Though not quite as celebrated as some other show animals, goats are getting a lot more love these days because they're cost-efficient, easy to manage and, well, just so darn cute.
At least that's the opinion of the goat handlers Wednesday morning at the Oklahoma State Fair, gearing up for the second straight day of show competition.
While show judges graded the dairy competition on proportion, stance and sheer “milkability,” Sharon Babcock defended her favorite breed.
Retired from an airplane manufacturer in Tulsa, Babcock said she discovered dairy goats by accident and has just plumb fallen in love.
“And boy, are they spoiled,” she said. “When it gets hot they want to stay in the barn, when it gets cold they stay in the barn — and they don't like rain. First drop that hits them they're gone; they think they're going to melt.”
Babcock runs about 36 dairy goats on the eight-acre spread she shares with her husband, John, near Mannford. For almost a decade they've been traveling the country, competing with the best of their stock.
Last year, in Massachusetts, one of their oldest, a 15-year-old, was named Junior National Champion. On Tuesday, one of her Oberhaslis won grand champion, and on Wednesday she was showing her Nubians.
Next stop, the Tulsa State Fair.
“It's kind of a hobby,” she said. “I don't know anything about judging, but I look at what I like, and if I like how it looks and feels. I don't think anybody here actually has a dairy.”
With soaring feed and transportation costs, running goats is not as lucrative as it once was, said Curt Cash, dairy goat superintendent for the fair. But small-time operators who raise the animals for their own milk supply are having success supplementing their income with milk sales.
Though it carries slightly more fat and calories, goat milk has almost double the vitamins and a bit more calcium, iron and phosphorus than cow milk, he said.
In Oklahoma, farmers can sell as much as 100 gallons of raw milk without a permit. Some also produce cheese, milk and other products from the milk, Cash said.
“It's easier to digest, it's easy on your stomach — goat milk is naturally homogenized, and so a lot of babies that can't drink cow's milk go for goat's milk,” he said.
Lt. Col. Mike Spaulding, of Oklahoma Air National Guard, said his family turned to goats because one of his 12 children suffers from a colon condition that makes traditional milk indigestible.
Along with horses, chickens and guineas, the Spauldings keep about 14 milking goats on their five-acre spread south of Norman. Health benefits aside, he said the herd has been wondrous in teaching the kids about responsibility and work.
“They spend about an hour or two every day on the chores, and it's a good thing to remind them of the job on a daily basis and see them grow and take ownership of it,” Spaulding said. “Like my youngest, he waters all the goats. He goes out every morning and pours out the old water, puts in the new — he almost becomes upset if we change his routine or his chore.”
Nine breeds will show
In all, nine different goat breeds will show at the Oklahoma State Fair this year, representing about 200 different animals, Cash said.
Unlike the county and state livestock shows held each fall, the fair shows are open only to those with registered breeds. There is also an entry fee.
Winning animals earn badges on their breed paperwork which generally translates into more dollars in sales, he said. A top-winning dairy goat can fetch more than $1,000, Cash said.
Carnival rides, games and food vendors take all the glory, but at the Oklahoma State Fair, livestock — goats, horses, pigs, sheep, cattle — continues to grow in popularity.
Richie Oakes, superintendent of livestock shows, said more than 10,000 exhibitors were slated to show this year, a record number.
“And you wouldn't think that, but people come out here just to get in touch with their roots, see the livestock — and the kids just love the animals,” Oakes said. “You have second- and third-generation people who were removed from the farm but their roots are in agriculture, and this kind of re-connects them to where they came from.”