SHELL ROCK, Iowa — It's that time of year when Pat Blank's kids are big enough to leave home.
Blank has been raising goats of one kind or another for 35 years.
When she and her husband, Terry, were first married, Blank thought she might like to get some goats.
"We went to an auction with our neighbor who had horses and goats, and unbeknownst to me, he bought every single goat that night for me," Blank said. "There were 30 goats of all shapes and sizes. I didn't necessarily want all those, so we re-homed a bunch and kept some back. I just learned to appreciate them. Goats all have their own little personalities."
Over time, Blank became particular about the size and breed she wanted. She had fainting goats and pygmy goats, which she describes as behaving like naughty kids on the playground. She also had some of the larger dairy goat breeds. She now specializes in Nigerian Dwarf goats.
"I like the way they look, and I like their temperament," she said. "I set out to have every color and pattern that I could, and I like blue-eyed goats."
Nigerian Dwarfs are a miniature dairy breed of West African ancestry known for giving a tremendous amount of milk production.
Blank, who is All Things Considered host for Iowa Public Radio, doesn't have time to milk goats and dries them off after weaning, but she sells goats to families who milk them and make ice cream and cheese.
Her herd consists of 12 does. She has one buck, Pepe the Pew, and soon will introduce a second buck, Sultan.
Her does had 22 kids this year, including her second set of quintuplets. The quints were nonidentical females. A few years ago, she had identical quintuplet males, which is more rare.
The same night the quints were born, another doe had a C-section, a first. Blank could tell the doe was in trouble so she called her veterinarian. They set up a sterile environment in the birthing barn, and the doe and three babies were all fine.
"Ninety percent of births are fine," Blank said. "Nigerian Dwarf goats are very self-sufficient and very low maintenance health-wise."
Blank registers goats with the American Goat Society and the American Dairy Goat Society. Her herd name is Black Eagle Ranch.
She sells the kids to children for 4-H projects and to people who live on acreages and want animals. Her goats have won grand and reserve champion ribbons at county fairs all over the area.
She and Terry are also a sanctuary and take in goats from the Humane Society and the Butler County Sheriff's Department.
Goat goddess, goat daddy
She calls Terry "the goat daddy," and she is "the goat goddess."
"Terry knows what to look for when the babies start coming," Blank said. "He loves to sit in a lawn chair and watch the goats when they get big enough to play. He built a little play area for them. The goats love to play."
When Blank sells goats, she makes certain the buyers know how to care for them. Everyone receives a goat care book.
"I always tell people to call me if they have any questions," Blank said. "I've been doing this so long the vet refers people to me."
She successfully has talked people through eight weeks of bottle feeding after they purchased newborn goats at a swap meet and had no idea how to care for them. Goats need shelter, food, water and companionship.
"I want to make sure people have good experiences," Blank said, adding that if she was in it to make money she would have gone out of business a long time ago.
For her, the goats are calming.
"I can have the worst, crazy busy day in the news world running after presidential candidates or covering breaking news, and I come home and the goats are so laid back and playful," she said. "It's very rewarding. There's always something new when I go out in the barn."
Kidding starts in January. This year, all the does were finished in two days except for a mom that kidded three weeks later.
"It's busy, but it's fun," Blank said. "It's like Christmas all over again. You never know what you're going to get."
She weans the babies at about eight weeks.
They put up a utility barn in 2003. In 2011, they built the birthing barn, or as Blank likes to call it, "the goat palace." Dog kennels bedded with sawdust and straw serve as pens for mothers and babies. They stay in individual kennels for several weeks after kidding before Blank opens the doors so goats can mingle. Eventually, the doors stay open all the time.
Blank loves the stories
Once weaned, the goats are out on pasture with access to shelter in the utility barn.
"Goats just hate to get wet and will rush inside if it starts to rain," she said.
In late spring, she boards does that will be bred to her bucks. In September, she begins breeding her does. On New Year's Eve, she moves all "the ladies in waiting," to the goat palace for kidding.
Blank has many repeat customers and also gets referrals. She sells on Craigslist and this year has had success selling on Facebook.
One of her favorite things is to hear stories from customers. She sees many of them at the Waverly Iowa Exotic Bird and Animal Swap each April where she generally sells five to six goats.
"Almost all of the stories have a happy ending," Blank said. "That warms my heart. That's why I do it."
Blank grew up on a farm near Lakota where her family raised chickens, pigs and beef cows. She gets 100 to 200 bales of hay from her family farm in Kossuth County each year.
"I like how it comes full circle bringing it back from that farm to this farm at Shell Rock," Blank said. "I like having the connection to my past."