by Lacey Hughett
You don’t have to own goats to introduce children to the “goat life.” Youth and volunteer programs give access to farm life even if you reside in the city.
Have kids of the human variety? Do you desire to introduce them to the exciting world of goats? As a fellow parent of the wild human child, I considered what sort of life I want my son to live. I am lucky to allow him to grow up on a hobby farm. His best friend is Macchi, a mixed mini goat, and the two are inseparable.
If I had no space for goats, or they were illegal where I reside, I would still want my son to be involved in farming and ranching activities. It brings him so much joy and helps him learn valuable life lessons and experiences.
Fortunately, there are many ways to introduce farm life and goats to our human young.
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The Future Farmers of America (FFA)
A great opportunity for older kids, the FFA is low cost but has a caveat: Your child must be enrolled in some sort of agriculture class at their school. If the school does not offer one, discuss ways around it with your local FFA chapters. The FFA allows children to learn leadership and responsibility in groups of like-minded individuals. Your child will be exposed to a wide variety of farming life, including raising, caring for, and showing goats. Participation in the program has huge future benefits as well, because FFA alumni are eligible for multiple scholarships and grants for higher education. Membership costs about $7 a year and includes a subscription to their magazine. Local chapters may require additional fees.
Children and young adults ages 5-19 years can join 4-H, a program run by your state’s Cooperative Extension. Cloverbud members, between the ages of 5-8, participate in non-competitive activities and hands-on learning experiences. The older members utilize the skills and knowledge they’ve learned to raise and show animals from dogs to horses. 4-H raises self-esteems, helps members make new friends, and instills a lifelong love of livestock and farming. Fees vary depending on your local groups, which can be found via a search module on the main 4-H website, www.4-h.org/find.
The National Grange is a family-based grassroots organization that allows members of all ages to learn more about husbandry, community, and personal growth. There are many different programs to choose from. The Junior Grange is a leadership development program for children aged 5-14 years. The Youth Grange is for young adults and couples up to 35 years of age. The Grange is also a national program with numerous local branches. They advocate for rural living, raising livestock, community service, and caring for others. Members have the opportunity to raise, care for, and show goats as well as many other animals.
Many high schools have rodeos or clubs that can offer children a chance at caring for goats and other livestock. If not, local community colleges often have programs that interested parties can explore. There are national programs such as the National High School Rodeo Association (www.nhsra.com) as well as local state programs of the same sort. Most of these programs have membership fees, but they also offer scholarships and grants. They vary by what they offer, but they all contribute to youth learning to care for and respect animal life. The best way to get in touch with these programs is through an online search engine or by contacting your local Board of Education.
Livestock Rescues and Nonprofits
This one may take a little searching, but most places have some form of livestock rescue or nonprofit organization that deals with large animals. These groups are almost always looking for volunteers! It’s generally easy to get into contact with rescues and nonprofits through their website or over the phone.
The website https://www.vegan.com/sanctuaries/ has a directory of farm animal rescues by state, but it is not comprehensive. Getting involved will help kids understand compassion and caring for sick, injured, or neglected animals.
A little less hands-on, but still a great experience is touring an existing ranch or goat dairy farm. Many established ranches offer tours and education days as an additional income stream. Children can reap educational benefits from a visit, and parents can gauge their child’s interest level without committing to a major program. Every place is different, but kids are often taught about livestock, are permitted to pet, interact, and care for the animals, and may even be offered samples of products the establishment makes, such as caramels or cheese. Touring a goat farm or dairy is a valuable exposure to the lifestyle without a huge upfront commitment.
Many high schools or community colleges offer agriculture classes that serve as an educational tool as well as a great place to network. Often the classes include hands-on goat care, which can springboard children into raising and showing goats and other livestock in their local fairs or rodeos.
Local Goat Owners
Do you know someone who has goats? Existing owners already have the space and knowledge to keep a goat happy and safe. Don’t be afraid to reach out! Most of these people won’t mind teaching a budding future goat owner about the animal, but it can go further than that. I’ve heard countless stories of children raising their first goats on someone else’s property as their first taste of the farm life.
Ask! If your child is serious about the commitment of raising a goat, then there is probably someone willing to give them a shot at it. If you don’t personally know anyone, try posting an ad or searching for online backyard hobby farm groups. Facebook has many groups of local farming communities that are open to join for education purposes, animal pictures and stories, and networking.
Donate a Goat
You child can donate a goat to a needy family! World Vision helps people donate livestock to families across the globe. The cost to donate a goat is $85, which can bring a family milk, fertilizer, and extra income. Although you don’t personally see the goat, it teaches your child the gift of giving back in a goat-related way. The program is accessible online via their website, www.worldvision.org.
If you and your child are serious about getting involved in the world of goats, then go for it! It is a rewarding lifestyle packed to the brim with fun and adventure. There are so many amazing programs and opportunities. Reach out, ask questions, and get involved. You won’t regret it!
Originally published in the September/October 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.