Special Feature...


Holly Springs man among state's growing number of goat farmers

By Jana Adams
"Watch this," Bob Cheatham said. He cupped his hands to his mouth, tilted his head back and called out across the empty pasture.
"Here, goat! Here, goat!"
A pause. A swish of grass in the wind.
"Here, goat!"
Suddenly, like a small army taking the ridge, 130 or so goats appeared at the top of the hill, then charged down the slope toward the familiar call.
This hurtling blur of red and white coats, hooves and horns, bleating and braying is Cheatham's herd - Boer goats of South African descent - and part of his Cabin Springs Farm livelihood.
For Cheatham raises goats on his 54-acre farm off the Holly Springs Road, mostly for meat, but the fact that they are "a delight" to watch is a bonus for the farmer.
"I started with goats in August 1996," Cheatham said as he steered his John Deere "mule" through a gateway and toward the stables. "I read an article about goats. I'm a surveyor by profession, but I read that first article, then I read more and more."
Cheatham has joined the increasing number of farmers and landowners who are turning to goat raising, primarily because the market for goats is increasing and also because goats are fairly self-sufficient, happiest when they have "roughage" to eat.
"It has been said the Atlanta market requires 50,000 carcasses a year, and there are only 35,000 meat goats in Georgia," Cheatham said. "That means (some of the meat) is being imported."
According to Cheatham, only Americans are slow to catch onto goat meat. His own market is primarily with the Hispanic population, with some goats sold to those who are looking for pets or who need an area ­ such as around a pond - cleaned up.
"There is more goat meat eaten worldwide than any other," Cheatham said. "It is low in fat and high in protein, and goats can survive in most places."
Once Cheatham had enough information, he began work on his farm to make it "goat safe."
"The first thing you do is put up a fence to keep predators out," he said. "Second, you get guard dogs. Third, you get your goats."
Cheatham has three Great Pyrenees dogs that hail from the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. The giant blond dogs - Bear, Josephine and Little Bear - come from a long line of dogs bred to protect sheep and goats.
Cheatham built a stable, sectioned off the pasture and scattered several low sheds for shelter and to hold feeders with minerals and food in different corners of his property.
"The goats make it mostly on land, but I feed them a little so they will come when called," Cheatham said. "I put out hay, and they prefer roughage over grass."
Although Cheatham grew up a farm boy in Kentucky, he said he didn't have experience in building a stable, but thought he would give it a try.
"I said, 'I think I can build one,' and I built this one," he said.
The result is a building complete with a warm room that is supplied with hot water for warming up newborns at kidding time. It is also a home for cats and new kittens, and the step from an old Kentucky schoolhouse that is built into the doorway is a reminder of his family. An outer open area holds feeders, as well as pens for "working" the goats - which involves worming and trimming hooves.
"When we are working the goats, we may spend two to three days with them, otherwise it's not too much," Cheatham said of the work he and farmhand Kenny Blair do.
Kidding time is also busy, with 53 percent of the nannies giving birth to twins, 17 percent to triplets and two percent to quadruplets. Cheatham has four billy goats, including the long-bearded and curly-horned Boss, who was imported directly from South Africa, for the herd. The goats will always be found together with the herd.
"They are herd animals and are not happy alone," Cheatham said. "They like to be among their own kind."
Because goat safety is a top priority to the farmer, Cheatham regularly sets out in his "mule" along the cart paths throughout the pastures, checking on fences and planning for new grazing areas. At times, the "mule" moves across the tall grass like a boat, swaying and turning.

"I've only lost one nanny goat to a coyote," he said, explaining that happened in the earlier days before he had three dogs and excellent fences. "I want these fences to outlast me, so they have to be good. I'm 68 and I plan to be here another 40 years."
Cheatham pointed out that his level of goat ownership is geared toward meat production, although he does have goat-owner friends who concentrate on a smaller number of goats with breeding as their specialty.
Still, as "Uncle Jim" props a hooved foot on the front of the "mule," as "Nuisance" nibbles on a jacket and "Boss" comes over for a pat on the head, Cheatham admits that sometimes selling isn't an option.
"Once you name them and pet them, you can't sell them," he said.
And even the goats he doesn't name are a pleasure to Cheatham. He said he likes to watch them, the kids running and jumping, frisking and frolicing, off planks propped against tree stumps, and even the adults perched on large wooden spools put about for their activity.
"They are a delight to watch," he said. "They are delightful little animals with a lot of personality."

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