Q&A

DEAR NEW FARM:

How about an article or series on the expanding meat goat industry in the U.S.? Granted, it’s going to be near impossible to ever do completely organic meat goat production, but with parasite monitoring methods like FAMACHA and more enlightened browsing/grazing practices, this already healthy meat source can become even more natural and sustainable. Please contact me if I can be of any assistance in preparing any materials.

Thanks,
Ray Bowman, President
Kentucky Goat Producers Association

 

DEAR RAY:

Thanks for the letter. A small page we did about a year ago, providing resources for those interested in meat goat production (Meat Goat Marketplace), has been one of our most-visited pages, so we’re sure that more practical information on entering the market and raising goats would be of interest to our readers. We'll be making plans to cover this area in more detail in the coming months.

In the meantime, can you tell us a little bit about the current state and future prospects of meat goat farming in Kentucky, from your point of view?

Best wishes,
NF

 

DEAR NEW FARM:

Sure, I'd be happy to. The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has documented about 70,000 goats in the state, but I really feel the figure is probably closer to 100,000 or 125,000. Kentucky currently ranks fifth according to the ag department’s stats, but I feel we may be either second or third in the U.S. in terms of meat goat production. I’m not sure that these numbers really have any relevance past bragging rights. What I do know is that producers in the United States currently only meet about 50 percent of the domestic demand for goat meat, so there’s tremendous room for growth, no matter where you live and farm.

Kentucky meat goat producers are a mix of people new to farming and people who have farming backgrounds but may be new to goat husbandry. The KGPA reaches out to both audiences and supports production of all breeds.

One group getting into meat goats here are former tobacco farmers. Many small tobacco producers have 100 acres or less, including some rough acreage and some tillable land. They have found it increasingly difficult to compete with big tobacco but don't want to leave the farm. Of course goats aren't the total answer, but they are an attractive piece of the overall diversification puzzle. The key to the successful transition of tobacco farmers is diversification, and goats are one example of a sustainable direction that they can take.

Many of our producers who are new to farming are people who recently moved out to a rural area, have 5 or 10 acres of land, and started looking for something they could do with it. Five acres can accommodate a dozen or so goats very well, even if it's not perfect pasture land. In fact, goats can do well on non-native, invasive species like kudzu, multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle, so they present landowners with the opportunity to clean up neglected land and make a little money at the same time.

The key to sustainable meat goat production is good forage management, including rotational browsing. Research is being done at Kentucky State University and the University of Kentucky on different forage combinations--including chicory, sericea lespedeza and grazeable soybeans—to provide optimum nutrition and help control parasites. Goats also work well in rotation with other livestock, preceding or following beef cattle into an area, for instance.

So far, there are no certified organic meat goats in Kentucky, but we're working with producers to establish "natural" production guidelines including limited use of antibiotics, browsing above the parasite load, and use of the FAMACHA method to monitor and determine parasite tolerance and curb the use of chemical dewormers. We're also working on breeding for better feet and more suitability to the humid Kentucky climate.

In terms of markets, some Kentucky goat ranchers are selling direct to consumers, but most of our producers take their young animals to graded sales around the state and are consigning them to Tel-O-Auctions sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Prices are good and people find that they are making a reasonable profit. I like to say that there's not a goat born in Kentucky that doesn't have a market waiting for it. In addition to established specialty markets, more and more general consumers are discovering how tasty and nutritious goat meat can be—and when they do they come looking for more!

I can’t say enough about the support the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Governor’s Office for Agriculture Policy have given to the Commonwealth’s goat producers and the Kentucky Goat Producers Association. The environmental climate is sometimes a challenge for producers here in the Bluegrass State, but thanks to these two agencies the political climate is very favorable.

I hope this stimulates your readers to consider the potential of this line of farming. I for one am certain it's not a fad—it truly is the fastest growing segment of agriculture in Kentucky and, quite possibly, the nation.

Regards,
Ray Bowman, President
Kentucky Goat Producers Association

 

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