Linda Miller loves her dairy goats. She loves others’ dairy goats too, and will not hesitate to rescue them, and their owners, from difficult situations, should the need arise.
“Dairy goats have such great personalities,” Miller said. “They are so smart, so giving, and so loving. I just think they are the greatest.”
Miller, a crew chief at Hawker-Beechcraft in Wichita for 28 years, lives and farms five miles south of Hillsboro with her husband Larry Miller, an independent communications contractor working with the U.S. Army (currently on an 8-month assignment in Afghanistan).
She manages their Miller’s Walnut-Grove Farm, which features Alpine, Saanen, and La Mancha dairy goats, along with chickens, horses, dogs, and cats. She fits morning and evening chores between full-time job responsibilities with a passion born of necessity.
“I am severely lactose-intolerant,” she said. “If I don’t have my goat milk every day, I get very sick.”
It was her need for goat milk that led Miller into her most recent goat rescue mission.
“A co-worker who had been laid off but was now back on the job, told me he had some does in milk but didn’t have any more hay to feed them,” she said. “I gave him some money for hay, but then went and checked out the situation. It was awful.”
Miller said she found a lot with no shelter and 20 to 30 goats in it, all in survival-mode suffering from starvation and cold related maladies. Several were dead already.
“I went there to buy a goat in milk,” she said. “But I ended up making arrangements to bring at least 10 of them to my house to see if I could save them. I just can’t stand to see them suffer like that.”
Miller said the goats’ owner did not seem to comprehend the severity of the problem.
“There wasn’t a stitch of hay or bedding or anything there,” she said. “I didn’t even see any water. I think it had gotten so bad he was just overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do anymore.”
This was not the first time in 2012 that Miller witnessed this type of situation, where a combination of lack of hay, no money, and personal problems led to a bad scenario for animals involved.
“Just two weeks ago a friend and I made a trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., to pick up 10 rescue dairy goats,” she said. “We drove five hours one way in a 70-mile-per-hour windstorm just to rescue some goats. But I couldn’t just let them starve when I knew I could help.”
Miller said the Colorado situation was similar, involving a broken relationship, no job, no money, and no affordable hay or feed of any kind for the dairy goats.
“Some people just didn’t prepare enough for this winter,” she said. “We all knew there was going to be a shortage of hay, but it is really bad in some areas, especially for people with a lack of resources or just a general lack of management knowledge.”
The summer drought of 2011 dictated changes in the way Miller managed her own herd of dairy goats this winter.
“We have always grown most of our own alfalfa and brome,” she said. “But this summer, instead of getting 30 round bales from our brome field, we only got 10. From the seven-acre alfalfa field, I only got two and one half round bales. Usually we get at least 15.”
Instead of feeding round bales free choice from feeders in each pen like other years, this year has Miller hand-feeding a prescribed amount each day in special fence-line feeders that eliminate wasted hay. She added alfalfa hay cubes to her dairy goats’ diets, getting 50 lb. bags for $7 each, so when her homegrown hay runs out, they will easily be able to switch to the bagged feed without digestive distress. She also feeds a specially formulated grain mix to bred does, does in milk, and growing kids.
“I have to be very careful feeding these bred and starving does that came in today,” she said. “They will only get handfuls of the good stuff to begin with. They have to build up very slowly to the level of nutrition which they should be at, because we don’t want to physically stress them even more.”
Years of raising dairy goats give Miller confidence she can make a difference in the animals recently in her care.
“Three more died over there in the week it took for us to make arrangements to get them here,” she said. “I am very worried about the mamas due to kid next week, but now I’ve got them and I’ll do everything I can to help them.”
When Miller gets rescue goats, she keeps them separate from her home herd of 29 does and bucks. She provides warm housing, coats for those who do not have adequate body condition for the elements, and an increasing plane of nutrition.
“I start them out slowly with alfalfa pellets and brome hay,” she said. “I put Sulmit in the water to treat for shipping fever, stress, or pneumonia. I make sure they get plenty of fresh water, deep bedding, and just try to make them as comfortable as possible.”
Miller also works closely with her veterinarian to determine de-worming and vaccination needs.
“I do put a lot of time and money into these animals,” she said. “In return they give me wonderful milk and companionship.”
While she purchased the goats rescued from Colorado earlier this month, Miller said her agreement with the owner of the goats rescued on Sunday was open-ended.
“As long as I am able, I will always have a heart for goats that need my help,” she said. “I would not let them go back into a bad situation. Some things have to change and the owner knows that. I try to help the people out in these situations too. It is just the right thing to do.”
Miller keeps her own herd size in check by selling or donating extra kids to 4-H project members in the spring. She advertises extra bucks and does for sale year-round on CraigsList, and networks with other dairy goat producers in Kansas to meet a growing demand for dairy goats.
She sells extra milk produced to local customers, including several that make fine goat milk cheeses.