Lessons From the Pen
What a Parent (and a goat) can teach a Child
By: McKenzie Romero
SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the Argyle family are keeping their farming heritage alive, raising dairy goats in their West Jordan backyard as a way to teach their children responsibility and hard work.
Shane Argyle grew up helping his father and grandfather care for the family's pigs and cattle, and for 10 years of his childhood he was responsible for his own market hogs to show and sell through the 4-H program at the Utah State Fair.
He didn't realize until later the lessons his father was teaching him, which he is now trying to pass on to his four children.
"I think he was looking forward to wanting his boys to learn how to work hard and to make enough money so we could go serve LDS missions," he said. "That's what got us into it."
Argyle accomplished his goal and was able to fund his mission to Costa Rica and Panama. His two brothers also used their 4-H profits to serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while his sister put the money toward college.
Today, Shane and Heidi Argyle help their four children care for 16 dairy goats, which are smaller and more manageable in close quarters than hogs or cows. The goats have become a welcome part of their West Jordan neighborhood, and other households have even taken on a goat or two of their own after seeing the Argyle family's success.
The little herd claimed several titles at the Utah State Fair this year, including senior and junior champion, best of breed and best in show. Winning ribbons at the fair is "the fun part," Shane Argyle said, but the real prize for his family is the fun, work and teaching that comes from raising the animals.
Clark Caras, executive director of the Utah State Fair, got his start raising sheep and other animals through 4-H and Future Farmers of America. The experience laid the foundation for his adult life, he said, and he looked forward to the fair each year as a chance to spend time with his best friends — some of which had wool.
The Argyles epitomize the "urban farm family," Caras said. He met them through the fair several years ago and was recently invited to their home to try some fresh goat cheese.
"I watched them as a family as they were laughing and joking. They started talking about school and about the fair," he said. "They were talking about substantial things; they weren't talking about the television show they watched the night before. I saw the level of familiarity they have."
Caras said those relationships endure. He has seen them in his own family as he visits the family farm in Spanish Fork for a summer barbecue or impromptu family get-together.
"It creates a level of closeness of family that I just don't think can be mimicked or copied anywhere," he said.
The Argyle's 17-year old daughter Anika said caring for the goats has created unique bonds in her family.
"We sit around the dinner table and talk about goats," Anika said with a smile. "That's so weird."
The kids have learned responsibility, compassion and more caring for their cloven-footed friends, and have avoided the perils that befall many other youth.
"It's a good family project," Shane Argyle said. "We like the fact that they are busy all morning, off to school, then there are a few chores in the afternoon and they do very well. They continue to become very responsible individuals."
Anika and her brothers, 15-year-old Quinn and 12-year-old Seth, are up at 5:30 every morning to milk and feed the animals. In addition, the pens have to be cleaned and maintained. The early mornings are tiring, Anika said, and on the rare day they get an extra 30 minutes in bed, the chance to sleep in is "amazing."
Their oldest brother Austin, who is a missionary in Madrid, Spain, grew up with the same schedule, but now gets to sleep in until 6:30 a.m., the standard missionary schedule.
Quinn plans on following Austin's footsteps into the mission field and said the family project is instilling in him the same good habits his brother has.
"I'm definitely planning on serving a mission and going to college," he said. "I've become more responsible, more committed to what I'm doing, and I've learned how to spend my time."
Quinn spent most of his summer at the Utah State Fairgrounds working on his Eagle Scout project, cleaning and upgrading the goat barn.
A few of Shane Argyle's brothers have continued in farming, but he took a different path. He has undertaken a few small-business endeavors through the years and now works in real estate. Raising livestock has been his "hobby," he said.
Unlike her husband, Heidi Argyle didn't grow up working on a farm, and admits she was initially skeptical when they undertook the goat project in 2004. She says now that she sees the benefits. She said the time invested in caring for the goats limits her children's social activities, but they have committed willingly.
"My children don't have a lot of time to just waste," she said. "They have chores that absolutely have to be done every single day in order for these animals to live. Especially for teenagers, that's very useful."
Anika agrees. She said the schedule grounds her and helps her manage her time. While her friends are out on Friday night, Anika said she makes sure to come home early enough to take care of the goats and get a good night's rest in preparation for the next day's chores.
The family plans carefully to schedule time for school and homework, especially during fair time. The patriarch of the family arranges for time off work to care for the animals at the fair, while the kids take turns coming to help and their mother shuttles them back and forth.
"They're really studious, of their own free will," Shane Argyle said. "They look ahead and get ahead with their homework and come help on the busiest days. In the evenings I'll have two or all three of them here at a time to help with the chores."
The family has used the project to cultivate sound financial planning skills. While the goats bring in less money than other market animals at the fair, the occasional prize money goes into savings accounts. Homemade milk, cheese and yogurt cut grocery costs. To combat increasingly high prices for alfalfa and hay, they have invested in a compact at-home system for growing barley sprouts.
"There's a broader movement of people wanting to actually know where their food comes from," Heidi Argyle said. "Just taking it through step one to something we actually use is very rewarding. (The children) understand that and they love to be able to do that."
All three Argyle children echoed how "delicious" their homemade food is, while their mother pointed out that according to tests that are done regularly on their milk, their products have significantly less bacteria than store-bought dairy.
The youngest Argyle, Seth, lights up with a smile when he talks about playing with the newborn kid goats. His family plans "the genetics" carefully, he said, choosing specifically which doe to breed with which buck.
"We're kind of nerdy about goats, I guess," he said.
Anika and Quinn are learning to support themselves juggling part-time jobs: She works at 5 Buck Pizza and makes "goat milk soap" to sell on the side, while he works at a dairy in West Jordan. Even little Seth is learning about managing money, as he sells any surplus barley sprouts the family produces with their Fodder Solutions machine.
The bond the family forms with the goats has taught some unexpected lessons about life and death, Heidi Argyle said.
"They understand the life cycle a lot better," she said. "Every spring we have kids, and this last spring, for the first time, we had one of them not survive. They had to deal with the reality of life."
The Argyle children work together to make sure their goats get the attention and affection they need to instill a pleasant temperament. Even in the noisy and unfamiliar surroundings of the fair, the youngest goats wander over seeking to be petted by the family and fairgoers who stop by their pen.
The couple agreed that the son most likely to continue the farming tradition is 19-year-old Austin, but that's not their goal. The objective of the family project remains to simply work and learn together.
"Realistically we'll have them until our youngest turns about 19 and then we won't have goats anymore," Shane Argyle said. "We've been delighted with how they interact with the animals, how they take care of them and how they love them. That part has been delightful."