It was a below freezing Sunday morning in Roberts, Wisconsin. I had just spread my yoga mat out on a thick layer of hay when a white goat in a frog costume nudged me aside and released a small dried turd at the edge of my mat.
I brushed it away with a piece of hay and flipped my mat over, but my attempts were futile. As the rest of the class entered the goat pen and laid out their pre-dirtied mats, an assortment of costumed goats wandered back and forth over mine, dropping strands of soiled hay where I would soon rest my head.
At a certain point during goat yoga, you must apply a central principle of the practice and let go, accepting that attempting a Vinyasa flow in a goat pen means you will be stepped, chewed, and pooped on by hooved creatures with horizontal pupils and zero sense of personal space. And it is awesome.
Have Ya Herd is a goat yoga studio located on a farm 30 minutes east of St. Paul. The studio is owned and operated by dairy farmers Jess and Kevin Lubich, who live on the farm with their three children, two donkeys, three dogs, various cows, and growing herd of yoga-loving goats.
The business is the result of a failed undertaking and a running joke. Last summer, the Lubich family was struggling to keep business afloat. Cow milk prices had plummeted and, according to Jess, the family wasn’t making any money from their dairy business, Lubich Farms Inc., in River Falls, Wisconsin. That’s when Kevin’s father suggested goat milk. By the end of summer 2016, the Lubich family had a herd of 100 goats and a deal with a creamery, but just before business took off, the creamery backed out, citing distance as their deal-breaker.
The Lubichs sold 80 of the 100 goats to a farmer from California, sold a handful more to local buyers, and kept their favorites.
“Now we have goats in the shed and they’re just pets,” Jess says. “Fifteen pets is a lot of pets [and] my husband said we had to figure out something to do with them.”
Around that time, Kevin’s dad, an avid watcher of AgDay TV, told the Lubichs he’d watched a segment about goat yoga, a fad that took off on the west coast around the time the family invested in their herd. The “Original Goat Yoga” studio in Corvallis, Oregon, currently has a waitlist of 1,200 wannabee goat yogis that keeps growing by the day.
“It was kind of just a joke. Nobody ever thought it was going to work,” Jess says. “[But] I did it and it’s working, so it’s not so much a joke anymore.”
Have Ya Herd yoga classes feature a variety of goats, with names ranging from Psycho Susie to Harry Houdini, a Nigerian dwarf who once escaped the pen and was found in a chicken coop a few days later.
The yoga itself is a gentle Vinyasa offered by Stacy Wagner of Hudson, Wisconsin, a yoga instructor, personal trainer, and SurfSET teacher who owns Boglius Fitness in Lakeland, Minnesota. Wagner was one of about 10 yoga instructors Jess approached via Facebook about the possibility of teaching goat yoga on her farm. Of the 10 instructors she reached out to, Wagner was the only one to respond.
“I grew up on a farm so I was like, ‘Well yeah,’” Wagner says.
The two held a meeting and decided to host a trial class with a number of Wagner’s pre-existing students. It was a success. Since then, Wagner has taught outdoor goat yoga on the Lubich’s farm every Saturday and Sunday morning, even in late October’s 30-degree weather.
On the Sunday before Halloween, the Lubichs dressed their goats in dog costumes in early celebration of the holiday. When I arrived on the farm, I was greeted by goat versions of a cupcake, a shark, Superwoman, a frog (with the frog face under its chin), a pumpkin, and a bumblebee. Psycho Susie was naked because, in Jess’ words, she’s crazy. I later learned this for myself as I looked up to find Susie making murderous eye contact with me that lasted through a disconcerting number of poses.
Class started with Jess’ goat introduction. She gave their names, explained that their ear tags are a state requirement, and assured us that the goats had been dehorned for their own protection and that they could hang themselves on the fence if the horns were left intact. She then gave the stage over to Wagner, who warned that the larger goats might headbutt the smaller ones and outlined the protocol for moving the goats off our mats.
At that point, Jess returned to the pen and scooped a few handfuls of feed onto each participant's mat to ensure that everyone received ample attention. Really, though, there was no shortage of it. The goats made themselves known, bleating in faces, chewing on jackets, and crawling beneath downward dogs so that we could barely maneuver into cobras. During Savasana, the middle aged man who took himself more seriously than anyone else in class was repeatedly whacked by one of the larger goats, who was either starved for attention or determined to prove that this wasn’t the man’s CorePower Yoga studio.
During the hour-long class, Wagner talked participants through sun salutations, warrior poses, and gentle back bends. During tree pose, I rested my hand on a goat in a Minion costume for support, as balancing in Vans atop uneven hay was harder than I’d anticipated.
Goat yoga wasn’t the most graceful or relaxing thing I’ve ever done, but it was healing in its own ways, mixing the benefits of sensible stretching with those of animal-assisted therapy. The Lubichs’ goats are very much like pets, and are about as interested in affection as your average house cat, i.e. not as enthusiastic as a golden retriever, but still down for cuddles on their own terms. Trying to do yoga while they stood on my mat and chewed on my clothing had me more ecstatic than the new season of Stranger Things.
“The major benefits that I see [are] laughter and happiness,” Jess says. “It’s almost like distraction from everything else going on in your life. It’s hard to let your mind wander when you’re doing yoga with a goat — it’s almost like the left and the right side of your brain are working together.”
Have Ya Herd classes run on Saturday and Sunday mornings from nine to 10 a.m., with ample time before and after class to socialize with the goats (and take selfies with the small ones, if you’re so inclined). They’ll be on hiatus throughout the coldest winter months, but the Lubichs hope to resume as early as January if we’re gifted with an unusually warm weekend. Otherwise, pen gates will officially reopen in the spring, at which point the pregnant goats will have had their babies, so future class participants can anticipate double the adorableness. The Lubichs plan to offer twice as many classes, and also hope to team up with a few local wineries for Friday night goat yoga/wine tasting mashups.
When classes do restart, be prepared to get dirty. Don’t wear your $80 Lululemon top or cart along your favorite yoga mat. Pre-soiled mats are provided and your Cheeto-stained sweatpants are highly recommended. Beyond that, all you need is a good sense of humor and the willingness to stop taking yourself so seriously (and drive home with some shit stuck to your pants).
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