An Introduction To Raising Meat Goats
Goats are ideal for those new to keeping livestock as they are small (therefore requiring less land per head than cattle), fairly easy to handle and multi-purpose; potentially providing milk, meat and land management.
Goats are ruminants, which means they chew their cud like cattle and have a 4-compartmented stomach that uses bacteria to break down grasses, scrub and other green material.
At the census of 2002 carried out by the US Department of Agriculture goats raised for meat had increased by 58% over a 5 year period. Given the buoyant market for goat meat from Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Hispanic, West Indian and West African communities this looks set to continue. Alternatively for the hobby farmer, raising meat goats for showing is an ideal way to enjoy goats.
Where will you sell your meat?
Different markets have different requirements. For instance Italians prefer younger goats; Muslims want very lean kids with milk teeth only, at certain times of the year; the Cabrito or veal goat (fed on milk only) is popular in the Hispanic communities. Adequate provision should be made for slaughtering and you should factor in these costs plus the cost of transporting your animals.
Goats can be reared intensively on small acreage by using supplemental feed. If using an extensive system, 2 to 10 goats per acre is a rough guide depending on the supply of grass and brush. Goats are top down grazers and will select from weeds, leaves and grasses to meet their own requirements. They can also help to improve marginal areas encouraging re-establishment of grassy species so providing low cost environmental management as well as meat.
Choosing your stock
Choosing healthy stock is important but difficult for the beginner. The best advice is to buy from a reputable goat producer in your area. That way the animals will already be acclimated. Expect to pay a premium for pure-bred show animals. The most common meat breeds are below.
- Spanish goat - originally coming to the U.S. via Mexico, this term applies to pure and cross breeds. Their small teats and udders make them hardy and able to graze in adverse conditions. Popular in the Texas Hill Country, also in the southeast and border states.
- The South African Boer Goat imported via New Zealand in 1993 is a true meat breed, with a heavy, high quality carcass. They can be reared intensively or extensively. Also popular for showing.
- Kiko goats are from New Zealand feral goat stock. This is a hardy, large framed and early maturing animal.
- Nubian goats are primarily a dairy breed, developed in Africa from British goats crossed with Indian or African bucks. They have a low slung udder, making this breed less suitable for grazing on heavy scrub land. A medium weight breed.
- Myotonic goats are found predominantly in Tennessee and Texas. They have a peculiar tendency to go into a state of temporary paralysis when startled. Known variously as "Tennessee Stiffleg", "Tennessee Wooden-Leg" and "Fainting Goat". It is a muscular and meaty breed and is a good cross with the Boer goat as the "fainting" gene does not exhibit in the cross bred stock.
Save yourself some goat chasing and invest in proper fencing at the start; goats like to escape. Here are some possible goat fencing choices:
- woven wire fence i.e cyclone fence 6x6 woven wire
- re-enforced chicken wire
- 5 strand barbed wire
- 3 strand high tensile electric wire
Southern States fencing & fencing equipment.
The latter is the cheapest in terms of capital outlay but this has to be balanced against the ongoing maintenance required which can be costly in terms of labor over a large area.
Goat Nutrition and Diet
For optimum breeding and kidding, goats need the correct balance of protein, vitamins and minerals. You can purchase commercial supplements & goat mineral. Good quality hay which provides protein and roughage should be given when and where necessary e.g. during winter in some areas. Access to clean water both in the field and in the pens is essential.
Housing and Shelter
Goats need field shelters to protect them from extremes of weather. Penning the goats at night can reduce predator attacks and enable you to observe and handle your animals at close quarters.
The main predators are coyotes, bobcats and dogs. Barbed wire fencing and penning at night, with the use of guard dogs, mules or llamas can deter predators.
Vaccination against Tetanus, Clostridials, Caseous, Lymphadenitis and Chlamydia are recommended. As with sheep, worm control (find a goat wormer) is essential. Seek advice from your vet to set up and maintain an adequate parasite control regime. Regular foot trimming is required. Finding vets with experience of goats can be difficult, so get referrals from other goat producers or your local Southern States store.
Kidding (the birth of young goats) is one of the joys of keeping goats. For optimum performance the buck (male goat) should be isolated from the does (females) and only put with selected does in good condition. The gestation period is on average five months, which allows you to monitor the does when kidding time approaches.
Still interested in raising meat goats?
Visit goat producers and ask lots of questions; read as much as you can; don't get any goats until your fencing is in place! Stop by your local Southern States to speak to a livestock expert or give us a call for more information!