August 11, 2008

Gotta Get A Goat !

Orange County Fair
Kimberly Barnes


Even though I've never had one, I've always found goats to be entertaining critters ... the way they seem to crawl under, over and on everything and are never at a loss for finding things to eat, including tin cans, I'm told. (don't know if that is true)

There are countless stories of how goats make wonderful companions for horses. But I'm not sure Royal really wants one. He certainly has never mentioned it.

After reading an article in the Los Angeles Times written by Steve Lopez, I've got a new respect for goats. Seems they are inspiring. They just may be the answer to the shortage of veteranarians.

Steve had just been to the Orange County Fair ... read on!


Teenager loves the farm life -- and her cellphone too

The aspiring veterinarian digs into the hard work
of raising animals with gusto.
It pays off at the Orange County Fair.


If you're wondering what to do with another lazy Sunday, my advice is that you charter a bus and take everyone you know to Costa Mesa for the last day of the Orange County Fair.

I went last weekend and wished I had camped out there the last three weeks, filing daily columns. Where else could you hear the following announcement:

"Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the pig races."
There's world-class people-watching, deep-fried Snickers and Twinkies, a Barnyard Animal Fashion Parade, a hypnotist and a Vector Control information booth close enough to suck the blood of the guy in the adjacent Libertarian Party booth. And these are but a small part of what makes the fair a better bargain than Disneyland at a fraction of the cost.
But you know what? I was most transfixed by the sight of teens and younger children pitching hay and shoveling livestock dung without any adults making them do it.
What kind of kids are these?

Evy Young, a fair supervisor, suggested I talk to an 18-year-old goat farmer named Kimberly Barnes. I couldn't find her, but I found her goats in a pen that was plastered with the five award banners she and her herd had already won, including best goat in the show.

I also found an adult goat farmer named Richard Pigman.

I swear.

"I know," Pigman said. "It should have been Goatman."

Barnes should have been Barns too. But I'm getting off track.

"She's got a real good head on her shoulders," Pigman said of Barnes. "And she cleaned up on the competition."

Barnes is a 4-H member who's also president of her Tehachapi chapter of the Future Farmers of America. She had loaded her seven goats onto a trailer back home, hitched the trailer to a Dodge Ram pickup with a diesel engine and a stick shift and driven to the fair on her own.

I've known teenagers who couldn't get out of bed on their own.

While waiting for Barnes, I saw a teenage girl stooped over, milking a goat with both hands while talking on a cellphone cradled between neck and shoulder.

At first I thought it was some sort of competition, but I didn't see any other contestants. This girl filled a bucket of milk while on the phone, then led the goat back to its pen without interrupting her conversation -- a blue ribbon performance.

When Barnes arrived, her Saanen and Alpine goats could not have been happier. She checked their food and water and scratched their ears. "Mama loves you," she said.

It was a white Saanen named Kit that took best-in-show, and Kalani and Carmen San Diego were taking home some hardware as well.

Barnes said she was thrilled, especially since it was her last competition before she leaves for Iowa State University later this month to begin her freshman year. She wants to be a veterinarian.

But there was one event left. She and two other winning Future Farmers had been chosen to square off in the livestock arena to show their skills in handling a cow, a sheep and a goat. Barnes had never won the round-robin competition, and she wanted the belt buckle that goes to the champion.

"I really love showing," she said, in part because it's the culmination of lots of hard work.

For five years, she's been up before the sun, milking and feeding before school. The same chores are waiting for her in the evening. She drinks the goat milk raw and makes cheese, but doesn't sell it. This is all voluntary, with no financial payoff.

"I'm biased, but I think she's pretty special too," Barnes' mother, a teacher named Heather, told me by phone.

Barnes, perhaps the most pleasant teenager in the contiguous 48 states, said she fell for the farm life as a little girl when her family had animals running around on some open space in Aliso Viejo. Her grandparents had a cattle ranch up in Stockton, and her dad, who died two years ago, raised goats to clear brush for fire prevention.

But she could be out surfing, I told her. Huntington Beach was five minutes away.

It's very satisfying, Barnes said, to learn how to properly raise an animal. With a goat, you have to work on "general appearance, dairy character and a mammary system with capacious udders."

I'd say she nailed it. Her goats bear more than a slight resemblance to Pamela Anderson, except that the goats are natural.

As for Barnes' devotion to her hobby, it's not as if she's missing out on life beyond the farm. She said she hangs with friends, goes to the mall, noodles around on MySpace. She has a boyfriend too, who's not a farmer.

"And I love my cellphone," she said.
But the animals are fun to be around and rewarding in many ways.

"They're nonjudgmental," for one thing, Barnes said, and each one has a distinct personality.

"A lot of the kids I've known are into appearances, talking about who's doing this and that, being popular. They're into fashion and looking like everybody else. That doesn't matter to me," she said.

"Not to make it sound like a cliche, but with the animals I've learned a lot about responsibility while doing the things I've always wanted to do."

OK, I'm giving her another award:

World's Most Mature Youngster.

What Barnes really wanted, though, was the buckle. And she wished her father could have been there to see her compete. He'd have been proud, she said.

Barnes seemed a little nervous after putting on a crisp, ice-cream white uniform for the round-robin competition.

She studied her hand-written notes on livestock and checked out the cow and sheep she was about to handle, along with her prize goat, Kit.

She and the others spent about five minutes in the ring with each animal, leading them around and posing them on command. A trio of judges watched every move and peppered them with questions. The Holstein wasn't terribly cooperative with Barnes, but she gave it couple of tugs to let it know who was in charge.

Later that evening, the results were in, and Barnes called her mother.

"I got the buckle!" she said, and her mother screamed.


I'm not sure that we'll ever have a goat or two in our barn, but there sure is room for a veterinarian named Kimberly Barnes.


  1. Wonderful story and really great photos!

    I've always half-teased my husband that I want a duck and a goat. But really, I would. When I was a "kid," my mom would give us goat milk as a special treat; she grew up with it.

    But, we live on a 40'x100' lot, so unless we win the lottery....

    I think you should get a goat so that I can live vicariously! :-) Actually, I suspect the goat would enjoy a very happy life with you. It would certainly take care of clearing brush and keeping the lawn looking nice.

  2. My daughter and I both want a goat. They are incredibly intelligent...hardy and highly highly trainable. She also wants a silky chicken for a pet. Looks like I'm going to have to start looking at property outside the city!

    this story was totally heartwarming.

    For another heartwarming site, visit

    if you already haven't.

  3. Detroit Dog,
    Humm, you really think we should get a goat?! I just worry that we'd need two, you know how that goes.

    I love the wonderful things you are doing for the Greyhounds! Such special dogs.

    My neighbor adopted one a few months ago and loved it so much, she adopted another.

  4. Holly,
    Please do get a goat and then write about it! Then I can enjoy yours!

    And I'll say that chickens are terrific. I read a news article last year about chickens becoming popular pets.

    Now, really, would you have to move out of town? Just say it is a large canary. Might work.

    Thanks for the link to Saving Argus! Great site. Wonderful things people do!

  5. This is unbelievable story - I am so happy you posted about it.
    I am just reading a book which is just a large study on the teenagers in few countries - US is one of them.
    The picture I am getting is pretty scary - clearly a proof of generation gap.
    The case you have described gives a hope and shows different face of teenagers.


  6. Ewa,
    She is an inspiration, for sure. Let's hope there are and will be many more like her.

  7. I think that teen-agers like Kimberly are treasures. I know a few other 4-H kids who are like that - they have what my husband calls "farm sense" - it's one of the highest compliments we can give. Yes, get a goat - but a female one. Have you seen the pygmy goats? Our friend has a small herd and makes delicious cheese.

  8. Victoria,
    4-H kids are terrific. What a wonderful way to learn about life.

    Now about goats ... pygmy goats, you say. They are pretty cute! Thanks for the advice re. females. Oh, what am I thinking?!

    Well, there went the roses.

  9. I'm looking so forward to our county fair! It's a great one! Love goats, I have three and they can be devils, but they can be such little lovers too!

  10. This was such a wonderful story!
    I love goats...since I can't have one here, I often go by a local dairy that has lots of goats. They encourage people to interact with them so, you can guess, I DO! : )



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