Friday, September 15, 2017

A New Mission: Enjoy Each Other's Company

Mark, our Therapy Goat, and his pals
The dust has finally settled here on the goat farm, figuratively that is (‘cuz there is ALWAYS dust on the goat farm). The antics and mudslinging of Convention really threw us all for a loop. But a lot has happened since then. And I am happy to report that it is all well.

In our last episode, Katherine wrote a scathing post about the less-than-stellar behavior of adults in The Pygmy Goat Show World. What she didn’t explain was “why.” So, here’s my 2 cents.
A group of people ganged up on an individual in the goat world to push her out of the goat show circuit. It started back in the fall, with the Johnnes scare … or shall I call it an outbreak? I refer you to my November 2016 post "Last to Know"
I took quite a lot of heat for that post. Phone calls. Texts. Social media. No surprise. Johnnes is a sensitive subject, to say the least. Katherine took a lot of grief for it, too – being accosted on her Facebook page by one particularly angry parent who questioned Katherine’s own testing protocols. Maybe she didn’t read the blog? Anyways, the tempest blew over, as it always does, and I didn’t hear any more about the subject for … seven months. Until Convention.
Cicadas, thanks to National Geographic
In truth, I had secretly hoped the drama had drifted away again. Johnnes scares are as predictable as cicada swarms: 5 years for Johnnes, 17 or 13 for cicadas. 
The first day of convention, at the kick-off muckety-muck meeting, the s*&t hit the fan. Accusations flew: supposedly “Susan” (our friend in “Last to Know”) knowingly sold Johnnes-infected goats to families around the country. And, to boot, Susan allegedly FORGED her test results to hide the evidence.
For Pete’s sake. If anyone had just asked Susan, like Katherine did, they would have gotten to the bottom of the matter. Maybe they had ulterior motives or wanted to deflect the attention from themselves. Who knows.
But it turned into a full-blown ethics accusation. Susan’s membership was revoked, which cascaded into a torrent of other consequences --- which I won’t go into because it doesn’t matter now. What does matter is that the process was a witch hunt on par with the Salem witch trials of 1692. 
Salem Witch Trials
For a teenager, it was pretty shocking that adults sometimes act like middle school “mean girls.” (Welcome to the world, honey.) Hence Katherine’s post ("For the Youth")
Fast forward three months, and the dust has settled. People combed through by-laws and minutes, committee chairs left in protest, lawyers sent letters. Charges were dropped and the mob stood down. Susan’s membership was reinstated and everything returned to “normal.”
Kudos to Susan. She’s one of the strongest, most tenacious and most practical women I’ve ever met. And ETHICAL. So there. You all know what side I am on. But why are there even sides in this matter?
Aren’t we all in this for the same reasons? For the love of goats and fellowship with our goat-y community?
Apparently not.
Katherine and I have spent countless hours discussing the matter. Hashing and re-hashing the specific events. Speculating on motives. Venting about “fair” and “unfair.” Reviewing why we have 50 goats on the property and spend a ton of money traveling to remote (and dusty) places to walk our fancy animals around in circles. Anticipating the NEXT blow up. Because in the goat world, there is ALWAYS a next time.
Vicious Cycle
Unless you do something to stop the cycle. Wait. Whaaaaat? It doesn’t have to be this way? Stop it. 
I admit I was content to bury my head in the sand and to be glad that the din had subsided. But Katherine was not. (Ah, youth).
“What exactly is it that I want to get out of goats?” Katherine asked over and over again. It became her mantra. By God, she was going to fix this problem - somehow.
Instead of focusing on the negative, Katherine focused on the positive. She started talking to other goat people about what brought them into goats in the first place and what they ultimately want to get out of it. The answer was the same every time: community.
Yes, goats are cute, cuddly, furry little bundles of love. Watching them frolic makes your heart leap for joy. Holding their warm bodies against your chest calms your soul. Goats make great therapy animals ("Therapy Goat in Training").  
But ultimately, we embark on this abstract hobby because we enjoy hanging out with like-minded people who enjoy raising and living with goats as much as we do. It’s the community and the human-interaction that we crave.
In a world dominated by screens and permeated by the haze of blue computer light, we yearn for connection with other living creatures. For some, it’s goats.
So, how to get back to that welcoming, inclusive, FUN community? ‘Cuz that’s not what we have right now, that’s for sure.
Katherine reached out to people and they pondered the question at great length, finally deciding to form their own pygmy goat club. One right here in our own backyard (literally). The founders met IN PERSON — not over little screens—over and over again to hash out the foundation of their new club: mission, bylaws, non-profit status, accounting procedures, responsibilities, fund raising, websites, EVENTS. Especially events.
This club has to be fun. There have to be plenty of reasons for people to COME TOGETHER to enjoy each other’s company in the presence of goats. Potlucks, barbeques, goat shows, clinics. And the list goes on.
The group is deep in the throes of organizing their first goat show, and Katherine is back to her happy, goat-herder self.
She feels empowered to fix what’s broken. Rather than wallowing in what is wrong, she is reveling in what is right. At the same time, she’s building a community that shares her values. It’s not just about winning ribbons (though that is rewarding in its own right); it’s about connecting with people.

Bay Area Pygmy Goat Club
To illustrate that point, I’ll finish with one quick anecdote from a couple weeks back.
Katherine and her little brother embarked on a road trip to Cottonwood, Arizona, foryes, you guessed it—a goat show. Well, actually, FOUR goat shows. Woohoo. The drive took 14 hours each way. Wretched in my mind, which is why I stayed home.
When they got home three days later, I asked how the show went.
“Did you win anything?” I eagerly asked.
Disappointed, I ventured a tentative, “Was the 28 hours of driving really worth it….?”
“Of course it was. I made a new friend! He got into goats three years ago…. He has 14 goats, named….He told me about a new feed…He wants to be a judge too!” and on and on and on she went.
I was embarrassed by my own shallow priorities. I mistakenly thought Katherine went to Arizona to win some grands, when really, she went down there to connect with her people.
Silly Mom. I could learn a thing or two from this kid.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

For the Youth (by Katherine)

This is the rose that was supposed to
have been given at convention to our
friend who was railroaded out of goats.
We brought the rose home for her, as
well as some new perspectives.
(We've been busy on the goat farm, as usual. We just got home from the national convention, which was, as usual, full of drama and turmoil. 

Today Katherine is our guest blogger. Hang on to your hat. I stand by her and agree with her 100%. - AG)

This post doesn’t need images. It needs words.

I’ve been beat up and beat down in the pygmy goat show world. I’ve watched people come and go – I’ve made friends near my age, only to have them stop coming to shows and stop breeding goats altogether. Why?

The parents. The breeders. The judges. The passive bystanders. The significant others. The youth.

Yes, if you’re reading this, I’m calling YOU out.

I am beyond disappointed in the adults that breed and show pygmy goats.

There has been unpleasantness in the goat community recently. It came to a boil at National Convention; there was yelling, there were tears, and there was an icy silence. People left the show to explore the region - specifically to get away from the tension.

I’m a youth breeder. I take pride in the fact that my goats can compete with those of long-time breeders in the country. I look up to the breeding programs of judges and older breeders, ask questions often, and observe.

At the same time, I often feel like I’m the only adult there. HOW am I one of the only mature goat breeders? I'm only 17.

What do youth breeders – and new members – see when judges are bickering with one another? What do they see when parents attack other parents, other breeders, and judges when they’re upset, rather than talking like the adults that they are? What do they see when ADULT big breeders send their animals into youth or 4H shows because “animals shown in youth shows do not have to be youth-owned”?

And, more importantly, WHY should anyone show pygmy goats at all? I have not had fun showing goats for years. I’ve stuck with it for two reasons: I like my animals, and I need to put something on my college application.

Showing is the unfortunate side effect of my breeding program.


Do I have to scream it on the microphone at a goat show to be heard?

At shows, I find myself avoiding adults. They are rude, inappropriate, and mean-spirited. I would spend more time with youth, except there aren’t many. Their parents take charge of their projects and take on social issues with gusto, upsetting the balance that has held the NPGA together for decades. Their children aren’t told to make their own decisions. They have no independence.

I’m practically alone, except for a group of a few close friends – our group may be fewer now at shows.

The adults in the goat show community – mine in particular – have behaved horribly. They have been acting like kids fighting in a sandbox. Most of them are not role models that new members would look up to.

I would not recommend youth to join the pygmy goat club associated with my region. I would not recommend ANYONE to join this regional pygmy goat club as it stands now. I will be starting a new pygmy goat club in the summer primarily FOR YOUTH as a last ditch effort to bring kids into our hobby and to get away from the people in my club.

What do I tell clients, when they buy show-quality kids from me? I’m sick of lying to new members. I’m tired of telling parents the goat show community is warm and welcoming. It isn’t.

Our goat community is broken.

What used to feel like a family is now a big, drunken fight for power.

What power? These are goats – no, these are PYGMY goats. If you win – big deal! Your small, mostly useless goat can become even more useless when it “finishes” and can no longer show or breed. If you don’t win – I guess you should try again, but also badmouth the goat that did win, and the breeder that owned that goat, and gossip about potential diseases within their herds.

The adults in the pygmy goat world need to start acting like adults. They can’t complain about the youth retention rate (hint: it’s low) when they are causing the problem.

They need to ask themselves: “WHY am I breeding goats?”

And they need to GET OVER IT.

It isn’t to win. It’s to promote and improve the breed, to create pets, and to spend time with a group of people that enjoy doing the same thing. Our youth need to see adults having fun, not kicking each other out of their club like they’re cool kids sitting at a lunch table in middle school.

Our community needs to reevaluate what’s important.

We need to bring more youth into our club, or it will die. This is my warning to the goat world – and to every livestock community in the country. Adults need to start acting like adults, not like preschoolers.

I’m at my wits end for showing goats, and what I’ve seen lately has further encouraged me to stop. So when I’m gone at college – you’d better find a new youth to take my place.

And you’d better not mess it up as badly again, because the next batch of youth will be your last chances.

As a refresher to those who have never read the NPGA code of ethics, I would like to point out these 3 sections that I find especially pertinent:

To realize my moral responsibility to the public, to my associates, and to the animals in my care.
To promote the interest, aims and purposes of NPGA and to endeavor at all times to improve the breed and to help create a favorable public image of the Pygmy Goat.
To use good judgment and ethical behavior, and to share my knowledge and contribute my energies in the interest of our common purposes.