Idaho dairy goat herds helping to fight global poverty

September 5, 2018

BLACKFOOT — Cathy Pindell believes she’s doing her part to fight world hunger by keeping a small herd of dairy goats.

The Buhl woman is one of several dairy goat herders showing their livestock at the Eastern Idaho State Fair, which began Aug. 31 and continues through Sept. 8.

Pindell, who has been raising dairy goats since 1984, sells products made with her goats’ milk, such as cheese, soap, lotions and raw milk. But most of the income derived from the herd comes from selling high-end goat genetics to help improve productivity of herds in developing nations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture buys either top-quality live goats or straws of semen from domestic producers, supplying research centers serving poor communities and villages. Pindell said she receives between $500 and $1,000 per goat through the program, selling to countries such as Nepal, Vietnam, the Philippines, Chile, and soon to Russia. Goat herders living in poverty benefit from animals that live longer, yield more meat and produce more milk.

“I’ve traveled a lot to some third-world countries, and I don’t think you can get the grasp of how well things are in the U.S.,” Pindell said, adding she’s more interested in helping the world’s poor than earning a profit through her participation in the program.

About 20 years ago, Pindell donated a milking goat to a woman living in Africa, who sold the goat’s milk by the cup from a roadside stand.

The recipient went on to attend college in the U.S. and had the wherewithal to donate more goats to other women in her village. A decade ago, Pindell said she went to Africa and met the third generation of women in the village making a living by selling cups of goat’s milk.

“We don’t realize how much one goat can change one person’s — or a whole village’s — life,” Pindell said.

Pindell explained that about 80 percent of people throughout the world eat goat meat, and 85 percent drink goat’s milk, which is far easier to digest than cow’s milk.

Pindell raises Saanens — a breed that’s earned the reputation of being the “Holstein” of milking goats — though in actuality, any cow would do well to approach a goat’s milking efficiency. Pindell said goats generally produce 10 times more milk per pound of feed consumed than cows.

Goat herders also emphasize that many people who believe they are lactose intolerant can’t handle a certain enzyme found in cow’s milk, but respond well to goat’s milk.

At the peak of her production, Pindell had a herd of about 400 goats and sold about 100 goats to developing nations annually through the USDA program. She’s now semi-retired and sells no more than five goats to poor nations annually, along with about 100 straws of semen.

In the West, University of California-Davis and Washington State University have extensively researched goat health and genetics, she said. The American Dairy Goat Association also scores animals on production-related traits such as strength, confirmation and mammary performance, and the Dairy Herd Improvement Association tests for butter fat, protein and somatic cell count.

Pindell often breeds the best animals from her herd with top livestock owned by Blackfoot producer Jodi Groneman.

“We look for herds that utilize our Dairy Goat Association programs, and we can assess their herds based on their numbers and determine if that’s going to benefit our herd or not,” Groneman said.

Groneman, who is also showing animals at the fair, hopes to soon start selling goats to developing nations, too. She said live goats for breeding and semen from animals with superior genetics can also be imported from producers throughout the country.

USDA program participants are required to undergo testing for important diseases of goats — Pindell must submit brains from a few animals each year to test for a degenerative disease called scrapie — and they must follow rules to ensure their animals can be traced back to their herds.

In June, the Bingham County 4-H Club is planning to host an event in Blackfoot for goat herders called All Goat Too, Groneman said. She said the event will include classes for participants covering topics such as basic care, cheese making, soap making and show preparation. Also in 2019, Pindell said the American Dairy Goat Association will host its annual convention in Boise, offering similar classes.

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