Black Eagle Ranch

Earthy award-winning journalist raises kids on Shell Rock farm

For a goddess, Pat Blank is very earthy. But hear her speak of her kids, and you may change your mind. Watch her handle them, caress them, name them, talk to them. You are likely to think of her more as a loving mother than a dauntingly distant deity. She does everything doting moms do — she admires, she enables, she affirms. In fact, she is so proud when her kids reach a milestone she forgives the naughty little pranks, and the tantrums. Nowhere is a mother’s patience tested more than when a kid leaves a mess, but Pat doesn’t blink an eye — she cleans up after hers dutifully.

If all this fits in the definition of a goddess, then she’s one.“They call me the goat goddess,” she says. The award-winning veteran Iowa journalist, the host
of All Things Considered, counts her kids among her life’s accomplishments. It’s just they happen to be a four-legged, domesticated species known for their playful and sometimes nerdy nature. When they get fussy, they emit this ambiguous cry that sounds equally urgent and routine and leaves their human companions confused whether the horned little creatures are whining as a matter of course or whether that’s their way of signaling amusement. Like kids, goats demand attention and are curious about their surroundings.

Pat grew up on a farm, but in school she focused on academics and cheerleading, so she never took part in 4-H. When she and her husband, Terry, bought a farm in
rural Shell Rock, she decided it was time to make up for lost time. “I wanted animals of some sort,” she says. For 20 years, on their farm called the Black Eagle
Ranch, the two have been raising goats — fainting goats, at first, and in the past 15 years — Nigerian Dwarf goats. The multi-colored mini goats, the smallest of the dairy
breed, originated in West Africa and were brought along as food for other animals that were captured for zoos. But they have become a popular pet, Pat says, because unlike ponies, they are low maintenance and caring for them can be deeply gratifying.

“They have an abundance of colors,” Pat says, pointing to a trio of baby goats she had brought on a recent Saturday to a Seerley Park in Cedar Falls to help kick off a pesticide-free initiative called, Good Neighbor Iowa. At the event, an audience ranging from toddlers to university students and community members got to pet the goats and ask incessant questions, which Pat patiently and repeatedly answered. “They will eat grass but prefer leaves and nettles and small sticks,” she explains. In the park, children and adults alike were greatly entertained by how the goats played in the pen, and even though there were a couple of lambs in another pen, it is fair to say the goats stole the show. One pesky brown-coated goat called Bit-O-Honey stood up on her hind legs, and hopped, her head tilted in the direction of a male goat called Skittles and another one called Fiddle Faddle. “She’s bottle fed,” Pat says, as a mother might do to soften up her daughter’s naughty playground behavior for other parents. “She doesn’t think she’s a goat, really.”

Each year, Pat and Terry pick a theme, and then come up with names for the goats. This year’s crop of kids follow a candy theme and in year’s past, some of the more notable names have been Merlot and Margarita. In just a couple of weeks, two of this year’s herd — KitKat and Cracker Jack — will head to Iowa City where they will take on an important duty — serve as comfort animals at the cancer hospice. “It’s about focusing on something that needs you,” Blank says, explaining that their low key demeanor makes them perfect for that role. “It’s about responsibility.” Most of Pat’s goats end up in the hands of 4-H kids who raise them and show them at fairs. To ensure the animals are well cared for, she has a simple purchase agreement with her clients. “There’s a vetting process,” she says. “I’ve seen many cases when people want something and then they walk out.” With her busy life as a journalist, Pat could not care for the goats without the help of her husband. They share daily chores and especially during kidding season, are on their toes. “He’s the goat daddy,” she quips.

Pat is a registered breeder with the Iowa Dairy Goat Association. This means her kids have passports of sorts, explaining their lineage, and tattoos in each ear, identifying
their place of origin and order of appearance. “People love my goats,” she says, noting that demand usually outpaces supply. “They are just so calming. I could have the worst day in the world, breaking news and chasing political candidates all over the country, and when I get home and see the goats, everything is right with the world.”

article that appeared in the Waverly Democrat Newspaper on April 27th.