WHY ARE YOU RAISING MEAT GOATS?
Why are you raising meat goats? At first glance, this may seem like a silly question, but it really is a very good one. Think about it. The approach you take towards raising goats has a huge impact on whether or not you are successful; it directly affects your costs and therefore your "bottom line."
There are essentially four significant categories of goat breeders: (1) hobbyists, (2) breeding stock producers, (3) show-goat raisers, and (4) terminal slaughter-stock breeders. The biggest factor distinguishing hobbyists from other breeders is that hobbyists generally are not concerned with costs. The rest of us should be!
The single biggest mistake made by meat-goat producers is that they don't approach it as a business. Before buying a single goat, do market research for your anticipated selling area. Find out the answers to the following questions:
1) Is there a demand for goats in your area? (If not, there is no "goat business" for you to enter.) If so, by whom? Are there many breeders? Just a few or is the area overflowing with people raising goats? What market do they target? Better yet, what market do they not breed for that might be open as an exclusive niche that you could fill?
2) If there is a demand, which category listed above is in demand? Is there a strong show-goat (4H-FFA) program in your area? Do the people who live around you actually eat goat meat? Are producers raising goats to fulfill the slaughter-market demand? Is there a need for a quality breeder of herd sires and dams? Ask questions and benefit from the mistakes of others than came before you. Don't "reinvent the wheel."
If there are not enough goats in your area to supply the demand, you might want to consider raising breeding stock. Be aware, however, that raising breeding stock is the most cost intensive choice you could make. When approached properly, raising quality breeding stock is an expensive undertaking. This is also the most short-lived category of raising goats, because the market soon becomes saturated, and only the "deep pockets" folks will be able to hold onto this end of the business. These are the people who have the financial ability to cull heavily, spend the necessary money to advertise extensively, and who can successfully ride out the changes as they inevitably come to this market. Though raising breed stock may seem like the most "glamorous" end of the business, it is actually the least profitable for most people over the long run.
If there is a strong 4H-FFA presence in your area, find out the dates of the shows and the requirements to enter, then make contact with the schools and county extension agents. Uncover their specific needs and breed for that market. Entering this market requires serious personal involvement in the schools' goat-show programs, as well as developing a personal relationship with the folks in charge. If you get in on the "bottom floor," you can become one of the few suppliers of quality animals to these kids. If many other people are breeding for this market already, it is probably a waste of your time to try to break into it... unless you have some "connections" with the officials running the programs. There is a finite number of goats needed in each locality for such shows. If your interest resides in raising goats for food, then you should find out the characteristics of the ethnic populations in your area . . . or if they exist at all. Almost every ethnic group has different traditional and/or religious requirements for the goat meat that they buy.
Hispanics prefer what they call "cabrito" . . . . approximately 30-35 pound gross weight carcasses for bar-b-quing on a grill. They tend to be a close-knit group, so word about your product will get around fast. Hispanics are a steady market that you could cultivate by seeking out such buyers.
Muslims have different requirements, the most obvious of which is that the goat must be slaughtered under Halal conditions, just as Jews want their goats prepared in the Kosher fashion. Jamaicans will accept an older and larger animal, because they chop up the meat and curry it. These are just a few examples of differing ethnic requirements for goat meat.
Investigate the availability, requirements, and costs of slaughter facilities in your area. Contact ethnic restaurants and meat markets and offer to be their steady and dependable goat-meat supplier. You might even offer a sample of your product to get your "foot in the door." There are many ethnic populations in the United States for whom you can produce goat meat. If you handle this marketing properly and give personalized service, they will beat a path to your gate.
The ultimate goal of raising goats is to get goat products on the tables of America. This is really where the money is . . . long term. And serious business folks always look to the long term.
What breed or breeds will you choose to raise? This is a very important consideration that so many people never consider. The market demand in your area has a significant impact on this decision, whether you are raising breeding stock, slaughter animals, or show goats.
First, recognize that Americans are trapped in the "bigger is better" syndrome . . . to their own and to their goats' detriment. The result has been that fine animals of several different breeds have been bred up to sizes which do not permit them to be economically raised or allow them to be able to feed themselves on forage/pasture. The cattle industry did this with various breeds before producers recognized their mistake.
Quit looking at size and instead start thinking meat-to-bone ratio. Goats carry a lot of waste on their bodies which winds up in the offals (trash) bucket. If goats are grain-fed, many of them wind up with too much fat on their bodies. Goat meat does not marble fat, so it has to go somewhere, and that "somewhere" is the creation of layers of fat around internal organs (liver, kidneys, heart). So investigate breeds and/or crossbreeds that produce more meat and less waste.
Second, if you are raising meat goats, do not buy dairy goats. These two types of goats exist for diametrically opposite purposes. Dairy goats are not MEAT goats. They serve the purpose of producing milk well, but their body conformation does not carry meat. Quality meat goats do not need dairy influence in them in order to produce sufficient milk for their kids.
Third, evaluate your own property's limitations and scale your goat-raising operation to its carrying load. Do not over-populate your pens, pastures, and barns. Find out the carrying capacity of goats per acre in your area, what they eat and should not eat, and the availability of veterinary help before you go into the goat business. Do an in-depth study of the need or lack thereof of goat producers in your area. If you start raising goats and are competing with dozens of other breeders in a limited market, you are doomed to failure.
Fourth, right now meat goats and show goats are not the same animals. Work towards convincing show folks to display and promote the best production animals in your area. Shows should be the place where we as an industry put forth to the public our end product . . . MEAT goats.
While there are many other items to consider when making your decision to raise (or not to raise) goats, this overview should give you an outline of a business plan that you use in setting up your goat-breeding operation. Above all, approach raising goats as a business or shortly there will be no business for you to be in . . . and all you will see (besides unsold goats) is lots of red ink on your profit-and-loss ledger.
Important! Please Read This Notice!
All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.
In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.
The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)
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