When most of us fell in love with goats or goat cheese or mohair or whatever, we just moved to the country and bought a few goats. Yeah, we had a few surprises along the way, but in the end, it all sort of worked out. However, Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz decided to do things a little differently. They fell in love with goats when they lived in New York City, and although they did like goat cheese, they wanted to fully explore the goat world -- meat, fiber, packing, even the Chicago Cub's Curse of the Billy Goat -- before deciding exactly what kind of goats they wanted. So, they quit their jobs in 2003, put all their worldly possessions in storage and started a year-long exploration of goats across the United States. Their first book, The Year of the Goat (which I reviewed on the blog last year) was published two years ago, and it chronicled their journey from NYC professionals to nomads to goat farmers.
Their second book, Living with Goats, was published last month. Margaret describes it as "the book I wish I'd had when I first became captivated by these animals." (Margaret is the writer, and Karl is the photographer.) It covers all the basics of goatherding: housing, fencing, feeding, breeding, raising kids, health, goat milk, goat meat, and a final chapter on other uses for goats, like fiber, packing, and showing. Lists of resources round out the book, including supplies and equipment you will need, breed registries, equipment suppliers, and other books about goats.
We first met Karl and Margaret when they visited our farm in the spring of 2004, which she wrote about in Chapter 14 of The Year of the Goat, and there are a couple pictures of us in their new book. I asked Margaret if she'd join us on the blog today, and she agreed. She'll be checking in today to answer your questions, and she has also generously agreed to give away an autographed copy of each book to two lucky readers. So, if you're interested in winning either a copy of Year of the Goat or Living with Goats, just leave a comment and let us know which book you would like to have. It's okay to say both, but you can only win one, and you have to leave your comment by midnight central time Friday. Winners will be chosen randomly and posted Saturday.
There are a few questions I've been wanting to ask Margaret myself, so I thought I'd take this opportunity ...
Deborah: After visiting goat farms all over the country and discovering all the different uses, why did you ultimately decide on dairy goats and why Alpines?
Margaret: When Karl and I were traveling, our favorite breed changed with every visit. We'd meet someone who raised Boers or Cashmeres or Saanens, and we'd get caught up in their enthusiasm for their animals. Especially when goats are well cared for and in great condition, it's easy to fall in love with any breed! We ultimately decided to raise dairy goats because I wanted to experiment with cheese making. We also wanted our farm to be a small, integrated homestead, and to do that, it was essential to have at least one milk-producing animal. (Lately, I've been lobbying for a dairy cow, too, but that's a whole other story....) We chose Alpines because their coloring and markings vary so much--I love that each goat has its own look. That said, we did add a Saanen doeling to the herd this spring, and one of our does is half Boer--we fell in love with her before we noticed her ears!
Deborah: What has been your most memorable moment so far in your life with goats -- good or bad?
Margaret: I think the most memorable moment with goats, for me, has been delivering our first kid. Our younger daughter, Beatrice, was only two weeks old, and Karl had just gone back to work from his paternity leave, when we heard the commotion in the barn. The doe was still pretty slight, so we weren't even sure that she was bred, and suddenly I was in the barn with an infant strapped to me in the baby wrap, my 22-month-old daughter, Charlotte, propped on a bale of hay, and a kidding kit, a couple of goat handbooks, and a big stack of towels! During the whole birth, I completely identified with the doe because my own labor was so fresh in my mind. I kept involuntarily pushing when she had contractions! The scene was total chaos--Charlotte cheering on the mama goat one minute and crying hysterically the next, Beatrice needing to nurse part way through, me wondering what on earth I was doing trying to juggle so many babies. Thank goodness it was a smooth delivery! Karl made it home a few minutes after the kid was born, so we were able to clean him up (of course it was a buckling) as a team. But it was a wild morning!
Deborah: Can you ever see yourself going back to life in the city?
Margaret: No, I really can't. I love the energy of cities, and I like to visit big cities at least a couple of times a year, but the farm is our home. The whole rhythm of our life is agricultural now--from the goats to the poultry to the gardens and orchard. We enjoy the work, and the feeling of satisfaction that we get from eating food we've grown or raised ourselves. This Thanksgiving we roasted our own turkey, mashed our own potatoes, served our own fresh and aged cheeses and some chicken confit and turnip pickles for appetizers--it was truly something to be grateful for, and it was wonderful to share the fruits of the homestead with our guests. I love that our daughters understand where their food comes from and are so comfortable with animals. Managing the whole menagerie can be tricky sometimes, but we wouldn't trade it.
Deborah: It doesn't sound like you live out in the middle of nowhere like we do. Can you tell us a little about where your farm is located?
Margaret: Our homestead is in southern Maine, about half an hour's drive from Portland. By day, Karl is the director of Aurora Photos, an international stock photography agency that's based in Portland, so when we were looking for property, we had to be within reasonable commuting distance. Because we're in such a densely populated part of the state, our ten-acre farm is ringed by subdivisions--we're a little island of agriculture in a sea of McMansions. We live in a farmhouse with an attached barn that was built in 1901, and we've been gradually rehabilitating the barn and the property for agricultural use, adding pens, stringing fence, tilling the garden and pruning the orchard. It's amazing to be able to bring life back to what once must have been a bustling farm! And despite the crowing roosters and the occasional turkey slaughter, our neighbors seem to get a kick out of our farming adventures.
Deborah: Did you always see yourself as a writer, or did you start thinking about it after you became interested in goats?
Margaret: My parents are both writers and they teach in an MFA program, so writing is kind of the family business! I did work on a lot of writing projects before--including a couple of ghost-writing projects and a (terrible) novel that I was working on when we lived in New York--but I think the goats helped me to find my writing voice.
Deborah: Will you continue writing? Do you have plans for additional books?
Margaret: Yes, I will continue writing and I do have plans for more projects. Right now, I'm working on some essays about life on the homestead and I'm blogging on our web site, www.tenapplefarm.com/. I'm also planning a book project about life on the suburban homestead and how we're trying to find a balance between our agricultural life and being good, relatively normal neighbors. I'm not sure what shape the book will take, but it feels like a natural next project.
Okay, now don't be shy. If you have a question about goats, traveling, memoirs, or writing, post it in the comment section. And if you'd like to win one of her books, be sure to let us know before midnight Friday.