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STEVE LOPEZ POINTS WEST

Goats really grabbed her

Aspiring vet finds time for the hard work of raising animals and typical teen stuff too.

August 03, 2008|STEVE LOPEZ

If you're wondering what to do with another lazy Sunday, my advice is that you charter a bus and take everyone you know to Costa Mesa for the last day of the Orange County Fair.

I went last weekend and wished I had camped out there the last three weeks, filing daily columns. Where else could you hear the following announcement:

"Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the pig races."

There's world-class people-watching, deep-fried Snickers and Twinkies, a Barnyard Animal Fashion Parade, a hypnotist and a Vector Control information booth close enough to suck the blood of the guy in the adjacent Libertarian Party booth. And these are but a small part of what makes the fair a better bargain than Disneyland at a fraction of the cost.

But you know what? I was most transfixed by the sight of teens and younger children pitching hay and shoveling livestock dung without any adults making them do it.

What kind of kids are these?

Evy Young, a fair supervisor, suggested I talk to an 18-year-old goat farmer named Kimberly Barnes. I couldn't find her, but I found her goats in a pen that was plastered with the five award banners she and her herd had already won, including best goat in the show.

I also found an adult goat farmer named Richard Pigman.

I swear.

"I know," Pigman said. "It should have been Goatman."

Barnes should have been Barns too. But I'm getting off track.

"She's got a real good head on her shoulders," Pigman said of Barnes. "And she cleaned up on the competition."

Barnes is a 4-H member who's also president of her Tehachapi chapter of the Future Farmers of America. She had loaded her seven goats onto a trailer back home, hitched the trailer to a Dodge Ram pickup with a diesel engine and a stick shift and driven to the fair on her own.

I've known teenagers who couldn't get out of bed on their own.

While waiting for Barnes, I saw a teenage girl stooped over, milking a goat with both hands while talking on a cellphone cradled between neck and shoulder.

At first I thought it was some sort of competition, but I didn't see any other contestants. This girl filled a bucket of milk while on the phone, then led the goat back to its pen without interrupting her conversation -- a blue ribbon performance.

When Barnes arrived, her Saanen and Alpine goats could not have been happier. She checked their food and water and scratched their ears. "Mama loves you," she said.

It was a white Saanen named Kit that took best-in-show, and Kalani and Carmen San Diego were taking home some hardware as well.

Barnes said she was thrilled, especially since it was her last competition before she leaves for Iowa State University later this month to begin her freshman year. She wants to be a veterinarian.

But there was one event left. She and two other winning Future Farmers had been chosen to square off in the livestock arena to show their skills in handling a cow, a sheep and a goat. Barnes had never won the round-robin competition, and she wanted the belt buckle that goes to the champion.

"I really love showing," she said, in part because it's the culmination of lots of hard work.

For five years, she's been up before the sun, milking and feeding before school. The same chores are waiting for her in the evening. She drinks the goat milk raw and makes cheese, but doesn't sell it. This is all voluntary, with no financial payoff.

"I'm biased, but I think she's pretty special too," Barnes' mother, a teacher named Heather, told me by phone.

Barnes, perhaps the most pleasant teenager in the contiguous 48 states, said she fell for the farm life as a little girl when her family had animals running around on some open space in Aliso Viejo. Her grandparents had a cattle ranch up in Stockton, and her dad, who died two years ago, raised goats to clear brush for fire prevention.

But she could be out surfing, I told her. Huntington Beach was five minutes away.

It's very satisfying, Barnes said, to learn how to properly raise an animal. With a goat, you have to work on "general appearance, dairy character and a mammary system with capacious udders."

I'd say she nailed it. Her goats bear more than a slight resemblance to Pamela Anderson, except that the goats are natural.

As for Barnes' devotion to her hobby, it's not as if she's missing out on life beyond the farm. She said she hangs with friends, goes to the mall, noodles around on MySpace. She has a boyfriend too, who's not a farmer.

"And I love my cellphone," she said.

But the animals are fun to be around and rewarding in many ways.

"They're nonjudgmental," for one thing, Barnes said, and each one has a distinct personality.

"A lot of the kids I've known are into appearances, talking about who's doing this and that, being popular. They're into fashion and looking like everybody else. That doesn't matter to me," she said.

"Not to make it sound like a cliche, but with the animals I've learned a lot about responsibility while doing the things I've always wanted to do."

OK, I'm giving her another award:

World's Most Mature Youngster.

What Barnes really wanted, though, was the buckle. And she wished her father could have been there to see her compete. He'd have been proud, she said.

Barnes seemed a little nervous after putting on a crisp, ice-cream white uniform for the round-robin competition.

She studied her hand-written notes on livestock and checked out the cow and sheep she was about to handle, along with her prize goat, Kit.

She and the others spent about five minutes in the ring with each animal, leading them around and posing them on command. A trio of judges watched every move and peppered them with questions. The Holstein wasn't terribly cooperative with Barnes, but she gave it couple of tugs to let it know who was in charge.

Later that evening, the results were in, and Barnes called her mother.

"I got the buckle!" she said, and her mother screamed.

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steve.lopez@latimes.com

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On latimes.com

Additional photos

For more images of an aspiring vet and her goats, see latimes.com/goat.

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