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Thousand Islands Goat Farm owners share challenges, successes of raising goats

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THREE MILE BAY — Normally, goats seclude themselves to give birth, but on a cold March day, Karen L. Stumpf was in her barn trying to figure out which part of the baby goat was headed out of its mother first.

But she couldn’t find so much as an ear, a leg or a snout, and called the vet — a rarity given that she and her husband, Willard J., typically do all of the veterinary work themselves on their Cape Vincent goat farm.

It turned out the baby was coming out all four feet first, and needed CPR after delivery. The smallest of the triplets, who at 7 pounds weighed two pounds less than the other two, was disowned by the mother — not an uncommon occurrence, Mrs. Stumpf says — and it died shortly afterward.

Thus marked the end of a difficult winter for the Thousand Islands Goat Farm, 3204 Route 12E, which currently has about 75 to 80 meat goats, but has had as many as 134 at one time since the former dairy farmers started raising goats. They began with an initial herd of 20 — one buck, two pregnant does and 17 doelings — about 10 years ago.

“We lost a lot in February,” Mrs. Stumpf told a group at an educational event Sunday at the Lyme Heritage Center. She said the mothers couldn’t clean off the kids fast enough to prevent them from freezing in the winter’s bitter cold.

“This was not a good year,” she said. The farm had 40 babies this winter, compared with 64 last year.

In 2004, Mr. Stumpf had a full hip replacement, and he and his wife went to Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls to look at beef cattle.

“Then we saw the goats and they stole our hearts,” Mrs. Stumpf said. “They love attention. I think that’s what sold us.”

The Stumpfs brought two as-yet unnamed 1-month-old goats — one 17-pound male and one 16-pound female — to the Sunday gathering.

“The ones with greater personalities, we name,” Mrs. Stumpf said. “Most people, when they first look at the goats, they say they all look alike. But if you look at their faces, they don’t,” she added as she led the two reluctant goats out of their crate onto the center’s porch by collar and leash to meet the eager onlookers. Goats hate to be alone, she noted, and they are sold as pets in pairs.

“They’re also very close families,” she said. As the first goat pulled on his collar in protest, bashfully resistant to meeting the smiling, curious new faces, she added, “I’m sure their mother right now is crying her heart out.” Within minutes, one goat was seated in her lap and the other was seated on Mr. Stumpf’s lap, at times wriggling, but also seemingly happy to bask in the attention, occasionally bleating across the porch at each other.

The goats are usually castrated at 1 month old, and undergo vaccinations at 1 and 2 months old, according to farm protocol.

The goats graze, feeding on hay and grasses, and are fond of alfalfa. They also nibble down shrubs. The goats are fed hay only once a day; the farm uses up about 50 pounds of hay each day.

“They know what’s poisonous and won’t eat it unless they’re really desperate,” Mrs. Stumpf said. “Goats are very smart; too smart, sometimes.”

The Stumpfs don’t give their grass-fed goats any antibiotics, and sell various frozen cuts of meat at Aubrey’s Market in Cape Vincent, the Jefferson Bulk Milk Cooperative farmers market and directly from their home. The farm also sells livers and even hearts.

Mrs. Stumpf said goat meat is becoming more popular, particularly among those seeking heart-healthy alternatives. According to the USDA, 3 ounces of cooked goat meet has 2.6 grams of fat, compared with 7.9 grams of fat in the same portion of beef. She described its taste as “light,” saying it’s milder even than chicken.

“I serve goat stew and people can’t even realize they’re eating goat,” she said.

In response to an audience question about the toughness of the meat, Mrs. Stumpf noted that the farm harvests goats when they are less than 1 year old, which she said may minimize chewiness. The meat is processed at a USDA-approved facility in Croghan operated by Jordan D. and Rachel D. Brandt.

For the McCarthy family of Cape Vincent, Sunday was a day of learning about goats to determine whether the family could add the animals as pets to their farm’s already large menagerie.

“We’ve been thinking about getting goats for a long time,” Joanne McCarthy said, “just to have.” She said her daughter, Katie B., 15, is particularly interested, even though the family already has 10 cats, four dogs and several chickens.

Mrs. Stumpf enthusiastically answered their question, noting goats “automatically go in the barn, like chickens,” and would have their shots before being sold.

When asked if goats get along with dogs, she responded that it “depends on the dog.”

After all, goats do have personalities, as well as a pecking order. When they squabble over who is the strongest or most dominant, she said, “you just walk away and let them figure it out.”

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