Some goats resist the pull of their handlers as they are led through the ring at the California State Fair, but Maggie Skillman’s goats trot steadily beside her.
Before the judge looks over, Skillman adjusts her goat’s legs, making sure they’re straight, and snaps her fingers beside its head to make sure it is looking forward. Judging by her frequent wins, her goats are “tractable, alert, responsible, trusting, confident and cooperative—” the ideal behavioral traits listed by the National Pygmy Goat Association on the judging scorecard.
This 12-year-old from the tiny town of Cottonwood is a rising star in the pint-sized world of pygmy goat competition. For Skillman, the goats are a lot more than just pets; she spends so much time tending them that she has to be homeschooled.
“This is her thing; this is where she shines,” said Skillman’s mom, Angie.
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At the 2017 Pygmy Goat Show at the California State Fair, contestants line up right to left with their goats on leashes. To an untrained eye, it is difficult to tell which goat is the best goat. That’s why there’s a judge. He squats in front of the competition, stretching his hands in front of his face to frame the goats. He evaluates each entrant on a variety of factors: density of coat, smoothness of gait, overall musculature. For wethers, neutered goats, behavior accounts for 25 out of a possible 100 points. Before the winners are announced, the judge pats down each goat, getting a better feel for body structure.
On Wednesday, Skillman’s goats won seven first or second place medals and earned several more top-five finishes. She competed at both the junior level and the open level, which is open to even the top adult breeders from across the state.
Even among experienced breeders, Skillman holds her own. She got her first pygmy goat when she was 6 years-old – her mom’s idea – and decided to enter shows on her own. A few years later, in 2015, Skillman’s goat, Fireball, was runner-up at a national competition.
“I’m competitive,” Skillman said. “I wanted to win.”
Now Skillman has her own pygmy goat breeding operation. To get her 13 goats to the State Fair required several crates and a trailer.
In order to succeed, Skillman has to keep her goats happy and healthy. She feeds them in the morning at night and brushes them regularly. A week before each competition, she clipped their fur, leaving enough time for hair to grow back just in case. Two days before the State Fair, Skillman washed and blow-dried each of her 13 goats for around 30 minutes apiece. Then she clipped all their hooves.
Skillman also handles the gritty aspect of the goats. It’s hard to imagine a 12-year-old helping a goat deliver a baby, but that’s what Skillman does. Skillman also vaccinates all her goats with a long needle. While most youth competitors compete solely with goats purchased from others, Skillman has been breeding goats for three years. All of her goats have the herd name “Blackberry Blossom” and are named after country songs: Black-eyed Suzie, Apple Jack, Little Sadie.
“Usually [kids] get a lot of help from their parents,” said Tammi Josephson, the breeder at Pygmy Goats by T.J. and a mentor for Skillman. “Macy does all the work herself. She does everything. I’ve taught her how to do everything, and she’s not afraid to tackle any of it.”
Of course, it takes parental commitment and adult help to achieve the level that Skillman has. Angie Skillman purchased all the goats and drives Macy across the country for competitions. Macy is also home-schooled and admits most of her friends are adults she’s met through showing her goats. Angie Skillman says that without being home-schooled, Macy wouldn’t be able to invest the time and energy she does in caring for her goats.
Perhaps it is because she has many adult friends, but Skillman seems more resolute than most kids her age. While not yet a teenager, she has the next decade of her life pretty planned out.
“Before I leave [for college] when I’m 18, I want to get my judging license,” she said. “So when I get back, I can judge and still have my pygmy goats and travel the country with my mom going to goat shows.”
Then, she wants to become a veterinarian. It’s hard to doubt that she’ll follow through.