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Can dreams come true?
In Danish you say something like "That is how that goat is sheared" or "There went goat in it". Phrases we have said in Danish many times. Which respectively means "That went easy" and "What a mess". It sounds easy and fun, and fun it often was, but rarely easy.
People have dreams about how life will turn out, and young people's dreams are probably a bit wilder than the dreams we half-older people have. When we were in our early 30s, we had a dream of moving to the country and having lots of animals. At that time we lived in Krefeld, a town in Germany between Düsseldorf and the Dutch border. A very densely populated area. We were city people, but didn't quite feel like it. My husband, Ulrich, is German and I had lived most of my time on Amager near Copenhagen. In the spring of 1992 we had our son Leopold. We thought that as a family with children, life changes radically, so why not take the big step and make our dreams come true now.
Why angora goats? And why in Denmark?
The answers were simple. Goats were easier to handle than cows and pigs, and small agricultural properties with land were cheaper in Denmark than in Germany. At the same time, we had read an article about angora goats called something like "He spins gold from hair" , about one of the pioneers of angora goat breeding in Denmark. An article that really piqued our curiosity about these charming curly animals. We knew that knowledge is essential for a good start and increases the chance of a good result, so we started at the bookstores and vacuumed North Rhine-Westphalia for books about goats. However, we found none about angora goats. My father was put on the case and through the then Mohair Association in Denmark, he procured large amounts of reading material on angora goats and the economics of mohair production in Denmark. We read to our heart's content and after a few months felt that we were world champions in goat husbandry. But, no, it wasn't going to be that easy.
When there's only one way and that's forward
Our plan had been to produce and sell raw mohair. We had not thought tourism or finished goods into our concept, but one day we were contacted by Fjerritslev tourist office. They wanted to send some tourists to see the goats. Petting a goat would be too tame, we thought, so through the mohair association we got some bundles of Danish produced mohair yarn and some mohair socks, which the association had made in England. We put these items on a hay bale in the stable and waited anxiously for an invasion of tourists. One German family arrived. Not something that saved the economy, but perhaps the idea of tourists could. Incidentally, the German family and their children have since visited us many times on our present farm.
First and foremost, the welfare of the goats
In the summer of 1993 we bought the farm in Bratbjerg and moved with the goats, which had now grown into more. Fences had to be erected and huts built for the curly-haired animals in a hurry. By the autumn the existing stables had to be finished, so there was little time to get the rest of the house in order. A priority that was necessary for the goats, but not exactly what the tourists might expect. We were now determined that the tourists would turn things around. Visitors who understood that the welfare of the goats was paramount showed great satisfaction with the farm experience and many customers visited us year after year to see our progression.
The first autumn we had the goats in the old stable and barn buildings. In one of the buildings there was a closed room that we could use as a shop. Here a small fine selection of mohair stockings, ready knitted sweaters and shawls and mohair yarn with patterns were displayed. You had to go through part of the goat shed to get to the shop. Super cosy, just not the day the goats had broken down the door to the shop. There I was with a few customers who had been looking forward to fine mohair products and a small flock of goats having a party. On the table, a couple of curly-haired monsters (that's how I thought of the goats that day) were munching away at the knitting patterns. The little black balls that goats have a habit of dropping were scattered all over. The tourists didn't buy anything and never came back.
It began to brighten
During the winter we finished a new super goat shed. The farm had previously been a mink farm. With great creativity from my husband, the two mink sheds became one large goat shed of about 500m2. The following summer several "summer houses" for the goats were finished and several fields were fenced. Now we were ready to receive tourists on the farm, but the surroundings were still a bit lame. As we also got it right, the number of visitors and the turnover in the shop increased. The old stable had been converted into a shop and we were well on the way to developing the mohair products to be sold. For a while, I participated in a project at Koldkærgård Agricultural School to develop a concept for mohair breeders in Denmark. It was about the production and sale of own products. We left the processing of the mohair to others. A very good decision we took at the time, as mohair requires and deserves processing by professionals and with the right tools. We were and still are very focused on quality, so we searched and found companies in Denmark and abroad with the right "know-how" with whom we could cooperate.
One Easter in one of the first years we had advertised in the local papers and invited visitors to watch us shearing goats. Our sound theoretical knowledge of goats was also gradually reinforced by a few years of intensive practical experience. We were happy to talk about the behaviour of goats, the creation of products and the amazing properties of mohair, and were able to tell stories that both children and adults found funny and interesting. We had our fingers crossed that 100 maybe 200 visitors would turn up over all 5 Easter days. Almost 1,000 came. We weren't just ready, we were in full swing.
30 years later...
More than 30 years have passed since we embarked on this adventure with mohair. Many things have changed. We no longer have goats, but we are deeply involved in the mohair trade.
It's been a long journey, one that probably won't really end, because when we're no longer willing or able, it will probably be Leopold who continues the journey. He's already in full swing at the company. Actually, he is has a masters degree in energy technology, but works on marketing for the company and while also develops sales and IT systems that is taking up all his time. Modern business management is somewhat different today than when we were working with goats and farming. Leopold has learned the latter from his mother's milk, and he will never forget it. Now he can concentrate on selling on new and smart platforms.
Finally, I want to thank all the people who have helped us over the years, both practically and with inspiration and encouragement. Without my mother, Lydia Nielsen, to cook and my father, Preben Nielsen, to pick up and bring the children, I would never have made it. In addition to my life as a goat farmer, farmer and shopkeeper, I worked for almost 40 years in the aviation industry, though only part-time most years. Our children, who besides Leopold include Maria, have always been part of the "workforce" on the farm. We are grateful that they participated early in the care of animals and diligently took part in other necessary chores. My husband's family was often here on holidays to lend a helping hand. It was no small thing they could accomplish in a week.
Should you want to read more about the angora goats, anecdotes from the animal wheat days, our mohair products, the properties of mohair and other mohair related things, I can tell you that there will be more blog posts.
Thank you for reading!