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  • Writer's pictureWholesome Hill Farms

What is a Herd Dispersal?

"Herd Dispersal" - what does that mean? It means to sell off the herd.

Ok, so I haven't actually told anyone except a small handful of Goat World people; just people that should be told for one reason or another. Partners, people that owe me a goat (and yes, I know how weird that sounds), or people that I am "hang out" kind of friends with. But that's it right now.

It's still REALLY new.

I want to impress upon you that it's a big deal when people get rid of their herd sometimes. Its not as simple as "I'm done, byeeeee". It depends on the situation but generally, the longer someone has had them, the bigger a deal it is. And then herd size matters too because in a big herd, its a process. Smaller herds can (and do) sometimes just send them all to the sale barn where they are sold in auction format. The sale barns operate like a middle man: they sell to meat channel buyers as well as the public. Most people making breedstock (ones of the type that are going to be breeders and not meat) send their culls to the sale barn. I did that when I was smaller, but these days I have relationships that allow them to enter the meat channel without the middle man, if they are that type.

In big herd dispersals, there is a lot to consider: the goats, the cycle of which goats are babies, which are adults, who is pregnant. Then there are the non goat items: equipment, genetic material, the perishables. And there's a new thing to consider I hadn't considered until today, I'll save that for another post, but its a doozy.

Herd Dispersals happen for dozens of reasons, and usually you don't hear the real reason from a more established breeder. But here are the common reasons:

Human Health Issues - it takes a lot of physical inputs to have a herd of goats. I'm not talking 5 goats because that's not a huge responsibility, that amount can even be like pets. But an actual breeding herd, with bucks (we will not be calling them billies as they are registered stock) kept correctly and does (who we will not be calling nannies unless they ARE actual nannies and act as adoptive moms who will "nanny" anything) who need to be bred to produce offspring - is a good bit of work. They must have water, food, and shelter at all times. I jokingly tell my cattle clients I am not lazy enough for cattle and that is why I have goats (cattle live in the open without shelter, they drink ponds not water troughs, and most people don't feed them unless they are calves). But imagine a couple hours a day, every day of your life, making sure there is food, water, shelter. Daily commitment, day in, day out, no breaks unless you have a comfortable budget to hire someone for a break or have family or friends who will give you a break because they care about you. Also, things go wrong, momma goats can have a hard time birthing, or bucks can get hurt, or babies can get stuck, or the whole herd can escape - these things happen to everyone who has goats sooner or later. Its very hard to deal with daily care and the hiccups that happen if you have a broken leg, or COPD, or kidney failure, or get diagnosed with cancer. Sometimes its just natural age that makes health an issue; its ridiculous to wrestle around with 150-350lb animals if you're 83 years old and need to be steady on your own feet.

Human Life Issues - sometimes people have a divorce, or a new baby, or the loss of a job, or a parent becomes terminal, or they need to move, or anything that makes the need to focus more on the human part of a goat owners life can make it impossible to do goats and life issues at the same time. Goats have to go.

Goat Income - this one has made a lot of people herd disperse in the past 2 years. The saleability of goats goes up and down. It changes easily and when its down, people who expected it to be up think "I was expecting extra income from these and I'm actually putting more into them than I'm getting out of them". If they were not prepared for market fluctuations, or no one taught them the timing of selling goats - goats will have to go.

There are some less common reasons but I've seen some of these too:

Hardiness - the goats aren't as hardy as they expected and its harder to keep them producing than expected. This happens around 6-24 months of first owning goats, especially to the people that had no Goat Mentor. They realize that goats are their own animal and they don't really know how to deal with the things that happen. The hardiness issue is often related to worms and Boer have more problems with worms than many other breeds because no one selected for parasite resistance. There are other things too that have not been genetically influenced for positive effect in various breeds. Without knowing how to deal with these common issues, people just say "I quit". Bye goats.

The people that do stay in goats will go one of 2 ways: they will either harden themselves (usually to the detriment of care level for goats) or they settle into a kind of equilibrium of accepting they can fix some problems but not always all problems and don't beat themselves up when they know they have done all they can do, when those problems arise. The hardening option really sucks because not only does it result in poor stewardship, it leaks into other areas of life and results in lowered empathy in that person as a whole (psychology at work again). The problem with goats is that they are good at a few things innately, one of those things is dying without care and an environment designed with them in mind.

And then there's Disease Dispersals. Much of the time, people don't know their goats have a disease because its just not a thing that people are taught when they first get into goats. Established breeders know, and sometimes they just sell the problem to other people who don't know, perpetuating the group of people who disperse because they don't know. To unknowing folks it looks like "my goats seem to get sore and go down on their knees and do poorly" or "they go down and die at 4 years old" or "they get real skinny and scour on and off" (scour means to have diarrhea) or "several does aborted their babies" - those people assume they're just problematic and get back out of them. Because health testing is not a priority in Boer goats people truly think "the darned things die easy, we just can't keep 'em". Bye goats.

And then there are a few Disgruntled Dispersals. These are where something lateral to the goats themselves is a pain in the gluteus maximus and the person is tired of dealing with it. This can be anything from "I bought these expensive show goats yet I never win so I quit" to "I'm frustrated with the goat registry so I quit" to "I heard these are side money but I'm not making any money to justify this so I quit" or even "I am tired of having this constant tug of war with my spouse about goats so I quit".

Yes, there is a whole sub world of Showing Goats (more on that eventually). Yes, goats have registrations, like a car title, its commonly called "the papers", there is a registration association for each of the major breed of goats that handles all that by tracking and issuing registrations. Yes, its hard to make them profitable without actually thinking about it or having someone help you when you're learning. People need a Goat Mentor. This is particularly hard because established breeders often act as if they will be a mentor when really they are just trying to close a potential sale.

The worst kind of dispersal is a Tragedy Dispersal. These are because something horrible happened and it made the owner need to quit. These are awful because they have more angst in them than any other type of dispersal plus the angst of the dispersal itself. I almost Tragedy Dispersed when we had a barn fire. I was REAL close. But then I looked up and realized I would be just as terrorized about the tragedy with no goats as with goats. So instead I changed my location because I could not continue to look at, smell, and relive that trauma every single day. That is how I left Arkansas - running from a tragedy. For me, the location is what I needed to get out of my life. But imagine if it was something worse, something that can not be removed. Every time I see a Tragedy Dispersal, I know those people don't have any time. They have to make that huge change right now. They are suffering from something: bad news, bad events, bad something. And I hate it because I hate suffering in all forms for anyone: goats or humans. Tragedy Dispersal folks need to be treated with kindness. They're already going through a lot.

There are dozens of intricate reasons why people "get out of goats" but those are the ones I see most.

So what is my reason? Why am I dispersing a quality herd of goats I'm really pleased with?

None of the above.

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