Not that long ago, before I started a goat farm, I thought I had it all. I had a cushy, well-paid job making innovative musical gadgets. I drove a German convertible. I ate out a lot; sushi at least a few times a week. I lived in a nice condo. Life was all music, video games, and Netflix & chill. However, way in the back of my mind, I kept asking myself if I was really accomplishing anything real, anything noteworthy with my life? Did I have a feeling deep inside of living a life—my one life on Earth—of true fulfillment? Was I even living a healthy life?
As hard as it was to admit, I have to say that the answer turned out to be a big, fat “NO.”
I was one of those pale-faced, unhealthy-looking guys, who spent most of his time in front of a computer working in some lab or data center, or out of a tiny cubicle. Sure, I would try to eat better and go to the gym, and occasionally, I would have a short streak where I maintained it. However, most of the time I stayed indoors, becoming pale and unkempt looking, sitting in traffic, going to work, coming home, aspiring to live in some crummy little overpriced townhouse, watching TV, getting takeout, and hanging out with my cats. Not that there’s anything wrong with cats; I still have cats, but they mostly stay outside now… and I do, too!
I had a good job; I was making decent money, but I felt a deep lacking in the fulfillment department. There were moments when I really liked what I did for a living. After all, I was a computer engineer working in Silicon Valley, at the pinnacle of my career. At work, we made all sorts of cool music gadgets, yet somehow the world of music wasn’t any better because we made more gadgets. I started thinking that maybe not every innovation really leads to progress. Ask yourself, do you feel like all this technology that surrounds us has really improved your connections with nature, society, our world, one another, or even yourself?
Despite choosing to further my education and begin a career as a passionate technologist, over time, I just grew a certain type of melancholy & nostalgia for the way things used to be. The good old days, before all of this. What was wrong with me? I was only in my early thirties. It was way too early for a midlife crisis!
At some point along my journey, I heard of the Financial Independence Retire Early movement (F.I.R.E.) and it intrigued me greatly. It seemed like a solid framework to get out of the 9-5 grind. I started to save as much money as I could in order to have financial independence and retire early. I wanted to get the heck out of that rat race, eventually.
I took some pretty intense and drastic steps towards minimalization. I ditched the tiny apartment and moved out into an even tinier camper in the parking lot at work. I sold my car. I stopped eating out. I finally felt like I had a firm grasp on this “Financial Independence” thing, and was working steadily toward that goal.
In the back of my mind, however, the “Retire Early” part was not well flushed out. What would I do in my early retirement? I knew if I did nothing, and sat around and played video games all day, I would soon expire early, too. I wanted to really live! I wanted to experience and learn new things. I wanted to read more and I wanted to write some ideas of my own. I wanted to have hobbies that kept me busy, happy, and feeling fulfilled.
There I was saving money, living in a camper, dreaming about what kind of future awaited me. In my spare time and on the weekends, I would travel around my state, and several adjoining states, to see what sort of remote land was for sale. I thought that maybe a healthier lifestyle could be found out there, in the place to which I was forever drawn: the chaos of the rural wilderness. Perhaps I could start my own homestead? Somehow this felt like a fulfilling endeavor in retirement. I still never knew when that would happen, exactly. It just seemed like a good idea, so that whenever the time did come, I would have healthy hobbies instead of unhealthy ones.
I saw all sorts of interesting places in my camper; from land you would need a 4X4 just to get to, so steep your transmission would give way eventually, to places in the desert with no prospects of water. I even bought some land with a close friend, who was also living in a camper saving for retirement. We bought 10 acres for less than $1,000 in the middle of the desert. After getting towed out of the sand while trying to reach my new desert oasis, I realized that sort of land was not so fruitful for me. This went on for some time and, after I met my future wife—who perhaps had a more discerning eye than myself—we eventually found 15 acres in a remote location that was not too hard for us to get into and didn’t break the bank. It had decent water prospects and glorious views. We jumped on the opportunity post-haste.
It was soon after we had bought the 15 acres that the large company I was working for at the time suddenly went bankrupt. It shouldn’t have been a surprise; after all, they had me living in a camper in the parking lot. Now what?
I had my 15 acres but I no longer had a steady job and I had to decide, did I want to find a new job and keep working in Silicon Valley? Or did I want to come up with something else I could do with my new plot of land? My savings account was nowhere near where it should be to do such a thing, but I kept thinking of how to make it all work.
In my mind, I really just needed to work for at least 5-10 more years to be where I needed to be, financially. It always seemed like that was the case anyway, “Just 5 to 10 more years and I’ll be out of here!” was probably what I had been telling myself for the last 5 to 10 years prior. Despite my low funds, I thought, is there ever really a better time to go out on your own and homestead than today?
In a desperate struggle to avoid working for some new, faceless, nameless, corporate giant, I researched to death what I could do with that 15 acres of land. Everything from raising emus to growing hops, all sorts of crazy ideas. Someone told me ostrich eggs are where it’s at. That’s when it came to me, as if from an old, forgotten memory.
Years before, I had known a family from southern Asia. I had eaten a lot of goat with them, and I enjoyed it greatly. I knew it was somewhat hard to find and that most immigrants really wanted to eat a lot of it. I knew that the prices were high and that there was a low supply. Americans don’t really breed and raise many goats for food consumption because we don’t really eat them. In fact, there are even fewer goats today in the United States than there were 10 years ago, yet the demand keeps increasing. Was starting a goat farm the idea I needed? I had either stumbled upon a really good idea or a really horrible one. Goats, glorious goats! What about goats!?
I kept thinking about starting a goat farm. Then my mom sent me an episode of a podcast that she listens to. They were interviewing someone in my state who grazes goats professionally. They were discussing how he gets paid just to rent them out to clear other people’s overgrown brush and noxious weeds. Goats eat star thistle, tarweed, kudzu, and poison oak. Who does that… crazy goats!
I then researched renting out goats and I decided since I had a home base for them, why not see if I can make some money and try my luck at renting goats out to other people for the year. I quickly acquired about 20 of these crazy things called goats (I even got some for free!) and posted online to see if anyone was interested in renting them from me.
We found some customers right away. They actually weren’t that hard to find, but perhaps this was because, in retrospect, we probably priced ourselves a little too cheaply. My newlywed wife and I would clear new fence lines, set up fencing, and move the goats around various places, including our own fence-less property. After getting some customers set up, and experiencing a few “break-outs”, we realized early on that we had to check on them quite frequently. At least a lot more frequently than we had originally anticipated. We checked them twice a day or more; first in the morning and once before evening, at least… and then at the occasional phone call exclaiming, “Goat break-out!”
These frequent drives to make sure our goats were safe burned through a lot of the profits. We were also heavily invested in portable net fencing and portable electric energizers to keep the goats contained both on and off our property and the path to real profits seemed far away. We kept on going, trudging forward, and we rented out goats all season long for a few hundred dollars an acre. We should have probably charged $500-$1,000 an acre.
Regardless, by the end of the season, we had paid for the goats, the equipment, and some permanent fencing for our own property. That season, we had little leftover and had made it through by the skin of our teeth, but I was now in the best shape of my life! That hard work with those goats gave me a respect for the goats and myself that I never had working in a cubicle. You really can accomplish a lot if you just put your mind and body to it.
It’s not long after that, my wife was pregnant with our first son and all of our goats were pregnant, too. I got a job at a farm down the street to make ends meet for a bit, and to learn some more about farming until the dust settled in our life a little.
Soon after that, we started having enough goat kids each year that we were able to sell the extra offspring and start making an additional profit off our goats through easier means. We also started breeding and selling livestock guardian dog puppies because they were a necessary tool for our growing herd. We also started selling goat meat both in-person and online. That seemed like one of the final pieces of the puzzle… but not the final piece, because as a homesteader and a farmer you learn quickly that you make money however you can. Focusing on one particular aspect of the farm, putting all your eggs in that one sole basket, is never a wise decision.
Do I miss Silicon Valley and all the technology and the lonely life I used to live before I started Heartland Goats goat farm? Not a bit. Feeding the goats every day, with my two-year-old son helping and sweating it out by my side, makes it all worthwhile. I found that fulfillment I was looking for, I found it way out there deep in the wilderness of the rural homesteading life.