New Jersey Ag News
Raising goats becoming a passion for Heiden, 13
By RICHARD SKELLY
WANTAGE, Sussex County — A lot of child psychologists and clergy would argue that one is never too young to learn about the fragility of life.
Emily Heiden, 13, has been conscientiously raising goats for the last three years.
She knows all too well about life’s fickle, fragile nature.
Heiden has rescued several baby goats from near-death situations and won numerous awards and prizes for her goats at the annual New Jersey State Fair and Sussex County Farm and Horse Show, Aug. 1-10 at the Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta, 10 minutes south of where the Heiden family lives.
Heiden said she got interested in her neighbor Helen and Rudy Pfeifer’s goats when she was 8.
For the last year, she’s looked after more than 50 goats on the Pfeifer’s property, adjacent to the Heiden household.
“A couple of years ago the neighbors adjacent to our property moved out and a new family moved in,” Heiden said. “It was an older couple. We went up there one day to welcome them to the neighborhood and they asked about what kind of animals we liked. They already had two goats with them and they could see we were really interested in them.”
Although her older sisters don’t share her level of passion for raising goats, Heiden does get help in the seven-day-a-week business of tending to the herd from her younger brother, her father, Bob Heiden, a retired Long Island Railroad engineer, and her mother, Christine.
“They started breeding goats and a couple of years later when I was ten, Mrs. Pfeifer brought up 4-H,” Emily said. “That same year, I started showing them at the county fair.”
While the goats are housed on the Pfeifer’s 12-acre backyard, Emily owns nine of the goats. Earlier this year, there were 57 goats to look after, but more recently, as many have gone to market, she’s looking after 36.
“I have Laverne, Ruby, Jewel, Patty, Wendy, Simone, Ice, Tina and Justin,” she explained, “I go over there a lot because they’re a retired couple and their family lives far away, so I started taking care of the goats.”
Is looking after some 36 goats too much responsibility for a 13-year-old to handle? No, according to Mrs. Helen Pfeifer, a retired speech pathologist from Mahwah Public Schools who lived in Hillsdale, Bergen County, for 60 years.
“Over the winter, we had two and three feet of snow and ice. I couldn’t have fed the goats each day without Emily’s help,” Pfeifer said.
“She seems to have a sixth sense about what the goats are going through. She’ll know when the goats are ready to kid, and she also knows when a goat is feeling sick and needs extra attention. With goats, if you don’t get right on it, you’ll lose the animal,” Pfeifer added.
How does Emily deal with feeding nearly 40 goats every day and going to school?
“Every day is different,” Emily said, “there are different feeding schedules for the winter and summer.
“For winter, you give them more grain and hay and because they’re able to do more grazing in the summer you give them hay and for the babies you give them grain in the summer, too.
The babies also have milk from the mothers too, of course.”
“In the summer, I normally stay up there for a little while,” she explains, “but in the winter, we’ll compare schedules,” she said, adding she gets help from her sisters, brother, father and mother.
Why goats? Why not pigs or sheep?
“Pigs scare me, actually, and they can be really aggressive sometimes,” she said, adding, “I much prefer goats, ‘cause they all have their own distinct personalities. They’re compassionate and they like to be with you, they like to play with you. I find that pigs and sheep really aren’t like that.”
Some of the goats are raised for meat but mostly they are dairy goats, Emily said, noting some people ask if they can buy one and then they bring it to the slaughterhouse themselves.
A new arrival on President’s Day Weekend was named “George,” Emily said, adding she names most of the goats.
“There was a goat over there we named Emily, but she passed away,” Emily explained, noting the life span for most of the goats they raise tends to be six to 10 years old.
“It depends on the type of goat you have. Right now, we have one over there that’s 9 years old, and I’ve seen one that is 14,” she said.
Smaller Nigerian goats can live five to seven years, she said.
Heiden has won numerous awards for her goats in the past three years, including several best of show awards and collected nearly $300 in prize winnings.
She hasn’t taken any money for her daily efforts with the goats just yet, but it may turn into a part-time job in a few years after she begins driving.
Right now, she wants to go to college, go to law school and become a lawyer.
She sees a period of retirement later in life as a time when she can hopefully go back to raising goats.
“I’m not in it for the money, I just like raising goats,” she said.