“Herder happy to get her goats” in the SF Chronicle


A recent Tuesday, 11:44 a.m.: When she got a call from a co-worker that the babies were coming three weeks earlier than expected, Genevieve Church knew this was exactly the reason she had signed up to be a goat herder in San Francisco.

“I was like, ‘OK, here we go,’ and jumped out of the car and started caring for babies,” Church said. “That was Jan. 5, and I haven’t really looked back since.”

A week later, the herd at City Grazing – San Francisco’s only goat operation – was still growing and had hit 80. Thanks to Breeder, the buck Church brought onto the farm in Hunters Point in September, it will number well over 100 before too long.

Most of the kids and their mothers bonded immediately, but not all. One, Mary Rose, was abandoned. Spock, named for his pointy ears, and his twin brother, Marvin, were orphaned when their aging mother died. Augie and Buster had to be separated from their mother when she became too sick to care for them.

Church, 42, came to the rescue. Normally, her days are spent managing goats’ careers. When they are not being rented out five at time to residents with overgrown backyards, they are being booked for toddler birthday parties, commercials, movies and promotional events.

Now, however, she is devoting most of her time caring for the five kids in need. She bottle-feeds them, hoping they will gain strength and create a strong bond to humans, both of which are crucial to their survival. She’s having some success: Mary Rose’s mother, in particular, seems to have taken a renewed interest in her kid.

Church is always looking for the goats that have a photogenic edge. Spock may have a future in TV commercials, she said – he’s got classic alpine coloring and those distinctive ears.

“Working with animals is always controlled chaos, but I do well with that,” Church said. “I get bored if I’m not in a chaotic environment. I might whine and complain at times, but I know it’s what I do best.”

It was just a little more than a year ago that Church answered a Craigslist ad from David Gavrich, head of City Grazing’s three-human operation, looking for a goat herder. His only requirement was that applicants write a paragraph describing why they would be perfect for the job. “I just started laughing and thought, ‘I can do that,’ ” Church said. “The novelty of it is priceless.”

Church grew up on a 115-acre ranch in the Central Valley. She learned animal husbandry from her dad, who took care of 40 to 80 cattle as well as pigs and sheep. Raising animals is in her blood.

Despite her upbringing, Church went on to study art at California State University Fresno. She moved to San Francisco to be a tattoo artist in the early 1990s and later headed to Seattle to set up a glass-blowing business.

After she divorced and the economic crash shattered her glass business, Church headed back to San Francisco. She needed a fresh start; she found goats.

“I’m not sure why I find goats so compelling, but I do,” Church said. “If it had been an ad for a different kind of animal, I might not have replied with such enthusiasm. It’s such an unusual job to find in San Francisco, and it’s a great chance to get back to my roots and my childhood.”

To see a multimedia production of this piece, go to http://blog.sfgate.com/cityexposed. If you have ideas for the City Exposed, e-mail Mike Kepka at mkepka@sfchronicle.com.