In another month, Mary Strauss and her husband Norman will be inundated with kids on their farm. These will not be the Delaware Township kids you usually think of, but the kids of their Alpine goats. Thirty year-residents of the Township, the Strauss’ have about thirty goats, a couple of horses and some chickens on their 30+ acre farm on Lambertville-Headquarters Road. But, it is the goats that are Mary’s primary interest.
Mary recalls her interest in these docile, friendly and intelligent creatures all started with a school field trip with her daughter more than twenty years ago. Subsequently, on their tenth wedding anniversary, Norman asked Mary what she would like for her anniversary. “Would you like some jewelry”? To his surprise Mary said, “No, I would prefer goats.” So, an anniversary present of two goats started Mary’s goat farming; and her passion continues today – breeding, raising, and selling goats.
Mary is also a leader in the 4-H for local youngsters. The 4-H club, Udder Joy Kids is a goat club for children from the fourth grade through high school. Mary also has a “prep” club for younger children, Sidekicks, that “feeds” into the Udder Joy Club. Although the former club competes in 4-H events, Sidekicks helps familiarize younger children with goats and provides the opportunity to learn about the friendliness and docile character of goats. Mary always welcomes for new members.
Goat farming is an enjoyable way to be part of the Townships agricultural fabric. Mary pointed out that Delaware Township is farm and animal friendly. “Right to farm laws and farmland assessment programs are incentives for farming and the neighbors are great.” Goats are not expensive to raise; “it costs about $100 per year to raise a goat”, Mary said, “including feed, vaccinations and veterinary care”. Goats are easy to farm; they do not require large pastures. However, goats are sensitive to wet, cold and windy conditions and do require a shed or barn for shelter. Each doe usually yields two kids a year, with some giving birth to triplets.
Mary has two types of goats on her farm, Alpines and Pygmies. The Alpine goat originated in Europe and is known primarily as a good milker. It stands between 30-34 inches at the withers and weighs between 135-170 pounds. The Pygmy, much smaller than the Alpine, is a favorite among children because they are easy to raise and handle and they are affectionate, cute, lovable and playful. A full grown Pygmy is only 16-23 inches at the withers and weighs 40-70 pounds. Goats are raised for milk, meat and some breeds – even for their hair.
Goats are the world’s most popular red meat source and may offer an opportunity for an economically viable farm product. Much of the goat meat demand in the United States is generated by changing ethnic demographics and comes from ethnic groups that include Middle Eastern, Asian, African, Latin American and Caribbean heritage. As a result, Mary points out, “There is a push by the agricultural community to raise Boer goats.” The most striking difference between a Boer goat and any other type of goat is the size. A Boer is a large framed (200-250 pounds), double muscled animal developed in Southern Africa specifically for meat and hardiness. Boers are easy to raise, have mild temperaments, are affectionate, require no milking, and no special care. Unfortunately, Mary points out, there is not a local demand for goat meat and goat meat processors are not located nearby.
Mary has no desire to raise goats for meat. She said, “It is too difficult for me to take an animal I’ve raised from birth, bottle fed, named, and enjoyed its company and then ship it off to slaughter”. Unfortunately, there are numerous restrictions and regulations regarding the sale of goat milk, so Mary raises most of her goats for sale as pets. She points out that they make great pets. Goats can be taught to obey commands and will answer to their name. They are herd animals and prefer to be with other goats, although some goats are bought to keep a lone horse company. Familiar with the term “to get one’s goat”? Mary told the Post the history of that figure of speech. It originates from racetracks where goats were used to keep racehorses calm. Sometimes a competing horse owner would take another owner’s goat and the horse would get testy. Thus, when people get upset, someone has “gotten their goat.”
Today, Mary’s greatest pleasure with goat farming is her participation in the local 4-H chapter, teaching children about goats and participating at exhibitions with her pure-bred Alpine goats. You can always find Mary teaching youngsters about goats at the Hunterdon County 4-H and Agricultural Fair, and giving milking exhibitions at the Howell Living History Farm on Dairy Day. At Christmas time, Mary also exhibits her goats in live nativity scenes to help expose people to these friendly and useful animals.