leash up their goats and take them for their afternoon walk.
Paige, Rylan and Quinn pull the short round-bellied Nacho and Nate around the grassy pasture, as the boer meat goats open and close their mouths like fish and bleat.
Nacho and Nate are destined for the 4H competition at the county fair in August, and eventually for someone’s plate, which doesn’t bother Harkness’ matter-of-fact daughters.
Harkness leads the Washington State University Extension Kitsap County 4H group and works as an extension agent, giving advice to people learning how to garden and raise animals on small acreages. She's seeing a surge in folks who are interested in being more self-sufficient.
Goats are appealing for their meat, milk and cheese.
"Many people are really driven by the economy. It's like they woke up, in a sense, 'What are we eating?'" Harkness said.
WSU Extension's upcoming Goats 101 class scheduled for April 28 has several registrants, some of whom are those 4H families looking to expand backyard farms.
Alison Harper leads the Extension 4H group with Harkness. Harper's children stable their 4H goats with the Harkness’ animals, making the two-acre farm a tumbling circus of goats, children and dogs every afternoon.
"We want to make sure our kids have a familiarity with agriculture," Harper said. She's seen her kids be surprisingly matter-of-fact about butchering and learning where their food comes from.
Sometimes, what starts as a backyard hobby turns into a full-time business.
Vicky McGarrity, a short woman who dresses simply in jeans and button-down shirts and keeps her silver, curly hair shoulder-length, started out milking a couple goats because she's lactose intolerant and wanted to supply her own milk and cheese.
McGarrity and her husband John laugh now that they had "absolutely no idea" what they were getting into when they decided to start Hansville Creamery, the raw goat dairy licensed in 2009.
"It's not something anyone should take lightly," McGarrity said. "It's a 24/7 job, not a 9 to 5."
Based on five acres in the northern tip of Kitsap County, Hansville Creamery sells eggs, wool, goat milk and feta cheese to a few local stores and Poulsbo and Bremerton farmer's markets.
McGarrity gets up and milks 11 goats every morning and afternoon, averaging a gallon per goat.
Goats get a bad rap, McGarrity thinks. She's found them to be affectionate and smart like dogs, and they even recognize names and some voice commands. McGarrity's favorite, Melody, isn't done with her milking until she gets a hug.
"They're really sweet animals, they give a lot of love," McGarrity said.
For aspiring goat farmers, McGarrity says to make sure to get two goats, because the herd animals will get lonely otherwise, and to make sure to have a secure, electrified fence.
"Be ready for everything before you get the goat," she said.
Tapping into the local farming community and doing some Google searches is a great resource for help, and McGarrity promises that goat people are a fun bunch.
More information on agriculture and WSU Extension can be found at www.kitsap.wsu.edu.