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Wednesday, 23 May 2012 20:29

A festival for the unassuming goat

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Every small town needs a street festival, and what better excuse for one could there be than goats?

This past weekend a friend and I went to the Spindale Goat Festival, where all things dairy goat took center stage. The festival is now in its third year and attracts thousands, including a multitude of dairy goats and their owners.

The festival had its start as sort of a joke, Shirley McKenzie, association manager for the American Dairy Goat Association, told me.

Spindale, you might not realize, is the home of the American Dairy Goat Association. That was apparently a question asked on the game show Jeopardy one time. I’m told the contestant actually answered the question correctly.

“Someone said, ‘We ought to have a goat parade,’” McKenzie explained.

From a tiny acorn grows the mighty oak … and three years later, the goat parade has morphed into a complete festival. There is music, food and entertainment, carnival rides for kids and lots of goat-themed booths and yes, regular festival-type booths, too.

But let’s back the story up a little and answer that question now burning inside of you: And how exactly did Spindale become home to the American Dairy Goat Association?

McKenzie said that the association was organized in 1904 to collect, record and preserve the pedigrees of dairy goats and to provide genetic, management and related services to dairy goat breeders.

The first office was located in Elyria, Ohio. In 1959, the secretary-treasurer was one Robert W. Soens. A time came when his health required that he move to a milder climate. Soens chose to move to Bostic, N.C., and the American Dairy Goat Association moved with him. As the association’s goat registry grew, it required more space, and so an office was acquired in Spindale in 1963. Today, the group has eight fulltime employees and an annual budget of about $1.3 million.

According to a fact sheet, the American Dairy Goat Association is now third in total dairy animals registered annually in the U.S., following the Holstein and Jersey cow organizations. The group has more than 14,000 members and annually registers more than 37,000 animals. Since it started, the American Dairy Goat Association has registered or recorded more than a million animals.

A few more gee-wiz facts: the American Dairy Goat Association sanctions more than 1,100 shows annually throughout the U.S., with each show routinely averaging more than 1,500 entries. In other words, this is big-time organization in the agricultural arena.

It seems that for many years, however, the American Dairy Goat Association kept a fairly low profile in Spindale. That’s all changed with the advent of the goat festival.

“The goat festival has kind of put us and them on the map,” Spindale Mayor Mickey Bland told me in between greeting festival-goers in his small town. “And I’ve certainly learned a lot about goats.”

Bland asked me if I realized how many different varieties of dairy goats there are. I knew there were several, but it turns out that the American Dairy Goat Association recognizes eight: Alpine, LaMancha, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, Sable, Toggenburg and Nigerian Dwarf.

“This has been entertaining,” Bland said of the three-year old festival.

And it has been an economic boon of sorts for Spindale, which has suffered hard economic times with the collapse of the textile industry.

Frankly many of the folks attending the festival probably couldn’t give a hoot about goats. But goats were ever present anyway, from booths selling goat soap to the goat shows that were taking place. More than 200 goats were participating in the shows, and there were two judges each working separate contestant rings.

Paige Leitman and Ben Heisler made the trip from Atlanta to enjoy the shows. The couple currently lives in a condominium in the big city.

“We love goats,” Leitman told me. “But our homeowners’ association would have a fit if we got them.”

Leitman and Heisler dream one day of owning a small farm complete, of course, with goats.

They learned about the Spindale Goat Festival via Facebook. They’d gotten in on Friday and enjoyed the goat parade, which included a “billy dancing” group of belly dancers and goats.

“It was fabulous,” Leitman said. “Now that is quality entertainment.”

So this time next year when you’re looking for something a bit offbeat to do, I suggest that you consider taking in the Spindale Goat Festival.

(Quintin Ellison can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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