JOHNSTON CITY, Ill. — Ever meet a 14 year old who runs his own farm, specializes in quality livestock breeding and delivers a 20-second elevator pitch that many adult ag professionals don’t have, let alone can deliver with enthusiasm and a confident smile?
If you answered no, then you’ve not met Cade Cockburn, the young agri-entrepreneur behind Cade’s Lil Farm who’s storming the national Nigerian Dwarf dairy goat industry with his business.
His goats have earned top honors at all of the national shows, and now that he’s breeding those winning goats at his Johnston City farm, there’s growing demand for his livestock within the Nigerian Dwarf circuit.
What’s also extraordinary about the eighth grader is that his family does not have a farm background.
“Every bit of this is all Cade, even every word and picture on his website,” pointed out his mother, Channa.
He researched goat breeds on his own and selected the Nigerian Dwarfs. Little did he know at the time that he’d soon be showing his goats in the competition ring.
But it was the realization – again on his own — that he’d win even more if he conducted his own breeding program to develop quality show goats.
That process also has led Cockburn’s farm to become the first in Illinois licensed to sell raw goat milk for human consumption. This opportunity is opening the door for sales of all kinds of value-added products — cheese, soap and a family favorite, goat milk ice cream. But for now they sell only goat milk.
“I’m taking it one step at a time,” Cockburn said.
Cade’s passion for the goats arises from a dark time in his young life. In 2011, he was hospitalized in St. Louis for 10 days.
Doctors did not share a good prognosis. At one point, Cockburn’s father, Travis, leaned over and told him if he would just get better, he would buy a couple goats.
“Well, the next day I woke up, all perky, feeling much better than the day before. I asked, ‘So did you say we were getting goats?’ And it has progressed from there,” Cade recalled.
Now the family’s property in rural Johnston City includes a goat barn with kid pens and a milking parlor and several fenced fields for the goats to graze.
While Cade does much of the chores, his parents and the rest of the family help, too. For example, his grandfather helped build new pens in the barn and his cousin, Kinli, has her own a special way to call in the herd from the field.
Saturdays are the big work day for everyone. While Channa is a special education teacher, Travis is an insurance salesman. Their weekdays are busy.
The Cockburns attend as many as seven sanctioned dairy goat shows a year. All of the goats are registered with American Dairy Goat Association, American Goat Society and Nigerian Dairy Goat Association.
Cade typically competes in the highest age division because of his expertise. Although Cade is too young to judge, Travis does and has traveled as far as the California State Fair.
“Now that we have gotten away from pet-quality goats, we strive for breed improvement. Our main goal is to produce a structurally correct animal that will excel in the show ring, but do also strive to produce productive animals,” Cade states on his website.
Do not to miss Cade’s thoughts on the website about “colorful animals — those with blue eyes, moonspots and such.”
“Correct conformation comes first, then color of the animal. Please do not contact us looking for a colorful animal, that’s not what we breed for! Color serves no purpose structurally, so we do not focus on color in our breeding program,” he noted.
Also found on the website are photos of his goats for sale. Each listing includes a pedigree, as well as any show awards.
Besides selling the kids, does and boars, Cade is working closely with Travis on selling raw goat milk.
It’s Travis’ name on the license, and the two work on tracking the milk. State law requires the milk be sold within five days of milking, but they tend to sell it within four days.
The family’s own rule is not to drink any older than seven days. The milk is freezes well, especially in an old-fashioned freezer that tends to frost.
This summer will bring opportunity for the Cockburns to take their goat milk soap and information about milk sales to area farmers markets. State law currently does not allow them to sell the milk away from the farm.
“Anyone can buy direct from farm,” Travis said.
The plan is to have the milk available two days a week — Saturdays and Tuesdays or Wednesday. Customers would call and make an appointment to pick up the milk.
What to do with the milk?
“Goat milk makes the best ice cream in the world, bar none. Instead of taking one and a half hours, you can make it in 20 minutes because there’s so much butterfat. You cannot have more than a bowl because it’s so rich. It’s now a requirement that we have it when our family gets together, and everyone expects us to bring it,” Travis said.
“It will be a big summer for us, and I think it will be a good one,” Channa added.