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Goats on Dale and Sally Donner's farm eight miles south of Regent roam in an area outside a barn, where their daughter, Laurie, assists in the maintenance of the goats. Dale purchased the goats seven years ago and the family has been in the goat business since.

Goat popularity lags in ND

Dickinson farmer Charlie Noyce will concede that goats are not the easiest livestock to raise, given that the animal comes with quite the list of annoyances for farmers.

But after raising goats for more than 30 years with help from his wife, Cyndi, Noyce said once people get around goats and understand that the animals have some quarks and a unique personality, it is hard for people not to develop a soft spot for them.

"They're a likeable animal once you get used to them," he said. "I like to compare them to a horse. Once you get to raising them, you get to liking them, even though one of their worst faults is that they eat trees and flowers. Oh, you can fence them in, but they are not like cattle or horses. You need much better fences than you do for cattle because goats can get their way through pretty much anything."

Goats may appear to stomach just about anything they can get their mouths on, but Noyce said the animals do require "good feed, better feed than a lot of livestock."

"They eat only clean feed and prefer feed that has leaves on it," he said. "They will eat grass to some degree, but it is not their favorite because they're leaf eaters after all. They even eat trees and flowers, and I get a lot of people calling me asking for help getting their goats to stop eating their trees and flowers."

Noyce had raised cattle, until he decided that he wanted to

dedicate his agricultural labor to producing quality goats and sheep.

"Most of my operations went to goats and sheep," he said. "I also have one llama for protection for the goats. When that llama is in the pen, no coyotes dare come in and bother those goats."

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the total goat population in the U.S. was down as of Jan. 1.

At the start of 2012, the USDA reports that there were 2.86 million head of goats across the U.S.

That figure is down 4 percent from the year before.

Also in 2011, the USDA reports that the kid population topped out at 1.88 million,

That was a decrease of 2 percent in the total nationwide kid population that existed in 2010.

Seven years after Dale Donner purchased a few goats, his wife, Sally, and daughter, Laurie, have taken over most of the family's goat raising operation eight miles south of Regent, which includes about 100 goats, including pet goats.

"It has become more of my wife and daughter's venture now," Dale said.

And it is an undertaking that Laurie has developed a passion for, after her parents had a goat when she was younger and raised her on goat milk.

"We really enjoy raising the goats now, especially being able to watch the little ones jump and play," Laurie said. "They take a lot of hard work to raise, though. They require shelter, even from the rain in the summer. I've read that goats are also susceptible to developing pneumonia."

On top of goats being a more difficult animal to raise, in

comparison to other livestock, Noyce, whose herd varies between 100 and 200 goats, depending on what is available in the feedlot, said getting meat goats to market often requires farmers who live in North Dakota to travel outside of the state to find a market for them to take their animals to.

"Most goats that are sold for their meat are going to ethnic markets in the markets in places like Denver or Minneapolis," he said. "There are not a lot of producers in North Dakota who want to travel those long distances to market."

Noyce said the goat population in North Dakota comes and goes, but he thought the animal could be a more popular livestock in North Dakota if there were regular markets that were closer by for producers to buy and sell their goats.

"Goats just aren't a real important animal in North Dakota," Noyce said, although he also said that this is not the case

everywhere in the world.

He said more people are seeing the multiple uses of goats, both for their meat as well as for their milk, as a benefit to including goats as part of the livestock on farms.

"In other more ethnically diverse parts of world, people are really happy with goats because they can get milk and meat from them," Noyce said. "I could see goat production in the U.S. pick up to. If the goat trend in other parts of the world ever picks up steam in this country."