John & Sharon Pickering have quickly built a solid reputation in the show ring

John and Cheryl Pickering met 20 years ago at a convenience store when John was working construction in Gentry, Ark.
“Now that’s what I call real convenience,” John said laughing.
After marrying, they moved to Texas and raised their family. First Hurricane Katrina hit and then Rita. Though their home wasn’t destroyed, many were and untold thousands were homeless. The couple decided that was enough warning and moved back to Arkansas, just outside of Gravette. Retired from construction, John became the local handyman while Cheryl taught school in Gentry for eight years before changing to teacher professional development.
John and Cheryl purchased 60 acres and then tried to figure out what they could do with the land. Cheryl’s first thought was to raise blueberries, but their banker suggested looking at goats, especially since their land had been abandoned for years and was filled with forest and scrub. When Cheryl researched, she found a high demand for goat meat with 60 percent of the goat meat consumed in America imported to meet demand.
John, on the other hand, thought the goats were “so doggone cute” that when the couple went to buy some in Prairie Grove, Ark., they bought the whole herd, bringing back 20 does and a buck. John’s construction skills were immediately put to use building the necessary goat barn. Ever resourceful, John bought a fancy surplus glass and wrought iron door from Habitat for Humanity for the “people” entrance.
Soon, a youngster bought one of their goats and won Grand Champion at the county fair. The Pickerings took notice and decided to switch to show goats.
At the 2014 Little Rock State Fair, they won Percentage Grand Champion Doe, and wins like that quickly build a solid reputation, bringing customers to their website and Facebook page as well as the front door of Pickering Farms.
Another marketing technique is an annual farm auction at the end of April hosted by a professional auctioneer and attended by people from as far away as Texas and Illinois, though most are sold locally in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
To accommodate the five-month gestation period, breeding starts at the end of July with most babies born in January, February and March. Fifty does and eight bucks are organized into herds, which changes year-by-year in order to produce the best show-quality kid.
The Pickerings use milk replacer only if absolutely necessary and to help ensure that this necessity does not arise, they keep one Nubian nanny that produces enough milk to support three kids. Any extra milk is frozen for the next year’s bottle babies.
Nutrition is a concern for any livestock producer, but especially for those producing show stock. Pregnant goats are fed 17 percent grain mix. After kidding, the Pickerings up both carbohydrate and protein content using sweet feed, high-protein grain and alfalfa hay, which they purchase from a nearby dairy.
According to Cheryl, the kids start nibbling grain and hay at 2 weeks but are not weaned until 3 months of age because they’re eating enough grain to be full. Then, the mothers and babies are separated only by a fence line so that they can lie next to each other at night.
Cheryl grinned and said, “It’s good for them and good for us because they’re not so noisy.”
The Pickering health regimen includes a CDT vaccine once a year, with babies receiving one dose and then a booster three months later.
Cheryl and John differ in timing castration.
“I like to coddle babies and prefer early castration and easier healing while John prefers making money due to additional weight gain from later castration,” Cheryl said.
John and Cheryl work closely with a veterinarian and University of Arkansas experts and have found worming as needed, rather than doing the whole herd, helps prevent wormer resistance.
John does morning chores while both work with the animals in the afternoons. In addition to caring for goats, the couple also has 25 laying hens and sell their eggs to the Hive Restaurant in Bentonville, Ark., which loves the dark orange yolks of free range chickens. While the Pickerings plan to increase the flock with another 20 hens this summer after building a new and larger coop, they are satisfied with the size of their goat herd.
“The herd size and land match well because I can produce enough hay,” John said.
Pleasure comes when their nine grandchildren, who still live in Texas, stay for a week in the summer being transported by their parents who also get an opportunity to enjoy country life. The kids loved working with the animals and like whatever grandma has them help cook.
“We live out in the country and don’t have a McDonald’s nearby so they have learned to enjoy preparing and eating real food,” Cheryl said.


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