The Parson family’s Boer goat farming project has busted way beyond 4-H.
Siblings Emma, Aurora, and Bodie Parsons own their own herd of meat goats. They have been raising and selling goats for meat since Emma bought her first goat eight years ago. In the beginning, the parents helped quite a bit with things like vaccinations and medical emergencies.
Now Emma is 15, Aurora is 14, and Bodie is 10. The only thing they need help with is transportation, as none of them are old enough to drive. Their herd now ranges from 30 to 60 African Boer goats. In addition to increasing herd size, they have also improved the quality of their goats and have gone from selling at local livestock auctions to winning ribbons and awards for their goats across the state through 4-H.
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Don and Lindsay Parsons wanted to raise their children around animals. When they moved out to the golf course, the best they could do was bees. Two years later, they decided to move closer to family and leased two acres adjoining the extended family’s property. Their oldest daughter, Emma, was five when she started raising chicks and selling them as laying hens. Within two years, the little girl had earned enough from her chickens to buy two of her favorite animal – goats. Soon her little sister, Aurora, joined her in her Boer goat business. They raised goats from babies and sold them to the local livestock auction in Fallon, Nevada. When their little brother, Bodie, joined in helping with the feeding and caring for goats at age five, it became truly a family business.
The Parsons own cattle, pigs, chickens, and bees as a family, but the goats belong to the children. They tend the goats, from birthing to choosing which ones sell and which stay to grow the herd. They stay vigilant during kidding season and have learned to determine when a doe in labor needs assistance. All three children have helped with baby goat delivery. They watch for predators and make sure the babies are secured in their newborn pens at night when coyotes prowl the area.
Between their aunt, uncle, and grandparents, the family has about forty acres. The Parsons use all of it to grow enough hay for their animals. The children help with everything from swathing and baling to picking up bales from the fields so their goats will have enough to eat all year.
About 90 percent of the goats’ diet comes from grazing and hay. Each child decides when it is time to switch one of their personal goats to a grain mix before showing it. “They put them on specialty grains,” says their mother, Lindsay. “There are several different brands that they’ve tried. They make their own little mixes and blends, depending on what the goat needs. They will look at the goat and say, ‘this one needs more muscle or this one needs more fat.’ So Emma is to the point where she can actually see and know better than I know. She knows what they need and what will benefit that specific animal.”
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more invested in the show process, so that’s been really cool to see the quality of our animals increase,” Emma said. “Sure, it does cost more money and it does take more time, but I think it is better to raise a quality animal than the quantity that we first started out with.” While the main herd belongs to the three together, each child owns their own show goats, which they buy with their own money and feed and train individually. Once they started winning shows, other children started asking for advice and where to get winning Boer goats. That’s when they officially named their business and Battle Born Livestock was created.
The name Battle Born reflects their roots and Nevada pride. Nevada achieved statehood during the civil war, and the words “Battle Born” appear on the state flag. The Parsons children are seventh generation Nevadans and proud of that. The business includes all of their animals, including the goats, their show pigs, and one steer.
Emma is a bright, well-spoken young woman. In addition to Battle Born Livestock, she works at a local vet clinic during the summer months. She plans to become a large-animal veterinarian when she grows up. In addition to saving for college, she looks forward to buying her own truck when she gets old enough to drive. On a typical winter day, she gets up between 4:45 and 5:15 am. She feeds the pigs and goats and breaks ice off the water, then leaves for an early class before school. After school, she checks the animals’ water then works with the goats she is preparing to show. During the early phases of training, it takes 30 minutes a day. As the show gets closer, she spends an hour or two each day training. Then she feeds the animals again and heads inside for dinner and household chores. After dinner, she does homework.
“We’re all really good students in our house,” says Emma. “It’s one of the things we have to agree to if we want to keep doing animals is we have to keep our grades up. So we have a lot of homework as well.”
Once she reached high school, Emma was able to join FFA. There she discovered the Career Development Event, livestock evaluation. She judges four livestock species – cattle, pigs, goats, and lambs on criteria like structure and muscling. She competes in evaluating the animals for breeding and marketing, and she speaks in front of an audience of professionals about her findings. She won the state competition in Las Vegas, which allowed her to go to nationals. In 2017, FFA nationals were held over four days in Indianapolis, Indiana. Around 68,000 kids attended from around the country. “It was insane,” Emma remembered. “It was absolutely amazing, though.”
Emma’s advice to other kids who want to raise Boer goats is to have patience and don’t be lazy. “You want to make it so it’s enjoyable for yourself and just have patience. If you need help, just make sure that you have the resources and people to help you.” She adds, “If it’s not working for you, don’t keep doing it. Figure out a better way or do something else.”
That sounds like good advice for any venture in life.
Aurora and Bodie had less to say. Aurora knew she wanted to raise Boer goats for money when she saw her sister doing it. She likes working with animals and enjoys doing it with her family. She especially likes the experience and the paycheck it gives her. Like her sister, she is putting most of her earnings toward college. She doesn’t know yet for sure what she wants to be when she grows up, but she is leaning toward a career as an agriculture teacher. Ten of the goats from the herd are hers personally. She also has pigs and one steer she will be showing this year. She looks forward to being in FFA next year when she gets to high school. Her advice to other kids is just to enjoy what you’re doing while you’re doing it and enjoy all the animals that you’re around.
Bodie’s first goat was born on his birthday. This is the first year he had to sell a Boer goat that he raised himself. It was hard for him to sell a goat he’d spent hours with every day, knowing it was going to the market. After being around raising meat animals his entire life, he knows full well that the little piggy that went to market never came home. He does enjoy working with the animals and going to shows. He has several friends he met at shows and loves to catch up with them. Of all the children, he is the only one still interested in beekeeping.
Emma, Aurora, and Bodie all understand the losses and gains and investment. They understand the value of hard work and persistence. They know where their meat comes from in a much more intimate way than a kid who grows up eating meat from a cellophane package.
Although goat meat has never been a major part of American cuisine, a growing immigrant population and cultural acceptance of foreign foods are creating more demand. The number of goats slaughtered in the United States has doubled every 10 years for three decades, rising to nearly one million annually. Emma says that even since she started meat goat farming, it has increased a lot. She says it really doesn’t taste much different than lamb. With the steady growth of the goat meat market in the United States, these kids should be able to continue raising and selling goats as long as they want to.
Raising goats has been an amazing adventure for the Parsons family. Lindsay says she would recommend it to any family contemplating getting into hobby farming. “I think a goat is a good place to start. It’s on a smaller scale than the cattle and not quite as big a commitment. It’s not really a money-making venture but it has definitely built us as a family. It’s brought us closer together, made us stronger. There’s a lot of work but I think it helped develop responsible kids. They’re very responsible. They know that if they’re not getting their chores done somebody’s going hungry or thirsty. It doesn’t benefit them in the show ring when the animal hasn’t put on the right amount of weight. You can definitely tell if the kids have worked with them or not. It builds responsibility, good values and definitely work ethic.”
Originally published in the May/June 2018 issue of Goat Journal.