How Was Your Day … Pygmy Goat Farmer?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.
By Fiona Zublin
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
Peter Oldfield, owner of Penborn Goat Farm
It started about half past 7 in the morning, that’s when I go out and milk the goats. British pygmies are about 2 feet tall. They come up to a little bit above your knee. Goats are very playful. You might not know this, but coffee was discovered when [people] saw some goats playing and discovered they had so much energy because they’d been eating coffee beans.
I run courses teaching people how to look after goats — I get people from all over the world: Americans, Israelis, Europeans. The goats all live together, that’s the way you’re meant to keep them. Goats are a matriarchy in the wild, and they kick the boys out of the herd when they reach a certain size. Girl power, it’s called. Then the boys form a little satellite herd. Goats are also very smart, about the same as a dog.
I got a degree in marine biology and found out there really wasn’t much of a career opportunity for marine biologists, especially one like me that got seasick. So I looked around for another career. I trained as an accountant, did that for a few years, but I didn’t like working in an office — gray walls all around you. And I was always dreaming of the plants and animals that I could be working with. So I saved up a bit of money and bought a small farm. Devon is one of the loveliest places in the world — we’ve got views across the valley, and when it’s a nice day with the sun shining, you can see the little goats run to the top of the hill and push each other off and roll down to the bottom. You can watch them for hours.
In the springtime I’ve got kidding. One of my goats kidded this morning, twin boys. Goats have twins about 80 percent of the time. It’s nice to have twins; they can play together. Most of the time there are about 30 goats here, but at the moment we’ve got nearly 50 because we’ve got lots of kids.
We don’t milk pygmies in the U.K., mainly because we can’t find a bucket small enough to go underneath them.
Our only livestock is goats, but I also have the biggest collection in the U.K. of edible herbs. I have over 250 varieties of mint, which is the most valuable commercial herb in the world. I started collecting mint before we had the Internet. You can’t get any from America or Australia because laws prohibit the export of the plants. There are a couple in my collection that people sneaked out of America. I’ve got one called Ernest Hemingway’s Mojito Mint that was smuggled out of Cuba, into the U.S. Then a housewife from Iowa or somewhere smuggled it across the border to Canada and then to Switzerland. She took a fancy to having a proper mojito, and I’ve introduced it to the U.K.
I’ve had two or three champions, including one goat who set the world milking record for Guernseys. We don’t milk pygmies in the U.K., mainly because we can’t find a bucket small enough to go underneath them. You’d only get a pint or two out of them in a day anyway. Pygmies are bred because they’ve got quite good personalities, so they make good companions. I’ve sold them to places that work with the disabled.
You don’t need to have much more than a back garden to keep a pygmy. But you have to have two. If you have only one goat, you’ll find that goat tries to join the herd — which is you in your house. And goats can open doors. Mine pick locks.