SIDNEY – Storm clouds hung heavily over Jen and Andy Miller's rural Sidney minifarm Tuesday while the couple talked about their new business.
Suddenly, through a window, Jen Miller saw her goats streaking across their enclosure, headed for shelter.
"It must be raining," she said. "Goats hate rain."
That's just one thing Miller, a veterinarian, has learned about the species she studied for one day during her four years at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.
The Millers will open their pastures, show off their goats and their new kids and share their experiences with other producers, 4-H club members and anyone else interested in goat production during a University of Illinois pasture walk at 6 p.m. April 24.
It's one of several walks the UI schedules each year so visitors can learn more about successful animal husbandry systems, said animal scientist Dick Cobb, a sheep specialist,
Visitors can also check out federal Conservation Reserve Program practices on the 15-acre farm that include 3 acres in filter strips and 1 acre of shallow-water area that's a haven for passing waterfowl.
The Millers have learned how important fencing is to keep their animals, which they're raising for meat, under control. Goats, they said, are always looking for a way out.
"They say if it won't hold water, it won't hold a goat," said Andy Miller, a mushroom specialist at the Illinois Natural History Survey. "They test the fencing every day, even electric fencing.
The Millers now know how important good pasture and rotation are to keep goats healthy and free of a parasite that can kill them. They've both become so adept at identifying worm infestations and treatment, they teach classes to other breeders.
And Jen Miller, president of the Illinois Meat Goat Producers, is looking for new markets for owners of goat herds, most of which are small.
"About 75 percent of the world eats goat and a lot of people from those countries are coming here," Andy Miller said of their intention to sell to ethnic markets.
"The biggest problem is, most people raise them on small acreage like us, and everything in the food business is done on volume," said Jen Miller, who hopes to get area and state meat goat producers together so they can pool their animals to fill larger orders from restaurants, especially those in the Chicago area.
"Even one goat a week to one restaurant is 52 goats a year," Andy Miller said.
When they started the farm in 2005, the Millers did their homework.
"We got goats because they're small and I can work around them safely," Jen Miller said.
"They're the fastest-growing livestock in the U.S., and they work well on small acreage," Andy Miller said.
They picked a New Zealand breed, Kiko, because they're low-maintenance animals, bred specifically for meat production, but to get their stock, they had to travel because Kikos are uncommon in the U.S.
"We're scientists and we like to do research so we read books and got on the Internet to find them," said Jen Miller, who works at Hill Animal Care, Mahomet.
They don't want to go into the goat business full time: both like their day jobs. But the hardy herd is fun to come home to, they said.
"Goats are a riot," Jen Miller said. "They look for trouble. If you've had a bad day at work, they take your mind off a lot of things."