This is a shout-out to anybody out there who raises goats for meat. I'd love to hear anything you have to say. Recently Washington Post writers mused that goat meat might be the next big thing to hit the marketplace, following beef, chicken, and pork.
Talking to County Extension Educators around here, you sure can believe it. Lots of kids (the people kind) are raising lots of kids (the goat kind) for 4-H goat projects. Thousands are shown at area county fairs (as well as the state fair) every year. Boer goats (mainly for meat), dairy goats and pygmy goats (mainly for pets) are all popular.
In fact, many County Extension Educators have received so many phone calls asking about raising goats, they recently sponsored a Webinar for folks in 20 Indiana counties as well as 20 in Kentucky.
"They're cheaper for young people to buy, easier to raise and to show," said Fred Matuszak of Wanatah, Superintendent of the La Porte County Goat Project. "Sometimes the kids are kind of sad when they have to say goodbye, but they know all along that these are animals that are raised to produce meat."
I started thinking about goats when visiting my friends Barbara and Wayne out in Spokane, Washington. Barbara took us out to the country, through miles of wheat fields and pastures to Davenport and the J&J goat farm to meet her friends, Sunny Johns and Jim Jerow.
Goat meat contains a lot less fat and a lot more protein than most of the other meats we eat. If you're edgy about mass-produced chicken, pork and beef, goat-farming is as good for the planet as it is for you. "Did you know that goats are the most efficient animal at turning bio mass into meat?" asked Sunny. "That is why 80 percent of the world's population eats goat meat."
If it didn't taste so good, I wouldn't be beating this drum. It's delicious and it sure would be great to have some more meat markets and restaurants offering goat in our area.
Sunny Johns, a slim, beautiful, blue-eyed western farmer with a ponytail of long, sandy hair, showed me around their spread. For urban folks, it's a fantasy-come-true. They have chickens, a huge vegetable garden (she's especially interested in peppers), fruit trees, berry bushes—and three double-, sometimes triple-fenced goat pens. One of the fences is electrified. "They don't get a little jolt," she said. "They get a big jolt. It gets their attention." Johns learned about fences the hard way. "Oh, yeah, they love to get out. Ate at least one garden. . ."
I made a little joke about goats loving to jump up on things. "Tell me about it," she said. "I had this old car with a hatchback. Here I come around the corner just in time to see the darn thing up on the roof, then sliding down the hatchback. As I was heading toward him, he was trying to jump back on the roof, to do it again."
Sunny's great-great grandfather homesteaded here in 1887, before Davenport was even a town. A coal miner in Missouri, he was seeking a healthier life for his young family. Her grandfather and her dad used to raise cattle. When her dad died in 2004, the family split up the acreage. "I have the smallest piece at 672 acres," she said. "With this dry ground that's not enough acres to raise cattle, so we decided on goats. They are browsers, so they prefer bushes and weeds to grass. They are smarter, gentle, and easy to handle. They also don't take much room."
"Our goats are pure-bred Boer goats. They are strictly a meat goat. Not raised to milk. Boer goats are a meat variety because of their shape. They are thick and stocky, whereas a dairy goat is narrow and leaner. Although having one dairy goat could be helpful during kidding season. I don't really want one around because you have to milk them twice a day. My arthritis wouldn't like it much."
One goat farmer estimated he could keep ten goats on the acre of land he needed for two steers. Even though they are much smaller than cattle, the "turn around" is much quicker. "They are born in March weighing about eight-pounds, "said Sunny. "By November they are eighty pounds each and ready to eat. "
Melva Stamberger, an Extension Educator with Purdue's Fulton County Extension, who lives north of Rochester, said her six does are due to have kids in January and February. "It takes 155 days," she said, from breeding to birthing." Did she bring a Billy-goat in for a visit? "No, we took the does to the buck," she said.
"I still remember the most thrilling day of my life," she continued, "Feb. 2, 2012. "One of my does had 'quads.' "Boer goats usually bear twins, three's a bonus, four's a little miracle. "And I raised 'em all myself," said Stamberger.
Mark Evans, 4-H Educator with the Purdue University Putnam County Extension Service, touted goats' quick turn-around time, too. He's big on goats. He thinks the meat is delicious, plus, goats are handy groundskeepers. They love to eat undesirable, invasive plants. "Like kudzoo," he said. "Really, when some farmers are faced with plants that are getting out of control, they bring in the goats. Problem solved."
Recently we read about goats "mowing" vacant land around O'Hare and other big airports. "Eco-goats" are available to remove unwanted vegetation, when herbicides are undesirable. The company moves their goats around like beekeepers move hives to help pollinate plants. They move the goats in a trailer and set up portable electric fences.
Bill Niman, who has a huge goat farm in California, said he recently started thinking about goats for other purposes. "They make an excellent complement to cattle," he said. "That's because goats prefer and thrive on coarse, brushy vegetation that cattle won't eat. If you've ever seen a herd of goats being used to clear land, that's why. In fact, researchers have found that there's only about an 18 percent overlap between what cattle and goats will eat in a typical pasture. They've even found that you can improve the quality of vegetation available for cattle grazing by keeping goats on your land.
There are some problems with large-scale goat farming in our area according to Mark Evans. "You just don't find the money, research or products that are available for beef and pork farming. There aren't as many kinds of de-wormers available, for instance." In his opinion goats do best in drier climates.
Still, according to the USDA, the number of goats slaughtered has doubled every ten years for the last three decades and according to the Washington Post we're closing in on 1 million meat goats a year—and still growing, despite the economic downturn.
Around here, 4-H kids are enthusiastically raising goats, learning how to detect and treat disease, the best foods to feed them, how to cross-breed, and where to have them processed. My guess is there are going to be a lot more goat farmers and a lot more goat meat around here in the future. Mark Evans said he'd put a goat burger up against a beef hamburger any day of the week. "You have to cook a goat burger slow," he said, "and it's a lot less fatty. A nice piece of cheese rounds it right out."
Next time: Slow Goating with some great chefs.