Linda & Bob Henwood
Mention Merlin in a crowd of pygmy goat enthusiasts and visions of that magical wizard are not what appears. Instead they are reminded of a pretty head, wide set eyes, and strongly set rear legs. PGCH Whirlwind Farms Merlin may not be a sorcerer but he still does magical things for Linda and Bob Henwood of Whirlwind Farms.
“Merlin is definitely my favorite pygmy goat,” says Linda. “He just has a presence about him. He runs with the girls and tells all of them what they are going to do that day. He definitely rules and it is so nice to watch him grow old gracefully. He’ll be nine in October and he is still productive and looks great. I’ve only had to use my other buck, a Merlin grandson, twice on does that Merlin would not service. He has his own opinion on who he will or won’t service out of his harem.”
If Merlin seems picky about his harem, it’s only because he has a strong reputation to uphold. He has probably produced more champions than any other buck in the history of NPGA, to the delight of Linda and Bob. The Henwoods have worked hard to achieve their success.
“Whirlwind Farms was actually born out of our desire to get away from the hubbub of the Bay Area,” says Linda. “We bought some property that was over grown with shrubbery and on the weekends we would come up here and not know where to begin. We started to call the place Frantic Fred’s Whirlwind Farms because Bob was always in a whirlwind trying to get things fixed up. When it came time to get business cards we elected to dub our new home Whirlwind Farms. Fifteen years later Bob is still whirling around trying to keep up around here.”
Many things have changed since 1981 when they purchased their first unregistered pygmy goat. Instead of the one lone pygmy that roamed with an assortment of other goats to help clear the overgrown shrubbery there are now around 25 registered pygmy does and 2 registered bucks, mostly descendants of their original foundation animals.
“It was difficult to find any pygmies back then,” explains Linda. “But we finally met Barbara Muray of Moonshadow Pygmies. We leased a Misty Blue buck from her and she helped us locate M Bar D Santana. M Bar D Santana was a full brother to PGCH M Bar D Punch, but Santana could not win a ribbon in the show ring. He was one of those bucks that did not show well but sure had the right gene pool. He produced PGCH Whirlwind Farms Paisley, Merlin’s dam. We were also able to purchase some animals from Bob and Nina Brown of ‘Ni-Bo’s pygmies. From there we just got lucky and the combination of animals we chose to breed turned out so well.”
The Henwood’s luck was not all good. After nine years of raising pygmy goats the Henwoods suffered a tragic loss. A mountain lion, rare for their area, found its way into their pygmy goat housing, killing five pregnant does, including three Permanent Grand Champions. Lost were PGCH Whirlwind Farms Calliope, PGCH Whirlwind Farms Tapestry and Merlin’s dam, PGCH Whirlwind Farms Paisley. “That was a horrible morning to find them all like that,” remembers Linda. “Our friends were what really kept us going. The outpouring of support we received was wonderful. Marilyn Morse of Petite Amour gave me back one of Calliope’s daughters (PGCH Whirlwind Farms Montana) and Dona and Rolland Salisbury gave me a half sister to Paisley. Of course some things just can’t be replaced but having friends like that was very helpful. That was in September of 1990 and in April of 1991, Barbara William’s generously offered to sell me back a buck I had sold her PGCH Whirlwind Farms Merlin. I had sold Merlin to Barbara the day he was born with the stipulation that if she ever wanted to sell him, I could buy him back. She used him extensively in her herd and when she decided to sell him, I jumped at the chance.” Linda treasures the many friends she has made raising pygmy goats.
“There are many other positive aspects but my friendships are the most important,” says Linda. “When you raise pygmy goats you meet so many different types of people that you never would otherwise. These people become friends you keep in touch with, even when they no longer raise goats. Another positive aspect that gives me great satisfaction is when a kid is born that is just like the picture I had in my mind of what that particular cross would produce. That’s very satisfying. I also enjoy working outside, raking and taking care of the property.”
Linda’s least favorite aspect of raising pygmy goats is carrying alfalfa up and down hills in a cardboard box. “Most of our property is hillside,” explains Linda. “When it rains, everything gets slippery. I spend a lot of time on my bottom end.”
Perhaps because the name Whirlwind Farm is so well-known, Linda also deals with the negative aspects that comes with raising any type of livestock - the “rumor mill”. Linda says her veterinarian told her once that “the better a person does, the worse thing s people say.” Unfortunately, she has found some truth in the statement.
“My frustration lies with the untruths where someone hears something third party and repeats it,” says Linda. “I’ve never had problems with the people who have purchased my animals. It’s typically the people I have never dealt with before. But I’ve got tough skin and the positive aspects of raising pygmy goats far out-weigh the rumors. Plus, although I love the pygmies, they are not my whole life.
I have a family and my husband runs a tree and landscape business from our home. I do the accounting for the business. We also raise swans and geese and a few miniature horses. We have a lot of property so we also stay pretty active outside. I’m a court reporter by trade and have my real estate license but I haven’t been active in either field lately. And, even though my two sons, Jason 23, and Lindsay, 27, are older, I still hear a lot of “mom”. Lindsay has two children, Jodi, a four-year-old girl, and Johnny, their son, is two. I’ve enjoyed taking Jodi to the shows. She is just figuring out she is supposed to be showing the goats and not herself. At first she would pirouette in the ring. She just showed a three-month old doe for me and luckily the doe had the right attitude. She stood just right, in spite of Jodi. She took Junior Champion and when the award was given to Jodi, she let go of the lead and grabbed the prize instead. Those ribbons were hers.”
The Henwood’s have accumulated hundreds of ribbons over the years, many of them purple. Twenty-five PGCH boast the name Whirlwind Farms including: Whirlwind Farms Merlin, Whirlwind Farms Paisley, Whirlwind Farms Calliope, Whirlwind Farms Classic, Whirlwind Farms Elegance, Whirlwind Farms Montana, Whirlwind Farms Tangueray, and Whirlwind Farms Tapestry. Other PGCH Whirlwind Farms animals that were sold include: Whirlwind Farms Incredible Hunk, Whirlwind Farms Titan, Whirlwind Farms Premium Blend, Whirlwind Farms Chocolate Decadence, Whirlwind Farms Private Label, Whirlwind Farms Unforgettable, Whirlwind Farms Without A doubt, Whirlwind Farms Preferred Stock, Whirlwind Farms Merlinda Woodhen, Whirlwind Farms Pirouette, Whirlwind Farms Mystic Man, Whirlwind Farms Prestige, Whirlwind Farms Patent Pending, Whirlwind Farms Class Act, Whirlwind Farms Cambria, Whirlwind Farms Simply Irresistible and Whirlwind Farms Gaberdine. The list of champions is long but includes: Pretty Woman, Portrait, Symmetry, Total Perfection, Exclusive, Extraordinaire, Outrageous, Precision Built, Steele Magnolia, Designer Label, Heritage, Dark Shadow, Legend, Trademark, Antique, Trump, Patented Edition, Premium Built, Built by Merlin, Built Tough, Patented by Merlin, Carousel, Aberdeen, Outrageous, Cameo, Martinique, Collage, Total Perfection, Picture Perfect, Without A Doubt and Simply Irresistible. Whew!
Linda says the ribbons are wonderful because it validates the success of your breeding program but stresses that doing well in the show ring should not be the ultimate goal. She advises new pygmy goat enthusiasts to ask a lot of questions before they purchase an animal.
“Get the kidding history on the goats,” says Linda. “If there are a lot of C-sections in the lines, maybe that tells you they are not structurally correct. If you want a show animal, don’t find out just how the animal you are purchasing is doing, find out how the whole line is doing, including the aunts and uncles. The second thing I tell new pygmy goat breeders is that the person you purchase the animal from can only do half the job. The purchaser is responsible for the other half including feeding, maintenance and staying on top of the animal’s needs. Without proper care, even the nicest animal cannot thrive. Just keep asking questions and then sort out what works for you. Don’t be put off by busy breeders at shows. Make an effort to talk to them after the shows. Choosing the right time is important. I try to walk up to people at shows and if I can help and encourage them in some way I will. If I feel very comfortable with someone, like a close friend, I’ll remind him/her that the buck they are thinking about using doesn’t have that nice head they were trying to incorporate into their herd. Breeding decisions are very important.”
Linda emphasizes the importance of making the right decisions in a breeding program but also in selecting the animals you choose to keep.
“I didn’t hang onto anything for too long that wasn’t working for me,” says Linda. “I think that has helped me keep heading in the right direction. I got away from the bad things early on like bad rear legs. That helped me to avoid many problems such ad dystocia. It’s hard to give up something when they don’t work out right but you’ve got to let go and sell them as pets. I gave away many animals that just didn’t fit in with what I was trying to accomplish.”
Many of her nicest animals have been sold throughout the country. She sells on the average of 18-20 animals each year out of the 20-24 Whirlwind Farms animals that are born yearly. They sell for $500-$850, depending on their quality. She says she has sold some animals for more, but they ended up being worth it. Ninety percent of her sales are out of the local area and she adheres to a strict code of ethics.
“I think pygmy goat breeders have a responsibility to sell the best animal they can produce, in structure and in health,” says Linda. “Breeders need to be 100% honest and give an extensive background on the animal. On the other hand, I think the buyer has the responsibility to be honest about what they want. If they want a brood doe, request a brood doe and then don’t expect the animal to do well in the show ring. Ask all the questions you need to know to make an informed decision and be up-front about what your’re looking for.”
Linda feels that pygmy goat breeders today have a great opportunity to get exactly what they are asking for.
“I think pygmies are getting nicer all the time,” says Linda. “They have prettier, wider heads, and are not just balloon does without any depth of body. There are a lot more correct animals out there today than when I first started. Now people have an opportunity to purchase some very nice animals as their foundation stock.”
Linda feels those animals should come with a guarantee in many instances. For example, if a goat is sold with the intention of breeding and it cannot produce, the animal should be replaced immediately. Her philosophy is simple: Many people can say something good about your animals and only one person will hear it. But, if one person says something bad, 500 people will hear it.
The Henwood’s reputation for quality animals has muffled the voices of a negative few, and their perseverance and dedication to pygmy goats is evident in their success. When asked if she plans to continue raising pygmy goats, Linda responds, “FOREVER. Yep, till I can no longer climb my fences and that’s at least another 30 years.”