Posted July 13,
2007: Raising meat-goats is one of the fastest-growing
sectors in agriculture today. Immigrants keeping the tastes
and traditions of their homelands have driven goat-meat sales
to the point where the United States now imports a half-million
carcasses each year to meet the growing demand. Despite goat
meat being the most widely consumed meat on the planet, only
in the past 10 years has commercial meat-goat production emerged
in the United States.
As more and more farmers began raising specific meat-type
breeds, they realized there were significant differences in
husbandry as compared to many of the dairy and fiber breeds.
Consider the differences between a Holstein and an Angus in
the beef industry. Not only are there physiological differences
between the breeds to consider, but the traditional dairy
and fiber goat business models were not congruent with profitable
While large production herds, mostly in the Midwest, have
set the foundation for much of the meat-goat stock, farmers
and hobbyists throughout the United States and Canada are
raising meat-goats today. With only a couple publications
aimed at this trend, Storey Publishing has recently added
Storey's Guide to Raising Meat Goats by Maggie Sayer to
it's already popular series which includes guides for raising
chickens, dairy goats, sheep, beef cattle, pigs, rabbits,
horses, turkeys, ducks, poultry and llamas.
As do all of Storey's guides, Raising
Meat Goats delivers comprehensive “how-to”
information for those new to raising meat-goats. Sayer covers
the history and description of all meat-goat breeds as well
as a general overview of goat characteristics and behaviors
such as myotonia (fainting) and the flehmen response (lip
curling), which new goat owners may not understand.
Unlike many publications geared toward meat production in
ruminants, Sayer’s promotes a forage-based diet that
avoids stuffing animals full of grain and fillers. She explains
the digestive system of both adult goats and kids, provides
easy-to-understand examples of rumen chemistry, and includes
a basic guide to purchasing and storing hay.
Illustrations enhance health care
The chapter most likely to become bookmarked and dog-eared
by those who purchase this book is “Keeping Goats Healthy
(and What to Do When They Aren't).” Sayer lays out the
common health problems associated with goats with a description
of symptoms, treatment and prevention, accompanied by drawings.
Countless inexperienced goat keepers have lost goats to Bottle
Jaw (severe parasite infestation), thinking that it was either
the goat's cud or that the animal was stung in the face while
grazing. The picture provided will clearly show goat farmers
what is wrong with their goats when they see it.
The following chapter, which deals with parasites, will help
meat-goat producers to understand an issue that is rapidly
becoming a serious problem in the industry. Most meat breeds
originated in dry, hot environments. When they are reared
in humid, wet and confined conditions, debilitating (and fatal)
worm loads can rapidly develop. Unfortunately, the indiscriminate
use of chemical wormers has led to parasites now developing
a resistance to most of the major wormer classes available
to small ruminants.
Sayer explains a management method developed in South Africa
called FAMACHA which uses the inner eyelid of the goat to
determine the worm load of the predominant parasite in goats
that causes anemia. The introduction of this method has greatly
reduced the amount of chemical wormers used by producers and
is now taught by many of the meat-goat researchers throughout
Sayer includes numerous producer profiles of people actively
raising meat-goats, identifying good goat keepers. This is
important, because newcomers to the Boer goat world are frequently
told to purchase stock from reputable and experienced breeders—traits
that are increasingly difficult to find in the meat-goat industry.
While the book provides a wealth of information and an extensive
collection of resources in a single publication, it fails
to deliver the meat that many experienced goat producers need
to advance their success. Sixteen pages into the book there
is a shaded box entitled “Choosing Not to Sell Goats
for Meat” and later in the marketing chapter, Sayer
touches only briefly on selling goats for meat prior to launching
into using goats for packing and carting.
Even though the meat-goat demand is being driven by ethnic
communities, Sayer only dedicates a few pages to this market
in the front of the book explaining why meat goats are becoming
popular. This information is stale and fails to state that
people who eat goat meat would do so year-round—and
not just on holidays—if there were ample supply.
Marketing focus is missing
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 35 million
immigrants in the U.S., many of whom would regularly consume
goat meat if it were available, yet many authors, including
Sayer, continually expound most on the advantages of raising
meat-goats for breeding stock, show animals and working goats—leaving
out serious information on actually selling meat goats for
meat. (Even “Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens”
by Gail Damerow in 1995 included a chapter on butchering.)
Also disappointing was that there was no mention of using
goats for prescribed grazing and brush control—a rapidly
growing sector in the meat-goat industry. Recently, the New
York Times featured a story about how the city of Chattanooga,
Tennessee, has its own herd of goats to control the rapidly-growing
noxious weed, kudzu. In California, there are several companies
who rent out goats for brush control in fire-prone areas.
Additionally, farmers are increasingly running a seasonal
herd of meat-goats with their grass-based dairy and beef cattle
to help keep down forbs and woody plants in their pastures.
They are learning to turn their weeds into dollars instead
of spending money and time applying expensive herbicides or
trying manual eradication.
This guide is an excellent choice for beginning and small-scale
breeders or for reference material, yet it offers little assistance
to commercial meat-goat producers who are already scrambling
to figure out how fill the demand for goat meat in the United