STATE CENTER, Iowa -- When Eric Finch’s
wife, Deb, brought home a nanny goat in January 2002 from
the vet clinic where she works, this Iowa farm couple never
suspected it would help them launch a profitable niche business.
Now in their third year of goat production, the Finches have
tapped into a booming market among the local Hispanic population
in nearby Marshalltown. They have expanded production several
times, but can’t keep up with demand – even without
With his wife’s father and brothers, the family raises
800 acres of corn and runs a 1,000-sow farrow-to-finish operation.
Eric and Deb who expanded their goat breeding herd to 150
head and are raising about 175 kids this year. The couple
would like to expand the herd to 200 or 250 head next year.
Their situation isn’t unique. According to the American
Meat Goat Association (www.meatgoats.com),
the U.S. meat goat industry is experiencing an average growth
rate of 12 percent each year in production and still can’t
produce as much as consumers want. “There’s a
huge demand for goat meat,” said Eric, 27. “It’s
consumed by 70 percent of the world’s population and
is very popular among many ethnic groups here in the United
That’s just one of the many good reasons to raise meat
goats, added Finch, who serves as secretary for the new Iowa
Meat Goat Association (www.iowameatgoat.com).
Finch said meat goats also:
Grow quickly and are easier
to raise than other livestock. “You
don’t need a lot of land like you do with cattle,
and you don’t need a lot of buildings like you do
with hogs,” said Finch.
Offer income potential within
seven to eight months of breeding. Goats
have a five-month gestation. The kids can be weaned at three
months at 45 to 55 pounds and can go directly to market.
Provide a tax benefit in
some states. “Most people who have
an acreage want horses, but in Iowa they aren’t considered
livestock for tax purposes,” Finch said. “Goats
can classify you a farm business and offer some tax benefits.”
Consult your tax advisor for more information.
Which breed is best?
If you want to get started with meat goats, you can’t
beat the Boer breed, which is known for its tremendous growth
rate. “This is the best meat goat you’re going
to find,” said Finch, who recently taught a community-college
class in meat goat production and marketing.
Finch has a closed herd with a full-blooded Boer buck and
crossbred females ranging from one half to three-quarter Boer
blood. The adult does range from 150 to 200 pounds, while
the buck weighs in at 300 pounds. Finch’s goat crops
have ranged from 160 to 180 percent, with twins, triplets
and a few quadruplets.
The Finches also have some Spanish meat goats but say this
breed tends to be more flighty. Other meat goat breeds include
Kiko (which offer a good growth rate and have been selected
for twinning) and Myotonic (easy keepers that are capable
of two kiddings per year and are known for a heavy rump and
“You don’t have to start with purebreds,”
Finch said. “You can get good crossbreds to get started.
Check with your state goat association to find reputable sellers.”
In central Iowa, purebred bucks and does cost $500 or more
per animal. Commercial does that are three months of age to
one year range from $125 to $250 a piece, depending on how
much Boer blood they have. Finch sells his for $150. Commercial
bucks can be found for $200 a piece.
Match facilities and fencing to goats’
Once you decide which breed you’d like to raise, what
kind of facilities will you need? You can keep eight to 10
goats per acre of pasture with rotational grazing, Finch said.
If you have more goats than pasture as Finch does, plan on
20 square feet of dry lot per head.
Since goats don’t like rain, you’ll need to provide
shelter. Plan on 10 square feet per doe, Finch advised. “We
use an old cattle loafing shed with three sides, and we curtain
the fourth side in the winter,” Finch said.
Kidding areas with pens should measure 5 feet by 6 feet.
Depending on the climate in your region, you may not need
kidding pens if the babies are born in April or May, said
Finch, whose kidding season runs from late December through
Don’t forget fencing, which can be one of your most
important investments. You can use woven wire, high-tension
electrified wire or a combination of both. Some companies
like Keystone Steel and Wire Co. (www.redbrand.com)
make fence designed especially for goats. “We had trouble
with goats getting their horns caught in the woven wire, so
we added a strand of hot wire about 16 to 18 inches off the
ground,” Finch said. “We also took Roundup®
and sprayed the fence area so the goats didn’t have
any reason to stick their heads through.”
What do I feed?
What you feed your meat goats and how you feed them will
play a major role in your profitability. Goats are natural
browsers, but in Iowa they can’t be raised on pasture
exclusively and will need feed supplements, including high-selenium
trace mineral salt.
Here’s Finch’s feeding program, by phase:
- Maintenance = pasture and free choice mineral/salt
- Late gestation (last six weeks) = free-choice hay, three-fourths
of a pound of grain per doe, and mineral/salt
- Lactation (with a single kid) = free choice hay (Finch
uses his best alfalfa), 1.25 pounds of grain per doe, and
- Lactation (with twins) = free-choice hay (Finch uses
his best alfalfa), 2 pounds of grain per doe, and mineral/salt
Finch feeds his goat kids a complete mini-pellet with 18
percent protein. He uses stainless steel nursery pig feeders
to deliver the self-fed creep feed. “Once the kids get
started on creep feed, they eat it like crazy,” Finch
said. To keep does out of the creep feed, Finch cut holes
in a cattle panel that would accommodate only goats weighing
up to 30 pounds.
Weanlings and replacement goats receive a self-fed, 16-percent
protein pellet and roughage comprised of the brome and orchard
grass Finch bales from his fields’ waterways. “Many
companies supply goat rations,” added Finch, who buys
most of his feed and supplements in bulk to save money. “We
have a local feed mill make the formula we want.”
Adult goats receive a mixed ration comprised of six parts
shelled corn and one part pellet with 14 percent protein.
Old turkey feeders and livestock troughs work well for feeding
the older animals. Don’t feed straight corn, because
goats will founder and have hoof problems, Finch advised.
“We don’t crack or grind the shelled corn we feed
to the goats, because this can cause acidosis.”
Keeping goats healthy
Controlling worms, trimming hooves, and vaccinating on time
are the keys to keeping goats healthy. Finch vaccinates for
clostridium perfringens C & D and tetanus. “You
can vaccinate for other conditions, but we’ve found
we’ve been covered with these two shots,” Finch
said. Kids receive the first shot within a week of their birth,
the second one 21 days later. Does and bucks receive an annual
booster shot in the fall when they come off pasture.
Parasite control is a big issue in a goat herd, since goats
have little natural resistance to worms. Use fecal samples
to determine your herd’s worm load. “We treat
for worms in the spring and the fall,” Finch said. “We
also treat individual goats, as needed, during the summer.”
Finch also rotates his wormers including Ivomec®, Safeguard®
and Valbazen® annually so resistance doesn’t build
up in the herd.
Since Finch puts his goats on a regular de-worming schedule,
he doesn’t run many fecal samples. But if he suspects
a problem, he’ll collect a fresh fecal sample in a plastic
bag and send it to the local vet clinic for testing. Tests
usually range from $5 to $10 each.
Basic herd health maintenance must include hoof trimming.
“There’s no way around it,” Finch said.
“Get a good pair of trimmers, because goat hooves are
really tough. One tip is to trim them after a rain has softened
them up.” Finch advises cleaning the mud out of the
hooves, trimming the hooves and treating the hoof area with
Coppertox® right away if there’s any bleeding to
control the risk of bacterial infection.
What about castration? “I band most of my males,”
Finch said. “They’ll go off feed and lose weight,
but they’ll come back.”
Comparing options for marketing
commodity ag box
In a local farm economy dominated by a corn-soybean-hogs-cattle
mindset, you can expect to get some flak when
you try something new like meat goats.
Just ask Eric Finch of State Center, Iowa. “When
we started this niche business several years ago,
some of our family said we couldn’t make
any money on goats,” he recalls. “Some
of the neighbors and the people at church laughed,
When Finch and his wife, Deb, marketed more than
100 goats in a year to the local Hispanic population
and turned a profit, the doubters didn’t
give up. “They’d tell us, ‘Yeah,
you have a market now, but it’s a fad. It
Now that the Finches direct market more than
300 goats a year and still can’t keep up
with demand, people have changed their tune.
“We have never lost money on the goats,”
Eric Finch said. “That’s not true
in the hog market, where you might only make money
two or three months of the year, and those profits
don’t make up for the losses the rest of
While Finch continues to work in his family’s
conventional corn and swine operation, he’s
learned that direct marketing specialty products
can pay off. But it requires a different mindset.
“You have to think outside the traditional
agricultural box. You have to learn to work with
customers directly, and you have to respond to
what they want to buy.”
But for farmers who can make this paradigm shift,
the rewards are worth it, Finch said.
“The goat market excites me. I see it as
a way to spread risk on our farm, and I’m
honored to share what I know with others.”
Once your goats reach market weight, you have several marketing
options. They can go directly to consumers, directly to slaughter,
or they can be sold at a sale barn, depending on options available
in your location and your personal preferences.
Before you do anything, run the numbers to determine your
cost of production, Finch advised. “I’ve used
the Minnesota Meat Goat Enterprise Budget to enter everything
from my feed and mineral costs to my kidding rate. It shows
my actual cost of production is $50 to $55 per year per doe.”
Once you calculate your cost of production (or at least estimate
it if you’re new to the business), you’ll know
how much you need to receive to break even and make a profit.
This is especially important if you sell directly to consumers.
Finch markets nearly all his goats directly to Hispanic consumers
who live in and around Marshalltown, the county seat town
20 miles from the Finch farm. Hispanics make up more than
20 percent of the Marshalltown’s population, according
to figures from the Marshalltown Chamber of Commerce.
“Our goat business got started because a couple of
the Hispanics who work for us on the swine farm told their
friends we had goats for sale,” said Finch, who marketed
more than 300 goats in 2003, up from 130 in 2002. “We
don’t do any advertising—it’s all word of
Finch’s goats are sold by the head and are sold live.
Most customers buy one to three goats at a time. For special
occasions like a wedding party, buyers might take as many
as 12 goats. There are benefits and drawbacks to marketing
direct to consumers, Finch noted.
“On the plus side you get to the set the price, you
get cash in hand immediately, the buyers come to you, and
there are no trucking and/or commission charges. But there
can be biosecurity issues and inconvenient, unexpected visits
When buyers come to the farm, they are not allowed to go
near the kidding barn for biosecurity reasons. Finch has also
established marketing days of Friday nights and Saturday mornings
to make the process easier. But some customers drop in whenever
they want. “Then they get upset if I’m not at
the farm, so I encourage them to call ahead so I can be there,”
Pricing creates another challenge. “In Mexico it’s
common to haggle over prices,” Finch explained. “So
I’ll have customers who try to get a $75 goat for $50.
I don’t haggle over price. It’s not worth it,
and most buyers will pay your price. Plus, you don’t
want word to get around that you’re willing to lower
Finch sets his prices by determining his cost of production
per animal sold, knowing what the local market will bear,
and charging enough to earn a reasonable profit.
If you sell to the ethnic market, also learn each group’s
specific needs. “Each ethnic group wants something different,”
Finch said. “Hispanics don’t want bucks, but Africans
and Sudanese prefer bucks, because they say the meat has more
flavor. For certain holidays, Muslim customers want only a
perfect, unblemished, full-grown animal over a year old.”
Other marketing options
If direct marketing isn’t your style, you can sell
to a local sale barn or slaughter facility. While sale barns
are often closer to home, realize that you’re not guaranteed
a price. You can also lose income with commissions, yardage,
inspection fees, and other costs.
If you’d like to alleviate some of this price fluctuation
-- but don’t want to direct market -- you can deliver
your goats directly to a slaughter facility. The price is
set prior to arrival and there are no commission fees, but
you will have to pay for trucking.
Finch’s nearest slaughter facility is located in Shannon,
Ill., 200 miles one way from his farm. Recently this buyer
was bidding $1.30 per pound live weight on 30- to 50-pound
goats. The buyer will take heavier goats, but the seller will
Finch’s most profitable market weight for goats ranges
from 40 to 60 pounds, and he sells 90 percent of his goats
in this range. A 40-pound goat will bring about $60, while
a 60-pound goat will bring about $80. That’s worth noting,
because local Hispanic buyers usually aren’t willing
to pay more than $80 for a goat.
“It’s not what you get per pound that’s
important—it’s what you need per head to make
a profit,” Finch noted. That’s why you need to
use some type of enterprise budget to determine your actual
cost of production and develop a profitable marketing plan.”
As the demand for meat goats continues to grow, the Finches
say they enjoy sharing their knowledge of the business. “When
we started out we didn’t have anyone to turn to for
answers,” Deb Finch said. “Everyone told us raising
goats is like raising sheep, but there are some big differences.
We’ve learned from experience, and we’re happy
to help others.”
couple gives goats a try
The success of Eric and Deb Finch in the goat
business has inspired other local residents in
this central Iowa community.
Tim and Dawn Minard of Liscomb, are starting
out with a Boer herd of seven does and a buck.
“We also have 15 acres and wanted a way
to raise some extra money,” Dawn said.
“Although we both have full-time jobs in
town, goats are still a good fit with our schedule,”
she said. “So far it has been a good experience.”
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