Ever since Lee Ann Hall was a young lady, she’s been trying to outrun the city. Why? She’s been searching for an appropriate home for her beloved herd of goats and other farm animals. But she thinks she’s successfully found an area where the city won’t catch up to her and her goats, and in the process she’s given her family a home where they can thrive as well.
Lee Ann had goats as a child growing up in Helena, which was rural at the time. But the big city of Birmingham swallowed her home and she realized raising goats in the city limits wouldn’t be an option.
"When I was young, Helena was rural," she said. "People from Birmingham thought they had to pack a lunch to go to Helena because it was so far. But the city just grew around us."
Although the city was engulfing Lee Ann’s home, she didn’t share a fascination of urban lifestyle like many of her peers. She found her enjoyment in her goats, which is something that hasn’t changed.
"I just love goats; I’ve always loved them," she said. "When I was a teenager, when most kids were at the mall, I was out with my goats."
After Lee Ann married, she and her husband, John Hall moved to Alabaster. But Birmingham was sprawling and it wasn’t long before the hustle and bustle of the city was again knocking on their doorstep. So the couple decided to move somewhere they could "spread out" for the sake of the family, their 25-plus goat herd and John’s construction business.
So further south they went, and Lee Ann, John and their three daughters, 13-year-old Somer, 10-year-old Holly and eight-year-old Ashley, settled in Columbiana. While the girls were already involved with the goats in Alabaster, moving to agriculturally-zoned Columbiana allowed them to excel with their goat production.
"Since I grew up with goats, when my kids came along, it was just kind of a given that goats would be a good thing for them to show," Lee Ann said. "So we started out with meat goats and then some opportunities opened up for them to start showing dairy goats."
Somer pointed out another benefit in the family’s move from Alabaster to Columbiana.
"[Classmates in Alabaster] called us country, but now we’ve moved down here it isn’t as bad because there are other kids who have goats," Somer said. "Where we used to be, it was more unusual. Everyone down here likes it. Sometimes people who we don’t even know very well will come watch us show."
With a new acceptance of their hobby and a new town to expand it in, Lee Ann said when the girls started showing dairy goats, they decided to make an investment in some nice, full-blood Alpine goats to explore the health benefits of their milk and for opportunities of cheese and soap-making. The girls loved their meat goats and they still have several on their farm, but they have grown to love the personalities of the dairy goats and their docile and gentle behavior, describing them as "endearing" and "fun." And since the girls have had the opportunity to start showing their dairy goats in more shows, the Halls have grown their dairy herd.
Lee Ann said it has been beneficial for her girls to raise and show their goats.
"It’s been a tremendous experience for them," she said. "They’ve learned so much about animal husbandry and about caring for an animal on a daily basis. And not only the day-to-day care, but when we have a show, it requires a lot of work and preparation. It’s been just a wonderful learning experience for them."
Lee Ann noted the work required to raise their goats is not sporadic—it’s daily and constant. But she was quick to point out there is reward in the work she and her daughters have put into their goats, and the girls have learned to appreciate it.
"When you work really hard at it, you feel like you’ve accomplished something and it makes you appreciate things," Somer said. "If you work with them a lot, when it comes time for the show and they’re really nice looking, it does pay off."
Somer said her dairy goats require more hands-on work since they must be milked twice a day, but that extra handling makes things a little easier in the showring.
"They’re easier to lead than our Boer goats," Somer said. "They’re handled twice a day so they’re just used to us more."
Somer and her sisters have found some interesting ways to "entertain" their goats.
"There’s a trail. I’ll kind of run around with them down the trail and I’ll play with them," she said. "We’ve made an obstacle course for them, too."
Lee Ann described the obstacle course as various raised levels and a big blue tube. And if milk production or showing doesn’t work out for the Halls’ goats, perhaps the circus may be an option because Lee Ann and her girls both said the goats will do back flips jumping off the top of the obstacle course.
Lee Ann said it’s important for her children to have an appreciation for raising their own food and they’ve learned to enjoy the milk of their "well-trained" goats as well as the health benefit of it. She said her husband particularly appreciates the health boost he’s received from drinking the milk.
"People who have trouble digesting regular cow milk can digest goat milk easier. It’s the way the proteins are broken down; it’s more digestible," she said. "When it’s not pasteurized, you get a lot of the good bacteria you need for digestion, so a lot of people drink it and it really helps them.
"My husband has allergies and he gets sinus infections easily, but when he drinks goat milk regularly, he doesn’t get them. Cow milk for some reason causes you to produce mucus and goat milk doesn’t do that."
Lee Ann has found another benefit to producing goat milk—making cheese, and she really enjoys using her home-raised and home-made goat cheese in her lasagna. She’a also learning another "goat-related" hobby—soap-making and she’s already taken a few training classes.
But it takes healthy goats to produce quality milk for cheese and soap-making, and it takes a good feed to produce and maintain a healthy goat herd. Lee Ann said after years of trying to find the perfect feed, she’s finally found it at Mid-Sate Farmers Co-op.
"I have been through so many different feeds over the years," she said. "I would get started on one and then, for whatever reason I couldn’t get it anymore, and then I’d have to quit using it and start on something else. I’ve been through that for years, and I’ve finally got to something I can use and it’s always there. The goats do well on it—they look good, they’re fat, their coats look good. I’ve just been really impressed with the feed I get there."
It’s not just the quality feed she appreciates. She said the friendly staff at Mid-State Farmers Co-op has been great help.
"These guys are great, they’re wonderful to help me with whatever I need and they’ve been really supportive as far as helping me. There’s never been a time when I walked in there and didn’t walk out with what I need. They have been just super."
Her daughters agree…
"I don’t ever go in there by myself," Lee Ann said of her daughters. "I’ll say, ‘y’all just stay in the car,’ but they have to go in with me."
Mid-State Farmers Co-op Manager Chris Duke said he appreciates the Hall’s business, and assistant manager Jamie Griffin said the Halls are valuable customers.
"They’re a major part of the goat community," Griffin said. "She comes by and incorporates us in their goat shows and other events, so we’ve actually gotten to expand out and get more goat customers in.
"This is what it’s all about—keeping the family involved. They are a family that is really active in what they do, whether it’s their horses or the goats. Their kids have been in the newspapers several times and anytime we find a clipping of a customer, we’ll put it up on the board in our store. To see the kids come in and see their picture up there really makes a difference. We’re proud to have customers like the Halls."
And the girls have found ample opportunity to be in the papers. Somer is president of her 4-H livestock club. In addition to showing goats, Holly excels in horseback riding and hunter/jumper competitions. Eight-year-old Ashley has already made her mind up…she’s planning to stay on the farm and raise goats alongside her mother. But Lee Ann said she’ll be happy wherever their career paths take them.
"I will be happy with whatever occupation they choose, whether?it is a related to agriculture or not," Lee Ann said. "I know their experience with livestock will positively shape the career choices they make. Hopefully, they will be more responsible and have a strong work ethic as a result of their experiences on the farm."
Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.