Four years ago twin sisters Samantha and Rebecca Sullivan discovered a new passion in life, raising Boer Goats.
Then, as it did with so many things, the COVID-19 pandemic put a kibosh on their plans to showcase their efforts.
"We really started getting into it consistently about three years ago. With COVID, our first year we weren’t able to get out and show a whole lot," Samantha said. "However, we have been trying to attend as many shows to make up for it."
Suffice to say, they have indeed made up for lost time, as proven once again by their recent success in the Houston Livestock and Rodeo. Between them, the Aledo High School juniors won six of the famous "H" trophies and banners the event is known for.
Rebecca won Overall Reserve Champion Percentage Doe and Junior Division Reserve Champion Percentage Doe. Samantha was awarded Overall Reserve Champion Full-blood Doe, Junior Division Reserve Champion Full-blood Doe, Senior Division Reserve Champion Full-blood Doe and Junior Division Reserve Champion Full-blood Buck.
"This was our second year attending Houston and we always look forward to this show because it has the famous 'green shavings,'" Rebecca said. "They always have a nice facility and provide tons of help when moving us in and out of the barn — which we appreciate so much."
The HLSR is known for the plush green shavings in the arena where only the best of the best leave with the elite title of Houston champion.
Rebecca and Samantha have been in FFA since eighth grade and are in their second year as chapter officers. Rebecca is the treasurer and Samantha is the student advisor.
The Boer, or Boerbok as it is also know, is a South African breed. It was selectively bred in the Eastern Cape from 1920 and has been exported to many countries.
Boer Goats commonly have white bodies and distinctive brown heads. Some can be completely brown or white or paint (large spots of a different color on their bodies).
Like the Nubian Goat, they possess long, pendulous ears. They are noted for being docile, fast-growing and having high fertility rates.
Even prior to Houston their success was great. From the past show season their results included:
"Even though Houston is the grandaddy livestock show for Texas, we were most amazed and humbled when Samantha won both $10,000 scholarships at the San Antonio Livestock Show," their mother, Nori Sullivan said. "We were told by the awards committee that it is a rare and unique thing that one exhibitor wins both."
The two also plan to attend a national show in Louisville, Kentucky this summer, Samantha said.
Rebecca said when it comes to taking care of the goats and raising them it comes down to the basics, feeding twice a day, making sure they have fresh, clean water, and keeping an eye out for anything abnormal.
"If any of them get sick we do our best to treat them. Also, when they are pregnant we tend to keep a close eye on them as well and help deliver the kids (baby goats)," she said.
When they go to shows they have devised a system that works best for them.
"Once we get there and unload and set up we start washing. We usually bring about 20 goats per show, so it takes a few hours to wash and dry every one," Rebecca said.
Samantha usually does the washing and Rebecca handles the blow drying. Once that is completed the goats are clipped and trimmed, and by the time that is done it is time to feed and water.
"On show day we usually rinse a few and start to get them ready," Rebecca said. "If it is a 'fitting' show we start about an hour before in order to get all their legs fit and their hair ready."
Rebecca added that not only is there an immense sense of pride that comes from success in the shows, proving that all the hard work and preparation pays off, it is also great publicity for their business, R&S Boer Goats on Pointe.
"We know we are doing something right and we are starting to make a name for ourselves and our business," she said.
The name of the business comes from a combination of their raising goats and taking dance lessons since they were 6 years old. Their focus is classical ballet, pointe and contemporary dance.
Ironically, Rebecca and Samantha don't come from a family with a history of raising goats, and with only a small connection to livestock.
"Before we joined our first ag class we knew nothing about livestock and had no connections with raising livestock in our childhood," Rebecca said.
They live on five acres outside of Aledo and that is where they raise their goats. Their mom grew up on a pecan orchard, their grandfather raised a few beef cattle and their dad, James, did not grow up on a farm.
"Neither of our parents showed livestock when growing up so it was a huge learning experience and still is," Rebecca said. "We have definitely gained tons of knowledge about how to care for these animals, as well as run a business, and I think it means even more to us because we chose to do this."
Nori’s friend Brenda Larner with Knox Show Goats out of Weatherford took them under her wing in 2021 to teach, not just the girls, but James and Nori, all about Boer Goats and livestock showing.
"She has also helped us in locating premier breeders like IJ Farms in Yuba City, California to help us build our show program in purchasing quality show goats," Nori said.
As part of the show team, the girls show the majestic Knox Show Goats and Brenda also mentors Rebecca and Samantha and travels to every show with them.
"Brenda also connected us with her show fitter, Codi Shelton Drummond from Stephenville, to teach the girls basics on washing, clipping and fitting their goats in preparation of each show," Nori said. "This knowledge in invaluable if you want to be competitive in the show ring. It is also an honor to watch the girls give back and to now mentor and help the new younger show team members."
Spending a lot of time with their goats also means developing a relationship with them, Samantha said. She noted that is why they chose to show breeding goats as opposed to market goats, which are sold at the end of the season.
Still, on some occasions goats still have to be sold for business reasons, and it can be tough, she said.
"When the goats have kids we usually sell most of the kids so we try our best to not get close to them — but who can resist baby goats?" she said. "But luckily the babies are only with us for about three months before we sell them so we don't get super attached."
Rebecca said the most heartbreaking part is when a goat gets sick and passes away.
"Sometimes there isn’t anything we can do to help and they pass away unexpectedly," she said. "We have had this happen a few times and it’s always heartbreaking because you never think that it is going to happen and you aren’t ready for it, but the ones you are able to save keeps you going - and we have saved a few, sleeping in the barn with them, medicating them and just loving them and praying."
The two also conduct projects, write presentations, and compete within their Aledo FFA program. They worked together on an agri-science project this school year and advanced to the state and national levels of competition, finishing third at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Their project was titled “Incorporating Agriculture Content into Core Subjects and Testing Students improvement”.
"The Aledo FFA program and our ag teachers/advisors have been a big influence in our lives," Samantha said.
James hauls the family to every show, helps to organize the tack room in the trailer (they bring a lot of stuff, Nori noted with a chuckle) and he is Mr. Fix it keeping all of the equipment running smoothly.
"He is also the one who sleeps in the truck (with trailer and goats) in the staging lanes, to secure us a good place in line when we arrive at any major show," Nori said. "It’s all about getting the best pens and workspace at these shows, just makes life easier when show time starts."
Nori keeps the human crew fed and helps in any way she can to unload/load, feed, water and, helps ensure the right goat gets to the ring at the right time, along with keeping track of the placings during the show.
"On the home front the girls do most of the direct goat work and I assist with anything medical, from giving the goats their medications to delivering the goat kids," she said. "This is where Brenda mentored me. I’m a nurse by trade, but these goats take a different level of care, so I have learned so much over the past four years.
"We love the show life and how it brings our family close together, along with all of the great families we have met along this journey."
Above all the success, they agree the best part is getting to share the experience with each other.
"I think it is fitting that we can share this together because we are always together. Along with being sisters we are also best friends so we do work really well together," Rebecca said.
"It might just be a twin thing, but we can always work simultaneously without really telling each other what we need, we just know," Samantha added.
Rebecca said she does want to continue showing after high school for fun, but she does not want to pursue a career in livestock.
"I do want to continue in the ag pathway, and I plan to major in agricultural engineering," she said.
Samantha plans on becoming a large animal veterinarian because "I have seen my veterinarian that we use save many of our animals' lives, and being able to provide that for someone else is something I really want to do."
She said she chose large animals because "I feel that not many people are in that field, and by showing livestock I know how important it is to have a veterinarian when needed. I also enjoy being around livestock more than smaller animals, so I want to choose a career that makes me happy but also be able to help others."
Nori said watching your children identify a goal, achieve that goal, and be successful is every parent’s dream for their children.
"Many hours of hard work keeping their goats healthy, fed and show-ready rain, snow, ice or shine - life of a livestock kid starts at 5 a.m. and sometimes does not end until 10 p.m.," she said.
"My husband and I are beyond proud of these two girls. We have watched them grow from raw beginnings when we knew very little about the Boer Goat industry, to today, watching their successes. There were times we would be at a show and would bring home one third-place ribbon - and sometimes no ribbons at all.
"You have to learn how to lose graciously to be a true champion, and be able to cheer on your friends when they win and you don’t. Every show is different, you never know how the results are going to turn out."
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