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Glorifying in goatlore

DALLAS -- Did you know that there was a brief "goat golden age" in Polk County?

Laurie and Terry Carlson recently added a goat museum to the grounds at Fairview Farm Goat Dairy near Dallas.

Photo by Pete Strong

Laurie and Terry Carlson recently added a goat museum to the grounds at Fairview Farm Goat Dairy near Dallas.

July 17, 2013

DALLAS -- Did you know that there was a brief "goat golden age" in Polk County?

How about that, according to Norse legend, Thor, the god of thunder, had a chariot pulled by two loyal goats named Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjostr?

The stories behind those interesting tidbits, and much more goat-related history, can be found at the recently opened Goat Museum at Fairview Farm Goat Dairy just outside Dallas on Highway 223.

Yes, a museum dedicated to all things goats.

Laurie Carlson, museum curator, co-owner and head cheese maker at the farm, says the museum is one-of-a-kind in the United States. Her research found only one other such shrine -- in the Australian Outback.

The museum is small -- housed in a 200-square-foot improved shed built specifically for the attraction -- but it packs plenty of information and fun goat facts. Carlson, who was a freelance writer with a doctorate in history, compiled all the research and organized it into professional-looking exhibits.

She said her research really began in 2009, when she and her husband, Terry Carlson, opened the dairy. She simply wanted to be able to answer curious customers' goat questions.

"People are always asking you (things) because they (dairy goats) are not very common," she said. "There's so much to know about them. It's been a lot to learn about taking care of them ... but I was surprised about the historical things."

The museum -- an idea that stemmed from a seminar on agritourism -- allowed her to spend time "glorifying in goatlore," while putting her knowledge to creative use.

Carole Poole of Eugene looks over the "famous people and their goats" display inside Fairview Farms

Photo by Pete Strong

Carole Poole of Eugene looks over the "famous people and their goats" display inside Fairview Farms' new Goat Museum. The museum is believed to be the only one of its kind in the U.S.

"We can't do pumpkin cannons and zip lines, but a museum seemed perfect," she said of the farm.

Carlson designed the museum to be akin to other roadside curiosities, simply posting a sign reading "Goat Museum" alongside those for the farm.

Since opening around Memorial Day, the museum has attracted a diverse crowd. Travelers from as far away as Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada and Alaska have made a pit stop at the dairy.

"We knew people traveled by on this highway (Kings Valley Highway) last year because they would stop at the store," Carlson said. "They are just out on their vacation and they come from Newport up through Dallas."

Those who stop will learn about the first evidence of goat domestication about 10,000 years ago and that goats were part of the folklore of many ancient civilizations.

European royalty and nobility often had goats as pets or part of mini farms built on palace grounds that offered the upper classes a chance to "commune with nature."

Goats even had a brief renaissance in Oregon, chiefly centered around Dallas.

Polk County's "goat golden age" was fueled by high demand for angora goat hair, called mohair. The era peaked from 1909 to 1914, but Carlson found reports of someone buying a male angora goat for $1,500 in the 1860s. That would be about $184,500 now.

"I'm thinking these people in Dallas were making a lot of money," Carlson said, noting farmers could easily raise hardy goats on logged forestland. "It was kind of a big deal in the state because they were figuring it was a new way to make money on marginal land."

In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson lifted a tariff on foreign mohair, so cheaper imports flooded the market, putting local goat farms out of business. Sound familiar? Get this: around that time the once-busy Multnomah Mohair Mill in Portland moved to China for cheaper labor.

"I know ... it's been 100 years and nothing has changed," Carlson said with a laugh.

The idea seems strange now that people in the U.S. more often associate cows with dairies and sheep with textiles, but Carlson sees the exhibits as a way to demonstrate the goat's significance in history.

To emphasize the point, she incorporated an exhibit featuring famous people who were goat fans, including Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi and Picasso.

The most surprising nugget for both Terry and Laurie: former President Ronald Reagan was a goat farmer, too. Laurie found a photo of Reagan sitting with a pile of five baby Nubian goats on him that ran in a local California newspaper before he became a famous actor.

"It's obvious from the picture that he liked his goats," Terry Carlson said. "The conclusions are still out who else might be among that number of goat people."

Well, you can count the Carlsons in as two of those "goat people." They have been steadily adding to their small goat dairy, providing a self-serve station for customers at the farm and opening a farm store serving goat's milk ice cream last year.

As for the goat museum, Terry Carlson was happy to help with the latest of his wife's creative ideas.

"Well, you know, after 40 years, nothing surprises me," he said. "We both like adventures, so I always play along with anything that comes along. And who knows what excitement can develop from it?"

Learn More "Goatlore"

What: Fairview Farm's Goat Museum.

Where: Fairview Farm Goat Dairy, 2340 SW Fairview Ave. (Kings Valley Highway), Dallas.

Hours: Fridays through Mondays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information: 503-623-4744; www.fairviewdairyfarm.com.

Did you know?

* Archaeological evidence found in Iran indicates goats were first domesticated about 10,000 years ago.

* It wasn't horses that pulled Norse thunder god Thor's chariot through the sky; according to legend, it was two goats.

* Former President Ronald Reagan raised goats and was a member of the American Dairy Goat Association.

* A goat's horns actually are part of the skull and have blood veins running through them to cool the goat in extreme heat.

* The phrase "handle with kid gloves" actually does refer to gloves made from the skin of young goats, or kids. The material is very soft and dense, according to Laurie Carlson, who uses a pair to pick berries with thorny vines.

* There was an age of "The Golden Goat" in Polk County, fueled by a domestic market for angora goat mohair, but cheaper imports quickly ended the era in the early 20th century.

* It's been reported that a male angora goat sold for $1,500 in the 1860s. That's about $184,500 in today's dollars.

* Goats were among the first animals brought to North America by Europeans. The others were pigs, chickens and dogs.

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