Goat for hire: Experienced in yoga
HARBESON, Del. — Amanda Ritter has always loved animals, so much so that she is studying at the University of Delaware to become a veterinarian, majoring in both pre-veterinary medicine and animal science and agriculture and natural resources with a minor in equine science.
Amanda and her brothers, Aaron and Adam, are triplets, age 21.
They all graduated from Cape Henlopen High School where Amanda got her first FFA bottle baby goat to raise as a school project. Her teacher, Heather Valentine, lets students foster animals.
When she was a high school freshman, Amanda said, she saw FFA members bringing baby goats into school every day and wanted to get involved.
“It was a cuteness factor,” she said. “Raising a baby goat to 12 weeks was appealing to me, so I jumped on the bandwagon, raised my first one and fell in love.”
Amanda cared for the first goat for six weeks before he was adopted and went to his new home.
“We were heartbroken to have to let him go,” said Amanda’s mother, Laura. “We were hooked. The baby goat was so sweet, smart and loving that we knew we had to have goats of our own, permanently.”
The next school year, Amanda got another bottle baby, Sweety, who is still on the farm. That was in 2014. Soon there were more goats, and Amanda started showing at the Delaware State Fair.
Fortunately for Amanda, her father, Brad, farms about 900 acres in Harbeson and has plenty of room for goats.
When he attended Cape Henlopen, there was no FFA program.
“I’m glad the students can be in FFA now. It’s a great organization to help and do what we can for,” he said.
Valentine and Laura are close friends, Laura said. “The program Heather has developed is incredible. It’s a fantastic program. Heather is more dedicated than any teacher I’ve seen.”
Brad agreed. “Anything they need, we help with.”
Laura continued, “The students show our goats. We transport them for the FFA. It’s not an inconvenience.
“We take our camper to the fair so students can stay with their animals. We hosted a goat show in June on our farm so the parents could see their child in action. Most shows are three hours away. The entire FFA group showed their animals.”
In June, the Ritters took 10 goats to Howard County for the Maryland Dairy Goat Association’s June Doe Show and Youth Show Weekend.
Amanda’s hobby has since exploded into a passion and a business. She said, “It started as a fundraiser by my sorority for the Be Positive Foundation. We wanted to do something different from anything that had ever been done. I had goats, so I asked if they wanted to try goat yoga.”
Erin Winsor of Salt Fitness agreed to teach the class. Amanda’s sorority sisters came from the University of Delaware to help and the fundraiser was a huge success. The proceeds were “the most we’d ever raised at that time.”
Afterwards, she and her mother continued to get calls asking if they were going to do it again or when to expect more classes.
Then another instructor, Sue McCarthy of Lewes Yoga, contacted them. “I see you have goats,” she said. “Are you interested in hiring someone to use the goats for goat yoga?”
Thus Goat Joy Yoga was born, and Laura, in addition to caring for her triplets’ needs, running the business side of Ritter Family Farms Inc. and of AAA Storage LP, a self-storage facility and billboard advertising company, took on another responsibility.
Laura took classes in advanced goat health and care and in advanced breeding techniques. She said she will begin an artificial insemination breeding program this fall.
The Ritters also now offer “Goat Socials” in which small groups come to the farm just to spend some time with the adorable goats. They can even try milking a goat.
Part of Amanda’s FFA project was an assigned shift to work at the dairy goat farm, taking care of the goats. Asked if she wanted to show goats, she said yes, “and I’ve been showing ever since,” Amanda said.
Now that she is 21, this was the last year she can show as a youth exhibitor. She thinks it likely that she will continue to show as an adult.
Her most outstanding prize was Grand Champion won by Martini, a record grade 94 percent Oberhasli, which also took Junior Reserve Champion in another competition.
Laura added, “In 2017, we had our herd in front of 10 judges and were pretty successful for a new herd. We have three Junior Grand Champions in our herd, one Junior Reserve Grand Champion, and one Senior with two Reserve Grand Championships.”
The Ritters’ herd now numbers 71. It includes three different breeds. The Nigeria Dwarf is a miniature dairy goat originally from West Africa, developed in the United States. They are known for their high quality milk, often with exceptionally high butterfat content.
The Oberhasli is a dairy goat found in Switzerland, formerly called Swiss-Alpine. A mature Oberhasli female weighs about 120 pounds.
The Lamancha has roots in Spain but was developed in the United States. Lamanchas vary greatly in size and are often shorter and blockier than other breeds of dairy goats. They are known for an even temperament and steady production of milk with a fairly high fat content.
As of last month, the Ritters were only milking 14 of their goats and not getting as much milk as might be expected because the kids were nursing. When they are weaned, total output of the herd will be about 8 gallons.
“We milk once a day and get roughly three-quarters of a gallon per goat,” Laura said. The does that have kidded are milked twice a day.”
The milk is used to make ice cream, cheese and anything that you could make of cow’s milk. Laura wants to open a Grade A dairy facility so the milk and cheese products can be sold. In the garage is a cheese pot for pasteurizing that was purchased in Georgia. It’s a stainless steel pot with a steam jacket and agitator. To make cheese, after milk is pasteurized you run cold water through the jacket to cool it to 98 degrees, then add cultures, Laura explained. Then you let it sit and curds form. You drain off the whey, add flavor and refrigerate the product.
“I make soft cheese,” she said. “I could press more and let it age to get hard cheese.”
The dairy has been a work in progress for a year and a half, Laura said. “It’s slow going when I have so many other things going on.”
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