Raising goats for meat may sound unusual to some, but goat meat consumption is quite common around the world, particularly in Asia – and rising in popularity here in the United States. As demand increases, many farmers, both small and large, are venturing into this segment of agriculture. While Texas tops the nation in goat meat production, we pay a visit to three farms in Tennessee, the second-largest goat-meat-producing state in the country.
Such a Boer
Lora Richards stands in the barnyard of her parents’ house, surveying the scene. Ricky, who seems quite needy, stands at her side waiting to be petted. Mindy, the playful one, is looking for anything to chew – a work glove or maybe a shoe.
Richards gives Ricky an absent-minded head rub and Mindy a slight swat while she eyes Annie, Kirsten, Sugar and Cookie. Everyone in Richards’ barnyard has two things in common:
They all have names, and they are all goats.
Richards is one of a growing number of Tennessee goat farmers – a group whose numbers have skyrocketed in only a few years. Two factors have played major roles: an increase in ethnic populations for whom goat meat is a diet staple, and the introduction in 1993 of the large Boer meat goat to the United States and Canada.
Richards started in 1996 with two nannies and a billy. By 2004, the herd was up to 97, including 51 babies all fathered by that lucky goat Ricky – her first purebred Boer billy goat. Prior to Ricky, she had bred what she calls brush goats – goats of no particular breed – that went for about $1 a pound, maybe a little more, when sold at livestock auctions.
She’ll sell about half of her kids this year, when they are about six months old and weigh 40-50 pounds. With the introduction of Boer genes, she expects to get a little more for her lively brood this year.
“I try not to pet the ones I know I’m going to sell. … What I do is I take them, unload them, give them my name and address,” she says, describing her auction-day routine. “Then I leave and let them mail me my check.”
All kidding aside
Richards describes her setup as “an old-fashioned goat farm – just a barn. A lot of people have these fancy setups.”
She could be describing Hidden Hollow Farm, which averages 2,300 head of goats. They have two different markets: the meat market and breeding stock. Typically, full-blooded animals, such as a male Boer goat, will sell for about $400. Also for sale at Hidden Hollow are dogs, Pyrenees and Anatolian shepherds, bred to protect the herd from predators.
In addition to Boers, Hidden Hollow sells Kikos, Willinghams and Tennessee Meat Goats. Jerry Nichols, farm manager, says preferences are like chocolate and vanilla ice cream – purely a matter of taste. Some producers, he says, are even crossbreeding the Kiko and the Boer in attempts to achieve goat perfection.
No matter the breed, goats have become “a pretty big business,” he says. “We’re getting ready to deliver a $50,000 order to Virginia.” Hidden Hollow has sold goats for slaughter to places in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
And while all registered goats are required to have names, at Hidden Hollow Farm “we assign them a name, but it’s not Fluffy or Mr. Mighty,” Nichols says.
Just getting started
At a smaller goat farm, Larry Baird has Mr. George following him around in the pen – has for a month, since he and his wife, Connie, bought 18 Boer goats through an ad in the newspaper.
“We’re always looking for another way to make a dollar or two,” Baird says. “It’s a long-term thing. If you want to make any money, it has to be.”
The Bairds had no experience in raising goats before they started. “We’ve been reading, talking to people, going out on the Internet and just watching goats for a month.
“They’re fun to watch. I’ve never cared much for goats, but the Boers are a different thing altogether. They have a personality to them.”
Having said that, if it’s Mr. George’s time to go, Baird has no problem with that. “We know why we have them.”
Goat farms around the country
- Goat farms in New England
- Goat meat farms in Tennessee
- North Central Texas Meat Goat Association
- California Meat Goat Association