Dogs and chickens and goats, oh my!

What do you get when you take a country boy, mix in a little politics and add an old farm house and a lot of animals?

You get agri-tourism as exemplified by Indiana Senator Richard Young and his wife, Ashira of Milltown and their menagerie.

A proven proponent of agrarian interests in the Indiana legislature, Young's parents owned a cattle farm in Crawford County, which he helped them operate until they died.

When he and his first wife, Elaine, moved to the farm near Milltown, they built a new house down the hill from the 100 year-old farm house his parents lived in and added hogs to the business.

When the market for hogs declined, Young got out of the hog business, but kept the cattle until he became a State Senator and his son, Richie, went to Afganistan.

Unable to work the farm due to the need to spend so much time in Indianapolis, Richard sold the animals, but kept the acreage. Several years later, following the death of his first wife, Elaine, and his marriage to his second wife, Ashira, Richard wanted to spend more time on the farm.

"The reason we decided to renovate [the 100 year-old farm house] was because we had sold our home in Indianapolis within two weeks of putting it on the market and had to find a place for a home full of furniture. After we started renovating one part of the house in order to store the furniture, we had to keep going and before we knew it, we had sunk a lot of money in its total renovation. To avoid having the most expensive storage facility imaginable, it was at that time we came up with the idea of turning it into a vacation rental," says Ashira.

Looking at the gently rolling hills, proximity to the Big Blue River and acres of woods and pasture, the Youngs realized there was a future in tourism. Thus began a marketing strategy to turn the renovated farm house into a cozy hide-a-way near a host of local attractions for the weekender, vacationer or just an over-nighter.

"We want guests to feel like this is a home away from home," said Ashira, a "city girl" who is enjoying her role as a "farm wife". Blue River Valley Farm remains a working farm in addition to attracting visitors to the quiet country setting with opportunities for leisurely walks and fishing.

Hay is baled three times a year and Richard and Ashira have turned their interest in raising a variety of critters and vegetables into a cottage industry that supplies guests at the inn, neighbors and friends with eggs, goat meat, goat milk, goat cheese, honey and produce straight out of the garden. Blending the agricultural pursuits of the farm with their roles as innkeepers, the Youngs invite guests to pet the animals, collect eggs from the chicken coops, fish along the mile of riverfront and enjoy free access to the garden produce during their stay.

Of the 50 plus chickens cooped on the farm, breeds include Americauna, Buff Torpington, Rhode Island Reds and Bantys which produce rich, deep yellow yolks in their eggs.

Turkeys for Thanksgiving, rabbits for meat and a hive of honey bees are also raised along with apple trees and various berry patches. But, plans are for the goats to become the staple livestock on the farm as the Youngs delve into what they hope will become the new meat market. Long known for their willingness to consume nearly anything in their path, goats are cheaper than cattle to raise, bring a fair price on the market and make for some tasty cookouts at home. Note: No, they do not eat tin cans.

However, they will eat the weeds and bushes that cattle won't and take very little pasture to raise, largely because they are not particular about their choice of vegetation and can be put on pasture at six weeks of age.

These four-footed weed-eaters are the staple meat in much of the rest of the world and can be found on menus in most ethnic food establishments in this country.

While the Youngs are still in the investment stage with their goats, they and their fellow area goat herders hope to begin to turn a profit by increasing the demand for goat meat. How? By offering quality meat and dairy products.

"The meat is not greasy and it is higher in protein and lower in fat than chicken," says Ashira.

And, it can be made into goat burgers, roasts, chops, summer sausage and almost any cut beef or pork can be.

The Youngs are joining other area goat breeders in an effort to develop a consortium in Crawford and surrounding counties to connect small goat farmers to each other and to markets for their products, including promoting goat as the "other meat".

Raising a variety of registered breeds including Boer (meat), Saanen (dairy) and Nubian (dairy), some Alpine-Saanen mix (dairy) and a single Toggenburg goat, the Youngs had 23 kids born this year, bringing their herd to 58 head Goats are usually very good mothers and often have twins increasing the herd's numbers up to three times a year.

Only seven of the new arrivals at Blue River Valley this year were rejected by their mothers and are being bottle fed by Ashira.

The Youngs have converted a cow barn into a goat shed and keep the creatures contained with electric fencing around several acres of pasture.

These docile creatures are protected by three Great Pyrenees guard dogs, a breed that has been used to protect sheep and goats for centuries.

Although friendly to the humans, Max, Belle and Gracie take their jobs very seriously and keep coyotes and other dangerous predators from harming their charges.

Social creatures, goats are intelligent and usually develop a relationship with their owners.

"They know Richard and me," says Ashira.

And, Richard and Ashira know the goats. They have spent hours researching breeds, care and housing, marketing and a host of other topics related to raising goats for profit.

"I was surprised at how much there is to learn," said Ashira. "You have to know some medicine to take care of everyday things with the goats, marketing and all sorts of things I never dreamed of."

In fact, says Ashira, "I would actually say you have to be a 'para-veterinarian' with goats because there is always something medically to take care of.

"For instance, today I had to get some ammonium chloride from a feed store to help a little buck kid who has urinary calculi. Left untreated, the goat will die. Yesterday, two of our goats had pneumonia, so I had to inject them both. Today, they are doing much better."

Joining the goats and guard dogs are three adorable dachshunds, nine cats and a lab that was recently rescued by the Youngs, named Charlotte.

The Youngs enjoy raising these nosy but lovable creatures who gently nip at buttons and seek anything that is in a pocket. They also enjoy sharing their farm with visitors offering a glimpse of life at a slower pace.

Combining a working farm with tourism has resulted in an opportunity to merge country living with income for the Youngs and created a unique vacation spot for visitors to use as a "home base" or a final destination.

Goat Story Gallery

What They Said...

We really enjoyed our peaceful stay at Blue River Farm.  As senior citizens this brought back many childhood memories.  We have lived in the city for 40 years and forgot the great fresh air smell.  We watched the birds at the feeder while we had morning coffee on the huge back porch.  It was a pleasure to have fresh eggs and vegetables from the garden.  The serenity while sitting on the rivers edge was refreshing.  Everything we wanted was supplied.  The full moon on our last night there was brilliant.   We have stayed in vacation rentals all over the United States and this has become one of our favorites.

Floyd and Louise
Born and raised in Pennsylvania