SALT LAKE CITY — Growing almost as fast as the animals they raise, youth participants of the East African Refugee Goat Project of Utah celebrated the highlight of their year Saturday as they brought their goats into the county fair auction ring.
Eight youth — all between 10 and 14 years old and children of refugee families — brought goats they have cared for since birth to the Salt Lake County Fair's 4-H auction, said Josh Lloyd, economic empowerment program manager for Utah's International Rescue Committee.
This is the second year the goat project has brought youth and the animals they have raised to the auction, Lloyd said, six of them participating for the first time. They are already talking about coming back next year, Lloyd said.
"I think it will keep growing," Lloyd said. "There has been a lot of support on a lot of different levels to get a goat herd going, and also on the 4H side, everybody who is involved with that has been very welcoming and very supportive of this new population of kids participating."
In addition to their experience at the fair, the youth are experiencing a taste of the herding and agricultural lifestyle that was vital to their families in Africa, though they don't remember it, Lloyd said.
After showing and auctioning their animals, four of the youth who were taught this year under the 4-H mentoring program and were honored at Saturday night's award ceremony, while two others were recognized for their animals placing in the top 10 of the market goats, Lloyd said.
"It was great," Lloyd said. "The youth were there, and some of their parents were there. It was very exciting to see our African parents there interacting with everyone else."
All of the animals sold for between $300 and $350, which represents welcome income for the refugee families, Lloyd said. They were purchased at auction by the Salt Lake County Council and Les Schwab Tires.
The goat project was launched three years ago by Somali Bantu, Burundi and Somali Bajuni community leaders with help from the state Refugee Services Office. With the support of a $30,000 philanthropic investment and an ever-expanding goat herd, it has become an enterprise that helps support refugee families in Utah.
In addition to the animals the youth raise as part of the 4-H program, some goats are leased out for grazing for weed control and fire suppression, while others are sold for goat meat, which is in growing demand in Utah.
In light of the youngsters' enthusiasm, Lloyd said the project will bring the 4-H youth in earlier as they breed next year's wave of kids, including caring for the expectant does until they give birth in the spring and new goats are selected for the youth to raise. Preparation for breeding will start as early as October.
"It will start up here right away," Lloyd said. "Now that they know how the whole (4-H) thing works, it's a coll process and they're excited."
Anyone interested in supporting the East African Refugee Goat Project of Utah can contact the International Committee of Salt Lake.