Friday, February 15, 2008

Meat Goats ... Are They an Option?

Meat goats are something that I just haven't put too much thought into to be perfectly honest. I have seen plenty of articles and posts about them in magazines and on the internet (especially on homesteading sites), but I just never really considered them a viable market for my potential customers. And, I guess I didn't really look into them much because I don't know anything about meat goats or goat meat.

I decided to raise beef because I like beef. We have chickens because we love eggs and chicken. We are adding pigs because ... well, because you can't be a real Iowa farm unless you have them. But, meat goats that originated in Africa? I just didn't see that stuff in the Fareway meat case growing up.

With a growing immigrant population they may be something I have to consider. At least that is what I think now after reading an article by Dien Judge titled, "Iowa Farmers Adapt to Serve New Ethnic Markets". According to the article many Iowans who are raising the Boer goats are selling them directly to the consumer in areas where there are larger populations of immigrants. There are also a few that are selling at local sale barns who in turn move them to a processing plant in Illinois. But, the quote in the article that really got me thinking was this, "Finch said that a market-ready meat goat will sell for approximately $1.10 per pound live weight, not a bad price for a livestock animal." It looks like the live weight for butcher animals is right around 100 to 120 pounds so there is some money there, now I just need to research the inputs.

The article mentioned that in Iowa we even have an "Iowa Meat Goat Association" so I checked out their website right away. They have quite a bit of good information on their site. After reading through bits and pieces of the site it seems that goat meat is rather healthy compared to other meats, and it is very lean. I'm not sure what the market is like for selling to non-immigrants, but the health aspect may be appealing. In fact there are over 200 members of the Iowa Meat Goat Association, so I'm sure there are people that can help me answer that question.

For me the biggest question becomes this. What do goats eat? No, they do not eat everything! But, that is not what I'm talking about. I mean what do they finish on? Are they being fed and finished on a strictly grass based diet or are they being fed grain supplements? What do the consumers desire, do they want pasture finished meat goats? These are some questions that I need to answer, but goats now are officially part of the discussion.

If you have in thoughts or information on meat goats make sure to leave a comment and join in the discussion!


Rich said...

I'm from north-central Oklahoma, with cattle on wheat pasture, native pasture, and some bermuda pasture.

We have considered adding goats, but it seems like there are alot of pros and cons to consider.

One of the pros as I see it are that a goat herd would be relatively easy to build since they start breeding at a young age, have 2-3 kids a year, and are less expensive to purchase per head than cattle.

Supposedly, goats can also graze alongside cattle without affecting the stocking rate of the cattle.

The cons against goats are dealing with fencing issues, replacing or upgrading existing fences to contain goats might cost more than any additional profit realized from including goats in our system.

Another con in our area is dealing with predation, we have a number of coyotes and I don't know how many goats we would lose to them.

Marketing and finishing seems to another problem, it seems that every ethnic group that currently eats goat meat has a different contradictory requirement for finishing. Some markets require intact males, some want an older female, some want a smaller kid at certain times of the year, etc.
Coordinating all the different desires of the different ethnic markets with a smaller goat herd seems difficult.

After weighing all the pros and cons, we are still considering trying a small herd in the future, in a small pasture that would be easier to upgrade the fences.

Sometimes the only way to find out the feasibility of something is to try it out on a small scale.

Ethan Book said...

Rich - Thanks for checking out the blog and offering your opinion. As I said I hadn't really had them on the radar at all until I read the article. That means I hadn't even thought of things like what different ethnicities want and so on. I do plan on contacting some members of the Iowa Meat Goat Association and getting their views.

I would agree that you should be able to add them without effecting your beef stocking rate ... kind of like sheep in that respect.

Lots to ponder!

Kramer said...

Goats are a very beneficial livestock to have on the farm especially in managed intensive grazing operations. As Rich stated, the reason we aren't delving into them right now is fencing and predation. However, there are more benefits contributed to your land healing than you can imagine. Selling the kids is just extra money.

Goats are companion animals to beef. Not companion as in friends, but they benefit from each other. Cows are considered grazers. They eat grass, new tender weeds, somewhat picky, if allowed to be. Goats however are browsers. They eat everything a cow doesn't eat. Let a goat out in an open pasture and see where he goes first. To the fence lines. This is where the small trees, vines, and other unwanted items are. Hence the reason why they don't affect stocking rates of beef. You will do a goat great harm if you try to get them to eat pasture like a cow. They need browse. By rotating them together, they will eat your weeds and other problem plants down, stressing them out and over time they will disappear.

The biggest asset of running goats with cattle are the parasite benefits. Goats are dead-end hosts for beef parasites and visa versa for goat parasites to beef. Rather than worming your animals with chemical wormers, which these worms and parasites will get immune to, and not to mention you then kill all the earthworms and good microbes in your soil, use goats. As the goats pick up these parasites (parasites aren't smart, they go wherever they are allowed) the parasites quickly realize that this isn't a cow. They can't leave until they pass through the goats system in which they die way before they make it there. Thus over a period of time, you have a parasite free environment. Sheep offer the same benefits as goats in this area. They just need sheering as well.

We would love to have goats in the future and really all it would entail is a couple more strands of hot wire and some great white pyranese (sp?) dogs. I have researched and found that Spanish goats, although not near as pretty as Boar goats, are much more hardy and parasite resistant than Boar goats. Also finish out better if soley on a grass fed diet. Little input goes into goats though. But you do have to provide shelter. They hate the rain.

Ethan Book said...

Jason - Thanks for the comments on goats. To me they it seems like they have the same benefits as sheep as far as following cattle well and being ends in the parasite cycle. I know a quite a few people that train sheep to electric so maybe that is a plus on their side. The biggest thing may come down to what would be best to market in your area...

Anonymous said...

We own several Boer goats and several heads of Cattle. We breed them and yes a lot of the immigrants will pay big money for a wonderful goat. We have the problem of finishing them out but 2 upsides are they ARE a whole lot healthier then other meat and they usually are wonderful pets (if broke or bottle raised) A down side is if you want to breed the goats you would need to keep a buck on your property and the bucks have a very offensive oder and it is even worse during breeding season. Or if you didn't want to keep a buck you would end up with spending a whole lot on Seaman from other bucks or sending your doe off to the buck's owner.

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