The Putnams learn that goats are more than meat or dairy animals
By Terry Ropp, OFN Contributor
John and Merre Putnam run a Boer goat operation near Carthage, Mo. John was raised in Carthage with a Shetland pony and Beagle hounds for rabbit hunting and field trials. Mary was originally from Cleveland and then St. Louis. Neither had any farming experience.
The couple met at a swim meet at the University of Missouri where John was captain of the swim team and specialized in long distance free-style events. With a mischievous glint in his eye, John boasts about holding Notre Dame’s pool record for the 1,000-yard freestyle. Then he grins and adds, “That’s just because that was the first year for the event.”
The Putnam family’s roots in go back to 1868 and even further to the battle of Bunker Hill. Israel Putnam, a great uncle way-back, was the colorful and daring commander of that famous battle and, for short time, second in total command of American forces to George Washington. Interestingly, the family history with goats also stretches back that far because Israel was a sheep/goat farmer too. In fact, he took his herd of 100 sheep and goats to Boston immediately after the battle of Lexington to help feed the people after the British put the port under siege. The Putnam’s migrated from New England to Ohio and Illinois before landing in Carthage.
When John’s family came to Carthage, they were in the milling business. In 1899 they became involved in the distribution of retail and wholesale building materials in southwest Missouri and partnered for a time with the Calhoun and Meek lumber families.
After college, John and Merre spent 11 years working in ministry and private education before returning to Carthage in 1980 to run the wholesale division of the family business. They decided they wanted a more rural environment for their children, and bought 11 acres and a few goats and chickens at the suggestion of a friend . They were surprised by how quickly and efficiently the goats cleared the overgrown land.
The Putnam’s liquidated the lumber operations in 1999; and John and Merre then turned their attention to selling home schooling curricula to the growing home-school market. Merre said, “We home-schooled our four children for a total of 18 years and found the tutorial method to be so effective that sharing what we learned made sense.”
In 2000 John felt that expanding their farm experience would be a good way to become less dependent on an increasingly tenuous distribution system. They enjoyed raising their milk goats, but before diving into a larger goat business, the Putnams researched hair, dairy,and meat goats, finally deciding to raise meat goats. Boer are the least labor-intensive and there was an emerging market for the growing ethnic community in this part of the country.
An opportunity to purchase a nearly abandon 147-acre Century Farm nearby became available, but the land had been badly neglected. When a farmer said he would like to run cattle on it if it could be cleared, the Putnam’s, knowing how efficiently the goats cleared the land around their home, compared the price of using goats to chemical clearing. Merre said, “Using goats was an environmentally friendly synergy.”
The current herd consists of 34 does and a Kiko buck. John said “We crossbreed for vigor. The crossbred goats have more meat per pound and are less prone to some diseases, parasites and lethargy.”
John also said that according to some Texas A&M research the perfect ratio is 5/8 Boer and 3/8 Keiko but that exact ratio is hard to retain. To approach that ratio, John breeds 2-year-olds with a Boer buck, followed by 1-year-olds with the Kiko buck. He also breeds in November so the kids are ready at the same time the grass is coming on.
Mary said, “I love the peace of living closer to the land, the self-sufficiency of it. I like knowing if we needed to, we could model through without modern amenities and be an asset, not a liability, to our neighbors.”
John concluded, “That’s what we wanted for our children too. Our son, Seth, often says that he feels he could do anything in life because of how he was raised since we were always doing something new.”