Community Agriculture Alliance: Meat goats are a viable venture

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— A frequently asked question to the Routt County Extension Office is one regarding the growing goat industry. Are meat goats really a viable venture when compared with other animal options? The answer is yes. However, as in many other industries, specific challenges and costs always come into play; therefore, proper planning and management is the key to success.

In essence, when compared with other animal industries, the goat industry already has an established market. Specifically, with the introduction of Boer goat genetics, not only has meat goat production greatly increased, but the demand from varying ethnic populations has increased, as well.

Markets historically have been in place in conjunction with sheep markets to sell wethered dairy goats and Spanish goats. Therefore, equipment and resources are available from many of the same suppliers that interact with the sheep industry.

Aside from producing meat goats for consumption, many parts of the country are recognizing meat goats for their ability to improve pasture and aid in range management. Frequently, producers now are incorporating goats into a multispecies grazing program.

Different species of livestock prefer different forages and, in turn, graze them at different heights. For example, mixing cattle with sheep or goats is common in the improvement of the use of forages, and the practice is used to decrease expenses associated with mowing and spraying weeds.

Sheep and goats tend to eat forbs or brushy plants better than cattle or horses, and many weeds in grass pastures essentially are forbs. Goats are browsers and prefer to graze with their heads up if given the opportunity. This means they will eat coarser plants such as the forbs and shrubs, along with some higher-growing grasses, according to small ruminant educator Dr. Jodie Pennington, of Lincoln University Extension. This allows landowners to gain value from undesirable plants and aid in their control.

Brush and weed management is the most noticeable benefit from multispecies grazing. However, results may vary depending on the type of pasture and terrain. Multispecies grazing has been shown to improve the use of forages by less than 5 percent to more than 20 percent, depending on vegetation present on the land and the mix of animals used, Pennington said.

As with any other livestock operation, stocking rate is another key to success. As a rule of thumb, six mature goats are equivalent to one mature cow on native or improved pasture. This can be altered depending on quantity and quality of forages available.

Obviously, production costs and the market will determine whether one can make a profit raising and selling meat goats. Some other outside challenges in the goat industry include: competition from other red meats, high marketing costs, internal parasites and a negative consumer attitude regarding goat meat. However, in the end, good planning, management and creative marketing can result in meat goats becoming a viable venture worth pursuing for producers interested in the industry. For more information, call the Routt County Extension Office at 970-879-0825.

Cassidy Kurtz is an agent with the Routt County Extension Office.

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