Ever wondered why some people get called “hobby farmers” or “hobby breeders” while others are referred to as pros? I do. It’s both amusing and frustrating to me when those who raise animals in small production settings are characterized as “hobbyists.” 

hob·by (hob-ee) n.: a pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation.

hob'by·ist n.: one who engages in a hobby.

On the one hand, it’s kind of belittling––hobby being a term used to denote a lack of seriousness and etymologically related to a small, pleasure-purposed horse (aka, a “hobby horse”). On the other, it’s a badge of honor to engage in animal enterprises for the sheer joy of sharing our time with the creatures we adore.

But most of all, I consider the term “hobbyist” incomplete and anachronistic. While I believe it’s still the ideal nome de guerre for companion animal breeders (I can’t think of a better one, given that anything more than a sophisticated “amateur” spells puppymill), it doesn’t quite capture the essence of what those who raise animals for food, fiber or pelt, financial savings and pleasure do––not in today's world, anyway.

I’ve had cause to consider this more carefully since Amazon sent me a small box with a big book inside:

Goat Medicine 2nd Edition, it’s called. (Catchy title, right?) Believe it or not, it’s actually a fun read...for a textbook, anyway. Its chirpy language and occasional tongue-in-cheekiness isn’t exactly befitting of its genre. But then, we’re talking goats here––and goats are kind of hard to take seriously (except when they’re sick, of course).

As I said, it’s an entertaining book––for the geeky goat set, anyway. More so for me because sprinkled throughout the text are references to the differences between the way of the "hobby farmer" and the hardcore production practices of those who seek to make their living through this kind of animal agriculture. 

Hobbyists, it explains to its veterinary audience, should be approached more carefully than traditional farmers (who ostensibly hold a production-only mindset). A companion animal veterinary sensibility should be adopted for these goat-keepers, the book explains, as hobby farmers are often willing to spend more on their goats than they’re actually worth. (Shocking!)

Moreover, it’s important to recognize that hobby goat-ists may be offended by callous language. For example, be sure to use “polite” terminology when referring to a female goat (always “doe,” never “nanny”), lest hobby farmers turn their noses up at your cold-hearted services. 

Of course, I found all of this information mightily interesting––that is, from the point of view of a veterinarian trying to reconcile the kind of backyard enclave agriculture she does (limited veggies, goats and chickens) with the term “hobby.” Here’s what I decided:

Yes, raising animals in smallish plots of land meets all the requirements of “hobby”-dom in that it’s not our primary occupation and it brings us pleasure. 

In other ways, however, it’s much more than a hobby. 1) Because it’s a job as well as a pleasurable activity (an avocation IS distinct from a hobby, after all). 2) Because we all need to eat, wear fiber, etc., which means it can pay for itself (and has the potential to bring a significant side income, too). 3) Because it’s surprisingly often an introduction to a career change, lifestyle changing as it necessarily is. 

Sure, I’ll argue that some of the same could be said of hobby breeding dogs, cats and other companion animals, but here’s the biggest difference: In my eyes, “hobby breeding” is a term used to elevate the status of a companion animal breeder––as in, “Her cats have the best dispositions. She’s an excellent example of a first-rate hobby breeder.” 

When it comes to typical backyard fare, however, the term is one that tends to depreciate the knowledge and status of the owner on the basis of emotional involvement, gender and socioeconomic status––as in, “sniveling, bleached-blonde, high-heel wearing, hobby farming suburbanite” (a loaded term once leveled against yours truly). 

Am I sensitive on the subject? OK, yeah...maybe a little. But perhaps now you’ll understand that I’ve managed to come by that sensitivity honestly.