For the Love of Goats
The San Clemente Island Goat originally came from off the coast of California where they had become so invasive that the government started an eradication program in the late 1970s. Today less than a thousand of these goats are currently found in small herds around the US and Canada. In this episode I’m talking to Erin Link, who raises them and helped to start the new breeders association.
In addition to having a goat meat CSA, Erin also milks her goats and sells goat milk soap to raise awareness about the breed.
5:30 making soap
7:15 milk production
15:00 size of the goats
17:00 selling goat meat through a CSA
20:18 history of the breed
23:00 San Clemente Island Goat Breeders Association
26:00 registering goats
This episode is sponsored by Standlee Premium Western Forage. We use their Horse Fresh in our barn under the straw bedding. It is 100% zeolite, a natural mineral that’s safe for you, your goats, and your compost pile.
Deborah Niemann 0:23
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another episode. Today I am joined by Erin Link of EB Ranch in Wisconsin, who also happens to be one of the founders and second vice president of the San Clemente Island Goat Breeders Association. And we’re going to talk about this fascinating breed of goats, which is unfortunately in danger of extinction. Welcome to the show, Erin.
Erin Link 0:48
Hello, hello! How are you doing?
Deborah Niemann 0:51
Great! I’m so excited that we’re gonna get to talk about these goats.
Erin Link 0:55
Deborah Niemann 0:56
That is such a small number. I think of the fact that we’ve had, like, over 650 goats born on our farm. And there’s only 1,000 San Clemente Island goats out there. And that… So for me, it’s like, “Oh, my goodness, that is really not a great situation for that breed.”
Erin Link 1:15
Right. And I think 1,000 is maybe even on the higher end of the estimate. We might be between 800 and 1,000 right now, too. So yeah, it was shocking—
Deborah Niemann 1:25
Erin Link 1:26
—to realize that.
Deborah Niemann 1:29
So, tell us a little bit about the history of your farm, and how you got involved in goats, and then specifically this particular breed?
Erin Link 1:38
Yeah, absolutely. So, I grew up in western rural Wisconsin, and I couldn’t wait to move away. And I did. And I actually moved back about 10 years ago to my same little hometown; like, all my parents and family are within a 10-mile radius, so it’s pretty, pretty great. And so, my partner and I decided to start kind of the homesteading lifestyle. And we had about 16 acres with a barn and a small house. And I have been weirdly obsessed with goats since I was a teenager. I grew up around cows. Yeah, I was—I thought cows were amazing! And I couldn’t have them. Like, my parents were like, “No way. There’s… You go over to your uncle’s and help him milk the cows. We’re not getting anything.” And yeah, it was fun. And so, there was actually a book by Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. While it has nothing really to do with goats, there’s a scene in there where there is an all-cowgirl goat ranch, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, a goat ranch. That sounds so cool.” And that stuck with me to my adult phase. And so, about a year after moving to our little place, I got a good little group of mixed-breed goats. The seller was really helpful; I could always call him with questions. And so I had, like, Nubian and Nubian mixes. And, after dealing with goats for the first time, I started looking into more breeds. And this really was interested in, like, heritage breed livestock and poultry, period. And so, after about two years, I looked into the Livestock Conservancy website and was curious about goat breeds to see if there were heritage breeds I could, you know, start raising. And that’s where I came across the San Clemente Island goats and realized that this was a breed that… And at that time, it was 2013. And, at that point, I think there was only about 450 in the population.
Deborah Niemann 4:04
Erin Link 4:05
Yeah, yeah. I was stunned. I was stunned that there could be livestock that were endangered or going extinct. I forgot what the rate of extinction is for livestock, but it’s pretty high worldwide. And so, I went on Craigslist. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, let’s see if I can find some on Craigslist.” And, strangely enough, there was a group for sale in the Rochester, Minnesota, area. And that was it. Everybody else that, like, bred these goats were on the coasts; they were states and states away. So, I jumped on that, and got into my car, and picked up some San Clemente Island goats. I think, I believe, I bought three or four and brought them back home. So that was my first step into San Clemente Island goat.
Deborah Niemann 4:56
Wow, that is amazing that you found them on Craigslist. I would never have expected that.
Erin Link 5:01
No! I was shocked. And I was like, “This has to be fate,” kind of thing. I couldn’t believe it. So, I was glad I jumped to the opportunity to do that. So.
Deborah Niemann 5:13
Yeah, exactly. So, I know I always thought of San Clemente Island goats as being a meat goat. So one of the things that really caught my eye was when you said that you milk your goats and sell goat milk soap to promote the breed and to help educate people about them. Where did you get the idea to start milking these goats?
Erin Link 5:36
After I got that initial little group of these San Clemente Island goats, I then—I kind of put the cart in front of the horse—but I was like, “Well, why did I get these goats? Like, really? Why?” And, with there being such a small population at first, I… You know that the population needs to grow, and I didn’t have a lot of goats. So, goat meat was out of the question at that point in time. And the goats are pretty milkable. And to me, I was like, “Well, I want to promote a heritage breed. I want to actually be active in and help educate people about these goats, and heritage breeds across the board.” And so I was just racking my brain about what kind of product could I get from these goats that I could promote. And that’s where the whole soap idea came to light was this, like—not only would it be a nice product that’s very usable, but I can really, I really take advantage of the label to, like, talk about the goat, talk about individual goats on the farm, and promote them. And I thought that was the best way to, like, start off with promoting these goats is that goat milk soap. And that’s where that whole idea came from. I was a little bit always hemming and hawing about making soap, because so many people do, but I just dove in and started making some batches, and then started selling, and then started creating a website and selling retail, and it all snowballed. So, that was great.
Deborah Niemann 7:14
So, how much milk do you get from one of your goats on average?
Erin Link 7:19
From my… From my herd that I have now, and my records, they can vary a lot with milk production. And a really important thing to know—and this is not a negative thing, either, because we can work around it—but a lot of the San Clemente Island goats tend to have extra teats or fishtail teats.
Deborah Niemann 7:43
Erin Link 7:44
Yes, it’s very interesting. And so, while I have both San Clemente Island goats that have very normal udders and one teat per side, it’s pretty common to have wacky teats. But, I actually did a YouTube video on how you can easily hand-milk a San Clemente goat with extra teats; it’s fine. But it really, I guess, getting all the way back to that amount question is that I’m getting up to about 4 pounds a day with two milkings a day from some of my goats, and only maybe 2 pounds a day. So, they really vary a lot in size and in milk given as well, because the one female I’m milking that does give 4 pounds—she’s on the bigger side. And some of these little goats… Like, I have 40-pound mature San Clemente Island goats. So that’s where I’m at right now, and I know that other people are working on the milking aspects or the dairy aspects of these goats and trying to improve on that. It’s a little all over the place, and I kind of feel like I might have a good fit in with, like, a homesteading kind of situation, and more like, “Maybe you’re just two people, and you don’t need a ton of goat milk, and that smaller quantity might be suitable.”
Deborah Niemann 9:09
Right. Now, you mentioned earlier that you did have some mixed-breed dairy goats a number of years ago, before you got the San Clemente goats. So, you have some experience milking other breeds. How did the teats compare, like, in length, in orifice size, and the udder in terms of, like, milkability and stuff like that, compared to dairy goats?
Erin Link 9:34
Yeah, one of the fun things that I have going for me and my body is that I have really, really small hands. So, I have a hard time comparing, I guess, but with my Nubians, I mean… It’s easy. They have huge teats to say—like, not to mince words—and my partner was able to milk my Nubian goats really easily, too. He has much bigger hands. Versus now, with the San Clemente Island goats, like, the one really good milker I have—she’s fine. Like, the teats are fine, the lengths are fine, the udder’s fine; it has a good attachment. Where some of them have very small little teats, and I want to say it’s almost like when I first tried, in my ignorance, to try and milk… I think it was a pygmy goat that I had, which was impossible. So, some of them have some very small teats that might make it hard for a hand-milking. I do know that some breeders use different ways of milking; I forgot what that is, where it’s just kind of like a hand pump for milking. And they say that works really well, even for the extra teat. So, every San Clemente Island goat seems to be pretty unique with the udder and teat system, and it’s just gonna take a lot more record keeping of breeding to see if we can work on udder improvement if that’s a goal that some breeders want to have. We don’t want to, obviously… Like, if double teats aren’t an issue, you know, for nursing, and the goats are healthy, I think double teats is just kind of part of what the San Clemente Island goats are, as well. And I don’t… I think it’s a good discussion among breeders right now, too, is just like good breeding. Like, we don’t want to breed out really good things in these goats while trying to maybe improve on the milking aspect of them.
Deborah Niemann 11:39
Yeah, I think that’s the challenge that you have, is that when you have a gene pool that’s so small, you know, do you really want to say, “Oh, well, she’s got an extra teat, so we’re gonna butcher her.”
Right, right. And that is not the case. That’s not a reason for culling at all right now with the San Clemente goats. I guess the basic reasons for culling any goat would be, like, reproductive issues or some very, like, bad structural issues.
Deborah Niemann 12:10
Right. So, for about how long do you—how many months do you—milk your goats?
Erin Link 12:17
Yeah, for me personally versus other breeders, that’s going to be different. I kind of have a short window of time that I personally milk in the summertime; I have my own farm and my own business, and I rotate all the animals daily. And I also work another farm job; I work at a CSA farm. And so, I am burnt out at the end of summer, and I tend to stop milking. Like the kids will be born in mid- or late-April. I’ll start kind of milking a couple weeks after the kids are born, you know, stealing a little bit, and then I’ll wean eventually, but I tend to wrap up and dry up, you know, early November. It’s cold here; I don’t have heated areas to milk in. But other breeders will keep milking for a good, you know, the full 10 months. But I haven’t heard of anybody kind of having that extended lactation without breeding. And that’s what I found with the San Clemente goats is that they do dry up pretty quickly. So that’s maybe something else to be worked on is longer lactation cycles or more strong lactation cycles, I guess.
Deborah Niemann 13:40
Right. Yeah. So it would be… This goat would be a better option for people who just want a little milk as a bonus rather than you know, “I’ve got a family to feed, and I want to produce all of our own milk.”
Erin Link 13:53
Absolutely. And again, there might be goats that might provide more milk, and that’s, you know, just talking to other breeders out there that are focusing on that. I know that some people are looking at, like, the butterfat content, and I wish I would have written this down, but they have a high butterfat content. And so, there’s some people looking at San Clemente goats in that commercial aspect of producing some really good cheeses. And… So, there’s all these little, kind of, floating things out there. I don’t know where they’ll fit in to the commercial world exactly, but there’s potential, as well, we just need more goats and more breeders and record keepers.
Deborah Niemann 14:40
So, it really surprised me when you said that you have a mature doe that’s 40 pounds, because that’s really small. Like, I don’t even breed my Nigerian Dwarf does until they’re 40 pounds. But it sounds like maybe there’s, like, a really big variance in terms of adult weight in the goats. How big do they get?
Erin Link 15:01
So that little goat is Magga, who’s adorable. But a lot of my does here are, I would say, in that 75- to 85-pound range, up to 100 pounds. I actually hoped to be bringing in some stock from some breeders from the East Coast where they have much bigger goats, and so their average does are 100 pounds, and their average bucks are like 160-ish, where my mature bucks that I have here range between, like, 75 to 100 pounds. And some people really want to keep that smaller aspect of them. And there’s some, I guess… You know, as breeding happens, more and more variations pop out with these goats. So yeah, like, 40 to 160 pounds is a huge range for these goats. But that seems to be kind of the norm with breeders around the states right now.
Deborah Niemann 16:08
It’s time for us to take a quick break and thank our sponsor for this episode: Standlee Premium Western Forage. If you’ve been listening for a while, you know how much I love their alfalfa pellets and hay pellets. But we also use another product that they make, which is called Horse Fresh. And we use that whenever we clean out the stalls. Horse Fresh has one ingredient, and that is Zeolite. Zeolite is an all-natural mineral, which absorbs moisture and helps to eliminate ammonia. And you know that’s really important in the barn, especially in winter, when there’s not a lot of airflow in there. And since Zeolite is just a mineral, it is perfectly safe for your compost pile. And now, let’s get back to Erin.
Deborah Niemann 16:51
You have a CSA; that’s one of the ways that you sell your meat. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you find your customers?
Erin Link 17:00
So, with any goat breeding, you’re gonna end up having extra boys, which I did. And I started… I was just like, “Oh great. Now, I have a surplus of boys I can start selling for meat shares.” And so, part of it is just, you know, being active in the community and promoting yourself, and western Wisconsin goat meat—I mean, goat meat is growing across the nation, and there’s some really great goat grazers around me that have goat meat farms. And so, it’s just promoting… I started promoting goat meat. I didn’t have, you know—I just had a couple animals as whole shares for people. And it was friends that initially, you know, bought a whole goat from me. And then going to CSA fairs and promoting goat meat. And then, last year, I sold at a couple retail spots. And it is this, like, really… You know, it’s a goat meat ultimately, and it’s pastured, but it’s also San Clemente Island goat meat; and so, part of the angle, too, of selling San Clemente Island goat meat is the stating. Like, finding that purpose for a heritage or rare breed livestock animal is really important, and the meat tastes great as well. And I think people were just really happy to, like, support a small farm and a breed like that and this enjoying something that’s locally produced. And people are pretty shocked, I guess, to find, like—the goat meat that I’ve raised, anyway, so far—this tastes a lot like a lean beef. And I actually don’t castrate any males. I just keep all the boys together, intact, just in case one of the boys mature into, like, a really good breeding animal that maybe I didn’t see those characteristics when they’re younger. But I take the boys in to be butchered when they’re intact, and people absolutely love the meat. They just… Yeah, I get sold out every year. So that’s good.
Deborah Niemann 19:25
Yeah, that’s great! And how old are they when you take them in to get butchered?
Erin Link 19:31
I have a range of ages I’m experimenting with. Right now, for full maturity on a San Clemente goat, it takes a good three years, but I have been… I have taken some bucks in at three years, some at two years, and then some under that year-old age, and they all seem to have taste and kind of, like, texture and everything—they seem the same. So, it’s just, it’s me doing a lot of experimenting right now to see if it’s worth it to keep raising them longer for a bigger carcass weight, or if it’s better to get them in younger when they’re smaller.
Deborah Niemann 20:18
So, let’s switch gears a little bit here and talk about the breed and the San Clemente Island Goat Breeders Association, which you’re one of the founders of. And so, first, just tell us a little bit about the history of the breed. Like, where does the name come from?
Erin Link 20:36
One of my… The first vice president had this written up for me, so thank you, Laurel. First off, like, there is information floating around out there online that is older information. And I think a big part of having a breed association is getting everybody on the same page in terms of information and education. But I’ll just kind of read off the really quick history of the San Clemente Island goats and where they came from: So, San Clemente Island is located 68 miles west, off the coast of San Diego, California. San Clemente Island goats were first introduced to the island in 1875 by Salvador Ramirez, who claimed to have brought them over from the Santa Catalina Island. For the next 100 years, they were left to run on the island as they pleased. And so, from some information, too, there’s been DNA testing with these San Clemente Island goats, and they have a very unique DNA. There still kind of researching that and seeing exactly where these goats came from. Like, if you did DNA testing on, like, a Nubian, you know where it originated from. So, these San Clemente Island goats have a very unique DNA. And then, there’s a lot of history in between that, but in a nutshell, I think it was in ‘79 or ’80, the Navy decided to start—well, it was before that, too. But people started eradicating the goats off the island, as they were an invasive species. And so, it was actually in ‘79, The Fund for Animals stepped in to stop the extermination of the goats and to bring them off the island alive and to be adopted out. And that’s where the founding breeding stock came from, was those animals taken off the island in ‘79.
Deborah Niemann 22:48
When did you decide to start the Goat Breeders Association? And, tell us a little bit more about that.
Erin Link 22:59
Yeah, the San Clemente Island Goat Breeders Association had been a work in progress for some years. So, just a lot of talk between breeders in the United States. And it was last year that myself, Sara Howell, and Laurel Sherrie started putting things together more. Like, “We should be more cohesive. Let’s look into starting a breed association.” And, you know, our idea came from this book called Managing Breeds for a Secure Future, which is written by Phillip Sponenberg, Alison Martin, and Jeannette Beranger—all of them are part of the Livestock Conservancy. And we realized how important it is to form a breed association, and be cohesive, and have a pool of voices, you know, unified as one voice about certain aspects of these goats.
Erin Link 24:00
And part of my own personal push towards this was when I started raising San Clemente goats in 2013, and there wasn’t a person or a group to go to with questions. And there was a lot of scattered and differing data or opinions out there that—you know, for a while I didn’t know if I had San Clemente Island goats, because I had ones that weren’t the atypical brown and black color. And so, it freaked me out that I paid money for animals that were supposed to be a particular breed, and some people were telling me that these other colors were unacceptable. And so, just getting that cohesiveness together, and being a support network for other breeders, and… I think goats are becoming more popular over time, so more people are hearing about San Clemente Island goats. It’s great for people to have a resource or a collective voice to come to with questions and for help, and there’s so much help to be given out there, from marketing plans to breeding plans to hooking people up with breeders. Even, like, working with zoos, and maybe trying to get some goats from Canada. There’s some people that have San Clemente goats in Canada, but they’re kind of stuck up there. And we can’t move them across the border right now. Even working on AI options for people, instead of hauling bucks across the states to other breeders. So, all of these parts are really important for forming a breed association.
Deborah Niemann 25:46
Yeah, it’s great that you guys are working on that now. So, do you have a registry now, where people can register their goats?
Erin Link 25:52
So, you can register your goats with the International Goat, Sheep, Camelid Registry. Peggy Boone is now the owner of this registry, and this is the one registry where you can get your San Clemente Island goats registered. There are a number of San Clemente goats out there that aren’t registered, and they’re in the process of being, you know, maybe being registered or being accounted for. There’s still a lot of work to be done to, like, you know, find breeders and kind of get everybody on the same page, and keeping track of these goats as well.
Deborah Niemann 26:33
Well, this was a fascinating conversation. It was really fun to get to know more about this breed. I know, it is so tempting to me—like, I just want all the goats. And this morning, I was telling my husband all about the San Clemente Island goats, and he’s like, “Honey, we have enough goats.” So, if anybody’s out there thinking, “Ooh, I want these goats, too,” I understand that feeling. So, thank you so much for joining us today, telling us more about your farm and your goat milk soap and the meat and the new breed association and everything. It’s been really wonderful having you.
Erin Link 27:13
Yeah, you’re welcome! And thank you for having me on here, and, you know, I’m happy to answer any questions people might have in the future. So, thank you so much.
Deborah Niemann 27:22
Yeah, where can people find you, and also the San Clemente Island Goat Breeders Association?
Erin Link 27:28
My website is EBRanchLLC.com. And I think if you just Google search “San Clemente Island Goat Breeders Association,” that will pop you right up to the website. There’s also a breeders association Facebook group, and just a discussion group, and there’s also the farm Willow Valley that has a foundation group as well that will primarily focus on history and what they’re doing on their own.
Deborah Niemann 28:05
And that’s it for today. Thanks again to Standlee Premium Western Forage for sponsoring this episode. Be sure to join us next week when we are going to be talking to someone in Vermont who makes goat milk gelato. If you haven’t yet subscribed, be sure to hit that “subscribe” button so you don’t miss that episode. And to find the show notes, just check out ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can also find us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again soon. Bye!
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