Piano teacher finds peace herding goats

In a remote village in the hills of Yongchuan in western Chongqing, a young woman with a sun hat waves a long bamboo stick to keep her herd of goats together.

Goat herding is a far cry from the days when 26-year-old Qin Feng ran a piano training studio in Chongqing. She would still be teaching piano if her father were still alive. Qin gained a music degree from Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences in 2010 and embarked on a piano teaching career. But when her father was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2012, she decided to head back to her home village.

"My mom passed away when I was 17," Qin said. "My dad raised goats alone to support my education. I had to be there for him."

Her father's health deteriorated quickly. He sold all of his 50 goats before he died in 2013.

"He would have liked me to go back to the city, find a decent job and get married," Qin said. "But for some reason, I felt a strong urge to stay and raise the goats myself."

She bought the goats back but had no idea about how to keep them.

Every day, she gets up at 6 am to plant corn and gather grass for the goats. In the afternoon, she herds the goats in the hills. The working day ends at around 9 pm, when she sits down for dinner.

Her slender and delicate fingers now have calluses. Her piano is kept in a storage room and is covered with dust. However, she finds strength and peace in herding goats, just like her father did.

After several months of her rustic life, a deadly epidemic hit her goats. She had no idea what it was. Every goat had pockmarks on its body, and four baby goats died within a few days.

"I was in a panic and totally at a loss," she said. "But I could not give up my goats."

Unable to afford a veterinarian, Qin decided to cure the goats herself. She learned from the Internet and books that the disease was goat pox. For nearly a month, she kept rubbing medicine on the pockmarks and giving shots to the goats. To find out how a goat dies of pox, she even dissected a dead goat.

With a herd of sick goats, short of money and with no companion, it was a bleak situation. "It was the darkest moment in my life," she said.

But Qin is not the kind of person to give up easily. She has taught herself how to give vaccine, deliver a baby goat, get rid of parasites and treat other diseases affecting goats.

"I now know much more than common herders nearby," she said.

Improving the health of the goats with regular vaccines and feeding them organically has paid off. Her herd now numbers 100 goats, and she is planning to sell some on the Internet at the end of the year.

"My goats are much healthier than the other herds and the meat tastes better," she said.

To improve her business skills, she attends classes at the weekends on managing a business. She has an ambitious business plan to help the other herders produce the best organic goat meat.

"Food safety is an important issue these days," she said. "I want to provide the market with reliable and fresh products."

Her business plan has already won her a government startup subsidy of 30,000 yuan (S$6,600). Additionally, Qin is no longer alone. Her new husband, Li Zhenqiao, 26, joined her recently. He took early retirement from the army in December 2013 to help Qin.

"I still love music and piano," she said. "But raising goats has made me go beyond myself. I am not daddy's little girl anymore. I am now strong and brave."

Far away from the bustling city life, Qin feels free and peaceful in the mountains.

"I sometimes sing to my goats," she said, smiling. "When I have time in the future, I will pick up the piano again."