It’s Not Just a Hobby…

It’s Not Just a Hobby…

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Rachael Leystra 

On November 1, 2019, I traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana to the National FFA Convention to receive my American FFA Degree. This was extremely emotional for me. I was so proud of all that I had accomplished throughout my time in FFA, but I was also a little sad because this would close a very important chapter in my life. 

I hadn’t thought a lot about how this would feel until I was working on a discussion post for one of my classes, and I talked about my journey raising and showing goats. At the end of the post, I called it just a hobby… 

Maybe that’s what others would call it, but not me. It was so much more to me than just a hobby. 

I had been in 4-H for as long as I can remember, and in 4-H you can take up projects to learn more. I had taken up a few projects, but I hadn’t found one that I was truly passionate about. That all changed for me in seventh grade. A new member who raised goats joined our group. She was willing to be the project leader and was looking to recruit some members to join the project. I said to myself, why not? 

At the time, I was going through a really rough patch in my life: I didn’t really have any friends, I was being bullied a lot, and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t really have much of a will to live and I think I was looking for something to distract myself from the pain that I felt. So, I joined the goat project. I went to the first meeting and all we did was spend time with her goats. I fell in love instantly, and when it was time to leave, I told my mom right away that I wanted a goat. I was shot down and she told me that I had to wait because it was only the first meeting. She wanted to make sure that I was going to stick through with it before I had a goat of my own. 

I can be very stubborn, especially when it comes to something that I REALLY WANT. For the next year, I practically begged my mom for a goat. However, then she pointed out that we live within the town limits, so we were unable to keep farm animals at our house. That was when someone encouraged me to petition the Village Board to be able to keep goats at my house in town. 

This is truly the moment that this whole crazy journey started. I wrote a letter and presented it to the Village Board, stating that I wanted to change the ordinance for village members to be able to keep three goats and five chickens within the town limits. This was shot down, pretty much immediately. Looking back, I think I may have been a tad too ambitious. That’s when a board member suggested that I apply for a Conditional Use Permit instead. I graciously agreed. There were two more meetings after this: one was to get it on the agenda in the first place for the board members to vote on it, and the second was the actual vote. I spent both meetings presenting information and answering questions from the board members and community members. When the second meeting finally arrived, after two or three months of going through this process, I was a nervous wreck. The time came for the board to vote and the vote was four to two. It was in my favor. 

I was so excited! I was finally getting my goats! I spent the next month searching breeders to find the perfect goat and I found Alanna, an American Alpine. I also bought a Nigerian Dwarf goat that I named Brooke, both from a breeder in Cashton, Wisconsin. On a Sunday afternoon, my family made a trip to pick them up. This was the start of RL’s Little Dream Farm. 

At the 2016 state fair with Alanna.

From here, I did a lot with my goats. I traveled around the state of Wisconsin showing them. I met a lot of new people and made friends from all over the United States. I joined the FFA at my school. I had the story of getting my goats published in a magazine. I also was on TV on the local news channel with my goats. I traveled to Kentucky and showed my goats at the National goat show with my best friend at the time. I also showed at the county and state fair. 

I could tell you a lot more things that I did with my goats but that would take a lot more time, so I’m going to cut to the point that I wanted to make. From seventh grade to my senior year of high school, there were so many times that I heard the same thing: “It’s just a hobby.” There would be times that I complained about something and people would tell me, “Oh please, it can’t be that hard. It’s just a hobby.” 

They couldn’t be more wrong. You see, they don’t see all the stuff behind the scenes; they only see what I’ve shown them. They didn’t see that girl who struggled to clip her goat because at the time she didn’t have a milk stand. They only saw a goat that was ready for show. They didn’t see me cry and cry because the goat that I had won from an essay contest died; they saw me give a sweet goodbye and then get a new goat. They didn’t see that girl who sat in the barn for days waiting for her favorite goat to kid, and when Alanna finally did have her kids, it wasn’t an easy labor and I lost one of her kids and almost lost her. They only saw a post that she finally had her babies. 

Now, why am I bringing all of this up? Because all of this, the ups and the downs that happened throughout this journey, saved my life, quite honestly. It gave me a reason to want to keep living. So, showing goats wasn’t just a hobby for me, it was a huge part of my life. That’s why it bothers me when people say stuff like, “It was just a hobby.” Because they don’t know the half of it. 

Rachael with her FFA degree.

My life has followed a different path than I first thought it would. For a long time, I thought I would pursue a degree in agriculture. However, life changes, and now I am in my third year of studying Hotel, Restaurant, Tourism Management and Golf Enterprise Management. I also have a minor in Spanish. On that day when I put on my blue FFA jacket for the last time, I got emotional because this was the last page of this chapter in my life. It’s tough to swallow. But I can look back at all of this and smile because, without any of it, I don’t know that I would be where I am now. 

Don’t cut someone’s passion down by saying things like, “It’s just a hobby.” You never know what something might mean to someone. For those of you that have a passion similar to mine, my advice to you is to never let anyone cut it down. Stand tall and be proud of what you’re doing 

Originally published in the July/August 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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