With the disposition of a friendly dog, goats can bring companionship as well as milk
PFEIFER — Some people whisper to horses, others to dogs. But for Coraleen Bunner, it's goats.
Bunner raises all kinds of goats on her goat farm, Shepherd's Gate in Pfeifer, but she is partial to specific breeds of dairy goats. Ever since she was a little girl growing up in Colorado, she has wanted to live on a farm. When she moved to Peabody years ago, not too far from Newton where her husband Mark grew up, her wish came true — but it was in Pfeifer when she started obtaining more animals — breeding, showing, milking and loving her goats. Her kids joined in and it became a small business.
According to Kansas State University data, Bunner is not alone in her fascination with this animal. As of January 2018, there were almost 43,000 head of meat goats in Kansas. Meat goat production is much stronger than dairy goat production.
The dairy goat industry, like what Bunner does, is not growing. According to K-State, in 2018, there were only 6,000 head of dairy goats in the Sunflower State.
Fortunately, there are people like Bunner, who continue to keep the population alive. Each day, she wakes up by 5 a.m. and is gathering her milking goats. With her two milkings each day, she gets about two gallons of unpasteurized goat milk. In addition to milk, Bunner produces cheese and yogurt from her goats' milk.
Bunner loves her goats. Each one of them has a name and a personality. Most of her dairy goats are LaMancha and Alpine. The LaManchas are known to be inquisitive, lovable, outgoing and tame. They also have small ears and produce high butterfat and protein.
Her goats are always attentive, acting like lovable dogs. There's Kelly, Lady Smith, Oberhauser and Chocolate Royal. She calls each one her favorite as she scratches their backs and behind their ears.
"I have a lot of favorites," Bunner said.
With three grown adult children and one in heaven, Bunner has cut back on the number of goats she has, but she is not sure if she can cut back anymore. Along with understanding their physiques and stamina, she knows each animal's pedigree, having raised their mother, grandmother or grandfather. Some, she said, have a better disposition; others are better milkers.
"I would miss them," she said. "They've been a part of my life for many years."
National goat inventory is down from last year
All goats and kids inventory in the United States on January 2021 totaled 2.58 million head, down 3% from 2020, according to the USDA. Nationally, breeding goat inventory totaled just about 2 million head. This is also down 3% from last year. Meat goats totaled about 2 million head as well, down by 2%. Milk goat inventory was 420,000 head, falling 3%.
Kansas lags behind other states in goats. As of 2012, according to the USDA, Texas had the most goats — just under 900,000. California and Missouri were next, with both hovering around 100,000 head.
As for dairy goats, like in Kansas, the number is smaller. Wisconsin has the lead with California and Iowa coming behind.
Chickens and guineas eat most of the bugs
Bunner and husband Mark also raise free range chickens. They, like the goats, have the run of the fenced-in pasture.
"I love my chickens," Bunner said. "They come running when I call."
In addition to her goat milk, Bunner sells her chicken eggs. She also uses her chickens to decrease her insect population. But, she said, her guineas are the best at eating insects.
"I've also seen them chase off a coyote," she said. "They are loud. They gather together and a lot of noise."
Just to be on the safe side, the Bunners also have two dogs to watch their goats and chickens.
Predators and labor are the biggest challenges facing the goat industry, with fencing being the largest challenge for keeping goats. However, guardian animals like dogs and llamas and net wire or field fence work well.
Bunner encourages people to start out slow with the goats, but she said, you couldn't find a nicer animal.
"It's very labor-intensive," she said. "I definitely enjoy what I do."