November 13, 2007 brett

The last television appearance we had was on NBC-Nashville. The segment aired that Friday night, and even though I didn’t see it, Linda Harrison in Hermitage, Tennessee did.

Linda went to our website and submitted her story. She wrote:

“I am currently a Fainting Goat Rancher but have a business degree with an accounting major. I am a LONG way from my first post graduate job of working for a major CPA firm. A few varied pit stops along the way and now I raise goats and have never been happier. Ranching is my passion and goats are my dream. Raising goats is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Don’t leave Nashville before coming to see me…”

I received her submission early Monday morning, and, having little on the schedule that day, ran the idea of interviewing a goat rancher by Zach. I caught him in a sleepy stupor and with a little convincing, we were off for a day on a goat farm.

In Hermitage, where rural and residential are intertwined, Blessed Green Pastures has goats, chickens, dogs, sheep, and bees that bask in sycamore shade. What started as a natural way to reduce the workload of mowing lawns, Linda and Brian have seen their original crew of a few sheep and myotonic goats blossom into a nationally recognized goat breeding operation.

And it all started because the accountant Linda, who worked in corporate cubicles to begin her professional life, just wanted to be outside.

INTERVIEW

It’s interesting because people tell you that you can get paid a lot of money and hate your job, or get paid a little money and love your job.  But it’s always the intangible perks that make it what it is.  Something you love to do.

Of course being outside is a big one for me. 

After I made it the whole first year, because it was fun to come out when it was nice in the fall.  I can handle heat, so that’s not bad.  But after January, February, and March, I wondered if it would be a pain and I’d want to be put back in an office.  I hauling goat feed and making sure the water wasn’t frozen.  After I made it through the first year, I love it. 

My son is 25.  He’s got an engineering mind.  I was telling him about everything I do because he was going to watch over the goats for a week.  He was throwing out all these suggestions on how to do it quicker.  I said, ‘Well I’m not out here to do it quick.’

That’s when I realized that subconsciously, I look at these animals every day.  I know who is looking more pregnant today than she did two weeks ago.  I know who is looking a little thin and maybe make sure she’s not getting shoved out of the feed bucket too much. 

That was one of the first moments where you go, ‘Wow.’  Because subconsciously, you’re just doing it.  It’s just in your nature to do that.  And then that scripture, ‘I know every hair on your head’ came to mind.  Because you always think about why you would want to know every hair on every one’s head?   That makes no sense.

Then I realized.  When you care about something, you want to know everything about it.  It was just one of those revelation moments. 

People can’t believe I remember the name to every goat.  To me, they’re as different as people you know.  Not that I think they’re people, but you just come to know them just as you would people.  They’re all different.  They all have their own personality.  You want all of them to be happy and healthy and fed.  It just becomes a passion. 

The first time I took care of a sick goat.  I guess that’s how I look at it.  There’s things you’re able to set aside, dollars and sense, that makes something a passion.  And the first time we went to look at some goats, there was this little goat and he had a runny nose.  He looked kind of sickly.  I picked him and the two old farmers were like, ‘That goat needs to stay with his mother.  Give it a shot of pencilian and it’ll be fine.’  He brings this dirty rag out to wipe his nose with.  I’m like, ‘No!  Don’t wipe his nose with that!’ 

So we bring this goat home.  It took a little more than a shot or two of penicillin.  I mean I nursed him for three weeks.  He was congested and stuff.  We started giving him Benadryl at night.  It was hilarious.  He was like a Benadryl addict.  We’d get that dropper out and he just couldn’t get ahold of it fast enough.  All of a sudden he’d get it and his little tongue would curl up.  He ended up being a very healthy goat.  He lives in another state now.  He’s in charge of a little herd of his own.  But I remember when I was taking care of him that that accounting sense kicked in.  It’s like, we had to write a check for him.  I didn’t have to pay a lot for him, but I could tell my husband was like, ‘You’re going to buy that little baby goat.  Why?’  Because we had already picked out two really nice goats.  I carried this little thing home and stuff.  When I was working on him and stuff and trying to figure out what I should do for him, all those dollars and sense kicked in.  It was like, ‘You’re going to spend more medicine and your time on this goat.’  When you understand billable hours, you’re thinking that you’ll spend more hours on this goat than he’ll ever be worth.  All of a sudden it was one of those revelation moments where you realize you’re looking at it wrong.  You are in charge of this animal.  You want it to be healthy and you want it to be perfect.  You don’t count the time when it’s something that’s your passion.  It was in that moment that I made the decision that yes it’s a business. Yes I’m going to make sure I have a website.  That’s the nice about farms like this is that you’re seeing it everywhere.  Little farmsteads are popping up.  One of the great things is the internet.  You can get online and I did my own website. 

I have two goats that now live on a big horse farm in New York.  Some lady found my website.  She was looking for a particular kind of goat.  I ended up having both of what she wanted.  They’re living on some big fancy horse farm in New York now. That’s kind of cool.  It used to be that you had a little farm like this and all you had to was put a sign out in the road.  Or advertise in your local paper and hope someone would buy what you had.  With the internet now, you can have a farm and people know about you from all across the country. 

So how long have you been doing this?

2 ½ years. 

Nice.  So basically your main source of being in business is selling goats? 

That’s why we got into the registered goats.  Generic brush goats, which means they’re not a particular breed.  They’re not registered, they’re pretty cheap.  You can find those anywhere.  Those are the kind people just throw out in the back and let them clear land and they sell them for meat.  You just don’t do a whole lot with them. 

I thought if I was going to spend the time, and there’s a market in registered animals just like there is in registered dogs and registered horses, then that would be a good move.  So that’s why we got into the registered animals. 

Some of these, I know their bloodlines.  I have papers on them and all that.

Z: What do people buy goats for?

A lot of people on farms where they do need a good brush clearer.  Goats can clear an area and make it look like a park. 

I’ve learned how to be a Shepard.  They will clear pasture.  They’ll eat poison ivy.  Goats will clear it all for you.  And they are a meat source. 

But because they faint, you get the best of both worlds.  They’re a novelty and they’re useful. To us they were the broadest market.   

I got to wear work clothes all week long.  Saturday you cram in everything.  Sunday is given up for church.  For me, that’s too much. 

But doing this, I’m so at peace and so happy all week that when Sunday comes, I haven’t been in work clothes and hoes all week long.  I’ve been like this all week.  It gave me a balance in life where I don’t feel rushed all the time.  Sunday is the chance to go see other people and not goats (laughs). 

So it gave me a spiritual balance that has been really good for me.

B: So you were talking about when you were fifteen years old.

Well, when I was trying to decide what I wanted to do in college, my mom asked me what I liked to do.  Because that’s where you always start.  ‘What do you like to do?’ 

We had woods behind our house and I’d spend a lot of time out there.  I’d say well, the only thing I know for sure is that I like to be outside.  She thought a minute and said, ‘Well, we all like to do that.  You’ll just have to get over it.’ 

So I decided to go into information systems which ended up being accounting.  So I sat in an office for years trying to figure out how to get outside.  Then eventually I decided I needed to be outside.  Because what your passion is at 15 is more than likely going to be your passion when you’re 30. 

B: Yeah?

Easily.

B: That’s something that we found in a lot of people we talk with.  Those things that they enjoyed as a kid, it’s amazing to see how they’ve come back to that and are doing it as a profession. 

Yep.

So how long did you work in accounting before you transitioned to goat farming?

I was in accounting for fifteen years.  First as a public accountant.  CPA.  Then I did contract work where after being a CPA and being in a lot of different businesses, I just loved being self employed and marketing myself.  Because that way I could focus for two months, six months, however long they needed me so I could take that break and get outside. 

Then I decided I really needed to do my own business.  I tried a couple businesses but I kept running into that, ‘I want this business to be successful so I can go outside!’  So finally I said that I needed to find something else to do.

B: You mentioned earlier you were ‘working to work.’

Yes.  Working to have time off.  I never could figure out how that would work because I was always, it wasn’t that I didn’t like what I did.  It wasn’t that I wasn’t good at it.  It wasn’t that I didn’t make money at it.  But it just didn’t satisfy my soul. 

So I would work furiously for three months just to be able to say that there was money in the bank and I could take two weeks off to recover from the fact that I worked indoors for that length of time.

B: How draining was that type of lifestyle?  How would you describe it?

Well back then, and that’s how we ended up here.  I used to spend my Saturdays and any free time I could find in a park somewhere.  Running or jogging.  I almost could not live without that when I was in an office. 

Interestingly enough, there’s a state park just up here at the end of this road.  That’s how we found this property.  I would bring my dogs and go do six miles in the park.  I always said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to live near the park.’

This place became available when we moved in.  We started with a few animals and got a few more and got involved.  Now I’m lucky if I make it to that park once every two months. 

My little dogs, my indoor dogs who used to get to go to the park, they’re fat and sassy in the house because they don’t get to go anymore.  And that amazed me, because I always thought I’d be someone who had to run and be in a park because you always have that busting out feeling.  ‘Get me outta here.  Get me outside.’ 

Now that I do this, that feeling is satisfied. 

B: You just want to be outside.  That’s so funny that this whole time you had this simple interest, this simple goal, and now here you are outside with your own goat farm. 

Now looking back, that’s why I think it’s always hard to decide what you want to do at 17 or 20.  Looking back, maybe I would have been a good adventure leader.  The people that take people out who do work in an office all week.  But I didn’t develop those skills because I wasn’t pursuing that.  I was trying to be a good accountant in an office.  Maybe I would have been a good park ranger.  Who knows. 

I just never allowed myself to pursue all those options at that time because I thought I needed to be in an office making a salary.

B: Why did you feel you had to be in an office?  Just because what your mom was saying?  Social pressures?  Why did you stay inside, in accounting for fifteen years?

Well, probably because I’m just older enough than you guys that the whole, ‘Bust the corporate ceiling and women can do anything.’  When I first came out of college, it was back when we wore suits that kind of looked like guys.  Oh they were awful.  You know those little bow ties?

Just the fact that you could be in a corporate office in a male dominated environment.  Back then, accounting was a male dominated environment.  It’s kind of like if something opens up, then you ought to do it. 

Once you’re into it, it becomes like everything.  It becomes more and more difficult to change once you’re in it. That’s why everyone dreams of doing other things or throws themselves into golf.  Whatever it is, because you don’t feel like you can allow yourself.  And it’s very difficult, the older you get. 

And I did that for awhile.  I’ll never forget.  I decided I knew I wanted to be outside, so I decided I wanted to be a botanist.  So I had one of those jobs where they let me have a little flexibility.  I went back to college and was taking biology courses.  There was a lot of vet people in the class and people doing medical things in the classes.  I remember saying, because I’m thinking I’m doing something exciting, because I’m studying plants.  I’d love to be able to know that I can take medicinal plants and it would be so interesting to know all that stuff.  Because I spent so much time in the woods, it was like if I knew what to do with this plant like the Indians used to, that’d be awesome knowledge.

I remember sitting there and someone said, ‘You want to do plants?  That’s so boring.’  I was like, ‘Here we go again!’  People would tell me, because I had an accounting degree, if I got a botany degree, I’d still be in an office.  They’d have me managing projects in botany. 

You’re like, ‘Okay.  I’m going to spend all this money to get a different degree, only to still be in an office.’  Field work turned out to only be a small part of a lot of those fields.  Whereas a long time ago, if you were a botanist or biologist, you spent a lot of time in the field.  It’s gotten so molecular that you don’t even do that as much.

So I gave that up.

So if you could go back to when you were 22, 15, or somewhere in that age range, and you could just give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?

Do what you like to do.  Take a course or two where you have no idea where it’s going, but interests you.  I loved horses, but when I was in college I was taking business.  I was told I needed a good business degree unless I wanted to work at Burger King.  That’s what my dad would tell me.  He’d say, ‘You can’t just get a general business degree because you’ll end up managing a Burger King. You have to focus on something.’  I was like, ‘Okay.’

But I never took those classes that just were a passion.  I wanted to get the hours and get done.  Maybe if I’d taken an animal husbandry class or horsemanship for a PE class in college.  Anything that’s something you want to do because it interests you.  Not because you see how it could be a job or anything like that.  Just something that sparks your passion.

Z: Is this something you think you would have been able to do if you hadn’t saved a bunch of money as an accountant that helped you do this?

No.  No, no, no, no (laughs).  I know some people that do that, but no.  To be quite honest, when we moved here, the decision to first get sheep, I was still working, my husband was still working.  Sheep were sort of going to help pay for what we already had done.  Because this was more property than we had ever owned.  So no. 

It’s not that we got to work hard for ‘x’ number of years and now we can do what we want.  Because for me, that wouldn’t have worked for me.  I couldn’t be in an office for sixty hours a week for 10, 15 years to make the money to just be able to walk away with a big pile of cash.  I could never do that, which was part of the problem. 

I’d work thirty intense hours, but then I gotta be out of there. 

Actually, that’s why this has been an interesting walk.  There’s the passion part of it.  But then there’s the part that we don’t have lots of cash to just play at this.  It’s got to work.  The accounting degree does help there.  I do think about all the costs that go into something.  But I also know to say, like with the little sick goat, sometimes you put that aside and do what your heart tells you what you’re supposed to do.  You’re in care of all these animals and you’re their source.  Therefore, you have to take care of them to the best of your ability.  Whether there’s a dime profit in it or not.  That’s not how every livestock person looks at it, but you will find lots of goat owners who definitely look at it that way.

Because it is a passion.  You care for these animals and you know that they look up to you to take care of them.  I think we all have that basic need.  If someone looks to us to take care of them, we’re going to try to do it at least to the best of our ability.  Maybe girls more so than guys, I don’t know.  That nurture thing. 

But my husband does a lot of the research.  I’m the technician and field worker.  He goes in and does all the research.  He researches the feed.  Whether it has the right amount of protein.  So we make a very good team.

And that’s the other thing.  If you’re going to pursue your passion, you need to find someone who supports that passion.  That’s another difficult thing.  A lot of people figure out what their passion is, but they’re in a life situation where the other person involved, or the family involved isn’t on board with that.  But luckily, we’re on board with this together.  And we complement each other really well.  He can give injections and wrangle goats that I can’t.  Or sheep that I don’t want to.  It lends to the balance of how it all works because he’ll go in and spend hours researching technical stuff.  And then it’s like, ‘What do we need to do?’  Then we do it.  So it works.

Z: So many people do something because they thought it was what they were supposed to do.  They did it because it was socially acceptable.  And then there was this survivor guy who was a goat farmer.

That’s what his title was.  It said ‘goat farmer.’  I thought it was kind of embarrassing.  I was like, ‘What kind of career is that?’  Because I was still an accountant then.  I knew there were people who had jobs they loved, but there were on a different continent or under the ocean or somewhere, but not the average person.  I do think that’s another thing you see happening is I come from the generation of ‘Who wants to live on a farm?’

It’s boring.  There’s nothing to do.  It’s mucky.  It’s nasty.  And so many kids who were growing up at that time on farms was like, ‘Son.  I want you to have a college education so you don’t have to work on the farm.’  So we sort of have gotten totally away from small farms.

When I used to hear about small farms going away and now there’s just big corporate farms, if that was efficient, then that’s fine.  Now having done it, if I were at an age where I was going to have kids, I wouldn’t raise them any other way but here. 

I grew up on the concept that kids need to do team sports to learn team skills.  I don’t think so.  Bring them somewhere like this farm so they can see what they do contributes.  If you want to have eggs, you go get the eggs out of the barn.  There’s just a whole culture there that we lost when we started this big drive that we all needed to go to college so we can have big paying jobs in the city. 

Z: It’s like this ultraspecialization.  Help make the food.  Help take care of the animals.  Do all these different things.  Just get really good at one thing, and then you don’t have to worry about making your own food.  You don’t have to worry about taking care of your animals.  Because if you’re a good enough accountant, you can pay everybody to worry about that other stuff.

For some people that works.  But I think there are just as many people out there who are multi dimensional.  I can go in and design my website on the computer and spend hours in front of the computer, but then I still need this.  You can’t pay me enough to sit and design websites on the computer.  I’m good at accounting.  I know how that works.  I used to enjoy making everything balance.  It wasn’t about those complex calculations you did.  It was the putting everything in order and knowing that if this account was out of balance, it’s because these three journal entries were wrong.  I had a real analytical mind where I could go in and sort out messes.  Even if I didn’t technically understand what the company did.  I just had that organizational imprint in my mind.  And I was good at it.  And it worked for awhile to do some of that and then do everything I could to get outside.  By far, the balance now is much more what suits me. 

So then it’s not work.  And you always hear that.  Do something you love because then it’s not work.  And you’re like, everything is work.  But it’s really not.  It’s throwing around a few hay bails.  I’ll joke because I go to the feed store and be trying to load stuff in my car.  And we live in the South, there’s nice gentleman that want to help you out.  And I’m like, ‘Oh no.  This makes me sure I’ll never have to pay to go to the gym.’  I carry buckets of water and feed and do all that. 

I mean it’s very healthy.  Yes you can have a career and pay everyone to do everything and pay to join the gym.  But here, I have a free gym that’s a lot more fun.  If I need a little exercise I’ll go clean out the barn.  If I want to go for a little walk, I go take the goats to eat in the back pasture.  If I’m tired of that I’ll go in and work on the website.  Or do that housework I haven’t done in two weeks (laughs). 

I always did like being self employed.  It’s not a matter of motivation.  I just prefer to be self motivated.  Which is a lot of your sales type people.  There’s people who have that kind of drive.  Let me be in control of it and I’ll do 110%.  For me, that’s how this works.  Each day is different, but in the end, it all gets done because I’m motivated to do it.  Because I know if I don’t do everything, then the goats aren’t getting the best care.  It works somehow.  I guess that’s why, when you do your passion, it all works somehow. 

Z: Do you have old co-workers and friends that you tell you’re a goat farmer now?  Do you think they’re surprised or do you think part of them is kind of jealous because they’re still sitting in an office?

Well, that’s another interesting thing.  When you find your passion, you just have to be ready that there’s a lot of people that aren’t going to get it in the least.  I mean, there’s a lot of people that even because there’s the business side, the fun side, and yes this suits my outdoor nature, but then there’s a big spiritual side for me that would take more time than you’ve got.

But even when we go to church and tell people we have goats and it’s been so amazingly fulfilling and connected.  I mean, look at Moses.  He was in Egypt with all kinds of luxury.  He was a city boy.  And he went out and spent forty years being a Shepard.  He seemed to do alright in the end.  It all worked.  So I figure that I’m following in those same footsteps.  Walking away from the city and this is it.

But people still don’t get it.  But the amazing part is that if there’s one person who doesn’t get what you do and thinks you walk around in goat mess.  For every one of those, there’s that person like the man that came here from South America.  I couldn’t even communicate with him.  His daughter translated.  He has goats halfway around the world.  There was just such a connection there that transcended culture and language.  I took him up in the back pasture.  We have these plants, these vines, that are passion flowers.  I was showing him these passion flowers and he just lit up.  They had those in their country.  They could make a juice from it.  It was a surreal experience.  I just can’t explain it.  For everyone who doesn’t get it, you have those kinds of experiences where you connect with somebody who gets what you do, and is excited about it.  And it’s priceless.  You can’t pay for those kinds of experiences.  He was just so excited.  You could tell the son in law was feeling bad because all this interpreting was going on.  Like maybe I was frustrated with it.  Because they weren’t here to buy goats.  And I was having a blast.  It was neat to me.  They were leaving to go back to Columbia and they were just on a farm tour.  And then we got a phone call a month ago who was a student here at Vanderbilt.  He’s from Kazakstan.  He was asking if I had any sheep available. We had talked to people that will let you process on your property.  But we’re still kind of in the middle of the city, so we didn’t know if our neighbors would appreciate us processing animals on the property.

But they were looking for one, so we said they could come out.  These three guys came out, from even further around the globe, and two of them came from Shepard families in Kazakstan.