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Herd happiness: Pygmy goats bring farming fun

FRANKLIN LIVING—When little Ellie Cay was 2 years old, her mother used to sing that classic lullaby, “Hush Little Baby.” Although the promise of a mockingbird, diamond ring or looking glass didn’t mean much, “Mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat” captured the young animal lover’s imagination.

“Ellie decided she wanted her Poppa to buy her some goats,” explained Lisa Stockton, wife of “Poppa” Tim Stockton. Of course, the Stocktons first thought Ellie’s obsession with goats would eventually fade away. Tim tried to appease her by taking her to a farm with a petting zoo in the fall – but that plan had the opposite effect. “I think you’re just fueling the fire,” Lisa said she warned him. “Sure enough, she just became more and more enamored with these goats.” When Christmastime rolled around, Ellie broke down in tears when she didn’t get goats for her Christmas present. That was the final straw for Gran and Poppa Stockton. “We started looking, that day, for goats.”

Now four and a half years later, 6-year-old Ellie hasn’t lost her love for the animal, and the Stocktons have grown the belated Christmas present of two goats to a full herd. “The pasture looked really empty with just two goats, so we decided to buy a couple more,” Lisa explained. Then it was six more. Then Ellie wanted babies, so they added a male – and that’s when the whole family fell in love with raising the sweet miniature goats.

So while some animal lovers add a dog or cat to the family, the Stocktons became Pygmy goat farmers, and it’s an enterprise Lisa said has brought so much joy – to their family and beyond. “One of the highlights has been so many kids getting to come see the goats and play with them,” Lisa said. “They are honestly like little puppies or kittens. They love the affection.”

Lisa said the goats are “the easiest pets we’ve ever had. We just like to pull up chairs and sit in the pasture and watch them.” Playful animals, Pygmy goats will happily jump around and maneuver obstacle courses, providing plenty of entertainment for their human friends. “I think for all of us, the goats have been an unexpected gift. They’ve brought a lot of enjoyment and a lot of fun. These are memories Ellie will have for forever.”

Ellie, who is the daughter of the late Casey Stockton, and her parents Kellen and Josh Simmons live in Helena, so Lisa said Ellie loves coming to Russellville to visit the farm. “There are so many lessons to be learned on the farm. She’s gotten to see the babies being born, and she’s seen the mothers take care of them,” Lisa said. She has learned the responsibility that comes with caring for live animals, too. “She tells us all the time that when she gets bigger she’s going to be a veterinarian. She has a big, big heart for animals, and those goats love her, and she loves them.”

Of course, the other Stockton grandchildren are fans of Gran and Poppa’s goat farm too. Taylor, 14, and Addy Beth, 12, children of Jason and Laura Stockton, love coming to visit from Tuscumbia, and 6-month-old Rawlins, son of Matt and Kristin Stockton, is sure to be the next goat-lover of the family. “It’s just been a cool journey for all of us,” Lisa said. “I try to share a lot of pictures on Facebook with people because what’s cuter than a 4-year-old playing with goats?” She said although being goat farmers is something she and Tim would never have anticipated, they fell in love with it. “You never know what journey God’s going to put you on or what he’s going to put in your life.”

The Stocktons breed every now and again, introducing a new male to the herd each time. They keep the females, growing their herd over time – they are now up to almost three dozen Pygmy goats. “Ellie comes up with all sorts of names, and Addy Beth does too,” Lisa said. “Sometimes they name them after their friends or popular TV movies or cartoons.”

Ellie’s favorite right now is one she has named Juliet. “The first time I holded her she wouldn’t let go of me, and she just fell asleep in my lap,” said Ellie, who got to enjoy an extended visit recently during the coronavirus pandemic. “They’re just really sweet, and you can hold the little ones, and they are really soft … I really like animals, and I grew up with the goats, so they are like brothers and sisters to me.”

The last member of the goat herd is not a goat at all. Two years ago at Christmas the Stocktons added a Great Pyrenees to their farm to watch over the goats. Ellie wanted a dog like Max from “The Grinch;” although the goat-dog doesn’t look like Max, they pay tribute to the idea by calling the her Maxie. “She has a trail, almost a perfect square all around our fence,” said Lisa, “and that’s where she patrols and looks out for those goats.”