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No kidding: Nebraska 4

May 08, 2024

No two goats have the same personality, said Holt County 4-H member Miya Carey. She loves each and every one of her goats.

Katherine Stephens of Elk Creek, Neb., raises her own goats to show at the county fair. She has also participated in the Nebraska State Fair, as well as registered shows, progress shows and jackpots across the state.

Brooke Carey and her goat are seen in the show arena at the Holt County Fair in 2022.

Austin Nienhueser has shown goats at the York County Fair since he joined 4-H in 2017.

Thirteen-year-old Austin Nienhueser and his family raise their own goats. Austin said the best part of raising your own is getting to play with them from day one.

Ben Spencer of Buffalo County has been involved in 4-H since age 5. He had shown beef cattle for many years but began showing goats around 2018.

February is Nebraska 4-H Month, a time to recognize those youth involved in 4-H and the volunteers who make the 4-H program possible. One 4-H project has received little publicity over the years, but some would argue it’s really the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). You guessed it: a showing goats.

“Each year there is an increasing number of youth participating in the 4-H meat goat project and overall bringing more goats to the Nebraska State Fair,” said Cole Meador, who serves as one of the superintendents for the 4-H meat goat show at the Nebraska State Fair.

Meador himself showed dairy goats as a Douglas-Sarpy 4-H member. This 4-H project led to his future career. He is now a 4-H extension educator in Saunders County.

“That 4-H project that started years ago is still with me,” Meador said. “My family still raises dairy goats.”

Each county fair in Nebraska has a 4-H goat component, such as classes for market goats, breeding goats, dairy goats or companion goats. The Nebraska State Fair has a 4-H meat goat show only. In 2022, there was a slight increase with 74 breeding does and 125 market goats.

Natalie Sheets has been showing goats at the Lincoln County Fair since she first joined 4-H eight years ago.

Meador is hopeful the 4-H dairy goat show at the State Fair will return after disbanding a few years ago due to low participation. His hope is justified as the open class dairy goat show attracts 700 to 800 entries.

4-H Sponsor & Donor Appreciation Day - Tuesday, Feb. 21

4-H Professional Appreciation Day - Tuesday, Feb. 28

Ben Spencer has exhibited at the Nebraska State Fair multiple years with breeding heifers, market beef and market goats. An independent 4-H member in Buffalo County, Ben is 17 years old. He is a junior student and is homeschooled.

Ben’s 4-H career began as a cloverbud at the age of 5. He mainly showed beef until 2018, when a friend sparked his interest in showing goats. His first year, Ben earned reserve champion at the Nebraska State Fair.

He explained how the Nebraska State Fair 4-H meat goat show is divided into divisions of lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight goats.

“I’ve been fortunate to win my division each year,” Ben said.

This past year, Ben and his goat Terry won the special honor of grand champion market goat at the Nebraska State Fair. He and Terry also claimed champion of the Cornhusker Showdown.

Ben Spencer and his goat Terry won Grand Champion Market Goat at the 2022 Nebraska State Fair. They also won the Cornhusker Showdown.

Ben purchases his goats near the end of February or beginning of March from a breeder in Indiana. Preparation for show season begins immediately. In addition to feeding his goats morning and night, he trains his goats daily.

“All the goats can be pretty stubborn, but if you work with them they can learn,” Ben said.

Randy Saner, extension livestock educator based in North Platte, Nebraska, is responsible for sheep and goat programming statewide. He said the goat show has grown at the Lincoln County Fair over the years to about 80 meat and dairy goats in 2022. This increase seems to be occurring at many county fairs across Nebraska.

Economics influence this trend greatly. Cost per pound, goats beat out the competition. They gain 2 to 2.5 pounds a day but eat only 1 to 3 pounds of grain per day.

“The cost to buy a goat and the feed is lower, reasonably priced compared to a larger animal like a steer,” Saner said.

Moreover, an increased demand for goat products, such as goat meat and goat milk, has further caused an influx in the goat industry in Nebraska.

“Families are beginning to raise their own herd. There are a lot of new producers in the goat industry, so it’s been easy to find goats,” said Saner.

Sam Stephens of Elm Creek, Nebraska raises market goats. Only the best are sold to 4-H families. He purchased his first full-blooded registered goats in 2005 and now sells both registered and commercial goats.

At one time, he had a herd of 100 does but downsized after his wife Michelle passed away of cancer in 2013.

All four of the Stephens sisters participated in 4-H and showed goats at the Buffalo County Fair. Shown here are Stephanie, Katherine and Elizabeth.

All four of their girls helped raise the goats and also showed goats in 4-H.

“They have gotten in on the heartbreaks and pleasures of raising goats,” said Sam.

His youngest daughter Katherine, now a senior at Elm Creek High School, began showing goats as a peewee at age 4. She joined the Westside Feeders 4-H Club as a cloverbud at age 5 and has continued to show goats not only at the Buffalo County Fair but also at registered shows, jackpots, progress shows and the Nebraska State Fair.

Showing goats may be fun, but Katherine shared that it does require a lot of time.

“Leading up to the fair, we have to trim the goats’ hair and wash them often because the white hair can get really dirty,” Katherine said.

Katherine is beginning her own goat herd, as well.

“I got to pick out my own goat and kept her kids. Personally, I now have five goats,” said Katherine.

Another reason goats have become so popular is that they require less space than a larger animal. A small acreage can easily support a herd of goats, said Meador. Their small size is easier for young 4-Hers to handle, as well.

“Younger kids are getting involved in the 4-H goat program. They really enjoy it and continue throughout their 4-H career,” Meador said.

Lincoln County 4-H member Natalie Sheets raises her own goats which she takes to various shows, including the 4S Goat Show and Sale at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds. Here, she poses with the judge after winning first place in her division.

Natalie Sheets of North Platte began showing goats when she joined 4-H eight years ago. She is now 16. A sophomore at Stapleton Public School, Natalie is a member of the Sandhills 4-H Club. She also shows cattle. Her mother Marlena Sheets volunteers as the goat superintendent at the Lincoln County Fair.

Beyond the county fair, Natalie has exhibited at the 4S Goat Show and Sale at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds and the Nebraska State Fair. Showing livestock has taught her how to be independent and responsible, she said.

Natalie described how she grooms her goats, beginning with bathing and shaving them. Because no adhesives can be used at the county or State Fair, she uses conditioner to help the hair shine and improve the muscular appearance.

From the way she has bonded with her goats, it is obvious that Natalie spends a lot of time with them.

“One can tell my voice, so whenever I’m coming she runs to the gate and starts baa-ing for me,” said Natalie.

Kidding her own goats has instilled further responsibility in this teenager. Natalie has four does and three babies.

“It’s been kind of a rough year,” Natalie said of her kidding season.

One doe gave birth to quadruplets, a rarity for goats. The mother laid on one, but Natalie saved the other three and feeds one as a bottle baby. Another doe had a miscarriage, another a stillborn baby and the final doe had twins but lost both.

Natalie still finds joy in watching the baby goats, especially when they run around and jump off a small ramp she and her family built.

Goats are easy to bond with, as proven by Miya Carey, a Holt County 4-H member.

Each goat seems to have its own personality, which adds to the fun of raising goats. Because goats are so personal, they are easy to bond with—and impossible not to love.

Sisters Miya and Brooke Carey of the Shining Stars 4-H Club in Holt County love their goats. With 20 does, they have a “busy barn” during kidding. They live by Atkinson, Nebraska.

Throughout the show season, both of the Carey sisters gain experience in the show ring at progress shows and jackpots across the state, as well as the Holt County Fair, the Nebraska State Fair, Aksarben Stock Show and Rodeo and the Montana Royal Junior Livestock Show.

“My sister and I have seen success throughout our 4-H careers, which is cool,” said Miya, who is a junior at West Holt Public. Brooke is in the eighth grade.

Miya joined 4-H as a cloverbud but was introduced to goats when her babysitter asked for help showing. Over eight years showing goats, she has won numerous honors as champion at jackpots and progress shows. Her greatest 4-H achievements include winning the 2019 reserve champion junior goat showman and 2021 reserve champion middleweight market goat.

For her, showing goats has been really fun. She has met the friendliest people at goat shows, she said.

To get the hair on a goat as white as possible before a show requires many baths. Miya Carey of Atkinson, Neb., grooms one of her goats to prepare for the show season.

“There are no better people than in the livestock industry,” Miya said.

Miya loves how personable goats can be, saying that she does not have two goats with the same personality.

“I’ve had some goats that miss me so much they’ll crawl over the fence when I come,” Miya said. “Some of the bottle babies will cry and cry until I pick them up and hold them.”

Saner said that goats almost act like a dog. His children showed goats through 4-H.

“One of the goats didn’t like me at all, but he liked my son. He ended up winning research champion with that goat,” Saner chuckled.

Thirteen-year-old Austin Nienhueser of York County can relate to the antics of goats. He and his family raise their own goats near Benedict, Nebraska. Their typical kidding season is December and January.

“They all like to play and jump around,” Austin said. He likes raising their own goats because “you get to play with them from day one.”

Austin has shown goats at the York County Fair since joining 4-H in 2017. He is a seventh grader at Cross County Community Schools.

He understands the work involved to train an animal.

“Right after weaning, we normally start walking the goats and giving them baths. We have to practice setting them up, like moving their legs and getting them stretched out,” said Austin.

Time management has been the greatest lesson he has learned from showing goats.

“When you start walking them, you can’t start last minute. You have to start early and keep doing it consistently otherwise they forget,” said Austin.

The youth involved in the 4-H goat project are learning invaluable life lessons that cannot be experienced elsewhere, organizers say.

Even if getting a goat is not possible for your family, 4-H offers a variety of projects, camps and activities for youth of all ages.

“4-H is a good experience,” said Natalie. “Everyone should experience 4-H at least once.”

Nebraska 4-H Month provides an opportunity to get involved with your local 4-H program. You may discover that 4-H really is the G.O.A.T.

To learn more about 4-H, contact your local Extension office or visit

Reporter Kristen Sindelar has loved agriculture her entire life, coming from a diversified farm with three generations working side-by-side in northeastern Nebraska. Reach her at [email protected].

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