A recent report of the USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture revealed a number of surprising facts. Among them was the growing demand for meat goats in the US. A few years earlier, in a report put out by FAMU, researchers Fidelis Okepholo and Tyrell Kahan, noted the demand for meat goats was more than double what American farmers were actually able to produce.
The FAMU researchers pointed to an influx of Hispanic, African, Asian, Muslim, and Caribbean immigrants who all come from cultures which relish goat meat for religious festivals, weddings, birthday celebrations, and other important events. With growing health concerns many Americans face, researchers suggest goat meat is a healthier option than most contemporary meat proteins commonly found in the average marketplace.
According to Lyle W. McColley, this is not surprising. McColley, originally from Minnesota, has been raising goats for well over 20 years. He started out raising Spanish goats on his East Milton farm but now has settled with the much larger Kikos. He said that Spanish goats were mainly the only type of goat to be found in this area. Later, he got into raising Boers when the media started talking about 200 pound goats coming into America from South Africa. Ultimately, McColley settled down with the New Zealand-bred Kiko goats – which he claims are the best goats he has ever owned. McColley claims goat meat is one of the healthiest types of meat that a person can eat. He said once Americans start to learn more about the benefits of goat meat, the demand will only grow.
McColley is not alone in his feelings. Izzy Kent, of Robertsdale, Alabama, feels the growing use of large meat goats to pull carts on small farms, the large immigrant population in America, and the nutrition of the meat all will continue to play a large part in growing the demand for meat goats.
Kentshould know. Even though she is only 11 years old, she has won numerous awards for her work with goats and was even crowned the American Boer Goat Assocation’s National Jr. Public Speaking Champion. Her prize winning Boer goat, named Loui, as well as her prize winning Genemaster goat, Dreamsicle, will be showing in this year’s Santa Rosa County Fair. Naturally, Kent will be on hand promoting the benefits of raising meat goats.
But, McColley and Kent are not alone in their feelings on the subject. Research seems to back up what many goat farmers are saying. Compared to beef, lamb, pork, and chicken researchers have found goat meat to be very low in calories, saturated fat, and overall fat while surprisingly high in protein. Based on a 3 ounce portion size of roasted meat, goat is comparable to chicken in calories and fat levels (122 calories and 2.58 grams of fat for goat vs. 120 calories and 3.5 grams for chicken) while it ties with beef for having the highest level of protein (23 grams per serving).
For savvy small farmers, raising goats can be a very worthwhile investment. Compared to other ruminants, goats are generally more affordable, less labor intensive, have a higher reproductive and maturation rate and they can be used for alternative means of income as well.
Cost-wise, goats are very affordable to purchase. According to the FAMU researchers, market prices for goat does are equivalent to the price of a single bovine cow. Their small size and varied diet also allows for farmers to raise six goats on a parcel of land traditionally only suitable for raising a single cow. Most importantly, since goats are very hearty creatures, they can take poor terrain and lack of shelter better than most cow breeds. Plus, the same equipment used with calves can easily be used for goat kids making farm conversion from cattle to goats often seamless.
However, McColley said raising meat goats is not a “get rich quick” proposition. He said seven or eight years ago, a number of people flooded the market only to bail later when things got difficult. One major issue is the dreaded Barber’s Pole Worm – which the Boer goats, and other commercially grass-fed goats, are susceptible to. Plus doe goats have a waxy plug in their teats that, if not removed by the doe around the time of birthing, can cause a permanent deformity where the udder and teat will swell almost to the size of a man’s leg making it impossible for the doe to nurse kid goats and requiring daily milkings by the owner. While McColley does not worm his goats, other goat farmers, like Kent, note cystic worms are also a major issue. Kent said that, 72 hours after birthing, a powerful broad-spectrum dewormer, like Valbazen, should be administered to the mother and kids to keep at bay a potentially fatal parasitic condition causing projectile diarrhea in the animals and ultimately dehydration. Kent warns that wormers, like Valbazen, should be sparingly used since goats can get immunity to these strong drugs. According to Kent, goats also get kidney stones very easily and males are especially prone to fatal condition, called urinary calculi, when they are withered before they are at least three months of age. McColley said kids are born about 50/50 male to female. Kent feels the males should be separated or gotten rid of quickly since they hit puberty at three months of age and yet cannot be withered until their urinary tract has properly developed. It is Kent’s opinion that other issues such as soil conditions needs to be taken into account. The soil at her farm was naturally lacking in selenium which led to her kid goats being born with certain defects.
As she made mention, depending on the breed, most goats hit puberty at three months of age compared to a year and a half to two years of age for most bovine heifers. However, she said it is still wise to wait, like one would for a cow, so the doe goat has fully developed the frame she needs to carry the large birthing numbers some meat goats are known to have. McColley said boers can have as many as four kid goats a birthing and Kikos have anywhere from two to three kids with one of his does routinely having three kids a birthing.
Goat gestation typically is only five months whereas a cow will usually take nine months. In a two year period, a well-fed doe can give birth to as many as six kid goats. Some breeds like the Boer, Kiko, Savannah, and Genemaster have does that can give birth to as many as twelve kid goats in a year. This exponential reproduction rate allows for a shorter time to market which means greater profits for the small farmer.
Unlike cows, goats can provide additional revenue streams to farmers while also cutting costs typically associated with cattle and other ruminants. One of the most popular markets for goats is noxious weed control and land clearing. As McColley points out, goats, unlike cattle, are more like whitetailed deer in that they are browsers. That means that they will eat things above their heads (i.e., vines, leaves, twigs) as well as plants at their feet. McColley claims that goats prefers bushes and will even eat them first before eating grass and other grazing plants. According to FAMU, a mature goat can easily eat poison ivy, kudzu, and many other noxious plants found problematic by most farmers and land owners. Historically, cattle ranchers have used goats to keep pastures free of noxious weeds and to serve as protection from dangerous wildlife thanks to a myotonic (“fainting”) trait that some breeds have where the goat’s muscles lock up when stressed or startled. With many breeds able to eat eight pounds or more a day, their ability to exist in rough terrain, and their eco-friendly browsing habits; many landowners are willing pay top dollar for goat farmers come out and have their goats forage – all that is needed is an inexpensive, portable electric fence.
Online goat-based land clearing businesses can now be found marketing brush fire protection and native plant regrowth benefits in addition to standard land clearing. Some companies, such as Rent-A-Ruminant and RentAGoat, have grown so large that they are now making additional monies licensing their business models to people wishing to start their own goat-based land clearing franchise. However, in all truth, most of the necessary data for such a business can easily be found free of charge online. Again, breed selection is critical. According to Kent, some breeds, like the Boers, may not be best suited for such applications whereas other breeds like the Genemaster and Kiko may excel.
Land clearing operations not only bring in monies to small farming operations but they also cut down on feed bills and even medical bills. Ultimately, grass and hay feeding goats makes them more susceptible to Barber’s Pole Worm and other parasites. Browsing your goats, as one would do in a land clearing business, eliminates this problem. Also, some plants even have anti-parasitic properties. Therefore, a multi-purpose meat goat farmer can easily have triple, or more, livestock than that a single-purpose meat goat producer while also having a meat goat that may ultimately be healthier, more flavorful, and less costly to produce.
Despite their durability in harsh environments, small farmers need to be mindful that goats are still susceptible to a number of diseases and parasites. Most notably, the Barber’s Pole Worm has devastated ruminant populations in the Southeastern United States. In the past, costly pharmaceuticals, which required routine administration, made goats more burdensome than beneficial to many farmers. This is not the case today.
Recently, a number of cost effective innovations have being pioneered using produce by-products and modified weeds to keep would-be parasites and dangerous microbes at bay. Some of this is still in development while others have already made it to market.
For instance, in a clinical trial led by University of Florida animal scientist Adegbola Adesogan, adding just 10 grams of ground papaya seed to the Bahia grass diet of Boer goats removed 78% of adult parasites and 72% of their eggs. Dr. Adesogan said the data, though promising, is still in its early stages of research and future clinical trials need to be done on different strains of papaya to see if there is any difference in the effectiveness of the seed.
Already on the market is patented variation of a forage plant known commonly as Chinese Bush Clover. Patented by a number of research scientists from various universities, the pelletized Sericea lespedeza strain has been proven effective in clinical trials and is now on the market. Additionally, the seeds of other non-patented strains are easily available for forage and soil erosion crop plantings. One study found that mixing a non-patented strain of Chinese Bush Clover with Bahia grass resulted in a 52% decline in parasites in tested animals.