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
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 advertising.
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 States.”
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
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
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
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 deep chest).
“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 May.
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
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 mineral/salt
- 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
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, too.”
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 won’t last.’”
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 the year.”
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.” (www.auri.org/research/goatmeat/budget.htm)
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 mouth.”
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
“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 from customers.”
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,” Finch said.
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 your price.”
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
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 be docked.
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
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
success of Eric and Deb Finch in the goat business has
inspired other local residents in this central Iowa
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,”
“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.”
contact Eric and Deb Finch:
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