Goat meat is consumed widely throughout the world, especially in developing countries. However, it is not usually sold in traditional marketplaces in the United States. Sheep and goat meat is the fourth most consumed meat, following pork, poultry, and beef. Meat goat production, like any other animal production enterprise, requires that good husbandry practices be followed in the areas of sanitation, health, feed, water, and shelter. These are all integral parts of managing a successful goat enterprise.
In the United States, goat production increased by about one-third in the past decade because of their economic value as efficient converters of low-quality forages into quality meat, milk, and hides for specialty markets. There are several reasons for the growing popularity of goats in this country. A big factor is the larger number of ethnic groups that have settled in this country and have a preference for goat meat, milk, and cheese products. Another factor is the determination of many Americans to be self-sufficient. Where resources are limited, a small herd of goats may be the only livestock that a small, part-time farmer can raise to achieve self-sufficiency. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) meat goats account for over 80 percent of the total of goats produced in the United States. Pennsylvania produces more than 40,000 meat goats annually.
Markets for Goat Meat
Goat meat is unique in flavor and palatability. It is leaner than many other red meats and usually less tender. However, its leanness has a place in today's market for meats with less fat. Cabrito stands for roasted meat from goat kids 4-8 weeks of age. Its main use is for barbecue meat, and it is highly sought after by certain ethnic groups. Chevon is meat from goat kids 48-60 pounds or 6-9 months old. Of these two types, cabrito is the most tender. The higher collagen content and lower solubility of goat meat, compared with lower levels of the same features in lamb, reduce the overall palatability and tenderness of goat meat. Breeding and slaughtering techniques appear to be key in improving the tenderness factor of goat meat.
Marketing options include direct marketing off the farm, supplying goat meat for specialty markets (particularly holiday sales to various ethnic groups), or producing kids for commercial marketing firms. Success is often a reflection of how well a producer tends to all aspects of breeding, health, management, and marketing. All these factors have their respective roles in producing and marketing a quality product.
Along with direct marketing to ethnic groups, there are two other potential niche markets for goat meat:
- targeted markets serving health-conscious consumers wanting lowfat diets and
- the restaurant trade serving ethnic or gourmet foods featuring goat meat.
These markets are largely untapped and may provide real opportunities, especially for producers within close proximity to the market.
Goat Production Characteristics
Goats are intensely curious and will investigate anything that sparks their interest. Coupled with curiosity, their jumping and climbing ability can present some real management challenges. Goats can climb through a new "goat-tight" fence, pull the wash off the line, nip the rosebuds, or bounce onto a parked vehicle.
Female goats are called does or sometimes doelings if they are less than a year old. Males are called bucks or bucklings. Young goats are called kids. Bucks tend to be aggressive and emit strong urine-like odors, which is most offensive during the breeding season from September to early January. Does do not secrete strong odors from their scent glands.
Goats adapt well to hot environments because of their small size and higher ratio of body surface area to body weight. Also, their ability to conserve body water, their limited subcutaneous fat cover, and their hairy coats are good survival traits under a wide variety of climatic conditions.
The foraging preferences of goats encompass a wider spectrum of plants than those of other small ruminants. Goats are inclined to forage or browse from the top of a plant downward, making them an effective control for many undesirable plants and shrubs. Goats are called "nonselective browsers" because of their desire to choose from a large variety of vegetative types. This grazing behavior enables them to survive harsher climates and more marginal grazing conditions than either sheep or cattle.
More than sixty recognized or "official" breeds of goats exist in the world. These multipurpose breeds produce milk, meat, fiber, and skins. In the United States there are three primary types: the Angora or Mohair breed of approximately 185,000 head, and the meat and dairy breeds estimated at over 2.9 million head.
In many small-herd dairy goat enterprises, not all does must be milked, so meat is often the main product. Along with meat, the sale of breeding stock from small herds of dairy goats may be an important income source. This versatility allows the producer to plan and operate a more stable economic production unit. In some parts of the world, all breeds may be raised for fiber, meat, and milk and cheese production. Kids of all breeds can be used for meat. However, meat goat carcasses are generally leaner and more muscular than dairy goat carcasses.
Angora goats originated in central Turkey, a mountainous area with a dry climate and extreme temperatures. Both sexes are horned and open faced, with long locks of hair over the rest of the body. Mature bucks weigh from 125 to 175 pounds and mature does 80 to 90 pounds. Angora goat hair is called mohair. The fiber quality of mohair from goats raised under more rainy or high-humidity conditions usually does not match that of mohair produced in more arid regions.
Spanish meat goats are larger than Angora, have less hair, and come in a variety of colors. They are very hardy and require a minimum of management and labor. Their unique feature is their reproductive physiology. Unlike dairy goats, which breed only in the fall to winter months, Spanish goats are polyestrous (they can breed throughout the year). This allows for year-round kidding and yearling meat production.
Another meat breed, the Boer, was introduced from South Africa. Boer goats are also polyestrous. Under good management, many does are known to rebreed while still nursing. Boer goats are highly versatile in their ability to adapt to various climates and production systems.
The Kiko breed of goats originated in New Zealand and the breed was selected for survivability and growth rate; consequently, there is no common coat color or pattern. Kiko goats consistently produce a lean, well-muscled goat of large frame and exceptional survivability under a wide range of climatic conditions.
Breeding and Selection
Important considerations in a selective breeding program are multiple births, twice-a-year kidding, rapid growth, good conformation (sound feet, legs, and mouth), and attention to color standards for certain breeds. Because income is derived primarily from the sale of kids, multiple births should be a high priority in the selective breeding program. Give preference to early born kids for replacements, and select doe kids from does that kid twice each year.
Good reproductive performance can be an indicator of a breed's compatibility with the environment. Meat goats have a reputation for high fertility, averaging 98 percent of does bred under good management and nutrition. Given proper care, the does should be capable of maintaining a birth rate of 1.9-2.3 kids per doe.
Although meat goats are polyestrous, peak sexual activity occurs during the autumn months. The apparent decline in male libido during late spring and summer can lower reproductive rates during these times. To improve herd management, bucks should not be allowed to run with the does throughout the year. A planned breeding season also allows you to better manage does during pregnancy. Kids will also be more uniform in size at weaning, which is preferable for marketing as well as raising doelings as replacements. A continuous breeding season is discouraged because it subjects underdeveloped replacement doe kids to the buck. These factors can have a negative influence on overall profitability. A well-planned breeding program is highly recommended for any producer interested in expanding to a sizable commercial operation of greater than fifty head of breeding-age does. Focus your breeding schedule to take advantage of the best marketing opportunities for your area.
The gestation period for does varies from 148 to 152 days. If does are bred two times per year, kids should be weaned at 2-3 months of age. The weaning period is a good time to accustom future replacement stock to a supplement feed should the need arise to provide a limited amount of a concentrate feed. These replacement doe kids can return to the breeding flock when they reach desirable size (two-thirds their mature weight) or are one year old.
Fencing and Facilities
Goats require tight fencing. Electric netting fence can provide a temporary enclosure, but goats will eat through such a fence if it is used as a confinement structure and not continuously electrified. Woven wire fencing may be used, but the goat's horns may become entangled in the fencing and severely harm the goat. If woven wire is used, you will need to check the goats frequently to free trapped goats. A five- or six-strand high-tensile fence with electrified first, third, and top wires has proved to be an effective goat-tight fence.
High-tensile electric fence wire
Like other livestock, goats need some type of restraint facility and shelter when on pasture. Regular sheep-working pens are adequate for goats. Cattle pens can be easily adapted by making the lower section goat tight. An open shed arrangement of 10-12 square feet per doe can provide shelter during extremely hot or cold weather.
Herd Health Considerations
A preventative health program should be carefully worked out with your veterinarian. Goats are more susceptible to internal parasites than other types of livestock. Control of internal parasites is probably the most important health issue for goats. Generally, control methods for sheep within a certain region of the country will also be effective for goats. Problem diseases associated with reproduction or kidding can be managed and treated, in most instances, the same as for sheep.
Pasture productivity is often measured in animal unit months (AUM). An AUM is the minimum area of grazing land required by one mature 1,000-pound beef cow for one month. Where one AUM is enough for a single cow, one AUM is generally enough for five to six meat goat does.
If stocked according to recommendations in your locale, meat goats can be grazed with other livestock. In marginal grazing lands, goats have been shown to complement both sheep and cattle. Goats consume a higher percentage of brush and other less desirable plants; thus, they help maximize the use of marginal pastureland as well as improve forage production over time.
A carefully planned rotational grazing program can enhance pasture production and help control internal parasites. High-quality pastures and small-grain pastures are good for kidding since they provide excellent feed for milk production. Supplemental grazing in stubble fields, corn fodder, small-grain pastures, and brassicas can be used to either extend the grazing season or boost required nutrient levels for some critical phase of production. Moving goats out of pasture before the grass is less than 3 inches tall will help prevent internal parasite infection.
In general, growth rates for meat goats are slower than those of sheep. Under favorable nutritional conditions, meat goats may gain at a rate of more than 200 grams (0.45 pounds) per day from birth to 100 days of age.
All agricultural operations in Pennsylvania, including small and part-time farming operations, operate under the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law. A specific part of this law is the Nutrient Management Act (also known as Act 38). Portions of this law may or may not pertain to your operation due to the number and/or size of animals you have. However, all operations may be a source of surface or groundwater pollution. Because of this possibility, you should contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District to determine what regulations may pertain to your operation.
There are several risk management strategies you may employ for your operation. You should insure your facilities as well as your animals. This may be accomplished by consulting your insurance agent or broker. You may also insure your income through a crop insurance program called AGR-Lite. To use AGR-Lite you must have five years of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Schedule F forms. You can then contact an agent who sells crop insurance and insure the income of your operation. For more on agricultural business insurance, see Agricultural Business Insurance.
Sample Meat Goat Budget
The sample budget includes cost estimates for a meat goat herd of 100 does and three bucks. The budget summarizes the receipts, costs, and net returns of a meat goat enterprise. This sample budget should help ensure that all costs and receipts are included in your calculations.
Costs and returns are often difficult to estimate in budget preparation because they are numerous and variable. Therefore, you should think of this budget as an approximation and make appropriate adjustments in the "Your Estimate" column to reflect your specific production and resource situation. More information on the use of crop budgets can be found in Enterprise Budget Analysis.
You can make changes to the interactive PDF budget files for this publication by inputting your own prices and quantities in the green outlined cells for any item. The cells outlined in red automatically calculate your revised totals based on the changes you made to the cells outlined in green. You will need to click on and add your own estimated price and quantity information to all of the green outlined cells to complete your customized budget. When you are done, you can print the budget using the green Print Form button at the bottom of the form. You can use the red Clear Form button to clear all the information from your budget when you are finished.
Sample Budget Worksheet
Initial Resources Requirements
- 100 does: $20,000 3 bucks: $600 Fencing for 10 acres: $13,000 to $13,500 Chutes, gates, feeders, waterers, etc.: $7,500 to $8,500
For More Information
- Amundson, C. How to Raise Goats. Osceola, WI: Voyageur Press, 2008.
- Bowman, G. B. Raising Meat Goats for Profit. Atlanta, GA: Bowman Communications, 1999.
- Dunn, P. The Goatkeeper's Veterinary Book. Ipswich, UK: Old Pond Publishing, 2004.
- Greaser, G., and J. Harper. Enterprise Budget Analysis. University Park: Penn State Extension, 1994.
- Kime, L., J. Adamik, E. Gantz, and J. Harper. Agricultural Business Insurance. University Park: Penn State Extension, 2004.
- Mowlem, A. Practical Goat Keeping. Wiltshire, UK: Crowood Press, 2001.
- Sayer, M. Storey's Guide to Raising Meat Goats. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2007.
- Weaver, S. Goats: Small-scale Herding for Pleasure and Profit. Laguna Hills, CA: Hobby Farm Press, 2000.
Associations and Web sites
Alberta Goat Breeders Association
Box 4603 - 61 Avenue
Leducs, Alberta T9E 7A4 Canada
American Boer Goat Association
1207 South Bryant Blvd. Suite C
San Angelo, TX 76903
American Meat Goat Association
PO Box 978
Sonora, TX 76950
Penn State Meat Goat Home Study Course
- Meat Goats, a booklet about the basics of goat production, is available from the Alberta Goat Breeders Association for $15.00 (U.S.).
- Meat Goat Monthly News, news magazine of the American Meat Goat Association, is available from Ranch Publishing, PO Box 2678, San Angelo, TX 76902; phone: 325-655-4434.
Prepared by Melanie E. Barkley, extension educator in Bedford County; Karen Knoll, former extension educator in Adams County; Lynn F. Kime, senior extension associate in agricultural economics; and Jayson K. Harper, professor of agricultural economics.
This publication was developed by the Small-scale and Part-time Farming Project at Penn State with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Extension Service.