Year of the GoatFive dairy goat breeder families juggle their farms, work and an intensive show season while caring for all of their two — and four-legged — kids. NOW STREAMING ON CBC GEM
“They’re different from a lot of other farm animals,” says Kristen Holyoake, a single mom raising three children and dozens of dwarf dairy goats on her small Ontario homestead. That is what drives five families as we follow them on their quest for goat glory at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.
But before any of them lead their animals into the “big show,” they will compete in a series of regional shows at county fairs across the province. It’s not easy, as families balance their goat duties with school, work and home life. Some of these families live on working dairy goat farms where profits are slim, so the pressure to win is high. Not only is the prestige of a win at the Royal good for their goat breeding or dairy businesses, but prize money can help them to offset costs too.
Also regulars at the shows are the Yantzi family from New Hamburg, Ont. Emily and Colin are generational farmers and are ramping up their hobby goat farm to be a commercially successful business. They’ve had to rebuild their entire herd after several years of setbacks. Emily home-schools their three children, and the eldest, Brantley, is ready to show at the Royal this year.
Ember Vickers is eight years old and quickly becoming a contender in the goat show world with her Nigerian Dwarf goats. She has a passion for her animals and hopes to grow up to be a veterinary technician just like her mom, Tanya. This year, Ember is looking for redemption at the Royal after narrowly placing second in 2017.
But at one of the first shows of the new season, she encounters competition in 11-year-old Anthony Kerr, a country boy through and through. If he’s not tending chickens or practising the fiddle, he’s hanging with his herd of goats. Goats are his world, and the comfort he feels caring for and communicating with them has helped him overcome his shyness.
And then, there is the Emons family from Southwold, Ont. Theo, the head of the household, is a military-trained dentist. He raised goats as a child, and now, together with his wife, Sarah, and their sons, Alex and Nathaniel, he’s raising a herd of LaManchas. The family has been known to sweep the shows and has brought home multiple “best of breed” awards. The boys are well-practised for competition at the Royal and present yet another obstacle for Anthony and Ember.
Kristen Holyoake runs Everlily Maples Nigerian Dwarfs outside of Peterborough, Ont. Her kids, Logan and Ainsley, are crazy about their tiny cute goats, while Griffin prefers his chickens. One of the goats from Kristen’s herd had a health scare so she pulled them all from most of the shows this season, but they are finally ready in time for the Royal. Logan has a passion for his growing goat herd and has his sights on winning some ribbons this year.
While many Canadian kids are consumed with their phones and video games, these goat-raising kids are devoted to caring for the animals they love. It takes leadership skills, hard work and smarts, plus commitment and compassion. The pressure of competition can shape a young person’s life, and being responsible for animals can build confidence and shift their world view. For these families, every year is the Year of the Goat.