Friday, August 01, 2008

Pygmy Goats in Alaska

This was taken from the Fall 1976 edition of the National Pygmy Goat Association's Memo, and was written by my father, Bryan H. Robbins, from our home in Klawock, Alaska. A while ago, I invited my mother to write about her education as part of the 48th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. I thought it would be interesting to share my dad's writings with my readers, too!

In the remote rural villages of Alaska, milk comes only in a box or can, unless of course you have a homestead and can raise goats. Our 3/4 acre family homestead in a coastal village in southeast Alaska had some small livestock, but no fresh milk supply for our children. I was convinced that goats were the perfect answer for our place. The goats we needed had to be very efficient milkers or very small and not eat very much as dairy-mixed grain (or any feed) cost about $16.00 per hundred plus an additional nickel a pound freight to Klawock. High Alaskan prices are usually attributed to the high cost of freight. No live freight though, could be shipped on our weekly freighter. Whatever type of goat we got had to be small enough to put aboard a small airplane that is our lifeline to the outside world. In fact, all of our farm animals [chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits, and pigs] to date have been flown to our homestead.

Countryside & Small Stock Journal's pygmy goat news and pygmy goat advertisers started me thinking, investigating, and writing about pygmy goats. The pygmy seemed an answer to our small milking needs. The pygmy, being small, could browse efficiently on our rainforest brush, needing only small amounts of daily grain. Best of all, adult animals could be shipped by air, thus saving us a year of growing out a kid of dairy breed.

We soon found our girl: a beautiful, full-belted, two-year-old doe named Fatima. She was shipped to us from the Kings Valley Animal Family in Oregon, but we would have to wait until spring before our own "herd sire" would come to Alaska.

Our goat experiences began with a good laugh over a panic-stricken pilot who flew our pygmy from the Ketchikan airport to Klawock. The pilot had never heard a goat bleat and after taking off for Klawock, our goat started to cry. The poor man thought her crying was the stall warning of the aircraft signaling an imminent crash landing.

Having only one goat on the homestead can be a real problem too. Fatima would cry by the hour for company. A five foot fence didn't contain her, except when her horns were caught in it, which was nearly all the time. She also thought that she was a person and should live in our house with us. Whenever she got out of her pen, she would butt the front door wanting to come in for a visit. If we weren't home, she would go next door to the neighbors and cry on their porch. When they opened their door, she would run inside and sit on their couch. We had to get her proper company before the following Spring. Soon, we were able to locate another two-year-old doe and arranged to have her bred before being shipped to us. The second doe, Graycie, flew in by mail plane a short time later. Soon things began to settle down at the homestead and stay in the barnyard.

Graycie was a beautiful agouti and definitely in a family way when she arrived. She continued to grow in size as her term progressed, to the point of reminding us of a burro with a full pack. One of the neighbors said he was going to make her a "wide load" sign to wear. There was good reason for that wide load she was carrying. In August, she presented us with four of the cutest little kids we had ever seen. She had a perfect set: two does and two bucks.

Oh! now we had fresh milk, too, not much, but so fresh. It was sweet and nutty in flavor and not at all like what comes out of a box or a can. It was our children's first whole fresh milk too.

Two months later our buck arrived and our doe was rebred. I continued milking her for a total of five months until she got down to a cup of milk per milking. Then she was dried off to prepare for her next kidding. I was only expecting twins this time, but when her time arrived I sat with her all day and night because she had such a difficult delivery before. I sat with her around the clock; since there were no further symptoms, I went to bed. She delivered again--four kids. But alas, without assistance, two were lost. With Graycie's multiple births, it won't be long before we have a large herd of pygmies in Alaska.

Does the pygmy have a place on a modern homestead? Yes, I believe she does - in a greater capacity than just a pet. A year and a half has not been sufficient time to make an accurate evaluation of the pygmy in comparison to other goats; but for us, the pygmy has filled a void that no other animal could have provided. They pygmy has given us milk and companionship, and the hope for a future cash crop to aid our homestead economics. I'm sure that isolated Alaskans and other homesteaders could take advantage of the cutest, most affectionate and newest goat there is...The American Pygmy Goat.

© Bryan H. Robbins, April 1976
Used with permission.
Submitted for the 53rd Carnival of Genealogy.


Terry Thornton said...

Miriam, Goats will never be the same after reading your dad's account of his experience with goat-ing in Alaska. Your article combines my favorite state (besides my own) ALASKA and my favorite farm animal, GOATS! Good read --- I thought getting baby chicken by surface mail was interesting but goats by air is a totally new concept entirely. LOL!

wendy said...

Miriam - I loved reading your dad's story! I laughed when I read about the goat sitting on the couch! I don't think I've ever seen a pygmy goat. Must google that! Thanks for sharing!