HARRISBURG — What’s the most asked question in the dairy goat barn at the Pennsylvania Farm Show?
Hands down, it’s “Why do you crop their ears?” said Betty Bronson, owner of Betty’s Acres, in Bloomsburg.
“We need to educate,” Bronson said. “If I hear comments that aren’t right, I’ll just butt into that conversation” to give people the right information.
The Farm Show is an ideal place to educate, with thousands of people coming to the state capital to see a huge variety of farm animals, machinery and all of the products produced by agriculture in Pennsylvania.
Bronson raises about 150 dairy goats. She entered 30 of them into competition at the Farm Show last week. She raises Toggenburgs and LaMancha goats.
“Those two breeds suit me,” she said.
“Toggenburgs are always some shade of brown with white markings,” Bronson said. “They make a lot of milk. They are a very good dairy breed.”
LaManchas can be any color, but their ears cannot be longer than 2 inches. That’s a breed standard. And what’s most surprising to many people is that the goats are born with tiny ears, so short that most assume they’ve been cropped.
“They’re not. LaManchas are born that way,” Bronson said.
As she said that, an announcer came on over a loudspeaker, explaining that very fact. Within another 10 minutes, three people had stopped to ask about the goats’ ears.
Ask and learn
Many facets of agriculture are confusing to people who are not directly involved in the industry.
“People don’t know where their food comes from,” Bronson said, urging people to “buy local and visit farmers markets.”
Chevre and feta cheese made from her goats’ milk is sold at the Ferry Street Market in Danville and at the Lewisburg Farmers Market.
“I’m trying to get it everywhere else,” she said with a smile.
Milk to cheese
Bronson’s farm has a milking parlor where she can milk 12 goats at a time. The milk is then stored in a bulk tank until she transports it to a cheese maker in Newport, Perry County.
“I have to pass all the same regulations and testing as cow dairies do. A private lab tests my milk for the state. And there’s an inspection twice a year,” she said.
Goats produce milk when a baby is born and production increases 90 to 100 days after the birth, she said.
Over that period, which is called lactation, each dairy goat will produce about three quarts of milk per day, Bronson said.
“A gallon of milk, which is about 8.2 pounds, produces about a pound to a pound and a half of soft cheese,” she said.
Bronson became a dairy goat farmer “by accident,” she said. “I grew up milking cows.”
As her life changed and she got married, she switched to drinking store-bought milk, not the fresh-from-the-udder milk she’d grown up with.
“I couldn’t drink it,” Bronson said. At the time, she owned a goat that produced too much milk for its kid, so Bronson started drinking that. “It was much better.”
“Worldwide, more people drink goat’s milk than cow’s milk,” she said. “Goats are smaller, they require less feed and they produce a reasonable amount of milk, all good qualities for people who live in underdeveloped countries.”
Goat milk is also lower in lactose, which is a benefit to those who cannot process that enzyme.
Goats in a group
As a farm animal, or even a pet, goats are intelligent, inquisitive and social, Branson said.
“They’re herd animals. They like to be in a group,” she said. “They’re good for 4-H. They need an exercise yard, but you can train them to a leash like a dog.”
As for the fairy tale that a goat will eat anything, Branson said that’s not exactly true.
“Goats taste everything,” she said. “They don’t eat everything.”