Raising goats a passion for some Suncoast students

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PALMETTO - The Manatee County Fair continues in Palmetto this week, where there are more than 60 rides on the midway and some great stage shows with big name stars. But there's much more to the fair than that.

4-H leader Judy Anderson has been leading the 4-H goat program in Manatee County for 20 years. She has 60 goats at her home, some belonging to 4-H members who can't keep them at their own homes.

Why is she so particular to goats? "The benefit of goats is they can do everything a cow can do, but they can do it on a smaller acreage for less money."

She says you can raise 10 goats on the same acreage required for 2 cows. And a good dairy goat will give from 16 cups to a gallon of milk a day. "Also their milk is very nutritional. There are enzymes that clean out the gut, and it's much healthier. It's naturally homogenized, so it's easier to digest," says 15-year-old Matthew Seiler.

Goats also come in handy for other things. "Some people like them to graze their yard, so they have no grass. And some people like them for milk, and products like cheese and fudge and stuff," says Palmetto High 10th grader Myndi Carter.

And they say it's not true a goat will eat anything -- but they will taste just about anything. "They'll chew on it, they usually don't eat it. I have shirts that have holes all in it from my goats chewing on them," says Palmetto High student Kayla Hickey.

And they say goats are very, very smart. Don Carter, father of a 4-H member, found that out when he spent the night at the fair one night to care for the goats. "I was sitting there watching a movie, and I see two goats coming up at me. They had all been in cages; they had learned how to undo the bungee cord, open the gate, and come out. They are extremely smart."

The dairy goats will not be sold or slaughtered, so they won't be money makers for their young owners. But they will teach some valuable lessons, like responsibility and self-esteem. "It teaches you that things aren't just handed to you, and things come with work, and your work is always rewarded in the end," says Seiler.