December 2016 Issue



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Want to Get Into the Slaughter Goat Business?

Several times each week, I receive phone call from someone who wants to buy live goats in quantity to sell for slaughter. Usually in Florida or a similar state with a large ethnic population, he accurately sees a great business opportunity. He is telephoning goat raisers whose names he has found on the Internet, expecting to find a steady supply of slaughter goats. He knows next to nothing about goats; he just knows that demand for goat meat is high in his area. He has no idea how difficult it will be to find a steady supply. He believes that he can call around the country, locate and purchase hundreds of goats, ship them to his location, slaughter and process the animals, and make a lot of money.

This is not the real world.

There aren't enough meat goats raised for slaughter in the United States to come anywhere close to meeting the demand, and most of these goats are raised in areas far from the locations where large numbers of goat consumers live for reasons I will explain later in this article. About 40% of goat meat consumed in the United States is imported frozen from Australia and New Zealand.

When I started raising goats in 1990, there were about 12 million goats (meat, milk & hair) in this country. In 2014, that number had decreased to less than 2 million. There are several reasons for this: (1) Goats -- ALL goats -- as a species are dry-land animals and much of the USA is too wet to raise meat goats successfully; (2) Most folks don't have enough acreage or the right kind of acreage that allows meat goats to feed themselves as much of the year as possible. Having lots of the right kind of land available on which to raise meat goats is critical to making money raising them for slaughter; (3) Goats (like deer) are very selective (picky) eaters that are difficult to raise properly and profitably. They cannot be feed-lotted. They cannot handle the stress and wormloads that occur in crowded living conditions. Goats need to live like deer, roaming over large acreage in uncrowded conditions and eating "from the top down" so they can avoid the blood-sucking stomach worms that kill them.

I recommend to each caller is that once he has done more research on his actual market, he should contact a commercial auction house, speak with the auctioneer, and hire an order-buyer to purchase what he needs weekly from all of the commercial auctions near his market. He needs this middle man to provide that steady supply of goats to meet his local demand. He cannot find it from individuals. The average goat-raising operation doesn't produce a steady supply of slaughter goats. He also needs to find a slaughter facility that will kill and process the goats at an affordable price. Processing charges are typically quite high, i.e. as much as $40-$60 per goat. Goat slaughter facilities don't exist in many locales. One of the biggest reasons for this is the lack of a steady supply of slaughter goats. That is why most facilities that process goats do it as an add-on to their primary business of slaughtering cattle. Any good business person knows that demand without supply is a failing business model. To create a demand and then not have the supply to fill that demand is to doom your business before it gets off the ground.

Recently a representative of a group of people who wanted to vertically integrate the goat business from raising goats to owning a slaughter house to selling the goat meat visited my ranch. He admitted he and his friends knew nothing about goats other than there is a widespread demand for goat meat. His investment group assigned him the responsibility of investigating what is involved in raising goats before they proceeded. Like most people, his initial thought was: How hard can it be? I spent the entire day with him, going over every aspect of goat raising. His group was planning to buy 1,000 acres of land in West Texas at a price that would only buy rocks, put 1,500+ goats on it, and hire people to take care of the goats. His team leader had run the numbers of how many goats they needed to provide the kind of financial return they required and fit the amount of money they were willing to invest. The group would soon be feedlotting goats once they realized that the goats were wormy, starving, and dying under those living conditions. Won't work. It has been tried many times; much money has been wasted and lots of goats have died. He is an intelligent professional who lives in a city and just had no concept of what is involved in raising goats. I understand and respect that. I've been there. You just cannot make goats live this way; they will simply sit down and die. It also won't be easy to find people who know how to raise goats successfully. Because of the small numbers of goats, many veterinarians have little to no knowledge of goats. You must be your own vet most of the time. You must learn to use medications off-label because very few medications are made for goats.

If your goal is to buy and sell goats for slaughter, you aren't likely to find an adequate supply. Your only realistic alternative is to set up a goat-raising operation in conjunction with your order-buying business to add to your supply line. It's a numbers game.

Raising goats is not like manufacturing products or providing services. These are living creatures whose habits and health issues cannot be molded to fit your plans. You can raise goats for slaughter but you must have lots of the right kind of land in the right climate and have extensive knowledge of goat health, nutrition, and management. You need people who are willing to work and live with the goats on a 24/7 basis, taking care of their health and nutritional needs. You need to learn to THINK LIKE A GOAT and you'll be able to use your knowledge of these unique animals to achieve your goals. Otherwise, you are destined to lose lots of money and have many goats die in your care before you ever get them to a slaughter destination.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 12/3/16

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