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ELK CREEK — Nestled in the woods of Elk Creek is a 40-acre farm that offers anyone the opportunity to walk with and learn about goats.
Paul and Mary Cottenier spent their lives in the hustle and bustle just outside Tampa, Fla. After retiring, the couple began looking for a calmer place to settle down.
With family in Boone, N.C., the couple first looked for places there. After having no luck, they began looking in the mountains of Virginia.
In 2003, the couple found their current home and wanted to clean parts of their land off — without spending a lot of money.
The land was covered with bushes and thick blackberry patches. Paul said after asking several farmers what kind of animals he could put on the land to clean the property, he was told to look into goats.
“We started with three goats in 2003,” he said. “We just liked them after that.”
The farm has now grown to about 80 goats — including 28 that have been born in the last two weeks — and the couple is still expecting about 30 more kids in the coming days.
But to the Cotteniers, the goats have become more than just a way to clear the land. They have become family pets.
In fact, each has a name and they will respond to it.
“Ours are like pets,” said Paul. “They recognize their names.”
To prove his point, Paul yelled for one named Timid, who quickly ran to his side.
Most names have some meaning for the goat, such as the one called Miracle.
Paul said Miracle was one of the first goats born on the farm and was very sick at birth. After calling around trying to find the right medicine, the couple was told it would be two days before it could even be shipped out.
Paul said that he didn’t want to take the chance of losing her, so he put her in his car and headed south to Georgia to pick up the medicine himself.
“They ride in vehicles much like dogs,” said Paul. “She found a comfortable spot and just laid down and rode.”
He added that people gave them funny looks when they would stop at rest areas and take the goats out on leashes to use the bathroom.
Within hours of receiving the medicine, Miracle was up running around.
“We knew she was going to be alright then,” he said.
The couple now keeps the medicine on hand to give any kids born that appear to be weak.
Not only do the goats understand their names, they can be potty trained, as well.
One baby had to be bottle-fed and the couple kept him in the house. Paul said the baby was taught to use the bathroom on a towel, and never used it anywhere else.
“They are smart animals.”
Other names include Uno, who has what appeared to be a number one on the side; Red Rump, who has a red spot near his backside; and Pistol, who has the best bloodline and is the main breeding male.
This season, Pistol was responsible for 32 mates, which the couple said is about maximum. Paul said after awhile, billy goats begin to lose weight because, to them, the mating becomes more important than eating.
“And you have to watch out if you get between him and a mate,” said Paul. “He will knock you out of the way to get to her.”
Pistol is pushing 300 pounds and has large horns. But with no mate in site, you can walk right up and pet him.
The couple does not raise the animals for any products, such as meat or milk, but does sell them.
“The first thing I ask is if the person is going to eat them,” said Mary. “If they say ‘no’ then we will sell the goats.”
She added that although some may end up slaughtering the goats later, she can’t bear the thought of it happening.
“If I don’t know, I guess it’s better.”
The farm has a variety of goats including Boer and miniature.
While the goats are for sale, they are also available for anyone who simply wants to tour the farm and learn more about the animal.
“We are always open for people to come by,” said Mary. “We get a lot of people — being directly off Route 21 — that just stop by and want to look.”
But those stopping by should be warned that a 100-pound Great Pyrenees guard dog named Yikes is protecting the farm.
“He does a good job,” said Paul. “We have not lost one [goat] since we got a dog.”
The couple also sells puppies from Yikes and his mate, Keeper.
Usually the couple keeps the puppies — especially males — long enough to give them an opportunity to learn how to be a guard dog.
“When we put [Yikes] in one of the fields with the goats, the first thing he does is walk the fence and secure the premises,” said Paul. “He may look friendly with us around, but you wouldn’t want to be out here alone with him.”
The goats are much like a domesticated pet would be in a house. They love attention and have a good time playing.
On any given day, the kids can be seen butting each other off of rocks and tires.
“They like to be up high on things,” said Paul. “That’s why we have large rocks and other things for them to climb on.”
The parents are also very protective of their kids. After being born, the couple keeps the mom and kid in a stall for a couple days so they can learn each other well — it can be hard to tell them apart once in a field with several others.
The kids learn their mother’s yell and the mom learns their kid’s smell.
While the kids will try and go to other females to nurse, the mothers will only allow her kids and will push away those that aren’t hers.
The couple said once the kids reach about three months old, they must separate the males and females.
“Biologically, they can begin mating at three months old,” said Paul. “We wait until they are at least a year old.”
It can take up to four years for a goat to reach its full size.
The couple will sell the goats separately, but always recommend purchasing at least two.
“They are very social animals,” said Paul. “You should not have just one.”
Not only are they social with each other, they are extremely friendly to people, as well.
“If you sit down in the field, they will come over and just lay in your lap,” said Paul.
Another question the couple asks before selling to anyone is if the person has a barn.
“They don’t like to get their feet wet,” said Mary. “They don’t like to get wet at all, really. They will run into the barn if it begins to rain, and if it is muddy, they will jump around to try and reach dry spots.”
One thing Mary hopes to get established in the area is a goat association.
“We want one to get organized so we can have groups come together and share knowledge and information,” she said. “We are always learning new things.”
The couple has had several school classes tour the farm, especially during the time the kids are born, and said children always love the animals.
• Anyone interested in purchasing a goat or taking a tour of the farm can call the couple at (276) 773-2302 or e-mail email@example.com. The farm is located on U.S. 21 outside Independence, across from the old water bottling plant.