For the Love of Goats
Margaret Hathaway and Karl Schatz first entered our lives in 2004 during their Year of the Goat when they traveled from coast to coast learning about all things goat. They were enamored with these amazing creatures, and they knew they wanted to do something with goats. But what?
Instead of just reading a couple of books, they decided to literally write a book, as they visited goat dairies, the circus, pack goat operations, slaughterhouses, and even homesteads that had goats as an integral part of their plan for greater self-reliance.
After 12 months and thousands of miles, they ultimately settled on a small homestead in Maine and decided to start an agritourism business with goats as the centerpiece.
In this episode, I’m talking to Margaret about their trip, their experiences, and why they ultimately decided on tourism rather than one of the other many goat businesses they learned about. And what it’s like sharing your farm with total strangers, both pre-Covid and during.
You can visit Ten Apple Farm online at …
Interested to learn more about goat businesses? Check out Goat Business Ideas: How to Make Money With Your Goats
If you want to learn how you can use email to build a relationship with your customers see Email: The GOAT for Marketing Your Goat Business
If you are thinking about starting an agritourism business, also check out previous episodes on …
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Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode. Today is a really special day because I am able to reconnect with Margaret Hathaway, who is an author, and also the co-owner of Ten Apple Farm, which is an agritourism business in Grey, Maine. I first met Margaret and her husband, Karl, way back when we had only been on our farm for about three years. It was the winter before we started building our house. And they were traipsing all over the country, literally, because they thought they wanted to get goats. But, I mean, I always tell people: “You should do your research”—right?—”before you get goats.” And they took that to a whole new level. Karl and Margaret decided to take a whole year traveling the United States, literally coast to coast, visiting goat farms and goat businesses and just goat everything. So, that’s where we’re gonna get started today. Welcome to the show, Margaret.
Margaret Hathaway 1:28
Oh, thanks for having me! This is so exciting. It’s so great to see you over Zoom.
Deborah Niemann 1:33
I know, it is! I haven’t seen you in…
Margaret Hathaway 1:36
Deborah Niemann 1:37
How many years? Like, take your oldest child and add a few years to it.
Margaret Hathaway 1:41
Right? I know. It’s crazy. Yeah, The Year of the Goat was… It was in 2003 that we met you. So it’s been, I think, eighteen years since we visited you. Yeah.
Deborah Niemann 1:54
Margaret Hathaway 1:55
Isn’t that wild?
Deborah Niemann 1:56
That was even longer than I thought. I was thinking it was, like, a year later. So, tell us a little bit about The Year of the Goat, like, how you got into this crazy thing.
Margaret Hathaway 2:07
Well, it was crazy, like, full-stop craziness. But, Karl and I, we lived in New York City, and we just had an inkling that that wasn’t where we wanted to be for the rest of our lives. And we had this crazy idea that we wanted to raise dairy goats and make cheese, but we had absolutely no experience with goats at all. So, we took the the skills that we had—Carl was a photographer and I was a writer. And, we took the skills that we had to take a year visiting farms and goat businesses, goat experiences all over the country. So we visited… I think we visited close to 100 farms, and did things, you know, as diverse as visiting the goats that were being trained for Ringling Bros. Circus in Florida. We went to goat and sheep auctions in Texas. We went to visit various dairy operations, Angora operations, and went to a few diversified homesteads, like yours, which were really… We were looking for a model of what we wanted to do, and that ended up being what we settled on when we started our own farm here in Maine. But really, you guys and Rick and Lora Lea Misterly at Quillisascut Farm in Washington State are, like, the two models that we used to start our own farm. So, thank you.
Deborah Niemann 3:31
Oh, you’re welcome! That’s so sweet. Especially knowing how many places you visited.
Margaret Hathaway 3:37
Yeah, out of all the hundreds of places we went to, the two of you were the ones that influenced us the most. But really, you know, visiting you, and at the time you had three young kids who were so just engaging and wonderful. And your farm, there was always… It seemed like there were so many interesting things going on; you know, it was goats, but it was also horses, and I think you had ducks, and chickens. And it just felt like the kind of farm that we envisioned ourselves on. And now, you know, we have three kids, and we have ducks and chickens and goats and sheep and pigs. So, it turned out it was a good fit. You guys were good role models.
Deborah Niemann 4:21
Oh, good! And so, tell us a little bit then about, after The Year the Goat, you went out searching for the right farm, and…
Margaret Hathaway 4:31
Yeah. Yeah, so we spent a year from August of 2003 to August of 2004 visiting farms, and then in August of 2004 we got married in this very goat-themed wedding, and started looking for property, and looking for a place to… At first we wanted to build. We had this vision of a straw-bale house, was what we wanted to do. And ultimately, we couldn’t find the right piece of property to build on, and then we found out that we were expecting our first kid. And so a farm with a structure on it already seemed kind of important. So, in 2005, we found this big old rambling sieve of a farmhouse that, you know, has… Like, needs so much work in so many ways. But we love it. It’s a labor of love. But it was on 10 acres of land, and it had a little orchard, and a garden, and a barn that really hadn’t been used for agriculture, probably since the 70s. The people we bought the house from were, like, having a regular poker game in one of the stalls in the barn, and we kept—every time we would shovel it out, we would find poker chips. So in 2005, we bought the farm, and in 2006, we got our foundation herd of four Alpines, and then got some chickens, and then, you know, that’s sort of… You know how that goes. Then eventually you end up with, like, too many goats, and you have to sell some, and so now we’re at kind of our sweet spot of twelve goats. We have one sheep, a couple geriatric sows, and our middle daughter, who’s about to turn thirteen, raises Yorkshire-Berkshire pig crosses with 4-H that she shows at the fair in the fall. And then, you know, chickens and ducks and things like that. So, we’ve been here since 2005. And have gradually been repopulating the place with animals since then.
Deborah Niemann 6:39
So, you saw, I think I could probably say literally everything that can be done with goats in the United States, you know, from fiber to meat to dairy to pets to homesteads to packing, hiking, agritourism. So, why did you ultimately settle on agritourism as the business that you wanted to have on your farm?
Margaret Hathaway 7:02
Well, it’s funny, when we moved here, we joined the Maine Cheese Guild. And I think there were eighteen producers of goat cheese. And I thought, “Okay, the market is saturated. There is no space for us.” Now there’s, like, eighty-five producers of goat cheese. It was definitely not a saturated market. I totally misread that. But, at the time, it seemed like there were some really great cheeses already being made. And we knew we wanted dairy animals. But, what we really liked about milking goats was kind of the meditative quiet time with the animals. And, as soon as you become a licensed dairy, you know, that kind of goes out the window; it becomes a very different process. So we started small, hand-milking, and just realized that that was the rhythm that we really liked, and then had to figure out how we could turn that into a business. And we had seen in Washington State, the Quillisascut Farm, they opened the farm up for workshops, and they did butchering workshops and classes, and they had a sort of a bunkhouse that they had built. And so we saw agritourism with an emphasis on, like, knowing where your food comes from as kind of a niche that wasn’t being filled in Maine. And so we started that. And we had gone goat packing, so we started taking our goats out without packs, just hiking in the woods. And, people started coming for that. And then it became kind of a thing—around here in Southern Maine—the goat hiking has become sort of our most popular offering.
Deborah Niemann 8:41
Can you tell me a little more about the goat hiking? What exactly do you do?
Margaret Hathaway 8:48
Well, so people come to the farm. We’ve changed a lot since the pandemic began. It used to be people came to the farm and they, like, came into our kitchen and, you know, hung out in our house. Now we’ve made it a little bit more… Obviously more socially distanced; no one comes into the house unless they need to use the bathroom. But people gather on the side of our barn, and we have a hand-washing sink, and a space, a pen, where we have a couple Nigerian Dwarf goats, bucklings who—or no, I guess we neutered them, so wethers—who kind of are entertaining people. And we talk to everyone who comes about goat safety. We leave the horns on our goats, which is a little bit controversial in the dairy world, but I think more people are doing it now than when we started out. But, we talk about safety. And then we walk with the goats in a trail that’s about a mile loop in our woods. And the goats are untethered; they just kind of walk along with people, and people can pet them, and at the end we have fresh goat milk and cookies. And people used to be able to try their hand at goat milking, but again, that’s something that we’ve had to stop because of the pandemic.
Deborah Niemann 10:04
A mile sounds like a really… Like, you must have a huge amount of space. How many acres did you say you have?
Margaret Hathaway 10:11
Well, so when we first bought the farm, it had 10 acres. And then my dad retired and bought a piece of property adjoining ours that has a house that has 8 acres, and when he passed we kept the house and the acreage. So we have about 18 acres. And the trail, you know, it’s a little serpentine to get that whole mile in. But it’s a loop, and we go sort of down and around. We have a ridge back there that’s really beautiful. The way the land in this part of Maine was carved out by glaciers, it makes for, like, a really spectacular hike any season.
Deborah Niemann 10:45
Wow, I would not have thought you could do that. So that’s really good to know. And then, what else do you do in addition to the hiking?
Margaret Hathaway 10:55
So, over the years, we’ve done cheesemaking, and jam, and bread-baking workshops; we’ve done sort of basic homesteading skill workshops. We continue to do backyard butchery workshops every summer, so we’ll do chickens and, at Thanksgiving, we raise turkeys and then we invite people to come and learn how to process their own. We’re pretty diverse in that, you know, we have a big garden. So our oldest daughter now does a local farmers market with just our, like, the random produce that is leftover after we pick for ourselves. But she has her little niche. And, you know, we live in a small town, and so there are always lots of things going on that the farm can be involved in. You know, the blueberry festival, or having people for a garden, you know, garden tours. And so, we do that sort of thing, but the agritourism, now that we have this extra house—which, I guess I forgot to mention that. We have a rental property. So, we rent the other house that was my dad’s on Airbnb. So, we have people come and do farm stays.
Deborah Niemann 12:04
Before people get too excited about all the things you’re doing, like the cheese classes in your kitchen, and jam classes, and teaching people how to butcher and stuff, I want to point out that you’re in Maine, which has some of the best laws and regulations in terms of being farmer-friendly.
Margaret Hathaway 12:25
Deborah Niemann 12:25
And so, you’ve got multiple pieces of legislation that protect farmers, and that allow you to do things like teach cheesemaking classes in your own kitchen.
Margaret Hathaway 12:37
It’s true, it’s true. There’s… The Maine legislature has a sort of limited liability resolution for farms engaging in agritourism. And, one of the ways that we make sure that everyone is aware of that is by posting it; we have a metal sign that has the language of the legislation posted on the side of our barn. And, before anyone comes here for any farm event, we have them sign a waiver saying that they acknowledge this. And that has been great. We also—even though we’re not a licensed dairy—the town that we live in has a food sovereignty ordinance. So, within the town, farmers are allowed to sell from their farm things like raw milk, you know, with the expectation that people will know their farmer and will come to the farm knowing what they’re getting. That they’re looking around and using, you know, their own judgement about what they can do. And that’s one way that, you know, our small town has encouraged, like, neighbor-to-neighbor commerce. Which has been great for us, because we don’t really want to be a licensed dairy, as I said, but we do always have surplus milk. And during the first, you know, months of the pandemic, we just put it out in a cooler on the front porch and said, “Take what you want.” But, now we sometimes will sell it to people too, which is helpful. Make the goats earn their keep.
Deborah Niemann 14:02
Yeah. It’s really funny that we are talking about this today, because just this morning I got an email from our Illinois farmers lobbying group that asked us all to either write letters, or at least file witness slips, saying that we are in support of this legislation that would limit liability of agritourism farms in Illinois, just like what you have.
Margaret Hathaway 14:33
Yeah! Well, that’s great. I mean, I think that would be wonderful if Maine could serve as a model for the whole country for that, because for us, you know, everybody wants to open up their farm. I think it’s the rare farmer who doesn’t get excited talking about their animals, or showing people, you know, especially this time of year when there’s baby animals everywhere and, you know, the the garden is starting to come up. Like, everybody wants to show their neighbors what they’re doing, but the liability piece can be really scary. I know in Maine, we’ve just been really lucky that this was the existing legislation when we started up. But, with the food sovereignty ordinance here in Grey, Karl was actually on the committee that helped come up with the language for that. So sign your petition, or whatever it is!
Deborah Niemann 15:24
I did! This morning. It was great. Illinois Stewardship Alliance sent me the email. And it was… And they gave you instructions, like, “This is exactly what you need to do.” And, you know, I just went through it; it only took me less than two minutes, you know? Fill out my information and say, “I’m a proponent of this bill.” And I hope it gets passed, because I’ve had some sleepless nights before.
Margaret Hathaway 15:49
Deborah Niemann 15:51
Margaret Hathaway 15:52
Well, it’s scary. I mean, I think, you know, in an ideal world, people take personal responsibility for their actions. And you can, you know, put out the hand sanitizer, but they’ll know to use it. But that’s not always the case. I think sometimes the fear of other people being litigious is really… It’s really a reasonable one.
Deborah Niemann 16:11
Right. And I know people. There’s a farmer here that has a dairy about an hour away from us, and they have $100,000 cat. Because they have a little farm store where people can buy their cheese. And, like a lot of farms, they have cats. And somebody came to get some cheese one day, and this child picked up one of the cats, and the cat scratched it. And it wound up—their insurance company wound up paying out $100,000.
Margaret Hathaway 16:45
Oh my gosh.
Deborah Niemann 16:46
And I was like, “Oh my gosh! Like, did the child’s arm have to get amputated because of an infection or something?” And they were like, “No, it was just a cat scratch.” And, like, that’s one of the things, you know? And another farm that I know wound up in a lawsuit because this woman was not paying attention to her toddler. And her toddler crawled under a wooden fence into a pen where this horse was—
Margaret Hathaway 17:15
Deborah Niemann 17:15
—and it touched the horse’s back legs. And, what do horses do when something touches their back legs? It kicked.
Margaret Hathaway 17:23
Deborah Niemann 17:24
And, you know, they got… I don’t know if I should say they got lucky. I mean, it ended in their favor, you know, because the judge ruled that the mother was negligent, but they still—they had to go to court and all that kind of stuff. So that’s the kind of thing that would have been covered. Like, that would not have even gone to court if we had the kind of protection that you do in Maine, especially around horses.
Margaret Hathaway 17:48
Yeah. And in Maine, you know, it’s reasonable, like it’s things that are reasonably likely to occur on a farm. Anything that’s unreasonable, obviously, would not be covered. It’s not magic legislation, but it is…
Deborah Niemann 18:01
Margaret Hathaway 18:01
It does cover us. And we stress,—you know, before people come to the farm, we really stress that, you know, goats are livestock. And as much as people love having them around, and love watching baby goats in pajamas frolicking, they are livestock; they have hooves. The Alpines are big animals. And, you know, you have to pay attention to our safety talk and follow our safety rules for everybody’s comfort, including the animals, because they don’t want unpredictable behavior or they’ll behave predictably. So, you know, it’s, I think, the personal responsibility of people coming to a farm. We really try to stress to people that this is a working farm. It may be on a small scale, it may be, you know, it’s a diversified homestead. It’s not a commercial monoculture. But it is… All the animals have a job here, and part of our job is to respect them and let them do their work, even if their work, like our lone sheep, is just to entertain us. So, that’s part of our talk at the beginning of any experience when people come here. And I think, if you put it out there, most people understand. I mean, there are still people who let their toddlers down, and I have to, like, swoop in and grab them. But it’s rare.
Deborah Niemann 19:25
Yeah. We do goat classes—well, we did do goat classes here. All my classes are online now. But when we did classes on the farm, and I would tell people—you know, they’d ask if they could bring a child, I would say—”Well, you know your children best. It’s going to be a lot of lecture. You know, if you think they’re going to get bored, then it’s better not to bring them.” And one time we were standing out in front of the buck pen, and I had my back to the buck pen, because I was talking to everyone in front. And, all of a sudden, I hear this woman yelling at her son to “Get out of there!”
Margaret Hathaway 20:02
Oh my gosh!
Deborah Niemann 20:03
And I turned around, and he had climbed over the gate and was in there with the goats.
Margaret Hathaway 20:08
Oh. Oh, that’s terrifying.
Deborah Niemann 20:11
It really is. I mean, luckily, I have small, friendly bucks. But, you know, if that had been, like, a ram pen…
Margaret Hathaway 20:20
Deborah Niemann 20:21
Like… Well, the ram we’ve had for the last five years—knock on wood—is an angel. All of the previous rams all wound up in the freezer, because they turned aggressive at some point.
Margaret Hathaway 20:33
You know, we had Alexander Ramilton, was our ram. And, so we had Alexander Ramilton and Eliza, and their son Philip is the wether that we kept. But Ramilton got so aggressive. It was like his third birthday, just something snapped. And no fencing could contain him. And, you know, Karl and I each ended up with sprained ankles and fingers, and finally, yeah, finally, we just sent him to the butcher. And he was delicious. But it’s hard when that happens, you know? It feels… With him it felt like we had done something wrong, you know, why did he turn? But I think… I think maybe not. I think that’s just the way rams go. Right?
Deborah Niemann 21:21
Yeah. A lot of rams are. And you hear that from sheep people more than goat people about the males being aggressive.
Margaret Hathaway 21:28
Deborah Niemann 21:28
And we definitely have had our share. You know, like, never turn your back on a ram, and why they say: “It’s the friendly ram that will break your legs.” So, it’s really interesting that people compare sheep and goats so much, and they’re so different. Like, I own both, and I think, like, they are so very different. The fact that a lamb will take a bottle, whether it needs it or not, whether it’s had one or not, and a baby goat acts like you’re trying to poison it if you try to give it a bottle if it hasn’t had one before. So, if somebody is new and listening to this, and you have one or the other species, and you think they’re the same, just know that they’re not. They’re so different.
Margaret Hathaway 22:09
Yeah. Although, you know, it’s funny, because we just have this single sheep—Philip the wether—he thinks he’s a goat. He very rarely behaves like a sheep. Like, he often will eat a goat diet; you know, he will browse rather than graze. He’ll go for bark in a way that I’ve never seen sheep—and we’ve only raised, you know, a few sheep over the years. But I think he’s got some, like, identity confusion. We’re just not showing him a mirror; he’ll never know that he’s truly a sheep instead of a goat. Except when he wants to, like, assert, you know, where his place is in the order of things, he knows to step back and butt forward instead of rearing up the way the goats do at him.
Deborah Niemann 22:54
So, this has been a fun segue, but… When you got started in agritourism, was there anything that surprised you, or anything that you think people should be aware of if they’re thinking of doing this?
Margaret Hathaway 23:11
So, we have had a lot of people… So we do, you know, our primary business is goat hiking, and then we have this rental property. And we do these other classes. And I think, for the rental property, people know that they’re coming to a farm, but they have their own driveway; they can engage with us as much or as little as they want. With the classes, people were coming knowing that they were looking for knowledge about a certain thing. But with the goat hikes, often we get people who have either read the “hike” part or the “goat” part, but have not put it together that all of that will be happening at the same time.
Deborah Niemann 23:51
Margaret Hathaway 23:51
And yeah, we’ve had kids, like—”kids,” I say, they’re like in their, you know, late teens, early 20s—come to hang out with the goats wearing slippers. And, you know, it’s a mile hike. It’s not strenuous, but it is a mile in the woods. Or people who are really freaked out that there are goats around them. And, they signed the liability waiver; they knew where they were headed. So, people’s sort of willingness to read what they want to read has been something that we had to get used to. Just sort of managing our expectations. You know, my expectation is that people read the way I read, and that they digest information the way I digest information, and that they ask follow up questions because they want to know the answer, and they think that will give them a better experience. And that’s not the way everybody operates, and learning that has been a big learning curve for us. Figuring out that sometimes we have to be… What feels to us like we’re being repetitive, or, like, we’re kind of bludgeoning people with information, but sometimes you have to do that in order to make sure people really understand what we’re expecting of them to have a safe and good time. I think, for me, that’s been the biggest thing to learn. You know, we are, as we were talking about, we’re lucky enough to live in a place where liability is limited for agritourism so that we haven’t had some of the anxiety there that I think people in other states may have had. But making sure that everybody knows what is expected of them in a way that makes them feel, like, brought along and excited to follow our rules has been a challenge sometimes. But that’s what we’re mostly navigating.
Deborah Niemann 25:40
Do you have a little farm store? Or, is there any kind of an opportunity for people to buy products when they’re there? Or, like, even your books or anything like that?
Margaret Hathaway 25:47
Yeah. So we have… In the summer, we have like a little, just a little kiosk, down by the garden, where we have T-shirts. You know, we sell T-shirts and hats and all of our books. Though the memoir The Year of the Goat is out of print right now, so that’s only available on Kindle. And our daughter has a farm stand up right on the road where she sells vegetables and eggs and things. So, people can buy merch while they’re here, but we don’t have, like, a specific store for people to buy it at.
Deborah Niemann 26:19
And if people want to find you online, I know you’ve got… There’s several ways people can find you online. Can you tell us what that is?
Unknown Speaker 26:26
Yeah, the best way to find us online is to visit our website, which is TenAppleFarm.com. We’re also on social media, Facebook and Instagram, @TenAppleFarm. And they can just stop by in GrEy, Maine.
Deborah Niemann 26:39
Yay! Well, this has been so much fun talking to you about this. The time just flew by.
Margaret Hathaway 26:45
I know, it’s been so great to catch up. I love that we’re both still on these goat journeys. It’s amazing.
Deborah Niemann 26:53
Yeah, they’re such incredible animals. I just adore them.
Margaret Hathaway 26:57
Yeah, me too. I mean, for me, they changed the course of my life, so they’re wonderful.
Deborah Niemann 27:02
Margaret Hathaway 27:03
Deborah Niemann 27:06
Never would have thought that.
Margaret Hathaway 27:08
Deborah Niemann 27:09
Yeah, I did not grow up thinking, “I want to be a goat lady when I grow up.”
Margaret Hathaway 27:14
Right? And yet, here we are.
Deborah Niemann 27:18
Yeah. Well, this has been so much fun. I hope everyone’s had a fun time listening to it. And thanks so much for joining us!
Margaret Hathaway 27:25
Thanks for having me.