lunes, 12 de noviembre de 2012

Goats, Goat Milk, Chevre (Goat Cheese) vs. Pelibuey: A debate with John Doll

A Pelibuey is a species of sheep, a native to Africa where it is known as the West Africa Dwarf Sheep. This species does not grow a wool pelt and so is adaptable to hot climates, like El Salvador.  Eight years ago our friends from St. Dominic were visiting and they learned of a project we had in the parish with the Food for the Poor organization in Florida. The project had allowed us to create a breeding facility for Pelibuey and make the sheep available to poor, rural families. Each beneficiary family agreed to breed the sheep and to return one female to the parish, to continue the breeding cycle and benefit other families. Pelibuey is raised as a source of meat. Their commercial value is from sixty to eighty dollars per animal, on the hoof.  Pelibuey do not provide milk. The females can only feed their young – often multiple litters – and for a very short time.

The attraction for this species of sheep is that, unlike goats, they are very malleable and easy to control. Someone once said that most species of goats are a challenge “like trying to herd cats”. Not so Pelibuey. They follow the one in front of them, even to the slaughter. They are easy to keep on a rope in a relatively small yard and small children can lead them leased to pastures to feed. A goat, on the other hand, will lead a child and even turn against its controller when things don’t go the way they like.

So, they have the benefit of being easy to control, a rich source of protein, but no milk. The Pelibuey are docile, not stubborn like goats, like John Doll.

For the last five years St. Dominic parish has sponsored a Christmas collection to buy Pelibuey for the rural families of Calle Real and neighboring communities.  This has been a tremendous effort on St. Dominic’s part, allowing over two hundred families to begin their small herds. But every year when John and his wife have visited Calle Real, John brings the conversation back to “tell me again, why we don’t use goats?”  I know the Pelibuey are docile, but what about the milk? Wouldn’t that be a great source of nutrition, without having to kill the goat? 

A few years ago we decided to do an experiment. With St. Dominic’s help we divided the new herd half goats and half Pelibuey. It was not John Doll’s insistence that won out. We learned that there are also species of Nubian goats that are docile, produce a good quantity of milk and are easy to raise, even in small family plots. The horror stories that we had always heard about goats jumping over houses, tearing down clotheslines, eating the family corn and other countless exaggerations, just did not prove to be true.  With humble apologies to the whole goat world, two years ago we switched to goat production.

But the story does not just end here. Like the summer festival of creativity, from small beginnings, great things come. This story came about when members of the parish became involved as volunteers in the Archdiocesan program of pastoral service to the penitentiary system. A small group from the parish volunteered to visit the women’s prison in the town of Ilopango.  The conditions in this and other Salvadoran prisons are horrible, prompting the Archbishop of San Salvador to liken a visit to a Dantian descent into hell. The overcrowding has created health problems with six women occupying spaces designed for one (foto at left). But our greatest surprise was to encounter one hundred and twenty five children under the age of ive, incarcerated with their mothers. There is hardly enough food for the adult prisoners and what is available has to be shared with the children. On the day of our visit the children, even the babies, were having a breakfast of hot dogs.

Food for the Poor was also concerned about the conditions of these children and immediately responded to our request for assistance by donating kid’s furniture (photo below), clothing and bedding to the prison’s children’s wing. Getting nutritional assistance inside of the prison was more difficult.  All consumables are closely guarded by prison authorities, careful to guarantee that no drugs are smuggled into the prison. There is also a fear that grains can be used to produce alcohol. When some of the women mentioned to the prison warden that our community produces goat milk, she immediately showed interest. Goat milk naturally has small, well-emulsified fat globules; therefore, it does not need to be homogenized. Goat milk is not recommended for infants, but for children from one to five years old it has higher digestibility, distinct alkalinity, higher buffering capacity, and certain therapeutic values. “Why not produce goat milk and cheese for the children, she suggested. “I’m sure we can find some means of getting around the bureaucracy.”
With the assistance of the Archdiocesan agronomists we have developed a great project from this small beginning. Food for the Poor has graciously provided us with the funding necessary to build an efficient and modern goat breeding facility in Calle Real. The center will host forty goats for the dual purpose of breeding and producing goat milk and cheese. The children and their mothers in the Ilopango prison will benefit from this rich food source. More importantly, the women of Calle Real who gained their experience in the St. Dominic project have agreed to teach women prisoners from Ilopango, in what is referred to as “a state of trust”, how to raise goats for their own families once they are released from prison.
Small beginnings to great things.

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