The value of a mentor

 “Psst! Lemme give you some advice!”

Although I made a lot of mistakes when we started homesteading, there was one thing that I got right — and it was totally by accident. I wound up with a great goat mentor. I bought my first three goats from someone who had been raising them for more than two decades. Although she didn’t currently show or milk her goats, she did make conscientious breeding decisions, and she stayed on top of the latest goat care information. She also encouraged me to call or email whenever I had questions, and she even had a goat care forum on her website.

There were probably times those first two or three years when she got sick of hearing from me, but in addition to learning a lot of good basic information about raising goats, I also learned the importance of having a real live, knowledgeable person to give you suggestions when you don’t know what to do. I always tell people not to feel dumb about any questions they have because I’ll never forget the time that I emailed my mentor in a panic, thinking there was something terribly wrong with our first baby goats because they were pooping yellow. I felt so dumb when she told me that was perfectly normal — just like human babies that are breastfed. Oh, duh! Not only had I breastfed my three children, but I had been a certified lactation consultant for ten years!

Whenever I thought one of my goats was “off,” she would always ask me about the goat’s temperature, rumen sounds, respirations, activity level, last time it ate, etc. The first time I called the U of I vet clinic with a truly sick goat, I rattled off the symptoms and other information so effortlessly that the vet asked if I was a nurse. I laughed and said, “No, I just have a really good goat mentor who always asks me these questions whenever I call her.”

I sometimes talk about how blindly I dove into a lot of our homesteading activities, and I really do not recommend that anyone else do that. In the end, it appears to have all worked out okay, but you’ll probably make fewer mistakes if you read a few more books than I did before you bring home your animals. Find some Internet forums to join, so you can ask experienced breeders and homesteaders what to do when you aren’t sure about something. And if you’re lucky enough to buy animals from someone who is willing to be a mentor, don’t hesitate to actually contact them when you have questions.

Of course, all advice is not necessarily good advice, so you have to be somewhat selective about whom you ask. It is best if you can find a mentor who raises their animals the way you want to raise yours. Keep in mind that if you ask ten people how to raise any animal, you will likely get ten different answers. Ultimately, you’ll have to take the information you get and adapt it to work on your own homestead. A really good mentor will understand that nothing translates one hundred percent from one farm to another and will give you the information you need to make the right choices for your animals.

4 thoughts on “The value of a mentor”

  1. Another great post, Deborah. I have a neighbor with a goat dairy, and I am trying to absorb information from her while trying to make a decision to get our own.

  2. Well congratulations Deborah, I just walked in from the mailbox and opened my Mother Earth News and see you and your familiar blog. Keep up the good work on helping inform the novices and the rest of us with helpful hints and alternate ways of getting to our same goals. I think you are right about the knowledge that was lost from our ancestors over a hundred years ago due to modern science. I would have loved to lived a 100 years ago, but ………. with refrigeration, my truck, computer, and electricity …………. I'm not totally willing to rough it, lol. Hope to see more articles from you in Mother Earth News.


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