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Getting Her Goats

    Kathryn Gamble
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You hear them before you see them. Then a door swings open and a jumble of knee-high, squirming, bleating beasts do their best to clamber up gates to get to her: the woman with the milk. Jan Kaiser has been a goat farmer for less than two years, but she has taken to it like mother to babe.

Jan points to a white board on the wall of the old barn. It documents all the births, a whirlwind of 60 babies born in the spring; 27 of them in just 30 days. Each baby is listed by name along with lineage, birth weight and feeding habits. “It’s a lot more work than we bargained for,” she says.

Jan and her sister Sharon Hoskinson own a farm in Boone County. The land has been in their family since 1864, one of the rare farmsteads that has been passed down through generations of women. Jan’s great-grandfather died in the Civil War, leaving behind a wife with three children she couldn’t raise alone. Two of the children were sent to an orphanage, not uncommon in those days. The youngest, Florilla, was given to neighbors along with the land her mother had inherited. When Florilla was 16, she was married to a relative of her adoptive parents, and the land, 100 acres, was given to the couple as a wedding gift. Florilla and her man were fertile as the land, and one of the nine born to the union was Jan Kaiser’s maternal grandmother, Iva. Jan’s parents, Vern and Melva, eventually took over the farm, and it has now gone to Jan and her sister, as there were no brothers.

Jan and Sharon cash rent their property, and Jan and her husband Steve Kaiser have another farm, Preston’s Creek Ranch, where they have raised horses and mules for many years. A few years ago, observing that they had a lot of timber and weeds that need to be cleared, Jan and Steve heard about Goats on the Go in Ames, a service where you can rent goats to do what they do: clear the land. “Goats are great at weeds, plus poison ivy and oak,” Jan explains. They completely strip greens from every stem and limb, preventing photosynthesis, and so the next generation of plants don’t return. Instead of renting goats, however, the Kaisers decided to buy some. And then they found out they had bought the wrong kind.

“We got Boer goats,” Jan says. “They’re South African. They’re great for meat but not as great for clearing land because they need shelter.” But, by the time they discovered this, Jan was kind of in to the goat thing. “We discovered that 63% of the red meat in the world is goat, and there’s a growing market in Iowa with our increasing populations of cultures that eat goat meat.”

It’s been more than 150 years since Florilla married into the land that was rightfully hers by birth. Jan says it will be interesting to see what happens next, as she and her husband have two daughters. As of now, they’re not interested.

Read more than 25 unique stories by picking up your own copy of Women and The Land at select retail locations or online at Ice Cube Press

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