Goats: Holding their own

Meat, dairy goat market has a strong tail wind

-Photo by Karen Schwaller Alexia Graves feeds her goats a mixture of Purina goat chow mixed with cracked corn and oats. The family receives an average of 6 gallons of milk daily from five goats.

HULL — Mike Harman, Hull-area goat producer and past president of the Iowa Meat Goat Association, said Americans are taking baby steps toward trying goat meat, but it’s the ethnic market that is giving the meat goat industry its strong tailwind.

“It’s like red meat, and is one of the leanest meats out there. It’s very healthy,” said Harman. “It seems that peoples’ mindsets are that goat meat tastes bad, but it compares to beef for its flavor and texture, and it’s leaner and has more vitamins than other meat.”

He said Americans of the past didn’t eat much goat, since it has only come onto the agricultural scene in the 1990s. At that time — as it is today — most (almost 60 percent) goat meat is imported from South Africa or Australia.

Harman said he doesn’t hear of anyone raising herds of thousands of goats at a time, but he knows several who have herds of five or 10 goats. He said most Iowa goat herds range from the 30- to 60-head size.

He said they’re relatively easy to raise, but aren’t as cold-hardy as cattle and because they are small, don’t give off as much heat.

-File photo Various breeds of goats loaf in a north Iowa dairy barn in this 2012 photo.

Still, he said goats are good money-makers, with little cost for inputs. He said goats eat some corn, but their digestive systems are like those of calves, and they don’t like a steady supply of that kind of rich, high-protein food. He said they do well on pelleted feed and regular grass hay, adding that goats don’t need high quality alfalfa to thrive.

He said he uses hay and a lick tub to get them to gain well.

“By the time most of the goat kids are weaned and you take them to market at 40 to 50 pounds, you might have $20 stuck into them,” he said. “That’s hardly any input costs.”

He said prices were down this past summer with the surplus market, but he said prices have been fairly consistent for the last couple of years. He also said with smaller animals going to market all at the same time, there is less meat produced, and it’s harder to flood the market with goat meat for very long at a time. This gives the market a fairly steady market feel.

“The market was down to about $150 per hundredweight (recently), and I’ve just looked at the prices at Sioux Falls Regional in Canton (S.D.), and they were selling 60-pound goats for $270/cwt.

-Photo by Karen Schwaller Alexia Graves tends to a small flock of goats on her acreage just west of Spencer. She said if she could have more goats, she would, because “they’re so much fun.”

“When you figure that out, that’s $120 on a 60-pound goat,” he said. “It’s a pretty good mark-up for just a regular goat.”

Harman said demand overall is working its way up with the ethnic market behind it, using it as their go-to source of meat or protein for special holidays. He personally sells to people with Ethiopian and Spanish backgrounds, and said it gives them a manageable amount of meat to contend with, compared to butchering pigs or fat cattle.

“Today’s meat goat might weigh 40 (on the low end) to over 100 pounds (on the high end) and on an 80-pound goat you’ll get about 40 pounds of meat,” said Harman. “They make nice-sized chops and roasts.”

He said most market meat goats weigh between 60 and 80 pounds because that’s where the demand rests.

Harman said market outlets for goats is limited, with most goats from Northwest Iowa going to Sioux Falls Regional Stockyards in Canton, S.D. or to the Jackson (Minn.) Sale Barn.

“If you get much over 100 pounds you might get docked in price because there isn’t as much demand for that big of a goat,” said Harman.

Harman said goat meat is versatile, with the animal producing chops, roasts and ground meat that can be used just as hamburger is used. He said he knows of a cook-off done by Iowa State University that featured goat meat, if only to bring awareness to that meat market.

Dairy goats

Alexia Graves has a very small (five head) herd of dairy goats near Spencer, which she raises for milk for her family’s own consumption. She also makes yogurt and cheese for her family with that milk, and freezes the surplus for use during the winter when she’s not milking.

“I haven’t bought milk from the store in a long time,” said Graves. “The milk is really good.”

She purchased two goats initially from a friend seven or eight years ago. With five goats today that they milk twice daily, they typically receive up to six gallons per day total. Her goat breeds include Saanen, “the Holstein of the goat community” because of its prolific milk production; and Nubian, with its long, floppy ears.

Graves said the milk from the Saanen breed is mild and doesn’t have a high fat content, and milk from the Nubians has a higher fat content, suitable for ice cream and similar products.

“I can’t believe how much I love it,” she said. “Goats are so addicting, and if I could have more, I would have more.”

She likes goats, she said, because they give enough milk without producing past the family’s needs. She said cows give an abundance of milk, but would be more than her family could use.

Graves said for one, goat milk offers several health benefits, protein molecules in goat milk are smaller, making it easier than cow’s milk to digest.

She uses raw, or unpasturized, milk for family consumption because her research has shown it to be better for overall health — especially for the stomach, and builds better immunity.

She said people often question the use of raw milk (which she said cannot be sold in Iowa), but she was quick to say that those who operate small dairies know their animals, removing the worry about the safety of the milk.

“I know my goats,” Graves said. “I can feel when they’re running a temperature.

“I know if they’re not eating and when they’re sick,” she said, adding that her small herd allows her to get to know her goats. “You can’t know your herd when (you have a large number).”

Graves said in a perfect season, goats would lactate from kidding time in late February (or so) until late fall, sometime in October.

She said the schedule doesn’t always work out that way, but she tries to stay as close to that as she can, depending on when her goats can be bred.

Graves said she is yet to have an issue with milk safety because they know when a goat is sick, and when that happens they don’t consume the milk or make milk products from it.

She said she had a difficult time finding unmedicated feed for her does, but after much searching and studying, she found Purina Goat Chow, which she mixes with cracked corn and oats to make it last longer. During the winter she supplements with alfalfa pellets. Graves said the goats don’t eat much alfalfa in the summer with so much other green grass around that they prefer.

She said the alfalfa pellets give them extra protein during the winter months.

When she begins kidding, she bottle feeds goat milk (including the very rich and nutrient-filled colostrum) to the kids, pulling them off of the doe from day one, and bypassing milk replacers. She said bottle feeding prevents a disease that can be passed on from the doe to the kid (but not from a doe to a human). She said she does pasteurize that milk, and bottle feeds every kid for the first three full months.

“The does seem happier and the kids do really well by doing that,” said Graves.

Lactation continues on until the fall when they need to prepare for breeding, but until then, Graves milks the does and freezes the milk. They have copious freezer space to accommodate all of that milk that the family uses all year long. They remove it from the freezer and thaw it when they want to use it.

She said the most kids she ever had in one year was 13 out of five does. When it’s time to sell the does, she said she tries to find local purchasers who would like them for the milk. But if she can’t find them, they are taken to the Jackson Sale Barn, along with the bucks — but not by Graves.

“I can’t take the goats to the sale barn, it’s too hard for me,” she said. “I love my goats.”