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When she’s not tackling the world of math at Chrisman High School/Junior High, Shannon Ellis owns and operates a successful goat farm. “I have been involved in dairy goats for over thirty-five years and help my husband Chad with his crop farm,” Shannon told us. Together, the couple have three children, Autumn, Seth and Jess, who are also very involved in both farms.
With both sides of her family involved in small farms and live stock farming, Ellis grew up in the 4-H world. “I was a ten year member in Vigo County 4-H in Terre Haute, Indiana. I also served five years after that as an assistant and club leader of Vigo County.”
As a youth, Shannon won Grand Showman many times at the 4-H show as well as Grand Champion in Round Robin Showmanship, showing all livestock types including swine, beef, dairy, goats, sheep and horses.
Ellis was also Grand Champion Dairy Goat Showman at the Indiana State Fair and won twice at the ADGA National Show in 1997 and 2000. “I published a dairy goat showmanship packet, ‘Basic Showmanship: The Rules, the Moves and the Tips’, that is distributed to youth across the country,” Ellis said. “This packet is also used in the ADGA judge’s training conference.”
The farm, Robin-Wood, that’s name came from a sub-division on the east side of Terre Haute, began back in 1985 when Shannon’s parents moved from Columbus, Indiana to Terre Haute. Her parents had dairy goats prior to the farm, but didn’t engage in competitive shows until Robin-Wood began.
“When I graduated from Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods and married Chad, I moved the herd to Chrisman,” Ellis said. “My dad continues to raise dairy goats under a different herd name and my mother raises Katahdin hair sheep.”
On the farm, Shannon is the Head of Genetics Management, where she researches genetics through Facebook and the American Dairy Association (ADGA). “I try to find animals that will cross well with our own and that will improve different characteristics of the LaMancha breed.”
Shannon also looks for herds that have crossed well in the past with their own stock or for a few herds that produce consistent animals for multiple generations.
“I usually only keep a sire for a few years, but productive and consistent sires tend to say a little longer,” Ellis said. “We also implement Artificial Insemination (AI) to utilize sires that we don’t own or are no longer living.”
The LaMancha breed is the primary focus. LaManchas are the only true American dairy goat. LaManchas were developed in the 1950’s by Mrs. Eula Fay Frey of California. “Other recognized dairy breeds were imported from Europe, Africa and Asia,” Shannon said. “We also have a few Recorded Grades and a token Oberhalsi.”
Currently, the Ellis’ manage between twenty and forty head of diary goats. Their primary focus is open dairy goat shows, sanctioned by ADGA. “Our animals are competitive at local, state and national levels. We sell stock herds all over the country to help improve the breed,” Ellis said. “We sell some of the milk and use some of it to make caramels, ice cream, spreadable cheese, and goat milk soap for Seth’s business, Seth’s Suds.”
Depending on the time of year, the herd may grow up to sixty, depending on the time of the year. Over the winter, it’s preferred to have around twenty-five head to keep numbers manageable. Having a farm full of goats gives the Ellis children an abundance of choices on which one they would like to show at 4-H competitions.
“My daughter, Autumn, has her own animals as well, and has taken an integral part this year of managing the herd. She eventually wants to have her own herd of goats and her own vet practice after school,” Shannon said. “Seth is a professional showman, but prefers the larger tasks like putting up hay and cleaning out the barn with the tractor.”
The herd has many males and females, but is broken down further into milking does and dry does for the females and bucks and wethers for the males. Milking does are females that are one year old or older that have kidded and/or are currently producing milk. A typical lactation period is three hundred and five days in commercial dairies, but Robin-Wood does have closer to a two hundred day lactation period due to the demands of the school schedule.
Dry does are females of any age that have not kidded or freshened or are not currently making milk. For the males, bucks are simply intact males while wethers are castrated males. In most herds, goats will be bred until they are about six or seven years old. “Our herd’s primary focus is longevity, so many of our does still produce kids at ten years or older.”
Gestation period for a goat is five months, so they are typically bred in September through December with does kidding in February through May. “Most of our does average twins, but we also get singles and triplets,” Shannon said. “We’ve also had quads and quints in the past five years.”
The kids are sold to whoever is interested, but if a buyer is interested in a particular breeding, they can place a deposit before the kid is born. Once their breeding period is over, Shannon tries to find homes for the retired does with other herds as they don’t have a lot of space to house animals that aren’t productive.
The Ellis animals have won many awards over the years. Most recently, they received Best in Show Junior Doe and Best in Show Senior Doe at the 2022 Georgetown Fair. Other accolades include Grand Champion at both the Illinois and Indiana State Fairs in past years and many of their does have placed in the top ten at the ADGA National Show.
“Our most note-worthy placings at the ADGA National Show include 2nd place Recorded Grade 4 years old and 3rd place 2nd udder placing Aged Doe, with a doe that was thirteen years old.”
In the years raising goats, a lot has been learned. Goats are herd animals and do not like being alone. They prefer to have two ore more goats to hang out with. They are also browsers and they won’t mow your lawn, but they will gladly eat your bushes.
They won’t eat everything, like they have been portrayed in cartoons, eating tin cans, but they will nibble on anything to see if it’s edible.
“Goats are great first livestock projects for youth. They are easy to work with and personable,” Shannon said. “LaMancha dairy goats are known for their intelligence, so most of our pens are double latched to deter escape artists.”
After over thirty-five years in the dairy goat business, Shannon doesn’t see an end in sight. “I’m sure Chad would love for me to retire so we can travel,” Ellis said. If she does decide to retire, a replacement is close. “Autumn would definitely love to take over. I don’t know if I could give it all up, so I might keep a few retired does around.”
In the past, Shannon has owned many types of animals: chickens, peacocks, llamas, sheep, horses, ponies, a donkey, cattle, dogs and cats. “At this point, the goats and the chickens keep us pretty busy,” Ellis said. “Seth keeps trying to convince me we need a turkey. I might have to give in one day.”
Over the years, Shannon has made a name for herself in the dairy goat business. With a published showmanship packet, she’s passing on her knowledge to the next generation.
“I host showmanship seminars in the Midwest, as well as judging 4-H and youth dairy goat shows in the Midwest,” Shannon said. “I love being outside and spending time with my animals and I’m glad to share my experience with others who have goats and with my own children.”