The Smoke Ridge herd was started in 1991 with a small group of Spanish does acquired through Texas auctions. A new venture, the production of Montana-hardy meat goats with a cashmere byproduct was the original business objective. After a few years, Smoke Ridge concentrated solely on meat production, with fertility, maternal abilities, and longevity heading the selection criteria.
The Smoke Ridge herd resides in north-central Montana, at the base of the Rocky Mountains. The environment is dry (14 inches of precipitation per year) and holds great potential for generation of wind power! In the cold winters, with temperatures falling to 40 below zero, the cashmere undercoat that the goats still produce helps keep them warm and fuel-efficient while being fed grass-alfalfa hay (when the ground is snow-covered). Smoke Ridge feeds no grain or concentrates. The goats always have loose mineral available. The goats are used locally to help curtail the spread of weeds, including the noxious weeds Leafy Spurge, Spotted Knapweed, and Canada Thistle, and do brush reduction on nearby ranches, which benefits the community and provides extra forage for the herd. Smoke Ridge deworms their goats twice per year, one month before kidding and one month before breeding.
The original goats were trained to electric fences, subsequent generations were raised with them from birth. Although there are Golden and Bald eagles, Grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes and badgers, Smoke Ridge has no losses to predation thanks to their guardian dogs. Anatolians, Maremmas, and crosses thereof, guard the goats at home or off property at weed projects, at approximately one dog per 100 goats.
Nearly one third of the doe herd is purebred Spanish, and every few years those does are bred to a purebred Spanish buck to make a new batch of “mother goats.” The entire Smoke Ridge doeherd is sorted into groups of approximately 75 animals, and a single buck is put with each group for three and a half weeks. Then all the does are put back together, with only a single cleanup buck, for another week Does are exposed to kid in the late Spring (May/June) so that the slaughter kids can be sold in the late Fall/Winter, when prices for milk tooth kids are highest. Even when more than 500 kids are born within four weeks, all kids are eartagged and recorded on the day of their birth. Does wean an average of 1.9 kids each.
Smoke Ridge primarily raises Spanish/Boer and Spanish/Savannah crosses for meat production, but maintains purebred Spanish does and bucks to keep the genepool available for the herd. Craig and Yvonne select does for fertility and their ability to successfully bring kids to weaning weight, on forage only, in half a year. They keep accurate records to monitor the performance of each individual goat. It is this attention to detail (and the bottom line), that enables Smoke Ridge to evaluate each goat and cull accurately. It also reinforces the decision to keep raising purebred Spanish goats, as they are such a valuable component of the enterprise which has been successful for over 17 years.
Story by Yvonne Zweede-Tucker, Fall 2008