Is Raising Meat Goats for You?
How bright is the Future for Meat Goat Production?
Raising meat goats can be profitable. Meat goat prices have been steadily increasing since the mid 1990’s. Since it takes a considerable investment in land, shelters, and fences to raise them, one needs to look at the future outlook for meat goats before getting started.
Goat meat is reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be lower in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or turkey. It is also higher in protein and iron than any of these meats. It is high in vitamin B12 and has balanced amino acids.
Since goats are ruminants, goat meat is a good source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA,) a fatty acid that prevents and cures cancer and many inflammatory conditions in laboratory animals.
Results of clinical studies with CLA in humans are still pending. A growing number of people want to eat healthier foods, eating goat meat is a healthy alternative to most other meats. Goat meat sales can be expanded by promoting its health and nutritional values.
In the United States we started importing more goat meat than we exported 1993 . Today we import about half the goat meat sold through retail stores and restaurants. Will future imports increase as demand for goat meat increases? Most of our imported goat meat had been coming from New Zealand and Australia where feral goats were rounded up and slaughtered for export.
New Zealand has completely eliminated their feral goats. Today most imported goat meat comes from Australia. Australians have greatly reduced the size their feral goat population and they intend to keep it at the current level, which is estimated to be about 2.6 million head, with about 1.0 million head per year harvested for export. The domestic goat population in Australia is about 200,000 head, with little interest among ranchers for increasing that number.
By comparison, the domestic goat population in the United States is about 3.1 million head. The supply of goat meat available for import will probably not increase in the near future.
The U.S. meat goat industry has a very bright future. It is the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture and will continue growing for some time.
Where Can One Learn More about Raising Meat Goats?
If you have no experience with meat goats, you can learn much from producers who are raising them. Visit their farms, and visit with them at shows, seminars, and other meat goat events. There is also good information available on the internet that can be downloaded for free.
ATTRA (the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service,) is a USDA funded nonprofit organization. They publish and distribute “An Illustrated Guide to Sheep and Goat Production.” This publication can be down loaded, free of charge, from their web site at http://www.attra.ncat.org. This guide has useful information on all aspects of raising goats. Their web site also has information on producing certified organic goat products.
Langston University at Langston, Oklahoma, is the world’s leading institution for goat research. The best information on raising meat goats, including a new “Meat Goat Production Handbook,” is available through their web site at https://www2.luresext.edu/goats/. They also have a web based training and certification program for meat goat producers.
Raising Meat Goats for Beginners
Before purchasing any meat goats, one must look at pastures, fences, and shelters available to determine how many goats one can start with.
Purchasing a Starter Herd
Decide whether to raise registered breeding stock or commercial meat goats or both. Cattle and sheep producers have been able to achieve hybrid vigor by crossing different breeds. Most of the breeds of meat goats, available in the United States, are composite breeds of very recent origin. Composite breeds are developed by crossing several diverse types of goats.
Because these breeds are of recent origin they have very diverse genetics and do not breed true for the most important economic traits. Very little line breeding has been done within any of these breeds. It is doubtful whether any hybrid vigor would result from crossing them. Genetic differences for important economic traits are far greater within these breeds than they are between them.
When deciding which goat breed to purchase, you will do best with the breed that that appeals to you most, but only if you select animals within that breed for the most important traits.
From an economic perspective, the most important traits in meat goats are hardiness, fertility, mothering ability, and resistance to internal parasites (stomach worms.) Unfortunately, these traits are difficult to measure by looking at goats. They cannot be measured in a show ring or a sale ring. Performance testing under pasture conditions might be the answer, but goats, which do well on pastures in the dryer climates of the western regions of the United States, might not do well further east where more humid conditions would cause greater parasite problems.
It is best to purchase goats directly from the breeder who produced them, and to buy them at their farm. Avoid purchasing at livestock sale barns because that is where breeders get rid of their culls and animals that won’t breed or produce kids. When buying an animal at a sale barn, one usually has no way of knowing which herd the animal came from or why it is being sold. When purchasing at the farm, one can see how they were raised.
Purchase animals that are raised on pasture with little extra feed because that is the most economical way to raise meat goats. It is the only way to raise them if you want to make a profit.
Many producers worm their goats every thirty days. If one worms goats too often, the worms build up a resistance to the worm medication. One is actually breeding superior worms instead of better goats. Look for producers that worm three times a year or less.
Many herds of meat goats have lost their their fertility, and their mothering ability. Some producers put their does into embryo transplant programs before they know if they are capable of having offspring naturally. Their kids are raised by foster mothers, usually dairy goats. The growth rates of these kids have no correlation to the milking and mothering abilities of their biological mothers.
Three Challenges for Meat Goat Producers
The main challenges for meat goat producers are fencing, predator control, and controlling internal parasites (stomach worms.) Each of these challenges is unique to raising goats. Goats are harder to fence and more susceptible to internal parasites than any other species of livestock. Both sheep and goats are vulnerable to predators.
New meat goat producers need to make sure they have good fences before they start buying goats. Goats are ruminants. They are built to utilize forages to produce meat and milk. To do this economically, goats need plenty of well fenced pasture so they can harvest the forages themselves. To harvest it for them or to purchase it at a feed store is not economically feasible.
Fences also play an important role in both predator and internal parasite control. It is good to have small areas with goat predator proof fences for goats to bed down in at night and for kidding (birthing.) Goats are most vulnerable to predators at night and during kidding.
If one does not have enough pasture fenced for the goats, internal parasite problems increase.