Story and photos by Bruce Schultz
YOUNGSVILLE -- It all started 12 years ago with three goats after the Cazayoux’s daughter, Aubrie, wanted to show animals for a 4-H project as a high school sophomore.
“When we started, we didn’t know diddly-squat,” Renee recalled. “It started out as a project and turned into a passion.”
Neither she nor husband Kurt had livestock experience. They went all the way to Oklahoma City to buy their first three animals, Nigerian Dwarf Goats, bringing them home in a dog kennel loaded into their car. “Every 2 hours I had to stop and get another air freshener,” Kurt recalled.
Because Kurt is fond of the Little Rascals TV show, they named their enterprise Our Gang Goats. Their first goats they got from Oklahoma were named Buckwheat, Darla and Alfalfa. (You can find them on Facebook under “Our Gang Goats.”)
Now, their herd is somewhere around 50 head, and they expect to have more than 40 kids in the next few months.
Nigerian Dwarf Goats are bred for their milk production.
In the beginning of their goat experience, the Cazayoux goats competed against meat breeds, and one of the Cazayouxs’ little Nigerians won first overall. “That was the first milk goat to beat a meat goat,” Renee said. Now separate categories have been established for the different breeds.
And it was because of goats that Aubrie met her husband, Sage Edelkind, a forage researcher at the LSU AgCenter Central Station. They met when they were both showing goats, although he was competing in the meat goat category.
“So goats have changed our lives,” Kurt said.
After Aubrie’s show career, Zoe started competing and she has a cabinet full of belt buckles to prove her victories in the show ring. She’s also had success showing cows and horses, and she’s now raising the parish animal, a hog that will be sold to raise money for the Lafayette Parish 4-H program.
“Her goal was to show every species before her final year, and this pig is her last one,” Renee said.
Renee is in awe of her daughter’s abilities in the show ring. “She can take a third-place goat and turn it into a winner.”
Renee credits the faculty at the David Thibodaux Magnet School, particularly 4-H sponsor Arlene Thibodeaux, for providing the support to Zoe’s efforts.
Thibodeaux said Zoe has poise and confidence. “I think she’s learned that from the competition. She likes competition and she is very committed to her goats. She likes taking care of them, and every aspect of the goats.”
Zoe has a simple explanation for her love of working with goats. “Because it’s fun. It’s really fun.”
For Kurt, the experience of working with his daughters and their animals has had a profound effect on his life. “My relationship with my daughters would not be what it is today without this.”
Occasionally, they take the young goats to nursing homes and schools. “We’ve found the goats relate well to autistic children,” Renee said.
Alfalfa, expensive in Louisiana, is a prime food for goats. So is hay from peanut plants.
They have a special feed made at the Atlas Feed Mill in Breaux Bridge that’s high in protein. A cobalt block provides mineral supplements. “If they need a mineral and you have that mineral out, they’ll eat it on their own.”
These goats are raised for shows and milk, but some people buy them just for pets. Renee names all the animals, usually based on their parents’ names. For example, Oops was named after its mother, Uh-oh.
Above all the goats are not raised for meat. “If I meet it, I don’t eat it,” she said.
Nigerians are about half the size of most regular size goats, and that means they don’t need as much space.
The Cazayouxs some of their herd’s offspring. Some are sold for show animals, but many are sold just as pets. Kurt said one buyer now takes his goat with him where ever he goes, just like a dog.
“Since COVID, the demand for dairy goats over the last year has skyrocketed,” Kurt said. “I’ve never seen so many people looking for dairy goats.”
A group or herd of goats is called a “trip.” And they are a trip to watch. They’re curious and sometimes just silly, jumping up in the air, running and kicking up their hooves for no reason.
Their goats can be affectionate, curious and ornery enough to make them interesting to watch. “The one thing I pride myself on is disposition,” Kurt said.
But they thrive in a group, and stay together. The worst thing is a lone goat, the Cazayouxs say.
They have a friend who sometimes drops by just to watch the goats’ antics.
A pair of Great Pyrenees dogs protects the herd.
In addition to the goats, they also have chickens left over from a 4-H project, along with three horses. Zoe won the Junior Master Horseman Premier Exhibitor with one of three horses in the menagerie. Now, she’s raising a pig that will be the Lafayette Parish 4-H animal that will be sold as a 4-H fundraiser.
Goats tend to challenge each other for leadership of their groups. Occasionally butting heads and pushing each other around. “They refigure it out every day,” Kurt said.
They are keeping a herd for a woman from the Lake Charles area whose house and barn were destroyed by Hurricane Laura, but she has almost finished rebuilding and the displaced herd will be returning home soon.
They have one non-Nigerian goat. An Alpine named Vivian that Zoe won from a fellow competitor who told her if she was able to show the doe and win grand champion, she could have it. Zoe recalls the original owner was having trouble with Vivian that day and out of frustration he let her show the animal. “She was working perfectly fine for me.”
But 4-H shows were just the start. “It’s gone way beyond that.” Since then, they have competed successfully in countless shows across the south, including the grand-daddy of them all, the Houston Livestock Show.
Two big shows are held in Louisiana annual. The Cajun Classic in Crowley drew 600 competitors last year, with some as far away as Dade County, Fla. The Bayou Classic is held in the fall in Ruston.
Not only did Zoe and Vivian win that championship, they also took Best in Show.
Now Zoe is determined to win the national showmanship competition this year with a doe named myth, daughter of Saga. She explained the showmanship category requires a handler to be well-versed in everything about goats, and judges will quiz competitors extensively on their animals and on the goat industry.
Dairy goats of course mean milk, and after the kids are weaned the females can continue to produce about a half gallon a day each. “We had so much milk, we had to figure out something to do with it,” Renee said.
The milk is easily digestible, and the chemical makeup is close to human milk, Renee said.
They use the milk to make soap and lotions that are sold in boutique stores like Pieces of Eight in Lafayette.
“We make our soaps with 100% goat milk,” Kurt said.
But they can’t sell raw, or unpasteurized, milk because of Louisiana law. Several attempts in the legislature to change that have been unsuccessful. Kurt notes that raw milk can’t be sold because of the argument that consumers could become sick, yet it’s legal to sell raw oysters resulting in several deaths a year.
They make chevre and feta cheese, but they can’t sell it because they use raw milk. They have a small pasteurizer but it doesn’t have the capacity to handle all of their capacity.
They freeze milk and colostrum, and sometimes they get a call from a vet who needs the nutrient-rich liquid for orphaned newborn animals.
The Cazayouxs send milk samples to the American Dairy Goat Association for nutritional analyses.
“Nigerians are known for the highest butter fat of all dairy goats. Anywhere from 6 to 9%,” Kurt said.
“Milk from a Nigerian is the richest, sweetest milk you’ll ever taste,” Renee said, explaining it tastes similar to milk that’s been poured over sweet breakfast cereal.
LSU AgCenter livestock specialist Rodney Johnson, who helps coordinate the Louisiana Master Goat Producer Program, said participants represent both goat producers and 4-H members who show goats.
“There is a market for goat products,” Johnson said. “Goat milk is very digestible and is an option for people sensitive to milk from a cow. There’s also a big demand for soap made from goat’s milk.”
Johnson said people who suffer from skin problems such as eczema have told him soap with goat milk as an ingredient provided them some relief.
Johnson said Kurt volunteers his time as an officer to the Louisiana Meat Goat Association and promotes the benefits of showing La Bred goats in 4-H Livestock shows. He also said Kurt has been eager to help with all three of the Master Goat Producer Program classes.
“Kurt is definitely an asset to the LSU AgCenter as a volunteer,” Johnson said. “He shares his knowledge of the dairy goat industry mainly educating producers on options of marketing raw goat milk and the laws that pertain to the use of raw milk.”
Johnson said Kurt demonstrates the soap-making process using goat milk. “His knowledge and demonstration have offered dairy goat producers with an alternative income for their goat operation.”
Another class of the Master Goat Producer Program will be held this spring. Participants are required to attend three daylong classes related to raising and caring for goats. Topics included goat breeds and selection, equipment, fencing, nutrition, and marketing goats and goat products.
The next class will be held March 13, April 10 and April 17, 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., at the Tangipahoa Parish LSU AgCenter Extension Office, 305 E. Oak St., Amite. The cost is $125, and attendance is required for all three sessions to be certified.
Registration deadline is Feb. 24. The application form is available by email from Johnson at Rjohnson@agcenter.lsu.edu and the form with payment can be mailed to LSU AgCenter, Rapides Parish Extension Office, care of Rodney Johnson, 300 Grady Britt Drive, Alexandria, 71302.