Eighty-four hooves and two tennis shoe-clad feet beat out a rhythm on a dirt road that winds through the grounds surrounding Jester King Brewery.
Luna rounds the bend first, the blue-eyed and snow-white queen of the herd. Corndog, Lavaca, Teddy, Stella, Banjo, Banshee and the others clatter into view next, swallowing up Sean Peppy Meyer, who is hoisting a 20-pound steel mace over his head, like a school of furry fish.
Welcome to the Goat Mile.
Most days, Meyer, 31, the resident farmer at Jester King, leads his beloved herd of Nigerian dwarf goats on a 1-mile run through the property. (You may remember the blond, mullet-wearing Meyer from his days as the brains behind the subscription goat postcard business called Goat Monthly.)
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Now he’s inviting the public to join him on a few of those runs. At 11 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday in October, Meyer will lead up to 15 humans and the herd of goats on an easy ramble. Because “this is a delicate mile,” as Meyer says, participants are encouraged to carry a steel mace that weighs 10, 15 or 20 pounds to up the difficulty level. That will not only strengthen your core, he says, but it will also help you tap into what the goat herder calls the warrior aspect of the activity.
“It’s kind of what it would have been like to wear a suit of armor or carry a sword,” he says.
The pace is slow, but no one is aiming to break speed records here. Still, the goats don’t exactly dally. Their best mile time is nine minutes and 17 seconds.
The animals seem to enjoy it, too. I tagged along recently and discovered they especially like to dart underfoot and shove their horned heads into sweaty, pumping legs.
“You can see the smiles on their faces,” Meyer says as we pause midway through our run. The goats — some of them with plump bellies that sway to and fro as we amble up a rocky incline and into a thicket of ash juniper — emit a nonstop barrage of bleating that sounds exactly like the eh-eh-eh of a toy machine gun.
Meyer says the runs benefit the goats as much as the humans. “Cardio used to be a large part of (a goat’s) lifestyle because of predatory threat, but upon domestication we lost that,” he says.
"As long as he’s leading the way, the goats are free to choose, and I think it’s fine," says Linda Coffey, a livestock specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. "I am surprised at the distance they run. But well-nourished, healthy goats will enjoy exercise. I think the person needs to be in front of the pack but needs to be watching; reduce the pace if a goat is struggling to keep up. They are herd animals and are wired to 'stick together' for safety. So respecting the limits of the slowest animal will keep stress low. The danger would be if they are running because of fear, and running beyond their endurance. That is not what is happening here."
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Meyer loves the independence and personality of his herd. He started with two goats — Luna and Lavaca — four years ago, and generation four of their offspring is expected next spring.
“I’ve made them the priority of my life the last four years,” he says. “I want to show the world how we’re meant to live with nature.”
Meyer believes society’s relationship with food is broken and small, self-sustaining communities like the one that’s budding at Jester are part of the answer. Here, he manages the brood of goats, who stomp down and nibble on the remains of this year’s sorghum crop, and plans to add other animals to the menagerie.
“Not nearly enough people are looking at renewable agriculture,” he says. “I’m trying to teach people how to live within nature so we can finally have a balance between man, animal, plant and bacteria. We haven’t had it since our time as a hunter-gatherer species.”
To get to know his goat herd better, Peppy spent a year living in the barn with the animals. At first, he slept on the dirt floor with them; later he moved a “city bed” in for his own creature comfort. He’s living in human quarters now to keep some separation between his life and theirs, but he hopes to return to the barn eventually.
In the meantime, he’d like you to join him for a run.