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Groundbirch farming couple dreaming big

South Peace farmers Caylee and Justin Tietjen are looking to establish a 300-head Kiko goat farm in Groundbirch, using holistic practices, passion, and ingenuity.

No kidding – Groundbirch couple Caylee and Justin Tietjen are putting their agricultural roots to good use, with a 10-year plan for a 300-head goat farm at their homestead, ‘Hill and Hollow’.

While the couple only has a handful of bottle-baby Kiko goats right now, they’ve got big plans to turn their small hobby farm into a viable farm to table operation, offering both meat and dairy.

“We’re hoping to do a commercial meat farm, so this is our starting herd, as we’d like to raise Kikos,” said Caylee. “There’s quite a growing market for goats as a dairy animal, multipurpose animal, and for meat.”

“Really our goal is just to be able to support ourselves, just being on the farm,” added Justin. “The challenge is starting farming, and persevering.”

The two were both born into farming families, with long histories in the South Peace, Justin on a commercial cattle ranch and Caylee on a small hobby farm.  

Good animal husbandry practice and ethical treatment of animals is of the utmost importance for the couple.

"It's an economic standpoint, but a moral standpoint too. You have to have this huge level of care to be a successful farmer. Or at least you should," Caylee said.

Kiko goats were developed in New Zealand, crossbreeding dairy production goats with the indigenous goats - Kiko comes from the Māori word for meat.

Their hardiness, lean muscle density, and resistance to illness and infection makes them a desired breed for Northern BC,  said the couple, noting the goats can even be used to hem back wild thistle.

The pair is building their farm on the principles of holistic agriculture, for example, using manure from chickens to fuel their garden, which in turn provides food for themselves and their animals.

“There’s a lot of innovation in agriculture right now, there’s a lot of different ways to do things, but there’s always a need to be creative, especially small farmers” said Caylee.

Caylee also understands how prohibitive costs are pushing many young people away from working on the land, but says they want to be an example, showing others how they can be commercially successful.

“For a lot of people, it’s transitional farming, the generation before you is looking to retire and you’re looking to take over the operation,” she said. “With land prices, the cost of equipment and infrastructure, and everything needed to get into farming, it’s difficult. But there does seem to be a lot of people wanting to do it, especially over COVID.”

Justin works gas compression full-time, and uses the income to sustain the farm, in addition to recycling building materials and buying used farm equipment to make their dream affordable.

“You have to learn to do things better, cheaper. There’s no room for waste,” he said.

Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative. Email Tom at tsummer@ahnfsj.ca