Hardy Boer Meat Goats
Raising Meat Goats
How bright is the Future for Meat Goat Production?
In the United States, the meat goat industry has been enjoying a strong and growing demand for goat meat. Most of the world's population (about 60 to 70%) prefers goat meat to any other red meat. Beef and pork are preferred only in the United States, Canada, and northern Europe, but the population of the United States is changing with many immigrants coming to this country from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Southern Europe.
Prior to 1990 goats in the U.S. were raised primarily for the production of fiber or milk and for weed and brush control in pastures. Goat meat was a byproduct and most of it was exported. Since 1990 the demand for goat meat in the United States has increased faster than the goat population. We started importing more goat meat than we exported in 1993. During the late 1980's and the 1990's the governments of New Zealand and Australia were trying to eliminate their feral goat populations and most of the resulting goat meat was exported to the United States. Some was also exported to China, India, and other Asian and middle eastern countries. New Zealand was successful in eliminating their feral goats. Today most of our imported goat meat comes from Australia. The Australian Government has successfully eliminated the feral goat population in some areas of the country, but in other areas they can only control the population. Their goal is to keep the feral goat population from getting any larger than it is today, 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 U.S. is about 3.1 million head. Currently about half the goat meat sold in the United States through normal retail channels is slaughtered in USDA inspected plants and half is imported, mainly from Australia. Many meat goats produced in the U.S. are slaughtered by the consumers or are slaughtered in non-inspected plants. No information is available as to how many.
Since the nations of the world that prefer goat meat as their primary red meat are developing nations, it can only be assumed that as their economies improve the demand and prices they are willing to pay for goat meat will also improve. The supply of goat meat available for export from Australia will probably not increase. The only conclusion one can draw from these facts is that the U.S. meat goat industry has a very bright future. It is the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture, and will probably continue growing for some time.
Because there is a ready market for goat meat among many ethnic cultures in the U.S., little effort has been made to promote the nutritional benefits of goat meat and to sell goat meat to the ever growing number of people wanting to eat healthier foods. Goat meat is reported by the US 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. Goat meat 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. There is a real potential for expanding the market for goat meat by promoting these health and nutritional values.
Getting Started in Meat Goat Production
If one has no experience raising meat goats and would like to get started, the first step is to learn from others' experiences. One can learn from producers who are raising meat goats. Visit their farms and visit with them at shows, seminars and other meat goat events. On this website we have recorded detailed information about what we have learned from our experience with goats and we have included links to the best meat goat information available on the internet.
The second step is to decide what type of meat goats and what breeds of meat goats one would like to raise. One would need to decide whether to raise registered breeding stock or nonregistered commercial meat goats. If we were younger, just staring out, and had adequate resources we would raise both. Next one would need to decide which breeds and/or crossbreds one would like to raise. Descriptions and histories of all of the breeds of meat goats, available in the United States, can be found on this website under "Meat Goat Breeds." In cattle and sheep, producers have been able to achieve hybrid vigor by crossing different breeds. All of the breeds of meat goats available in the United States (except for the Arapawa and San Clemente Island breeds) are composite breeds of very recent origins. They have very diverse genetics and do not breed true for most important economic traits. Composite breeds are breeds developed by crossing several diverse types of goats. Very little line breeding has been done within any of these breeds. I seriously doubt whether much hybrid vigor could be achieved by crossing them. Genetic differences for important economic traits within these breeds are far greater than the differences between the breeds. You will usually do best with the breeds that that appeal to you most.
The last thing to do before purchasing any meat goats is to inventory resources available to determine how many goats one can start with. These resources include pastures, fences, and shelters. Good information on these items along with links to more information on the internet can be found on this website.
How many goats can one keep per acre? This is a question that can only be answered after one has tried raising goats on a given acre of ground. The answer depends on climate, type of soil, the fertility of the soil, the steepness of the ground (steep ground doesn't hold moisture as well as flat ground,) and the type of vegetation on that ground. It is always best to be under stocked so one doesn't have to purchase much feed. So, it is better to start with just a few goats and gradually increase the size of the herd as the pasture is improved. An area of trees and brush that has recently been cut will put out a lot of sprouts for a few years utilizing energy stored in the roots, but sprouts have a very short growing season, late spring to early fall in northern Arkansas. While spouts make good summer pasture for goats, one needs to have cool season grasses and legumes to get the goats through late fall, winter, and early spring.
Purchasing a Foundation Meat Goat Herd
The biggest mistake one can make, when purchasing a herd of meat goats, is buying too many goats. It is always best to under stock so one doesn't have to purchase much feed. When pastures are under stocked one has fewer problems with internal parasites (mainly stomach worms.) Start with just a few goats and gradually increase the size of the herd as pastures are improved.
It is best to purchase your foundation meat goats directly from the breeder who produced them and to buy them at his 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 one buys 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. If one purchases meat goats at the farm, one can see how they were raised. Purchase animals that are raised on pasture with no 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.
From an economic perspective the most important traits in meat goats are hardiness, fertility, mothering ability, and resistance to internal parasites. Unfortunately these traits are difficult to measure by looking at goats. They can not be measured in a show ring. Perhaps performance testing under pasture conditions might be the answer, but be careful because goats that do well on pastures in the dryer climates of western regions of the United States might not do well further east where more humid conditions would cause greater parasite problems.
Avoid purchasing stock from producers who over feed and pamper their goats. Many producers worm their goats every thirty days. Trust me a goat that has been wormed every thirty days is not safe to eat and is not a meat goat. 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. Many herds of meat goats have lost their hardiness, their fertility, their mothering ability, and will not do well in commercial meat goat operations. 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 their kids have no correlation to the milking and mothering abilities of the mothers.
Bucks are the most important purchase one will make. They will account for fifty percent of the genetics of your kids. One mature buck can usually handle about fifty does. So it pays to invest in top quality bucks.
Come Visit Us and See Our Herd
We are located
in north central Arkansas, twenty miles south of Missouri.
is four miles south of Yellville, Arkansas, on Highway 14.