Where you may find
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Nestled in a small valley in the Black Hills of Wyoming, you will find Alpenthal’s Goats. No, it’s not a new breed; it’s Swiss for “alpine valley.” Tanja Miller married onto the large cattle ranch, having grown up in Switzerland. She brought some Swiss heritage and tradition to share in the original log house built in the 1880s. Her children are the sixth generation on the farm.
Throughout the years and especially with the location, Tanja made a motto of, “If you can’t find what you’re looking for, create it yourself.” She lives near the tiny town of Sundance, Wyoming, and there isn’t much else for quite a distance around. When faced with limited opportunities, she creates a solution rather than moping about the difficulties of country life.
While living on a cattle ranch suited Tanja, she missed aspects of Switzerland. One way that she could bring a little more of her homeland was with Alpine goats. While having goats was reminiscent of Switzerland, they had a main purpose of providing milk for bum calves. They thrived on the goat milk.
Tanja’s first Alpine goats weren’t registered, and she had difficulty selling the kids. Not many buyers want to drive for five hours for a kid that isn’t registered. However, both her buck and her main doe came from registered parents. While registration entailed paperwork, backtracking, and time, it paid off. Now with a registered herd, Tanja moved forward.
One day, Tanja’s daughter Echo was with a friend when that friend suggested showing the Alpine goats at the national show. What an adventure that started! Tanja’s family found the show culture to be very family-friendly. With the wide ranges in age and showmanship levels, there were many people willing to mentor and help out those who were new to showing. The only real downside was the amount of time that it took to travel to the shows. Only two existed in Wyoming, in Douglas and Cheyenne. Hours away. Well, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, make it yourself. Tanja and her co-chairman, Frances Loehr, created the Black Hills Dairy Goat Association with its own show. They show at her local county fairgrounds, and last year included over 240 goats. Their show happens in September and includes a costume show, showmanship, and even a Billy Show done in an open arena. The first year they attempted the Billy Show in a regular enclosed arena, but even with fans going full blast everyone’s eyes were still watering from all the bucks in rut. Every year the shows are run on very strict clockwork: strict enough even for Tanja’s “Swiss clock.” Tanja is so grateful for the support of the county people in making the goat show happen each year. Sundance welcomes the influx of people with open arms and many business owners are proud to help sponsor the show. That’s not to say that all of the sponsor slots are filled; Tanja is welcome to more.
In addition to putting on a dairy goat show every year, Tanja was also pulled into becoming the goat superintendent at her own county fair. Before she came into the picture with her goats and knowledge, the goat superintendent was also the sheep superintendent and didn’t know much about goats. The kids who were showing didn’t have a lot of support because even their parents felt a bit clueless. Although the fair consisted of primarily meat goats rather than dairy, Tanja was able to organize and educate the people. She created workshops to help teach the kids how to show a goat, how to prepare for a show, even how to dress for a show. Tanja is known locally as the “goat lady.” Even her vet sometimes asks her for advice. Since Wyoming won’t be included in ADGA Plus linear appraisal this year, Tanja’s club will be holding an appraisal at Dawnwind Dairy Goats, 150 miles from their herd, in August.
Almost everything that Tanja does is because of the demand. As she brought raw milk and goat milk products to the farmer’s market, she was asked if she ever made goat milk soap. Well, she tried her hand at it, and people loved the product. They began asking about other body products such as goat milk lotion, lip balm, healing balm, shower steamers, and so forth. Well, if you can’t find what you’re looking for … Tanja and Echo now own a body product company named Calico Dreams, and you can find it on Facebook. They used to include body products under Alpenthal’s Goats brand but found that people had difficulty spelling and remembering the name. Thus, the change.
Bringing Alpine goats to the farm caused a cascade of events that truly benefitted many people. You would think that Alpenthal’s Goats would be a rather large endeavor by now, but it actually isn’t. Currently, there are eight does in milk, two dry yearlings, and two bucks. Tanja is very picky on doelings, only keeping a couple each year. She breeds for disposition, a good udder, and bigger bones with a more traditional look. Tanja’s goats are hardy. If they can survive where temperatures range from –20 degrees F to as high as 100 degrees F, you know they can handle a lot. The isolation of Wyoming has led to a limited breeding pool, and Tanja may have to begin branching out. Yet, she doesn’t want her operation to get much bigger. She has enough milk for her needs, products, and even some extra to give to the feeder pigs. If she were to expand much more, she may have to either hire help or give something up, and she isn’t interested in that.
Echo, now 17 years old, has become Tanja’s partner in Calico Dreams as well as making major decisions regarding breeding, management, and purchasing goats. She delivers products to the indoor market before going to school. Tanja sure started a movement in little Sundance, Wyoming when she brought in her Alpine goats seven years ago. She loves spending time with her teenage daughter at the shows, while her younger son and husband are pitching in and taking care of the goats at home and all the extra chores left behind. With her family and goats, Tanja has a piece of paradise in her little valley.
Originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.