When Jeannie and Danny Cooley were married about four years ago, Danny began talking about his dream of raising Boer goats.
"I agreed to let him have one buck and one doe," Jeannie now laughs. "And now we have more than forty and hope to continue to expand."
Danny was detailed in the form and fitness of the sturdy Boers he wanted to raise and saw those details in the bloodline of his first buck, Capricious Zig-Zag (later known as Ziggy!) that the couple purchased from the King family on Straight Mountain in Blount County in January 2007.
But just a short time later, they met Hugh Burke, who was selling his entire herd and refused to separate them.
"So on March 3, 2007, my rule of one buck and one doe went straight out the window," Jeannie continued. "We were 21 Boer goats richer. And it’s been an up-and-downhill battle ever since."
Danny grew up in Mississippi spending much of his early years just across the road from his Grandpa’s (Ed Cochran) farm, where he helped him medicate, feed and do all the other chores necessary in raising animals.
Danny had begun a goat herd before, but had to sell them. Now he and Jeannie feel they’re in it for the long haul.
Jeannie grew up just a few hundred yards from her current home. The Cooley’s farm is located on an approximate 20-acre section of the 104-acre farm her late grandmother, Orez Blackely, bought and paid for "while raising her three children alone." Jeannie’s grandfather passed away when her dad, Lambert, was only ten years old.
Lambert and Jeannie’s mother, Marcella, live a short distance away.
Lambert raised cattle through the years and Jeannie and her brothers of course had their assortment of pets. But nothing like what the Cooleys experience now.
They sell mostly breeding stock to others involved in meat goat farming, although they have sold some for meat as they cull trying to get the best-natured and best-bloodline possible.
The Cooleys have added Angus cattle to help with rotational grazing and they also raise Great Pyrenees dogs, selling the pups for additional income while the parents patrol the wooded acres behind where predators have ranged from bobcats and panthers to the seemingly ever-present coyotes.
Danny’s "regular" job is as a boilermaker with the Local 108 Union of Boilermakers and he often travels throughout the country on those jobs, during the fall and winter months, leaving Jeannie and the children to do the majority of the farm work.
"That’s why I won’t keep a buck or any other animal that is out of control," Danny explained. "They have to be good humored and have a good personality."
Together the couple have five "human" kids: Christopher, Alexandria, London, Jesse and Jeremy, "not to mention the several others who call this place home," Jeannie explained.
"Everybody knows that if you spend the night here, you’ll probably wind up doing some sort of farm work," Jeannie laughed. "But it sure helps out."
Many of son Jesse’s fellow football players on the Susan Moore1 Bulldog football team visit often and help with everything from bottle-feeding orphan goats to watering to stringing fences.
Jeannie, who works at the Blount County Salvation Army office and Distribution Center in Oneonta, said livestock losses have been the hardest thing she’s had to deal with. "Losing an animal is always upsetting. Just when you think you have it all figured out, something else goes wrong."
"You often play the ‘what if’ game and most times there is no rhyme or reason to why you have lost one," she said "But we are constantly learning and improving. Most rural farmers believe all goats are equal, yet through personal experience we are learning differently."
Danny’s work absences are why he’s developed many of the things around the farm.
The fences are primarily five strings of electric tape, easy for Jeannie and/or the kids to repair if a tree falls on it during a storm. Danny has also developed an automatic watering system and other things to help.
Demonstrating the goat catch pen, which is ideal for vaccinations and hoof trimming, Danny explained, "Just about all of our equipment and fencing came from the Blount County Co-op. We depend on them and that’s where we buy most of our feed as well."
When a goat had triplets in early spring and then died two days later, Danny invented a simple milker consisting of a sprayer top, hypodermic injector without the needle and some clear aquarium tubing to milk colostrums out of the doe before she died and to milk other goats to feed the triplets.
"I’ve since bought a John Henry auto vacuum pump, but you need a very productive goat in order to use that," Danny explained.
The family also has continual goals which keep things fresh.
"We want to continue to increase buying modern equipment. We want to continue our show goat breeding stock and move more into raising commercial meat goats as well to meet that expanding market," Jeannie explained. "As a sideline we also want to buy some strong bloodlined Nubians for milk for our ranch and family."
Danny explained that while there have been many fluctuations in the meat goat industry in the past few years, there is still a huge U.S. market, thanks in part to the many different ethnic groups who eat goat meat, often eating different parts of the goat because of their religious emphasis.
He feels the best defense against an ever-changing market is to be as educated as possible while providing a quality product.
Danny noted, "We recently bought a new buck, Bada Bing, from James Oller in South Alabama. We are hoping this buck will allow us to step up into a new level of goat ranching."
"I recommend everyone go to as many Extension service sponsored programs as they can," Danny explained. "We’ve not only learned a lot, but met other goat ranchers and those contacts are so important."
The Internet has also provided much education and contacts.
"There’s a big rancher in Texas, Mack Mauldin, and we’ve called him possibly once a year and he’s always been ready to answer our questions and help in any way he can. That’s one thing we’ve learned about goat ranchers. Most of them are always ready to help somebody else with goats," Danny added.
"We couldn’t have our farm if we didn’t have these friends, these other goat ranchers, who are willing to share their knowledge and their ideas."
The Cooleys can be reached through their website at www.murphreevalleyranch.com or by phoning (205) 589-2740.
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer who lives on her Blount County farm. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.