ST. ALBANS, Maine — It isn’t a tea party or a spa treatment for Mom that will draw more than 100 people from 21 states to this small community on Mother’s Day weekend.
The annual event, which has helped spark the local economy, really isn’t about honoring mothers at all, unless you are a doe.
Ken and Janice Spaulding of Stony Knolls Farm, who raise about 35 registered dairy goats and sell the milk and milk-related products at local farmers markets, once again will hold their two-day goat school on Mother’s Day weekend.
“We like goats. That’s why we do it,” Ken Spaulding said Saturday.
The couple, who were eager to share the knowledge they acquired from raising goats for 22 years, started the goat school about five years ago at their homestead tucked at the end of a dirt road on the outskirts of town.
“There wasn’t much information about goats, how to raise them, what to look for and that type of thing. It’s not one of those industries that people share,” Spaulding said as both bleats and black flies filled the country air. “There’s a big demand for information and education that’s not being met. That’s always been our prime purpose with our goats, is education, showing people that you don’t have to go out and spend tens of thousands of dollars to be able to do things.”
Believing the interest was there, Spaulding said his wife called a few friends and customers about five years ago and held the first goat school, which drew about 12 people. Word spread about the offering, and the event eventually landed in national hobby magazines.
“We kept getting more and more interest,” Spaulding said, so the couple offered two separate sessions, one in the spring to cover kidding and another on Columbus Day weekend to cover breeding. Participants at each session receive information about immunizations, feed, trimming and general goat care. Those who want to stay another day for school can participate in a goat soap and cheese class offered by Janice.
The niche market the Spauldings have created helps the regional economy since the participants stay overnight in lodging facilities and eat out for those meals that are not included with the $150 goat school fee.
Mark Stephens of the Brewster Inn in Dexter said Sunday that his inn is completely booked by goat school participants, and most are staying for the week. “We could have sold the nine rooms four times over,” he said.
Stephens said that when the inn started getting all the bookings for Mother’s Day and Columbus Day weekends a couple of years ago, he began asking the visitors what they planned to do, and their answers were the same: to attend goat school. That was the first he had heard about the event.
“I’d class [the] goat show as the most famous not-famous event in the entire state of Maine,” Stephens said. “It’s famous because the rest of the country knows about it, but not famous because no one in Maine has a clue about goat school.”
Yet it has been very important to the local economy, Stephens said. The visitors will eat in local establishments and purchase items before they return home, he said. The goat school also allows them to see the beauty of the state so they might return.
Stephens, who noted he already is taking reservations for the Columbus Day school, said he has had to direct callers who want rooms for next weekend’s event to other lodging facilities throughout the region.
But that won’t be the 19-unit Canaan Motel, which also has been booked for months for goat week, according to an official there.
“We started getting people in November wanting to book for spring to make sure they had a place,” Spaulding said.
Most of those who attend the classes are professional people, including doctors, FBI agents, federal prosecutors and lab technicians, Spaulding said. “Most of the folks are people who have made a good income and are looking for things to do later on. And some people just come because they enjoy Maine and it’s a fun weekend.”
Whatever the reason, goat school generates tens of thousands of dollars for the local economy and that’s really amazing, Spaulding said. “For a state heavily involved in tourism, they’ve kind of not looked at us as being very important. Maybe in the broad scheme it’s not, but I think we’re doing our little bit to spur on the economy.”