Concerns about COVID-19 have caused many kids her own age to be glued to digital devices, or voice complaints about boredom, but 11-year-old Sophia Phillips has been taking advantage of the extra time.
She’s been spending it with her goats, Cornbread and Sassafras, and the kid, Dolly, they produced.
Besides tending to her own goats, Sophia also helps care for 18 goats that belong to her next-door neighbor and friend, Linda Bublitz.
Plus, Sophia watches after chickens that produce eggs daily that her family and friends enjoy.
This spring brought a special blessing for the preteen girl.
She helped in the birthing of several kid goats, all fathered by her goat, Cornbread.
It was an eventful time — and not all went smoothly.
A goat named Piper struggled when a kid’s head was turned the wrong way, but all ended well.
“She had nice twins, a boy and a girl,” Sophia said.
Much of what Sophia knows about barnyard animals comes from a combination of hands-on experience and knowledge shared by Bublitz, who teaches middle school at Maniscalco Elementary School.
By spending time with her neighbor, Sophia has become acquainted with the teacher’s goats, horses, dogs, emus and a gopher tortoise.
The educator, who grew up in Lutz, said she herself was mentored when she was 9, and discovered a passion for horses.
“I’m paying it forward,” Bublitz said.
Sophia’s family moved next door to Bublitz about five years ago.
For Sophia, it was a wonderland.
Even though her love for animals has matured in recent years, Sophia said she first fell in love with goats when she was just 2, while visiting the petting zoo at ZooTampa at Lowry Park.
She loved the goats so much she could barely be dragged away, she recalled.
“I played with the goats, petted them and fed them bananas.”
Her foray into raising animals began with baby chicks.
Now, she has seven chicks and sells the eggs they produce to family and friends on Facebook.
Farm life isn’t something in her family’s background.
Her dad, Wayne Phillips, grew up in New York. Goats and chickens “are completely foreign” to him, said Amanda Phillips, Sophia’s mom.
Amanda acknowledges she doesn’t know much, although she said, “I had a bunny when I was growing up.”
Sophia’s first experience in showing a goat came at the state fair, where she showed Piper, one of Bublitz’s goats.
“It’s not the best show goat,” Sophia said, matter-of-factly, but it was a start.
She has higher hopes for Dolly.
“She has a real nice stance and you can see her udders,” Sophia explained.
All of the goats – Nigerian dwarves – are milk producers.
The idea of raising goats to sell for meat doesn’t appeal to Sophia.
“Would you like to know your goat is going to be killed in the slaughterhouse?” she asked. Her answer to that question is a big ‘No.’
Sophia is a member of 4-H and hopes eventually to join a chapter of Future Farmers of America.
Bublitz is a longtime member of Legend Dairy 4-H and a teacher at Maniscalco, a school for grades kindergarten through eight, in Lutz.
In the coming year, students at Maniscalco and Lutz Elementary, also a K-8 school, will have agriculture as a selective program. That will be a first for both schools, Bublitz said.
Sophia, who will be a sixth-grader at Maniscalco this fall, is an honors student and a Girl Scout.
She aspires to be a veterinarian for farm animals.
Her favorite television show is “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” a reality show that follows Dr. Jan Pol as he treats farm animals in Michigan.
“I want to do what he does,” she said. “It’s fun.”
Bublitz said Sophia is a very responsible 11-year-old who takes excellent care of the goats.
She’s also good with other animals, Bublitz said, noting the young girl spotted a swollen molar in one of the teacher’s horses, and helped with treatment.
“She has a very good eye. She is so observant and empathetic,” Bublitz said. “Those are qualities you can’t teach.”
Besides caring for the animals, Sophia and Bublitz are working on recipes for goat soap. Their first batch turned out well. The next step will be to sell the product.
Sophia is a budding entrepreneur, but she doesn’t expect to sell goat cheese.
“Goat cheese is probably the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth,” she said.
She does have another idea for the future, though: She might teach goat yoga classes.
“I’ve tried it with my goats,” Sophia said. “It’s very fun. It’s very relaxing.”
Published July 08, 2020