March 2011 Issue

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SO YOU WANT TO RAISE MEAT GOATS?

Several times each week, I receive calls and emails from people wanting to get in the goat business. Instead of doing the research needed to find out if they should start a goat-raising operation, they usually get the cart before the horse and ask about prices. I then proceed to ask questions and make statements as follows.

1) Is there a market for goats in your area? If so, what is that market? What months of the year bring the best prices? If producing goat meat is the goal and there are no buyers for goat meat, this is not a valid business model. If the intent is to produce show wethers and that market is controlled by existing producers, then entry into this limited market will be very difficult. Research your market before you decide to raise meat goats. Find out what demand exists for goats in your area and breed for that market. Decide if you are going to be a hobbyist or a market-oriented producer. If you decide to raise goats for slaughter, don't seek advice from people who raise show goats. Management and nutrition are very different. Even if you decide to raise goats to control brush on your property or just for pets, this article contains information that you need to know to keep them healthy.

2) How much land do you have? What type of plant materials are on it? How much rainfall occurs and how well drained is your land? Goats live like deer, needing lots of land to roam over and eat from the top down to avoid stomach worms. They cannot handle crowding or feedlotting. Goats are dry-land animals. Areas of rainfall in excess of 25 inches a year and land that is not well drained mean stomach worm infestations that the producer and the goats will continually be fighting. Goats are weed- and leaf-eaters; they need to eat *from the top down* as much as possible to avoid stomach worms. Goats need to feed themselves off the land as much as possible throughout the year to keep costs low in order to make a profit. Number of goats per acre is determined not by how much plant material is available to eat but rather by how well you can control the stomach worm load. That means starting with a few goats, culling in every generation, and adding additional goats very slowly.

3) How much time can you devote to this goat-raising venture? Are you going to live on the property? Goats are not "little cattle" and the word "sheep" should not be used in the same sentence as the word "goat," because the similarity ends with the word "ruminant." Goats are harder to raise than cattle, if for no reasons other than they have very early sexual maturity, short gestation, and multiple births. The overriding factor is multiple births. Pregnancy and parturition are very dangerous events when multiple births are the norm.

4) Do you have proper fencing, and if not, are you willing to spend the time and money to install it? Barbed wire fencing won't work with goats. Goats are too smart to be contained by electric fencing, which is at best a psychological deterrent. In some instances, off-set electric wires installed on permanent non-electric fencing can be helpful. However, 100% electric fencing does not work. Been there, done that, spent the money to replace it. Pasture fencing materials are different from that which makes good pens and working traps. One size does not fit all.

5) Do you realize that you need livestock guardian animals to protect the goats from predators? Is your property in an area where you can successfully use such animals? Being sprinters and not long-distance runners and having few natural defenses, goats are very susceptible to predation. Livestock guardian dogs are the best choice; llamas and donkeys can be used, but they are *sentinel* animals that usually vocally sound out an alarm rather than chasing and fighting predators. Livestock guardian dogs will attack and fight predators. Livestock guardian dogs bark continually at night and patrol ever increasing areas; these activities can cause problems with neighbors in populated areas.

6) Is there a qualified goat veterinarian in your area? Are there other experienced and knowledgeable people available to help you? While many vets, even rural vets, have limited knowledge of goat health, you are going to need them in serious emergencies and for prescription medications. On the Internet, there are both good and bad sources of information. ChevonTalk, GoatER, and MeatGoatMania -- all three on Yahoogroups -- are excellent (and free) sources of help from experienced goat producers. GoatCamp™ held each year in late October at Onion Creek Ranch in Texas is an extraordinary opportunity to receive both classroom and hands-on training on a working goat ranch. Information on all of these resources is available at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com. If you don't already have internet access, get it now. You are missing a world of information. Choose your mentors carefully. There is a lot of bad information out there; you need to learn how to distinguish good from bad. An experienced goat producer in the field you wish to enter can help smooth your path.

Subscribe FREE now! Monthly issues with new articles and other educational information on meat goat health, nutrition, and management written by Suzanne W. Gasparotto of Onion Creek Ranch and Pat Cotten of Bending Tree Ranch. In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Neither Suzanne Gasparotto nor Pat Cotten are veterinarians. None of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.

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Don't miss Goat Camp™ 2011 The week of October 24th
Click Here for more info...

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JeffersLivestock.com

7) Do you have the financial capital available to buy needed medical supplies to have on hand when you need it? Learn what you need and have it on on hand before you need it. Medications for goats are not widespread; you won't have time to purchase when an emergency arises. Jeffers is a great place to buy non-prescription items. Contact them at 1-800-533-3377 (1-800-JEFFERS) or www.jefferslivestock.com or access them from my website www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.

8) Are you one of those people who thinks that goats eat tin cans? Goats are extremely picky eaters whose rumens are easily upset when eating the wrong things. They need high quality hay and forage/browse to thrive. Learn how to feed goats properly. Protein is only one element of a feed ration. Long fiber is essental to proper rumen function. The rumen is the goat's digestive factory. Calcium-to-phosphorus ratios are critical. Copper, selenium, zinc, and thiamine (Vit B1) are but a few of the minerals and vitamins essential to goat health, nutrition, and reproduction. Because goats have the fastest metabolism of all ruminants (except deer), their rumens can get messed up very quickly and they can die. The most difficult thing about raising goats in any managed situation is proper nutrition.

9) How are you determining which breeds or cross-breeds to raise? Do you understand how important that "adaptability" is to the health of goats? Goats do not transport well; stress is a big issue in their lives. After being moved from one area to another, goats need to be given time to adapt to their new environment before breeding occurs. The more different your area is from the location that they came, the longer the time needed for adaptation. If you live in a very wet area, goats are not a good choice. No breed is resistant to stomach worms. Example: Moving a specific goat breed from a very wet climate isn't a quick solution to wormload problems. Management on adequate amounts of land and culling for bad traits in every generation affect the performance of every breed of goat. Trying to raise goats in climates too wet for them to adapt successfully is as foolish as my deciding that I am going to raise top-qualify alfalfa in the shallow, dry, and nutritionally-deficient soil on my ranch in West Texas. In terms of goat survival, selecting the right breed isn't the problem; the problem is management and environment. I am not addressing the selection of the best breeds for top quality meat production; that topic is covered in another article.

10) What do you know about buying breeding stock and proper breeding techniques? Unlike buying cattle for breeding purposes, there are no surplus quality breeding goats to be found in commercial auctions. Goats sold in commercial auctions either have defects (mastitis, birthing problems, bad feet, diseases that you don't want to bring onto your property like Johnes, CAE, CL), are too old to breed, or are in such poor condition that it is probably cost prohibitive to rehabilitate them.

Many times each year I get calls from folks who have bought 350-500 supposedly bred does, moved them hundreds of miles from point of sale to their location, and are having a nightmare of abortions, mastitis, dead kids, and sick adults. If you buy from a seller who cannot credibly tell you the history of every single goat, I promise you that you are buying from a commercial broker who has picked up culls cheaply and is selling them to you for much more than they are worth. That cheap goat is going to be the most expensive goat you ever bought. Find a private party that you believe will treat you right and buy four or five inexpensive goats that are healthy but not what the producer is trying to raise. Use them as your *practice* goats. You are going to kill some goats with your inexperience -- might as well be some cheap ones. Don't be focused on buying registered breeding stock. Registration is not a guarantee of quality in any way, shape, or form. Registration does one thing: It tells you the sire, dam, grand-sire, grand-dam, number of kids in litter, birth date, etc. Registration tells you pedigree, and while knowing pedigree is important, it has nothing to do with quality. Pedigree is not a short-cut to buying quality breeding goats. Learn meat goat conformation and buy accordingly. Do not breed males of a larger breed to females of a moderately-sized breed. Don't breed does too young or re-breed too soon after kidding. Don't breed three times in two years and wear out your does too soon. Summary: Do your homework before you start raising goats. Learn from other producers' mistakes and sucesses. Don't try to reinvent the wheel. You will save yourself money and you will save goats' lives by following these recommendations

.Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 3/12/11

 

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WHEN MEAT MATTERS...

Contact Suzanne Gasparotto at
325-344-5775 for prices and availability.

Tennessee Meat Goat™ does spring 2011 shedding winter coats

Tennessee Meat Goats™ and TexMasters™ are usually available year round. Contact us for ages and pricing by calling 325-344-5775 or emailing onioncreek@tennesseemeatgoats.com

A testament to productive longevity, OCR Nettie at 13 years old and her son OCR Nettles at 1 day old

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