October 2013 Issue

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AUCTIONS
Making Them Work For You

Meat goat producers must know when and how to use commercial auctions to their benefit.

The American meat-goat industry does not produce enough animals to satisfy consumer meat demand much less provide breeding-quality goats to commercial auctions. As of January 1, 2013, the total number of goats of all breeds in the USA was only 2.3 million and has been declining for years. About 40% of all the goat meat sold in this country is imported frozen from Australia and can be sold more cheaply than Americans can produce it.

Many of the goats sold at American commercial auctions are producers' culls. "Cull" can mean anything from less-than-breeding-stock quality to does with poor mothering skills or mastitis to goats with health problems, some of which are unmanageable/incurable like Johnes and Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis yet can still be sold for meat consumption. Commercial auctions are often sales outlets for goats destined for slaughter.

Large commercial meat-goat producers probably use auctions less than any other category of goat raiser, shipping hundreds of terminal goats by the truckload to contract buyers every week of the year. If they have a problem with a breeding doe or buck, it can be put on the trailer with other goats headed for slaughter.

Producers of quality breeding stock must cull more heavily than other goat raisers to maintain a high standard of excellence. Breeding for kidding at specific times of the year is not as critical as it is for slaughter producers, the latter of whom must have their goats ready for ethnic markets at times when demand is highest. Unless producers have developed a local market for their culls, commercial auctions may be the best sales path. If culls are ready for market when prices are low, it may be more cost effective to sell them rather than hold them until market conditions improve.

Hobbyists, pet-goat owners, and show-goat breeders are often small-scale operators who usually don't concern themselves with slaughter-market timing. Show-goat breeders must produce animals based upon the timing of the shows for which they sell goats. Producers should develop a local ethnic clientele to whom they can sell directly from the farm. If this sales method is not desirable (examples: people living alone who don't want strangers dropping in, dogs on site that might bite visitors, locations too remote to pull much traffic), then slaughtering and eating the cull goats or using a commercial auction are alternatives.

Everyone who raises goats should become familiar with the meat-goat market in their areas. Learn about local ethnic groups and their meat preferences. Locate several of the closest commercial auctions and visit before the sale to find out how goats are treated in the pens and during the sale. Learn how goats are sold and who the buyers are. Order buyers in Texas make the rounds of every significant auction that holds a sale each week. They have accounts established at each auction and may be told in advance what will be offered for sale. If a producer has an attractive group of goats to take to the sale, he should contact the auction owner or auctioneer at least 10 days prior to delivering the goats so that these animals can be advertised to draw motivated buyers. Don't expect to be able to sell directly to order buyers; they aren't going to spend their time going to individual farms to examine, buy, and pick up small groups of goats nor are they going to buy directly from you at the auction site. Order buyers have established arrangements with each commercial auction for payment and delivery that most goat raisers cannot match.

Not all goats sold at commercial auctions are diseased or defective, but you must recognize that these animals have been commingled with many other goats during sorting and penning and have been exposed to organisms for which they have not had time to develop immunities or may have incurable diseases like Johnes or CAE that are not readily identifiable without laboratory testing. Some of these goats may have been through the auction before, bought, taken home, determined not to be what the buyer wanted, and returned for sale once again. Some people buy and sell goats regularly at auction, trying to make money on the spread in prices at different sales. Buyers at auctions -- any type of auction -- get what they see and what they don't see. There are no guarantees or warranties given at auctions.

A producer who wants to buy goats from a commercial auction to take home to use for breeding purposes should be wary of their origins and exposures. Understand that auctions are busy places that operate on tight timeframes. Many times goats are dropped off by sellers immediately before auction time and placed into pens. Some auctions attempt to place a seller's goats in a lot by themselves and run them through the ring together. If the seller has only a few goats, they get mixed in with others, usually of similar size. Auction management usually tries to handle the animals as infrequently as possible to reduce stress on them.

Before the sale, walk the pens and determine goats of interest. Attempt to learn who is selling them and why they are being sold. Did the seller raise them or buy them from someone else for re-sale? Ask the goats' ages, backgrounds, breed or crossbreed, breeding status (open, bred, just kidded, recently weaned kids, how many times bred -- if female). If possible, check does' udders for mastitis and young intact males for conditions like undescended testicles and urinary calculi. Examine each goat identified for possible purchase and find out as much as possible about it and its owner before the auction begins. If this isn't possible, and often it is not, then goats purchased should be checked for these defects when taken home. If some information doesn't sound right, it probably isn't. Buying cheap can mean buying someone else's problems; that goat will turn out to be the most expensive animal you ever purchased.

Quarantine newly-bought goats on the farm in a pen already established for this purpose and keep them in quarantine for at least a month. Deworm and vaccinate against overeating disease, tetanus, pneumonia, and Caseous Lymphadenitis. Don't take anyone's word that all of this has been done; assume that they will need every preventative treatment that responsible producers utilize. See my article entitled Deworming and Vaccination Schedules on the Articles page of my website www.tennesseemeatgoats.com. Ease the goats onto their new diet. Chances are good that they've been underfed or improperly fed. At the very least, the goats will be stressed. A drastic change in diet will cause rumen problems which means sick and sometimes dead goats. Trim hooves. Check for loose or missing teeth. Even if the goats haven't been bought as long-term breeding stock, they still must be in good health with useable teeth, udders, testicles, legs, and hooves to serve the purpose for which they were purchased. Some of them will be returned and run through auctions again because the buyer has decided they are unsuitable for his needs. This is a normal part of utilizing commercial auctions.

Commercial goat auctions serve a vital purpose in each producer's business plan. Whether selling or buying is the goal, everyone who raises goats must decide how auctions can work for them

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 10-2-13

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