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Goats and Chickens

Local farmers share tips and expertise.

March 29, 2012
Ariel Stephens , The Maui Weekly

Mark and Leah Damon live and work on an idyllic four-acre property in Kula known as the Maui Bee Farm. They are honeybee aficionados, and more recently, chicken and goat raisers, who shared their experiences with Upcountry Sustainability.

The Damons' goats come from Kula's own Surfing Goat Dairy. Hand-raised as kids, the goats are extremely friendly, interacting like a herd of shaggy dogs. Three females provide the Damons with milk for drinking, plus yogurt and cheese making. They have free run of about half the property, dining on clover, glycene (a great protein source, although an invasive species here on Maui) and tree leaves. They are also fed a wide variety of vegetables from the Damons' biodynamic garden. They get bananas as a treat and to increase milk production, but are kept away from the avocado trees, which are toxic to goats and other animals.

"Everyone thinks goats will eat tin cans," said Mark, "but contrary to poplar belief, they can be very finicky. They frequently reject food if it is on the ground or seems dirty. They prefer to browse their food from higher up."

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“Everyone thinks goats will eat tin cans,” said Mark Damon, owner of the Maui Bee Farm in Kula. “But contrary to popular belief, they can be very finicky.” The goats joined the Upcountry Sustainability group on a tour of Mark and Leah Damon’s idyllic four-acre property, as the couple shared insights about farm life and animal husbandry.

When they feel the urge, the does mate with resident Billy goat Starbuck, who is ordinarily kept separated from the ladies.

"He entices them with the tried-and-true courting ritual of soaking his own chest with urine and then presenting his scent to the females," explained Mark. "Goats have remarkable aim when urinating and can spray it as far as six feet."

The male kids produced from these dates are usually sold, and the females added to the herd.

They must be dehorned, or "debudded," at a few days old. "It's painful and traumatic for them and for us," said Leah.

However, "You'd be crazy not to do it," said Mark. "They can get caught on things, and they can seriously injure each other, or us. Animal husbandry is not always pretty. There are hard things you have to do to take care of everybody."

The Damons' goats appear to have near-perfect lives, and they are well appreciated.

"Goat milk is healthier than cow milk, goats have a much lower impact on the land, and they're more enjoyable to have around," said Mark. "I just have a great deal of respect for them--they're extremely resourceful. They'd do well just about anywhere you put them."

Our tour stopped as Mark pointed out the compost piles. "This compost really is the key to our farm. It feeds every one of the animals that lives here, including us." Fish waste; wood chips (preferably kiawe); cow, goat and horse manure; probiotics; and biodynamic preparations go into this fantastic fertilizer.

Down the hill, 75 chickens strut in a large, grassy field.

"We are so lucky here on Maui to have almost no predators," mentions an attendee of the Upcountry Sustainability tour.

"We only have to worry about the occasional wild dog or mongoose," added Leah. "Most nights, the door to the chicken coop is left open, so the chickens are free to be in or out 24 hours a day."

The chickens' field is large, but their coop is noticeably small for so many birds. Leah explained that Maui County allows a maximum of 200 square feet for an agricultural outbuilding, "so it's as big as it can be, legally."

Leah said this law is meant to discourage people from renting out outbuildings as illegal 'ohana, but it's a pain for well-meaning farmers trying to maintain a large flock.

Leah dumped two five-gallon buckets of vegetable scraps for the chickens.

"They love vegetables, grass, weeds, herbs," she said. "They'll eat an entire turkey carcass in an hour. They really are omnivores. Food is available to them at all times. We need to give them plenty to support maximum production."

"Chickens are probably the most destructive animals on the planet," Mark added. "Their capacity to get food from their environment is enormous. That's why we irrigate--to keep the grass lush one step ahead of the chickens."

Beside mites and "hen-pecked" sores from aggressive fowl, layers can also get "egg bound."

"The egg-releasing part of the anatomy gets twisted, and the chicken can't physically eject the egg from her body," Mark explained. "I oil up a finger and straighten the passage out. The egg will then come right out. Otherwise, the hen will die."

"This is a relationship we all have with our animals--observing them, figuring out what they're doing and what it means," said Leah.

The group of 30 Upcountry Sustainability attendees compared notes. Chicken tractors are discussed--small, mobile pens suited for those with less land. Sources for organic feed are shared.

"The best resource we have is each other," Leah reminded us.

The group sampled Leah's goat milk and cheese with surprise at its "un-goaty" and delicious flavor.

Judging by the enthusiasm of the group, it seems likely that as folks like the Damons share their knowledge and expertise, more thoughtfully raised goats and chickens will soon enjoy a Maui lifestyle.



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