Aloe Vera and Goats: an interesting symbiosis

During the Age of Discovery, Europeans sailed the world. Their ships often carried goats, which provided fresh milk and meat. Sailors often left a few goats on desert islands where they stopped for fresh water. These were intended to provide a means of sustenance for future shipwrecked sailors. Thus goats and islands have an historical connection. In Japan, goats on the Okinawan island of Miyako are taking this connection to a whole new level.

Shirou-noen, an agricultural enterprise on the south side of Miyako island, started out four years ago with the idea of growing organic aloe vera to produce a line of natural health and skincare products. According to founder, Sakai Hiroshi, they soon realized that the aloe plants needed weeding. After some study of the situation, they decided that grazing goats in the fields of aloe was a tidy solution completely in keeping with their sustainable development goals. The goats, while regarded as omnivorous, won’t touch the aloe plants, and their droppings are an effective natural fertilizer for the aloe plants.

Milk from the goats can also be used to make yogurt and cheese, increasing the productivity and product range of Shirou-nouen, too.

The goats had the added attraction of being darned cute and popular with tourists.

Since goats are known to like climbing to high places, Sakai and his team constructed the “mysterious goat pyramid” of brightly painted concrete mooring blocks. The goats are delighted; and so are visitors.

At the same time as the folks at Shirou-nouen are looking after the aloe and their herd of 30 goats (which they refer to as “staff”, since the goats do have a job on the farm), they also want to look after the tourists who come to visit both. On December 27, 2020, Shirou-nouen opened its new “Go at Cafe”, offering light refreshments including fresh aloe juice. The cafe sports big windows overlooking aloe fields and perfect for goat watching, with brightly colored furnishings that “match” the colors of the goat pyramid.

Visitors can also learn more about the health benefits of aloe. The cafe also sells products of the farm, especially aloe vera juice and chunks of aloe vera. Oh, and goat-shaped memorabilia, of course. (Aloe-based skin cream is currently in development, and surely we can expect to see goat cheese and yogurt on offer soon.)

But the Go at Cafe isn’t the only facility for visitors. There is also a yogurt-making experience (using goat’s milk, of course), the chance to take a goat for a walk, and baby goat feeding. A new baby goat was born on the farm just yesterday (December 30, 2020).

All in all, a visit to Shiro-nouen is a unique tourist experience. If you’re planning a visit to Miyako island, be sure to add a stop to Shiro-nouen to your itinerary. Surely even a shipwrecked sailor would!

© 2020 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer; photos courtesy of Shirou Nouen
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