By Jennifer Brooks
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Take a deep breath. Exhale around the goat that just head-butted your stomach.
Stretch to the left. Pat that goat as it gnaws on your shirttail. Relax in the knowledge that goat yoga is pure and good and a lens through which we can come to understand the struggle of family dairy farmers. Namaste.
With goat yoga, everybody wins.
People get to laugh and roll around with goats.
The goats get to bounce up and down on people.
And a sixth-generation dairy farm gets a shot at making it to the seventh generation.
A recent goat yoga exhibition drew dozens of yogis and me to Powderhorn Park, where Jess and Kevin Lubich of Have Ya Herd goat yoga rolled out the mats and penned off some studio space. The Minneapolis Parks Foundation is trying to encourage us to spend more time outdoors and it is working. If we always had goat yoga outside, I would never come inside.
I took up a position on a rented mat as half a dozen goats pranced into the pen, trailed by Ralphie the fainting goat, who had to be carried into class, legs jutting stiffly in the air, because something startled him en route.
I like you, fainting goat. The way you panic and tip over during yoga reminds me of me.
Goat yoga is more like animal therapy than a serious workout, says our easygoing yoga teacher Jessie Driscoll. She leads half the class through a graceful tree pose. The rest of the class is down on the mats cuddling goats.
This wasn’t the business model the Lubich family expected to follow when they brought their first goats home.
The family of five from Roberts, Wis., and their herd of 50 dairy cows are living through terrible times in the dairy industry. Milk prices are low, expenses are high and the president is courting trade wars with the countries that buy our cheese.
“It’s just been miserable,” said Pat Lunemann, general manager of Twin Eagle Dairy in Todd County and chairman of Minnesota AgriGrowth, who’s watched one small farm after another go out of business over the past four years. Each farm that goes, he said, unravels a bit more of the social fabric in rural communities and ends another family’s way of life.
Wisconsin lost 500 dairy farms last year. Minnesota’s dairy farm count drops month after month. Twenty-four went out of business in April. In January, the state lost 29. Another 27 went out of business in December, according to the depressing tally the Minnesota Department of Agriculture keeps.
“Long story short, it costs us money to milk our cows,” Jess Lubich said. “Every month, there’s a loss. … Fingers crossed things get better. It’s a huge struggle.”
Fingers crossed, she and Kevin bought a herd of dairy goats a few years ago, hoping to bring in some extra income. When a deal with a dairy fell through, they found themselves with 20 goats they couldn’t quite part with — some they’d bottle-fed in their kitchen during 40-below winters; some their children — ages 6, 3 and 22 months — loved and named.
It was Kevin Lubich’s 60-year-old father who first suggested goat yoga, after spotting a story about all the people lining up to Instagram a similar class out in Oregon.
These days, the Have Ya Herd herd not only pays its own way, it helps keep the farm afloat. Classes in Roberts, $25 a head, are sold out through July. Tickets to special events — like a goats-and-wine promotion they organized with a Wisconsin winery — sell out in a matter of hours.
“It’s happy,” Jess Lubich said, of goat yoga’s enduring appeal. “It’s relaxing. It takes your mind off everything. It’s hard to focus on your to-do list and your stressful job when you’re laughing and doing goat yoga.”
To test the theory, I pushed myself up into cobra pose while staring deep into the eyes of Ralphie the fainting goat.
I thought about U.S. trade policy and the midterms and the polar ice caps and the polar bears and how the movers lost two of my couch legs and now my couch is teetering on a stack of Al Franken biographies and I am definitely the only person in this class wearing sweatpants instead of sleek yoga tights and — Ralphie nibbled on my thumb.
Did we just become best friends? I patted Ralphie and thought of nothing in particular for the rest of the class.
The neighbors back in Roberts can’t quite believe people pay good money for this.
“You still dancing with the goats?” one elderly friend asked Lubich the other day. Yes, she assured him, still dancing with the goats.