The Elmore County Farmers Federation Sheep and Goat Expo was an opportunity for family fun and learning on Saturday, March 13, 2010.
Whether seeking advice for their own sheep and goat operations, discovering different aspects of the industries, looking at the best of the breeds, securing a new cheese recipe or tasting a goat burger for the first time, expo and show goers participated in a wide range of activities at the Elmore County Farm Center.
Molly Luster of Wetumpka expressed her enthusiasm for the event.
"My husband and I came out today to gain knowledge of the different types of grooming," Luster said. "Maybe we’ll buy a goat today."
Live music set the tempo for the day’s activities, which included a dairy goat display, a goat and sheep cook-off, a photography contest, a silent auction, demonstrations of sheep-shearing and cheese-making, a forum on industry topics, and the Alabama Youth Born and Bred Market Meat and Breeding Doe Show.
Local farms set up the dairy goat display.
Aric Adams, owner of AA farms in Milbrook, said he wants to see the dairy goat industry gain more recognition and reach its full potential.
"The dairy goat industry is great for our state and our kids," Adams said. "The industry doesn’t get the attention it needs. It is just as profitable as the meat goat industry. I am grateful to be asked to come out here today."
Sydne Spencer, an owner of Spencer’s Farm Goat Milk Bath and Body Products, demonstrated cheese-making.
"A desire for raw, soft cheese you can make yourself is bringing cheese-making back," Spencer said. "I like doing this demonstration to show people what they can do."
Industry experts held a forum on issues affecting dairy goat operations.
Speakers and topics included Dr. Boyd Brady of Auburn University on dairy goat production, Dr. Darrell Rankins of Auburn on nutrition and feed, Dr. Sandra Solaiman of Tuskeegee University on dairy goats versus meat goats and Robert Spencer of Alabama A&M University Extension on value-added dairy goat opportunities.
Rankins said a forage-based system creates a reliable feeding profile.
"The biggest advantage we have in Alabama is that we can grow cool and warm-season forages," Rankins said.
He stated the energy content of commercial feeds is unknown; finding a correct calcium and phosphorous balance is key to feed selection.
Rankins gave the advice of "take half and leave half" for rotational grazing.
"Rotational grazing is more of an art than a science," Rankins said. "The animals will teach you how."
Solaiman emphasized the commitment and labor involved in running a dairy goat operation.
"You have to have an eye for dairy," Solaiman said. "You must have things under control. Dairy is a life."
Robert Spencer talked about the pros and cons of selling dairy goat products.
"The key to goat milk is fat molecules," Spencer said. "The fat molecules from goat milk are so much more easily absorbed in the digestive system than the fat molecules of cow’s milk."
He indicated a struggle of dairy goat operations is bottling the milk.
"For what it takes to produce these goats, goat milk is not cheap," he continued.
He said cheese is an easier goat dairy product to produce because it does not require the set up of bottled milk.
Spencer gave advice for start-up operations.
"Figure out the challenge of what you are going to do with that milk," Spencer said. "Talk to as many producers as you can —- have goals and aspirations."
In the afternoon, the crowd gathered around the arena to watch the best of the breeds and their handlers compete in the Alabama Youth Born and Bred Market Meat and Breeding Doe Show. The youth handlers showed their goats in the Showmanship, Costume, Youth Market Meat Goats, and Breeding Goat divisions.
Judge Richard Ramsey offered encouragement to the children.
"As you’re getting older, we are expecting better handling, more knowledge and more perfection," Ramsey told the handlers. "Y’all are doing well. Keep studying your anatomy."
Ramsey said he grew up raising animals and believes growing up with animals fosters responsibility in youth.
"I saw a good amount of competition in general today," Ramsey said. "They have a good knowledge-base for their age."
Alabama State Meat Goat and Sheep Producers also sponsored the Elmore County Farmers Federation Sheep and Goat Expo.
Jade Currid is an intern for Alabama Farmers Cooperative.