are two major uses of meat goats: meat and land management. Of course,
there are other animals that make meat and can use otherwise wasted
plants. So what is special about goats, in comparison to cattle, for
Strong market/ethnic demand = strong prices
is a strong demand for goat meat. This is in contrast to emus, which
did not have a good meat market. Many immigrants would rather eat goat
meat than any other kind. This presents an opportunity for American
farmers and ranchers, as there is a lot of room for expansion in this
industry: we are currently importing goat meat equivalent to over
700,000 goats per year with the majority of the goats coming from
are an attractive enterprise for many who may be intimidated by larger
animals. Goats are small and safer to work around than cattle, and
because of their size and ease of handling, there is no need for
expensive working facilities or head gates, squeeze chutes, and other
equipment essential in cattle ranching.
Low cost (to buy and raise)
are one of the cheapest livestock enterprises to start up, because they
do not require much capital to purchase or feed. Also, as stated above,
facilities are cheaper than for cattle.
Different grazing preferences = better use of diverse forages
goats prefer to browse (eat brush or vines) rather than graze grasses,
they are complementary grazing in combination with cattle or horses.
Using more than one species to graze an area is called "multi-species
grazing," and in nature it maintains species balance and ecological
stability in an area. Modern farming practices have tended to limit the
kinds of animals on a specific piece of land, and this encourages less
useful plants to dominate an area. For example, on a pasture used by
cattle alone, shrubs and vines may increase, because cattle do not
graze those plants consistently. Adding goats to the pasture will
result in more meat being produced on that land, because the goats and
cattle will be turning different forages into meat.
Different grazing habits = sustainable control of weeds and brush
benefit of goats grazing plants that cattle won't is that they prevent
weeds and brush from taking over an area. The brush that a goat eats is
converted into money by way of meat. Because it won't be necessary to
use chemicals or other means to control the brushy plants, the goats
will also save you money. Besides the financial benefits, goats are a
much safer tool to use on weeds. Many people develop sensitivity to
chemicals after years of exposure; using goats to accomplish the goal
is much better for the environment and those living in the area.
Prolific breeders = rapid building of herd size and/or salable kids
some livestock enterprises (such as cattle), it takes years to build a
herd because of the length of time to reach puberty and low
reproductive rate. However, goat herds build much faster because goats
can give birth to their first kid at one year of age. Also, while the
first-time kidders are likely to have single births, most does will
have twins thereafter. Therefore, herd numbers grow rapidly - a
producer can increase his herd by five-fold in five years.
only to they reproduce well, goats also reach market size very quickly.
Gestation is five months (compared to nine months for cattle), and the
kids may be sold at weaning, about four months after birth, or held a
bit longer on pasture. In any case, the kid crop should be ready to
market less than a year after the breeding date. This means that the
initial investment can be quickly recouped, and cash flow is more
favorable than for cattle enterprises.
Goats combine well with cattle enterprises = increased income AND control of brush
goats to a cattle farm at the rate of one or two does per cow can
result in a 25% greater return per acre, due to more pounds of meat
produced. In addition, the goats will control brush so that cattle
pastures are dominated by grasses and clover, with no need for spraying
expensive chemicals to stop invasive weeds and brush.
What problems must be dealt with?
enterprise has its challenges, and goats are no exception. The big
problems in raising goats are fencing, internal parasites, predation,
and lack of knowledge.
are clever, athletic and small. These traits make them much harder to
keep in a pasture than cattle. Wires must be spaced closer, and gates
can have no wide gaps. Farmers adding goats to their farm will need to
adapt and improve the fences, in most cases. This costs money and time,
and it is probably the major stumbling block for many who would
otherwise like to try raising goats.
for goats is more expensive than for other livestock. More strands of
electric wire will be needed to control goats (two to three strands for
division fences and at least five strands for perimeter, if that is
acceptable according to state fence laws). If barbed wire or woven wire
fencing is already in place, it might be necessary to add a strand or
two of electric wire offset from the existing fence. Goats are
notorious for escaping through barbed wire, and horned goats often are
caught in woven wire.
parasitesThe most common health problem for goats is internal parasite
infection. Goats are meant to range over a large area and to eat brushy
plants that other species don't like. If goats are raised that way,
they will not be exposed to many parasite larvae. Therefore, under
natural conditions, goats do not need to be resistant to parasites.
Perhaps this is why some goats show so little ability to withstand
parasite infections when we force goats to stay in the same area for
long periods and graze close to the ground, where internal parasite
larvae are found.
goats that are forced to graze a small area for an extended time are
more vulnerable to parasites than cattle are, the good news is that the
internal parasites are species-specific; goat parasites have a bad
effect on goats, but they do not harm cattle, and vice versa. This
means that by grazing cattle after goats the cattle will remove (by
ingesting) goat parasite larvae from the pasture, thus "cleaning" it
for the next rotation of goats back to that pasture. One caution: sheep
and goats are similar enough that they do share parasites, so grazing
them together has no beneficial effect on parasite loads.
of their small size and good taste, goats are vulnerable to predators,
primarily coyotes and dogs, but also bears, wolves, bobcats, and other
predators. In heavily populated areas, dogs will likely be the biggest
problem. Producers have several options to protect the livestock,
including a good fence, guardian animals such as donkeys, llamas, or
guardian dogs, penning the animals close to home at night, or some
combination of these.
Lack of knowledge
addition to the demands of fencing, managing internal parasites, and
protecting from predators, some goat producers are challenged by a lack
of knowledge about goats. The interest in meat goats has been
relatively recent, and many people are new to the business. The
learning curve is steep, and help can be difficult to find: many
educators have no prior experience or training in the field;
veterinarians may not have prior experience or training in the field;
and neighboring farmers may not know anything about goats, even if they
are very experienced with other kinds of livestock.
Even so, there are many ways to add to your knowledge. One of those is by reading.
knowledge you gain by reading should be complemented by talking to and
visiting with farmers and educators with goat experience. Ask questions
and find out what you need to know. Try to visit other farms so you can
see how they handle various aspects of the business. Try to figure out
whether what they are doing would work for you. Is it practical? Is it
good place to meet other producers is at field days and seminars.
Meeting and talking to other farmers is, in many cases, at least as
important as the material on the program, and the program information
can add to your knowledge tremendously. Ask your Cooperative Extension
agent about any programs planned for your area, and if there are none,
you might want to encourage the agent to offer one.
producer groups, such as a state or local meat goat producer group or
ABGA, a national breed organization, is another way to meet other
farmers and learn from them. Some groups offer cooperative marketing
services to their members, and many groups host workshops and field
days. It is worth your time to be involved in a good association.
Written materials are available to help with any problems you may encounter.
the best teacher of all is experience - "on-the-job training." The
first two or three years will be especially good at showing you what
you don't know; that happens to everybody, so expect it. It's best to
begin your education by buying a small, healthy herd, so that you can
learn without incurring much financial loss. Goats multiply very
quickly, and you will soon have a larger herd if things go well.
Starting small allows you to learn about normal behavior and health,
grazing management, kidding, marketing, and all the other aspects of
raising meat goats. When you are comfortable with your small herd and
know that your fences work for goats, then you can easily expand into a
larger business. Your chances of success are much greater if you learn
your lessons before acquiring a large herd.
are various options of raising meat goats. How you will manage the
goats will impact the profitability of the goat enterprise, the demands
placed on your family, and the resources needed. The converse is also
true; your goals for the goat enterprise and for your whole farm (which
includes your family) and the resources available may determine the
method of raising goats.
Extensive range or pasture/woods, not handled much
goats on a large tract of pasture or rangeland and leaving them to fend
for themselves is one time-honored way to raise goats. Under this
system, the producer expects the goats to forage for their food and
care for their young with no assistance. Goats are very good foragers,
and if given access to enough land, they will be able to survive and
raise progeny with little labor or feed cost. On the other hand, this
does require a large tract of land, and some form of predator
protection must be in place to prevent excessive losses. Because of
predation and lack of intervention at kidding time, fewer kids may
survive to weaning. This reduces the income from the enterprise, but
lower expenses may offset that. Goats raised with little human contact
will likely be wild.
Pastured and rotated - managed intensive grazing
more control of stock and better management of pasture resources,
producers may choose to raise goats under management intensive grazing.
In this system, pastures are cross-fenced into "paddocks" so that goats
can be restricted in an area and moved to fresh pasture every few days
(or even more frequently). This rotation allows the producer to
allocate feed to the goats depending on their needs, prevent
over-grazing of a given area, monitor the intake of the goats, and make
frequent observations of the goat's health, growth, and behavior. Goats
raised in this way will be tamer, their health problems can be more
easily noticed and solved, and feed cost is still minimized, as in the
extensive grazing method. Grazing goats in a restricted area helps
reduce predator problems, as guardian animals can more effectively
patrol a small area, and electric fence can also be used to advantage.
However, this method demands more time and attention from the producer,
fencing goats are much higher, and the producer must learn how to
Pastured but not rotated
course, it is possible to pasture goats without using a management
intensive grazing system. Some producers choose to take a short cut by
keeping the goats on pasture but not rotating them. This saves initial
fence costs, time, and labor, and it is easier. However, goats that
graze and re-graze the same small area will eventually develop problems
with internal parasites. Furthermore, pastures abused by over-grazing
will not be as productive. As pastures and animals both decline in
health, feed costs go up. Therefore, while this method may seem cheap
and easy, over time it will create its own problems and be less
profitable or sustainable.
Dry lot; fed purchased hay and grain
producers forego pasture altogether and keep the goats in a dry lot
(where there is no growing forage), feeding them all purchased feeds.
This system has many drawbacks.
of all, goats do not convert feed efficiently, and they naturally waste
a lot of hay. Feed costs under this system will exceed returns of the
kid crop, unless the kids are sold as high-priced breeding stock. But
those animals do not know how to graze to maintain themselves
economically, and a buyer is likely to be dissatisfied with such
expensive-to-feed animals. This system also demands more labor and time
to provide feed and manage manure.
that don't get enough exercise are likely to be obese, which leads to
kidding problems. And goats kept confined are going to have more fights
(as bored children do) and become aggressive toward less-dominant
animals. At feeding time, this may be particularly noticeable, as the
dominant goats drive off the timid ones, resulting in over-fed bullies
and smaller, underfed animals. In short, from the standpoint of goat
behavior and of economics, this system is not a viable choice.
Markets and Marketing
each of the four production systems, there may be any of the following
six types of meat goat businesses. These businesses are categorized
according to the goat markets they address. The production system is
how goats are raised, while these business models reflect why goats are
Meat for ethnic holiday markets
raising meat goats for ethnic markets, producers time breedings so that
kids are the desired size at the proper time to meet holiday demands.
This requires knowledge and planning on the part of the producer. What
size kids are needed for a certain holiday? How fast will the kids
grow? When are the holidays? Producers who go the trouble to find the
answers and produce kids to fill holiday demand will get top dollar for
their product. Help in answering questions about ethnic markets may be
found at www.sheepgoatmarketing.info.
Meat for the open market
goats can be sold at any time, and some producers do not have the
interest or time to manage their herd for the holiday markets. They
allow breeding to happen when the does are naturally cycling (generally
in the fall, as days get shorter). Kidding occurs five months after
breeding, and the first kids can be sold at weaning, about 14 to 20
weeks later. The producer sells when it is convenient and takes the
market price, ignoring opportunities for higher prices. However, in
areas with strong ethnic markets, prices can still be strong, and if
costs are kept low, the enterprise should be profitable.
Meat for on-farm sale
in areas with large enough ethnic populations may choose to set their
own prices and sell animals from their farm premises. This has several
advantages, including reduced risk of low prices (since the farmer sets
the price) and lower marketing cost (no hauling charges, sale barn
commission or shrink loss). However, it may be inconvenient and
disruptive to have buyers come to the farm. It may be difficult to
provide a consistent supply of kids for sale. And it can be very
time-consuming to sell kids one or two at a time rather than by the
producers who are successful in on-farm sales eventually become
brokers, purchasing kids from other farms to resell on the premises.
This does pose the risk of spreading disease, however. Another
consideration is that some buyers will want to slaughter the kids on
the spot. Is this allowed in your state? What requirements must be met
to properly dispose of offal? Do you need extra farm insurance to cover
any possible accidents?
the right family this is a profitable and interesting way to market
meat kids. However, it will not be feasible in all areas or for
families who are reluctant to give up their privacy. More information
about marketing methods is available from www.sheepgoatmarketing.info.
Goats for brush control
this business, meat kids are a by-product of the main enterprise, using
goats for land management, such as pasture improvement, noxious weed
removal, or to create fire breaks. The goat owner may contract with
land owners to provide these services. Goats need to be healthy and
good foragers, but the manager needs to pay most attention to the
condition of the land (not the goats). Goats may lose body condition if
they are forced to overgraze to meet the goals of the landowner, and
kids may not grow in their full potential. Many people have been
successful in this enterprise, but it is certainly not simple. Goats
must be monitored and controlled, water and predator protection must be
provided, and the contracts have to benefit both parties.
Breeding stock for commercial herds
breeding stock is in demand, some producers find it profitable to focus
on producing kids for commercial goat herds (purebred or crossbred,
registered or not). To be successful at this, production costs must be
kept low, animals must be healthy, and the stock must not only meet the
needs of the commercial producer, but also be offered at a fair price.
For the long-term success of the business, all the lower-quality kids
(bucks and does) should be sold to the meat market, while
better-quality kids stay in the herd or are sold to other producers.
This enterprise requires some advertising and marketing.
Breeding stock for show herds
most rarefied goat business is the production of breeding stock for
show herds. In this case, stock will be purebred and registered, and
success in the show ring will be essential to its reputation. Stock
must be "what the judges are looking for," in addition to being
healthy; extensive marketing and advertising are necessary. Kids in
this herd should be sorted in four ways; for show and sale, for show
and for building the herd, for sale to a commercial herd, and for sale
to the meat market. This business offers the chance for high income,
because top end kids get top dollar, but this business demands a lot of
time, expertise, marketing, and show ring ability. It also has the
highest costs of production. It is a risky business because the market
is both fickle and political. Therefore, it is not for the beginner or
of these businesses has its challenges and opportunities. Each also
requires that the producer begin by selecting healthy stock that will
work in the business.
goats were developed in South Africa and are easily recognized by a
white body, red head, and large, muscular frame. The breed was first
imported into the United States from Australia and New Zealand in 1993.
Boer goats are in high demand because they grow fast and produce
desirable carcasses. Breeding animals have been very expensive due to
the limited numbers originally imported, but recently numbers have
increased sufficiently that prices have become more reasonable. Due to
their scarcity and high demand, some animals were kept for breeding
purposes that should have been culled because they are not hardy. Also,
some of the animals were pampered because of high prices at the time
and as a consequence some Boer goats in the U.S. were not as hardy as
Boer goats raised in South Africa. Boer goats are the largest of the
goat breeds with a mature doe weighing as much as 200 pounds. They have
been selected for growth rate and may gain in excess of 0.4 pounds per
day under feedlot conditions.
How to choose breeding stock
first consideration is what is the planned market for the kids? Which
type of meat goat business are you in? What are the needs of that
example, if you are selling meat goat kids to a particular ethnic
group, you need to think about what size kid is needed, what time of
year you need the kid ready to sell, and whether the buyer has a
preference for color or type. What price can you reasonably expect to
receive for the kids? What will it cost to maintain the does
answered those questions, you may decide that you want to sell 60-pound
kids at the auction barn, where you've heard that buyers prefer the
Boer coloration and pay extra for that red head. You think you can plan
to get $1.25/pound live weight for the kids, and that would gross about
$70 per kid. In your area, a big Boer doe costs a lot to maintain,
possibly as much as $60 a year, not leaving much profit after the kids
are sold. But perhaps you could use a Boer buck on some smaller does -
Spanish or Kiko or crossbreds - reduce maintenance costs for the doe
herd, and still give the buyers red-headed, muscular kids. If your does
average 50% twins (weaning a 150% kid crop), there should be some
course, this is a hypothetical example, but looking at the economics of
what you intend to do will help you realize that you cannot afford very
high-priced stock for a meat goat enterprise, where meat is the
product. Having an idea of the returns will help you be prudent when
you purchase stock.
you have in mind the breed or breeds that should work for your
particular meat goat business, the next consideration is personal
preference. You can't quantify the benefits, but there is satisfaction
in raising a type of animal that you find appealing. If you enjoy the
animals, you will feel a pride in producing them and take pleasure in
observing and caring for them. This is intangible, but real
next consideration is a very practical one: what kind of goats are
available near you and kept under the same kind of management that you
intend to use? This is important because animals that are already
adapted to your climate and to your management system will be more
productive and healthy than goats that suffer "transplant shock". Goats
that have been raised in a dry lot will not be very good at grazing or
you intend to run an extensive operation and not interfere with the
goat's mothering, you will be better served by goats that thrive by
themselves. In addition to proximity and management, you have to be
practical about price. Sustainable agriculture means that you make some
profit, and paying too much for initial stock can mean that there is no
profit for several years. It may be wiser to purchase healthy
unregistered does and the best bucks you can afford and set about to
continually improve the herd. Within a few years, you should have a
good herd of does and money in the bank besides.
brings up another question: How many goats do you need to buy? In
general, you can add one or two does per cow to your cattle farm
without any impact on the cattle's pasturage. The kids produced will
boost your income, and the does will keep your pastures clear of weeds
or brush. Another rule of thumb is six to eight does are the equivalent
of one cow (this depends on the size of the does, as well as the size
of the cow). Therefore, if you know that it takes 3 acres to support a
cow in your area, and you have 30 acres, you could theoretically have
60 to 80 does on your land. However, if you have never raised goats
before, it would be safer to start with a smaller herd and let it
multiply over a few years. This will keep your costs low and allow you
time to learn about goats while you adapt your land. If you are buying
only a small number of goats, you can be more selective about the
quality and traits of the animals, and also avoid going into debt.
Consider health and conformation (soundness)
you have found goats for sale of the type and price you are looking
for, it's time to select the individual animals to take home to your
farm. Now you have to consider conformation and health. Health is the
critical component, but conformation is also an important factor.
begin, look at the entire herd. Do they walk well? Do they appear
lively and vigorous? Are they in proper flesh, not too fat or too thin?
Are their coats shiny and their bodies smooth, not lumpy with
abscesses? Are they grazing or kept in a pen with free-choice hay?
overall first impressions are valuable. If the herd appears to be
healthy, your chances of getting healthy animals are much better.
gained a sense of the overall quality of the herd, now examine the
individuals that are for sale. You are looking at their confirmation
and the physical appearances of health. For raising meat kids, you
don't need show-quality does. You should select does that are sound and
ready to be productive. Good confirmation (soundness) means:
- sound feet and legs
- good body capacity (deep and wide, to handle forages and hold twin kids)
- correctly aligned bite, with lower incisors meeting the upper dental pad, not over-shot or under-shot
- good teat structure, with the correct number of functional teats (two)
- good teeth
that are sound in these areas should be able to range widely for
forages, to bite and chew and digest those forages well, and to carry
and feed kids. In addition to passing these tests, though, the goats
you select must be healthy. Some visual indicators of good health are:
- no limping
- alertness, lively appearance
- no lumps or abscesses, especially on the neck or shoulder area
- moderate condition, not too fat or too thin
- smooth, shiny coat
- pink mucous membranes, including inside lower eyelid
- normal feces; round pellets, no diarrhea
Diseases to be aware of
course, there are diseases (such as Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis-CAE)
that may not be apparent. But if the seller's herd matches the above
description, your odds of purchasing a healthy animal from it are very
good. The reverse is also true; if the seller's herd includes animals
that are limping, emaciated, "dull", have abscesses, or appear "poor,"
chances are that the animal you buy will be carrying a disease, even if
that disease is not obvious in that particular animal.
transmissible diseases (including internal parasites) may not be
apparent in an individual, observing the condition of the herd of
origin is important. This is one reason why it is getter to purchase
animals on the farm, rather than at an auction. Also, sale barns
receive a lot of unhealthy and otherwise unsuitable animals. They are
the dumping grounds for goats that do not thrive, have contagious
diseases, are terrible mothers or incorrigible jumpers, non-breeders or
poor milkers. If you shop for breeding stock at the sale barn, you may
very well be bring home animals that are unproductive and therefore
unprofitable. If you are lucky enough to find some good stock at the
sale barn, by the time those good animals have mingled with the
unhealthy ones in the barn, suffered the stress of shipping and sale,
and tracked through an environment where many unhealthy animals have
been, their immune systems may be overwhelmed.
really are no bargains at sale barns, even if they are cheap. Take
someone who knows about goats with you when you go shopping. This will
help you be objective when looking for potential problems.
is also helpful to educate yourself about diseases and their treatments
(or lack of treatments) before you go. Understanding the consequences
of a particular disease in your herd will help you understand the risks
and the costs of buying a disease. This may mean that you offer to pay
for some testing to screen for a disease that you are particularly
anxious to avoid.
Summary: Deciding to Raise Goats
meat goat business is growing, fueled by strong ethnic demand for the
meat. Understanding the possibilities, advantages, and challenges of
raising goats will help you plan your enterprise to be profitable.
Selection of healthy, sound breeding stock will add to the enjoyment
and profitability of the enterprise. Visiting farmers, consulting
veterinarians and educators, reading print and Web resources will
enhance your chances for success.
Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery, LLC
Farmstead Goat Dairy
3255 Buffalo Creek Farm Road
Germanton, NC 27019