Are You Thinking of Raising Meat Goats?
by A.R. Cobb, D. Oswald, J. Miller
Interest in meat goats has increased dramatically in Illinois in the last few years. An increasing demand for goat meat, spurred by a growing ethnic population in Chicago and throughout the state, has demonstrated a need for increased commercial meat production. In addition, importation of new breeds has stimulated a breeding industry which needs herds to produce purebred breeding stock as well as animals for exhibition.
The above opportunities have stimulated a number of people in Illinois to investigate raising meat goats. However, many of them are not familiar with modern meat goat production techniques. Because the interest in meat goat production is new, there are few experienced goat producers in Illinois to help newcomers in their desire to learn as much as possible about meat goat production. This is an attempt to aid newcomers in their goal to become successful producers.
Evaluating Your Resources
The first step in meat goat production is to do an honest evaluation of the resources you have to devote to the project. Here is a list of resources you need to consider:
- Personal: What is your attitude towards goats and livestock in general? Do you like them? Are you comfortable working with larger animals? Do you realize that raising livestock is a 24/7/365 commitment, no matter the weather, time of day or other family, social, or work obligations? Is your family supportive of the decision to raise goats? How will you take vacations? Can you set up your farm to allow you to have your desired level of "quality of life?"
- Land: How much land is available and what is its productivity? Poor ground may support 2-4 goats per acre while better pasture may be able to support 6-8 goats per acre. If you are adding goats to cattle, you can add 1-2 goats per head of cattle. Goats will eat the weeds cattle dislike, thus improving the grazing for the cattle. Improvements like better forage species and rotational grazing can increase stocking capacity. Remember, it is better to have too few goats than too many – too many will put a strain on your resources.
- Buildings: Do you have buildings to house the number of does you want in the winter, along with their kids and any replacements you will have. You will need about 20 square feet for each doe. For example, with a 55-doe herd, you would need about 20 x 55, or 1,100 square feet for the animals. (The exact amount will depend on your production system.). Dry (non-lactating) does need only modest protection, even in winter, if they are well fed, while does with January kids need more. Most old dairy barns, machine sheds and outbuildings can be converted to excellent quarters for goats. But remember, goats should have an open, cold, dry barn rather than a tight, warm, humid barn.
- Machinery and Equipment: Do you have the equipment to clip pastures and clean barns? Or, will you be hiring out labor? If you are harvesting hay, do you have that machinery? If you only need about 100 tons of hay, it may be cheaper and easier to buy the hay than to make it. What about goat equipment? You will need proper fences (high-tensile electric), holding pens, sorting pens and chutes for restraint. You will also need small pieces of equipment for foot trimming, ear tagging, trimming show goats and possibly for shearing if you choose Angora goats.
- Labor: Do you have the time to properly care for the animals? You should check on your goats twice a day. Refill feed and water, if needed. During these checks, take a few minutes to stand and observe your goats. If you know what normal is for your goats, a sick one will be quickly found. Timeliness of goat management tasks is very important. You must have time to do the jobs when required and not put them off until next week or next month. An example of this would be your ability to evaluate your animals for internal parasites and respond if worming is necessary at that time.
- Capital: Do you have the capital or money available to get started? Are the goats going to be the sole support of the family, or will there be off-farm income? Regardless, the goat enterprise should be sustainable within 3-5 years. Finances are individual, so one cannot give much advice here. You need to carefully evaluate your financial resources before starting a goat enterprise. Compare goats with other alternatives.
Marketing Your Goats
The next step is to evaluate your market. You should not raise goats as a business if you do not have a profitable outlet for them.
- Commercial slaughter goats (sale barns, buying stations, goat pools, processing plants, on farm sales, meat products, restaurants, MarketMaker, Farm Direct). Consider the ethnic diversity in your area – in general, large cities and university towns will have more diversity. This will affect your ability to sell directly off the farm.
- Breeding stock (commercial or registered). Sell to other producers – you need to know how to reach them: breed organizations, state organizations, breeding stock sales, farm website.
- Show goats (breeding stock or wethers). You need to know how to reach them – 4H or FFA, goat breed registries.
The commercial goat meat industry is almost entirely ethnic, (Muslim, Hispanic). It is affected by the dates of various religious holidays shown below plus others. The dates for most holidays change from year to year. However, the Islamic holidays change by 11 days each year. This will call for a constant updating of a producers kidding season if producing for that market.
|New Year's Day
|Eidul-Adha Festival of Sacrifice - Islamic
|Muharramn – Islamic New Year
|Mawlid al-Nabi – Prophet's Birthday - Islamic
|Western Roman Easter
|Eastern Orthodox Easter
|Cinco de Mayo - Hispanic
|Start of Ramadan – Month of Fasting - Jewish
|Eid ul-Fitr – Festival of Fast Breaking – Islamic
|Passover / Pesach - Jewish
||3/3 – 3/10
||3/20 - 3/27
||3/9 - 3/16
||3/30 – 4/6
||3/19 - 3/26
||3/7 - 3/14
||3/26 – 4/2
||3/15 - 3/22
||3/4 - 3/11|
|Rosh Hashanah – Jewish
|Navadurgara / Navratra Dashara / Dassai
||10/12 - 10/20
||9/30 - 10/8
||12/5 - 12/12
||12/22 - 12/29
||12/12 - 12/19
||12/2 - 12/9
||12/21 - 12/28
||12/9 - 12/16
||11/28 - 12/5
||12/17 - 12/24
||12/7 - 12/14|
For a further discussion of the dates and the type of goats preferred for each holiday go to the Ethnic Holiday Calendar developed by Penn State Dairy and Animal Science.
Developing a Health Program
New producers, in their excitement to start, often over look the importance of developing a strong health program for their herd. This begins with the selection of animals from healthy herds and is absolutely necessary for successful long-term herd survival. When establishing a herd, all producers should make every effort to purchase animals from herds that are free of Foot Rot, Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL), Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis (CAE) and other transmissible diseases. All purchased animals should be quarantined away from the rest of the herd for an observation period of at least four weeks upon arrival at your farm. This allows you to treat them for internal parasites and to learn of any serious disease problems before exposing your herd to them.
Goat Management and Health Tasks
Any successful goat producer keeps up with day-to-day management tasks, and does them properly.
§ Buck care: Can you care for bucks even during the non-breeding season?
§ Kidding: Can you handle a doe properly before and after kidding? Can you assist her as needed or recognize more serious problems? What do you do with a newborn kid?
§ Baby kid care: Do you know the basics?
§ Weaning: Do you know about the weaning process?
§ Vaccination: Can you recognize the important diseases? Do you have a vaccination schedule?
§ Internal and external parasite control: Every goat has parasites. Can you set up an effective parasite control program?
§ Foot trimming: Do you know how to do this? (It can be hard on your back!)
For more information on health problems with goat, visit the American Meat Goat Association website.
Don't forget to find a goat veterinarian! Contact producers in your area or the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners.
Goats are efficient users of low quality forages to produce meat and milk, requiring less corn and processed feeds than other species. In fact, they can get a larger portion of their nutrients from pasture and hay than most other animals. Goats forage on a broader range of plants than other livestock. They can usually survive well on poor or fair grazing areas as long as there is sufficient grazing material because they are proficient at selecting the most nutritious parts of the plant. They are excellent browsers and forage from the top down which make them efficient biological controls for weeds while substantially increasing vegetative cover of favorable grass and legume species. The forage may, at certain times, be supplemented with grains or other concentrated feeds to meet nutritional requirements, especially for does during late pregnancy or lactation. Mineral or salt combinations are also available. The trace elements iodine, cobalt, and selenium are deficient in feeds grown in the Midwest, so mineral supplements are needed. You should have your hay analyzed for nutrient content so you can adjust your feeding plan accordingly.
A beginning goat producer must decide whether harvested forage should be purchased or produced. Can you harvest any of your forage for hay for winter feeding? If all the forage produced on an acre of land could be harvested as hay and measured in tons (or hay equivalent per acre), you would have an estimate of your land's productive capacity. Suppose you have 20 acres, of which 5 acres are rough poor pasture and will produce about one ton H.E., 5 are average and will produce two or more tons of H.E., and 10 are good to excellent and should produce four tons of H.E. per acre. Your total production would be 5 x 1 = 5, plus 5 x 2 = 10, plus 10 x 4 = 40. This equals a total estimated H.E. of 55 tons. An average doe requires 1 ton of hay/year (half of this comes from pasture). So in this example, you should have enough forage for about 55 does. This method is, of course, only an estimate. But it is a quick, easy and a reasonably accurate method to evaluate your land resources for goats. Remember that about half of the forage production would be consumed as pasture and the rest as harvested forage in the winter.
Farmers who are adding on a goat enterprise probably already have the production capability needed, but others may be wise to purchase hay. If you start with 50 or fewer does and only 15 or 20 tons of hay are required, purchasing hay seems reasonable. Whatever feed system you decide on, remember that any investment in harvesting equipment must be paid for by the goats. A small herd cannot cover the costs of large tractors, forage harvesters, and other major equipment.
The University of Illinois has a program titled "Illini Graze" to help producers estimate the amount of forage they have available on their farm. To purchase one of these, contact Dean Oswald at 309-836-2265, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Factors to consider when planning a feeding program
- Make use of pasture and browse – this will cut down on your feed bill.
- When and where to purchase the feed – buy a full year's supply at one time or purchase as needed?
- Make sure you have excellent equipment for storage and feeding. Do not feed goats concentrates on the ground.
- Make sure you have adequate feeder space for all animals in a pen to eat at the same time. This will greatly reduce the chance of injuries and miscarriage.
- Consider the size of the goats you will have. Larger animals require more floor and feeder space.
- Know what stage of production your does are in so you can feed them accordingly.
- Separate pregnant does from non pregnant as they approach kidding.
- Make sure all animals have CLEAN FRESH WATER at all times – check each day and clean all waters on a regular basis.
- Ideally, sweep feeders each day.
Establish Production Goals
In order to make a profit, you need does that get pregnant on the first exposure to the buck, give birth to at least twins, raise the kids to weaning, and require minimal maintenance. Tennessee State University is conducting research on profitability based on doe herd productivity and performing comparisons among different breeds of meat goats. Visit the Tennessee State University Animal Physiology Lab website for more information.
All goats are amazingly adaptable. Using different breeds and systems, you can set and meet your production goals. Most Midwestern farms have the potential to produce suitable forage and, since concentrates usually can be purchased at reasonable prices, can produce at high levels. The goals you set will depend on your resources, management abilities, the ability of the goats, and the products you hope to produce.
Purchasing your first goats
If you decide to start a goat enterprise, where you get your starter herd is critical. Be sure to purchase healthy animals. Also, don't buy on pedigree alone – it is the performance of the goat that counts, not the papers that come with the goat.
- Educate yourself - visit other goat farms, read books, visit websites, and join goat organizations.
- Don't be bashful - put your hands on the goat!
- Check for a sound mouth, two teats, no lumps or sores, healthy feet, no nasal or eye discharge, clean butt, good body condition, size fits with age.
- Ask to see the sire and dam.
- Ask its birth rank, how it was raised, and vaccines/dewormings.
- Ask for its pre and post weaning average daily gain.
- Ask about their culling practices. Do not buy from a farm that sells everything as breeding stock.
- Make sure that they raise goats the way you will be raising them. Don't buy a pampered show goat and expect it to survive on pasture with minimal care - it will die!
- Don't buy from a sale barn or auction!
- EPD's are just starting in goats.
- Start cheap – it's better to make mistakes on less expensive goats that your high dollar breeding stock.
The key traits to be considered in selecting a breed for meat goat production include: adaptability to environmental and production conditions, reproductive rate, growth rate, and carcass characteristics.
There are five major breeds of meat goats in the United States: Boer, Kiko, Spanish, Myotonic and Savannah. Each breed was developed with the same goal in mind: fertile, low maintenance goats able to survive in harsh conditions. While each breed has its pros and cons, the most important factor in breed selection is the individual animals you are purchasing.
Boer: The Boer is a heavier goat that was developed in South Africa. This makes the Boer a good fit for drier climates such as Texas. Puberty is achieved early, at about 6 months for the males and 10-12 months for the females. A mature Boer buck weights between 240 and 300 pounds and the Boer doe weighs between 200 and 225 pounds. For some situations, this breed might be too big, with high maintenance costs.
Kiko: The Kiko breed was developed in New Zealand from feral and dairy breeds and continues to be selected for specific commercially-important traits. The Kiko goat is therefore well suited to wetter climates such as the Southeast and Midwest. It performs well under a variety of conditions in forage-based meat production systems. They have good reproductive rates, growth rates, and are low maintenance. On average, mature bucks can weigh up to 200 pounds and does up to 130 pounds.
Spanish: Generically, the term Spanish has been used to describe goats of unknown ancestry. Because they have been crossbred for many generations, they are very hardy, and can survive under adverse agronomic climates. They are excellent range animals because of their small udders and teats. Body shape, size and color are not consistent among goats of the breed. On average, mature bucks can weigh up to 175 pounds and does up to 120 pounds.
Savannah: The Savannah was also developed in South Africa. It is known for its survivability and mothering ability.
Myotonic: The Myotonic goats are often referred to as the Tennessee 'fainting' goats, 'wooden leg' or 'stiff leg'. The stiff-leg name is derived from the fact that, in a startled or frightened state, the goats 'lock up' and fall over and lie very stiff (faint) for a few seconds (a condition referred to as myotonia). Researchers claim that this type of involuntary muscle contraction could build a more tender muscle than a muscle developed by strenuous use. This breed is one of the few indigenous goat breeds to the United States. Although a smaller goat, overall the breed is very muscular and meaty.
Pygmy: This breed is a dwarfed, heavily muscled and short-legged breed originating in West Africa. It is well suited to humid conditions and twinning is frequent.
Dairy goats are raised for milk and/or cheese production. However, cull does and bucks often end up as slaughter goats. Many dairy goat producers cross their does with a meat-type buck to produce heavier kids for the slaughter market. Breeds found in the United States include the Nubian, French Alpine, LaMancha, Saanen, Toggenburg, and Oberhasli.
Basic Meat Goat Facts
Temperature 102 – 104 F
Pulse 70 – 90 beats per minute
(90 – 150 for kids)
Respiration 15 – 30 breaths per minute
(20 – 40 for kids)
Ruminations 1-2 per minute
Puberty 4 – 12 months
Estrus 12 – 24 hours
Estrus cycle 18 – 23 days
Gestation 150 days
I1 at birth to 1 week
I2 at 1-2 weeks
I3 at 2-3 weeks
I4 at 3-4 weeks
I1 at 1 to 1.5 years
I2 at 1.5 to 2 years
I3 at 2.5 to 3 years
I4 at 3.5 to 4 years
For more basic facts, North Carolina State University has an excellent website.
For More Information
The best information often comes from other goat producers in your area who are willing to spend some of their valuable time with you and help you make decisions. Consider volunteering to work with another goat producer for a few days. You will learn, and he or she may catch up on some jobs that need doing.
E mail Addresses of authors
There are numerous local and state goat organizations that you can search for on the web.
Goat Related Sites
Books & Magazines goats
- Raising Meat Goats for Profit by Gail Bowman
- Meat Goats: Their History, Management and Diseases by Stephanie and Allison Mitcham
- The Meat Goats of Caston Creek by Sylvia Tomlinson
- Barnyard in your Backyard by Gail Damerow
- Storey's Guide to Raising Dairy Goats by Jerry Belanger
- Diseases of the Goat by John Matthews
- Sheep and Goat Medicine by D.G. Pugh
- The Biology of the Goat – CD available online
- Goat Biz Magazine
- Goat Rancher
Books, Magazines & Software– business and other topics