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Lessons from the pen: What a parent (and a goat) can teach a child

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13 2012 4:22 p.m. MDT

Seth Argyle and his dad, Shane Argyle, work with some of their goats. The Argyle family has a history of raising livestock, and their children now raise goats to show at the Utah State Fair as a way to learn responsibility, hard work and money management Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Members of the Argyle family are keeping their farming heritage alive, raising dairy goats in their West Jordan backyard as a way to teach their children responsibility and hard work.

Shane Argyle grew up helping his father and grandfather care for the family's pigs and cattle, and for 10 years of his childhood he was responsible for his own market hogs to show and sell through the 4-H program at the Utah State Fair.

He didn't realize until later the lessons his father was teaching him, which he is now trying to pass on to his four children.

"I think he was looking forward to wanting his boys to learn how to work hard and to make enough money so we could go serve LDS missions," he said. "That's what got us into it."

Argyle accomplished his goal and was able to fund his mission to Costa Rica and Panama. His two brothers also used their 4-H profits to serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while his sister put the money toward college.

Today, Shane and Heidi Argyle help their four children care for 16 dairy goats, which are smaller and more manageable in close quarters than hogs or cows. The goats have become a welcome part of their West Jordan neighborhood, and other households have even taken on a goat or two of their own after seeing the Argyle family's success.

The little herd claimed several titles at the Utah State Fair this year, including senior and junior champion, best of breed and best in show. Winning ribbons at the fair is "the fun part," Shane Argyle said, but the real prize for his family is the fun, work and teaching that comes from raising the animals.

Clark Caras, executive director of the Utah State Fair, got his start raising sheep and other animals through 4-H and Future Farmers of America. The experience laid the foundation for his adult life, he said, and he looked forward to the fair each year as a chance to spend time with his best friends — some of which had wool.

The Argyles epitomize the "urban farm family," Caras said. He met them through the fair several years ago and was recently invited to their home to try some fresh goat cheese.

"I watched them as a family as they were laughing and joking. They started talking about school and about the fair," he said. "They were talking about substantial things; they weren't talking about the television show they watched the night before. I saw the level of familiarity they have."

Caras said those relationships endure. He has seen them in his own family as he visits the family farm in Spanish Fork for a summer barbecue or impromptu family get-together. 

"It creates a level of closeness of family that I just don't think can be mimicked or copied anywhere," he said. 

Building bonds

The Argyle's 17-year old daughter Anika said caring for the goats has created unique bonds in her family.

"We sit around the dinner table and talk about goats," Anika said with a smile. "That's so weird."

The kids have learned responsibility, compassion and more caring for their cloven-footed friends, and have avoided the perils that befall many other youth.

"It's a good family project," Shane Argyle said. "We like the fact that they are busy all morning, off to school, then there are a few chores in the afternoon and they do very well. They continue to become very responsible individuals."

Anika and her brothers, 15-year-old Quinn and 12-year-old Seth, are up at 5:30 every morning to milk and feed the animals. In addition, the pens have to be cleaned and maintained. The early mornings are tiring, Anika said, and on the rare day they get an extra 30 minutes in bed, the chance to sleep in is "amazing."

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