The goat is mainly used as an offering to the gods of locals in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan, with vast steep, hilly land covered with sand and big rocks and shrubs.
The province thus features the most suitable conditions for the goat and the animal has become the symbol of the breeding that takes place there.
It is considered ‘Vietnam’s goat town’ and goat tenders there live as nomads to take care of their herds.
In reality, Ninh Thuan farmers supplied so much goat meat nationwide that it created ‘an overproduction crisis’ in 2005 and 2006 when the price of the meat fell considerably. At that time, the province had 150,000 goats, with thousands of herds kept in nomadic style.
Now, there are over 60,000 goats bred in the province annually and local authorities are planning to increase the herd to 75,000 individuals this year and 100,000 by 2020.
One day Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper visited a goat farm located halfway up a mountain in Son Hai 2 Village, Phuoc Dinh Commune, Ninh Phuoc District.
It took 15 minutes to cross three low hills from the coast to a goat farm guarded by Thap Thanh Nhu, 49, a hired keeper of the farm.
Pointing at a cage full of goats bleating noisily, he said it was too late to let them out for food.
“Normally I set them free at 7:00 am but it was raining heavily last night so I waited for the sun to come up to free them.
“Wet grass and shrubs may give goats stomach pain and ulcers in their mouth,” he explained.
Goats are wiser than sheep and rarely lose their herd and they know the way home, he added.
Thap Thanh Nhu feeds milk to baby goats. Photo: Tuoi Tre
However, goats in Ninh Thuan sometimes get lost after finding food between big rocks and shrubs and cannot escape.
Some have even climbed up a big rock to find shrubs and gotten trapped on the top, unable to find a way down.
“A herd of goats often returns to the farm after three hours of looking for grass on the mountain side,” Nhu said. “Yesterday I fell from the top of a three meter tall rock while looking for a lost goat. It’s lucky that I narrowly survived the incident.”
“This area has 20 herds of goats and each has different marks on its ears. We tenders always inform each other when an animal from another herd is lost in ours,” Nhu said.
Nhu admitted that he dropped out of school when he was a second grader and can only read numbers.
“I was poor and had to help my family by tending herds of cows.
“Spending all of my life following the tails of cattle made me forget the letters.
“That’s why I always urge my children to go to school to stop poverty,” he said honestly.
Over ten years ago, he and his wife started their business by buying the first herd of 20 goats. However, he continued to work as a hired tender of goats and merged the two herds into one.
But the 2005-2006 period was the peak of overproduction of goat meat and the price fell so much that many farmers went bankrupt.
Before this crisis a mature female goat was sold for over VND10 million (US$481), but the price plunged to just one-tenth of that. A herd of over 100 goats which had been valued at VND300 million ($14,400) was priced at just VND40 million ($1,900) in 2005.
Nhu and his wife lost their herd and returned to working as hired tenders with a total monthly salary of VND2.5 million ($120).
Around five years later, goat breeding began recovering in 2011. Ironically, this was at the time of another crisis: overproduction of grapefruit.
Again, farmers returned to goats, which like discarded grapefruit and leaves.
And now the goat is returning again in this lunar year, but this time as the Year of the Goat – the eighth sign of the 12-year cycle in the oriental zodiac.