|Leslie Wootten and Jerry Baldwin hold two Boer kids at their ranch in Casa Grande, Arizona. The couple have found raising goats to be therapeutic and rejuvenating. | more photos from Dalco Farms |
Outside of the expansive sprawl of Phoenix, the land is scrubby, unshaded and sparsely populated. Though ringed by lush mountains, the flat valley is virtually a desert, the natural habitat of snakes and coyotes. For the last six years, it has also been home to the largest full-blood Boer goat operation in Arizona, owned by Leslie Wootten and Jerry Baldwin. The couple bought a farm here in 1996, as a retirement project after selling Jerry's equipment rental business, at which they had both worked (Leslie is also a writer who teaches occasionally in the English department at Arizona State University). Originally, they had intended to raise feeder calves, and at one time had about 50 young Holsteins, which they'd bought from local dairies and were fattening for sale. As that market grew in the late '90s, however, calves became more expensive, and small farms like theirs were edged out by large scale calf ranchers.
The size of their farm and its topography turned out to be perfect for goats. Even in the summers, which can get as hot as 110 degrees, the goats are fine so long as there's enough shade and water. The herd spends its days foraging in several adjoining pastures, the kids hopping along after their mothers as they make their way down the fence line. In this environment, the herd has grown to 250 animals, 135 of which are kids born this spring.
The couple has fallen in love with goats, an affection Jerry cultivated in his youth when he had one as a pet. This year, especially, their vitality has been a source of both delight and restoration to him. A handsome, rugged man, Jerry has suffered from two strokes in the last six months, the most recent causing a seizure and slight language aphasia. His recovery, which is nearly complete, was expected to be gradual and lengthy. Both Jerry and Leslie credit the goats with his accelerated return to health.
The first kid of the season was born on the day Jerry returned from the hospital. Over the next months, he was surrounded by a daily burst of new life. Though he couldn't do much in the way of farm chores, neither could he stay inside. Every day brought him into the pasture to attend a birth, or to bottle feed a kid with milk from one of four dairy goats they raise to provide supplemental milk for the kids and fluid milk and cheese for the house. Sometimes he was simply there to watch a kid find its hooves and begin a wobbly prance.
After the anxiety of the strokes, the continuous presence and needs of the animals have been therapeutic, both for Jerry and Leslie. Over an amazing dinner they'd prepared of curried cauliflower and slow-roasted goat, Leslie explained to us that since they began raising them, the care of the goats has kept her grounded: "In this world where I feel so insecure, where you never know what's going to happen next, I love the fact that I can go out in the morning and they're always there, ready to eat. It doesn't matter what else is happening in the world, they need to eat. They want to eat, and I want to feed them." MMH