Goats in Kuwait
One Woman's Adventure
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Was it fate or serendipity, on a Sunday drive, when a chance meeting presented itself to an American woman in a foreign country? From Reno, Nevada, Katherine Doehring still can’t believe what unfolded that day in 2013 when she and her husband ventured into the Kuwait desert for a leisurely afternoon picnic.
“We had recently moved to Mangaf, a suburb of Kuwait City on the Persian Gulf,” she explains, “where Mark, a geotechnical engineer, was starting a two-year assignment with an oil refinery. We were thrilled about learning more about Kuwait and its people.”
A magazine article in a local publication caught Katherine’s attention with colorful photos of a large farm located on the country’s southern border. She was surprised to see green fields amid an arid desert, wondering how this beautiful oasis existed.
“Let’s go for a drive and look at the farm,” she suggested after unpacking and settling into their new apartment. “It seems to go on forever with acres of vegetables, greenhouses, fruit trees, dairy cows and goats, and a cafe.”
Seventy miles later, they stood in awe at the entrance of Yasmin Farms, a fertile landscape lined with stately palm trees in every direction. While they snapped some photos, a man in a golf cart approached the couple. He was dressed in western attire — khaki trousers, a work shirt, and a hat. At first, Katherine and Mark thought they might be in trouble, but the gentleman’s smile and friendly hello put them to ease, welcoming them to follow him onto the property.
Soon, they were in deep conversation, talking about vegetables and cheese production. He had introduced himself as Jamil Sultan al Essa, farm owner and local businessman. It wasn’t until later, after returning home, that Katherine did some research on their new friend.
Jamil was a multi-millionaire who started and operated the country’s first privately-owned grocery and hardware store chain, the Sultan Center. He also built Souk Sharq, a beautiful waterfront shopping mall in Kuwait City. He was a successful real estate developer who owned Agility Public Warehousing Company, a global logistics facility headquartered in Kuwait, providing freight forwarding and transportation warehousing and businesses, governments, and international institutions worldwide.
One would never guess Jamil’s wealth and success by observing him at the farm. He seemed humble and unassuming, talking more about growing strawberries and sharing his excitement about bringing home cheesemaking ideas from Switzerland. He was in the process of expanding his dairy’s many products produced from the farm’s 350 cows and 300 goats.
Genuinely interested in learning about the couple, Jamil was especially curious about Katherine’s farming background in the United States. She had a degree in agricultural business that included economics, production, technology, marketing, management, and animal husbandry.
Katherine remembers what occurred next. “Jamil quite nonchalantly offered me a job as his farm manager. Mark and I sat there, stunned. Here we were, foreigners in the country for only two years, and I was a woman! What would his staff of 23 men say about that? I explained that I didn’t have any farming experience, especially when it comes to goats. I knew about horses and cows, but nothing that could possibly meet his expectations. That didn’t seem to deter Jamil’s offer, explaining he operates by instinct, believing I was what his operation needed. The farm was a success, but there was always room for improvement.”
They shook hands as Jamil bid them goodbye, simply asking Katherine to think about it. The idea was preposterous in every way, but something nudged at her heart. Why not say yes?
On the Job
Jamil followed up by calling a meeting to introduce Katherine to the entire staff. She was worried that all the adulation and attention might offend the men, especially when told that she was the boss and her word was absolute.
Anticipating a mutiny, Katherine braced for the worse, but she was pleasantly surprised in discovering a warm and cordial welcome. The staff seemed genuinely happy that she was onboard, addressing her as “Madam Katherine” and showing her around the farm with great pride in their achievements.
Once on the job, some of Katherine’s responsibilities were hiring new personnel, redesigning the milking parlor, and adding more shaded areas for the animals. She was instrumental in changing their feed — researching quality resources for purchasing hay internationally, eventually deciding on a South Africa producer. She was also involved in locating and working with a new veterinarian knowledgeable in dairy animals, in addition to purchasing medications, equipment, and supplies, while coordinating soil testing and assisting growers with crop rotation and seed buying.
The experience was both challenging and exhilarating, especially with the language barrier of not knowing Arabic. Thankfully, one of the staff volunteered to translate and help everyone communicate efficiently.
“It was definitely a learning curve for me,” says Katherine. “I will always be grateful for the kindness of the staff, especially Sami, our goat herder from Yemen. He had a sixth sense about animals and was more than willing to share his knowledge with me. I learned volumes about their physical attributes, health issues, and how valuable they are to mankind.”
The herd was a mix of Damascus (Shami) and Swiss goats, which produced a high milk yield for the dairy. Together with the Holstein cows, the goats played an important part in the company’s success, providing a wide range of products for Jamil’s grocery stores: milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream, and various cheeses. Another item is laban (leben), a favorite drink in Kuwait and other Middle Eastern countries. It’s similar to kefir, a cultured probiotic beverage similar in taste and texture to drinkable yogurt.
Like all good things that come to an end, Katherine felt a pang of sadness saying goodbye to the staff and animals at Yasmin Farms when it was time to return to the United States. “I’ll always remember this experience fondly, especially after hearing the devastating news that Jamil died of cancer in 2017. He was a true visionary — a mentor to many and a friend I’ll always remember with great gratitude.”
His legacy lives on as Katherine pursues new adventures at home at Rocket Farms, her property in Reno, Nevada. She and her son, Dominic, have a successful CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, providing weekly subscriptions of vegetables, greens, and fresh eggs. Jamil would be proud!
Originally published in the May/June 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.