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Goats grow in popularity as farmers diversify
RAYMOND -- Goats are growing in popularity among Mississippi livestock producers who have limited acreage or want to diversify their farming business.
“Since 2012, the overall number of meat goats in the southeastern region of the state has increased,” said Mitch Newman, Greene County agricultural agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “More small farmers want to raise livestock to supplement other income, and some landowners have fragmented property, which makes raising cattle unrealistic.”
Compared to cattle, goats that are managed well can thrive on fewer acres, reproduce more quickly and mature faster, Newman said.
One cow can grow well on two acres of good pasture and can produce an average of two calves every 24 months.
In contrast, six adult goats can thrive on the same area of quality land as one cow. A doe in optimal condition can give birth two to three times every 24 months and is more likely to have twins or triplets. Goats reach an ideal market weight between 60 to 80 pounds, depending on variations in breed and management practices, Newman said.
Goats are a niche segment of agriculture in Mississippi, grown for meat, milk, hair and 4-H youth livestock projects. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Census of Agriculture estimated sales of meat goats in the state at $986,000. The market value of all products sold in this specialty segment of agriculture, which includes sheep, goats, wool, mohair and milk, is estimated at $2.3 million.
As ethnic populations in the U.S. increase, consumer demand for goats is expected to continue to grow. That is another reason producers add goats to their farms, Newman said.
Dewayne Smith, a Greene County producer, began raising goats about 12 years ago as a food source for his family. Three years ago he began to expand his herd for the commercial market.
“I’ve grown my herd to 120 head,” Smith said. “There is a demand out there and room for more producers in Mississippi’s market.”
Smith is passionate about educating children and adults about agriculture. His grandchildren show goats in the 4-H livestock program and tend to their animals daily at his farm.
“It’s a lot of fun for us,” Smith said. “The goats pull us together as a family, and we all really enjoy working with them.”
Smith also helps educate others through the Greene County Cooperating Agriculturalists. The group shares information about sustainable production, marketing, and merchandising of livestock and other agricultural products. The group formed a hands-on club for children who want to learn to raise livestock.
Darryl Byrd added meat goats to his cattle operation about 10 years ago and now breeds and sells Kiko goats with business partner Jesse Beech. They belong to a breeders’ alliance and sell their goats all over the country.
“I think more producers are interested in goats,” Byrd said. “We have a sold-out market in Long Beach. We are building fence and preparing pasture for additional goats in Greene and Perry Counties to meet the demand we have.”
Since the early 1990s, sale outlets for meat goats have grown beyond auction barns to include local markets created by producers, specialty buyers in other states and breeder association sales.
“The market channels for goats are very different,” said Kipp Brown, Extension goat specialist. “But market prices follow the same trends as other red meat. Prices rise in the spring and near holidays such as Easter or Ramadan. Then they’ll taper off for a few months.”
Currently, selection one kids are bringing from $1.50 to $2.30 per pound at the graded sale in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Brown said.
Any breed and type of goat, including dairy goats, can be used for meat. During the last 20 years, Mississippi producers have crossbred Boar and Kiko breeds with native goats to increase muscle mass and parasite resistance, Brown said.
Although goats have some advantages over cattle, Mississippi’s wet, humid climate can cause health challenges.
“Mississippi growers should build an 18 percent death loss into their budgets, with most of that loss attributed to parasites,” Brown said. “During times of high rainfall, wet pastures can cause increased foot and parasite problems.”
Producers should educate themselves before investing in goats, Brown said.
“Raising goats takes lots of planning and hard work,” he said. “Several management practices can help producers be successful. If they will follow proper rotational grazing on good forage, learn to implement a strategic worming schedule and proper dosage, and put the required work into it, they can be very successful.”
Interested individuals can learn about raising goats during the Southeast Kiko Goat Association Fall Roundup and Sale Nov. 14 and 15 at the Forrest County Multipurpose Center in Hattiesburg.
Experts with the MSU Extension Service, Tennessee State University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service will present educational seminars at the event. Topics include forage systems, parasite management, fire ant control, reproductive management and record keeping.
The event is free and open to the public. Registration begins at 8 a.m. Nov. 14. Seminars conclude at 6:30 p.m. with a goat meat dinner. The event again begins at 8 a.m. Nov. 15 with educational seminars, a 4-H/FFA skill-a-thon, and an opportunity to view farm displays and talk with current producers. The breeding stock sale begins at noon.