Economically Viable Method of Raising Surplus Saanen Dairy Goat Billies as Meat Goats by Using Them as Brush Goats

Progress report for FNC23-1385

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $9,979.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Cedar Meadow Farms, LLC
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Chad Montgomery
Cedar Meadow Farms, LLC
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Chad Montgomery is the project coordinator, outreach manager, and data analyst. He is in charge of developing and coordinating outreach events, all data collection and analysis, and publication of results. Cedar Meadow Farms, LLC is a 40 acre family farm that was created in 2018. We have initiated a variety of practices on the farm that are in their infancy, but developing, including 30 fruit trees, honey bees, and meat chickens for sale and donation. We have increased the volume of chickens each year, with 65 produced this past year. We also have approximately 20 acres of fields that were originally leased hay ground, but is now in a pollinator plot.

Chad Miller is the herd manager who is responsible for ensuring overall herd health by determining that nutritional needs are being met, vaccination and treatment schedules are being kept, and inspecting animals after travel to outreach events. Chad Miller has owned and operated a 150 mixed (Saanen and Alpine) dam goat dairy for 8 years. In addition, he raises 75 head of cattle on 80 acres and has 60 acres of alternating alfalfa and soybean fields.


Goat meat is currently in high demand in the United States, with about 45% of demand being met through importation.  As demand for goat meat is greater than domestic production, a market for increased production exists. 

There are approximately 350,000 dairy goats on commercial dairies nationally.  Annual breeding of nannies to stimulate milk production is necessary. Nannies are raised to replace aging stock or grow herd size, while billies are sold as cabrito or dispatched. Potential meat production from raising dairy goat billies to size for slaughter is considerable (~150 -175k surplus billies). Young dairy billies, often seen as a byproduct of commercial goat dairies, could serve as a source for goat meat in the open market.

Dairy goats have not been selected for growth or meat production, so it takes considerably longer and more feed to raise a dairy goat to hanging weight for slaughter. However, surplus dairy billies are available at lower cost than meat goats, and are available annually,  eliminating need for a breeding herd.  Additionally, the generalist diet can reduce reliance on grain.  Natural forage would have lower nutritional value, lengthening time to hanging weight, but would be considerably less expensive.

Project Objectives:

To assess the economic viability of raising surplus dairy goats to slaughter weight on natural forage, I will acquire surplus Saanen billies from a local goat dairy and raise them to ~70 lb hanging weight. I will conduct the trials over the course of two years, with 20 goats per year.

Goat Care:

We will acquire surplus male Saanen kids from a local goat dairy at 2 weeks old.  We will raise them in pens (8’X10’/5 goats) in a pole barn with 1 pint of milk replacer (22% CP and 24% fat) given 2X per day for 8 weeks.  We will introduce 16% CP concentrate pellets and natural forage at 15 days.  At 8 weeks We will reduce milk replacer to 1X/day for 1 more week and then eliminate.

Goats will be penned up at night for the first 10 weeks, but allowed to graze during the day as weather permits (i.e. forage accessible, above 32oF, no precipitation).  After 10 weeks goats will no longer be penned at night, except during severe weather events.

Goats will be grazed on 1 acre plots of mixed hardwood forest and pasture. They will be maintained with a 5 wire temporary electric perimeter fence that will be moved for rotational grazing as one plot is used.  Water will be ad libitum through 2, 25 gallon automatic waterers per plot.  Each plot will have 2 portable 10 X 10 shelters for protection during inclement weather. Concentrate pellets will be provided as necessary based on nutritional content of natural forage.

During outreach events and demonstration days goats will be maintained by electric netting on ½ acre plots.  Goats will be provided water ad libitum through automatic waterers and provided access to portable shelters. Concentrate pellets will be provided as necessary based on nutritional content of natural forage.

Data Collection:

Once per week, we will measure goat height at wither and weigh goats using a hanging scale and sling.  We will use height and weight data to calculate growth rate and assess body condition.

We will determine brush clearing rate in plots based on measurements every two weeks.  For outreach and demonstration we will collect data before and after the event.  We will calculate average plant density and average plant height in 25 1yd2 quadrats/acre.  In addition, we will use the checkerboard method at 3 different foliage heights (0’, 2’, 4’), where a checkerboard is positioned at the distance from the observer at which ½ of the checkerboard is obscured by foliage.  Checkerboard data can be used to calculate foliage density.  Based on foliage data we will calculate rate of foliage removal/per goat.

We will determine the economic viability of raising surplus dairy goats for meat by determining the net income from sale of hanging weight animals at market value ($/goat and $/lb of meat).  We will determine expenses by summing costs directly associated with raising the goats (excluding outreach and demonstration event costs), including feed, medical care, and labor (hours of husbandry @ $15/hr).


Determine growth rate of Saanen billies on natural brush forage.

Determine rate of brush clearing by Saanen billies.

Determine economic viability of raising surplus Saanen billies on natural forage.

Demonstrate environmentally friendly brush clearing by Saanen billies through outreach/demo days

Share findings and increase awareness of surplus billies as a viable alternative to meat goats through social media, outreach events, and local farm/agriculture shows


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Chad Miller - Producer
  • Chad Montgomery - Producer


Materials and methods:

Goat Grant Photos

We raised weaned goats in areas of overgrown forest habitat and some mixed pasture.  The goal was to raise dairy billies as meat goats without relying on purchased feed, essentially using them as brush goats.  To do this we used temporary electric fence to rotate goats through paddocks.  We provided goats with shelter and water inside each paddock during the day and brought goats into a predator secure pen at night.  We initially ran a combination of 5 strand polywire electric fence or electronet, depending on where the paddock was located and the ease of running fence.  We determined that 6 strand polywire was more effective at containing goats because when goats were smaller the bottom strand was necessary to keep them from going under, but as they got bigger an upper strand was also necessary.  Moving fence was labor intensive, particularly if a fence run needed to go through dense understory, so having ample fence available to limit the times that exterior fence needed to be moved (rather than just putting up and taking down interior fence) would be beneficial.

We have been working with 3 different landowners to facilitate using goats to clear brush on their property.  The major considerations that we have been working out logistics for involve fencing while goats are active on the properties, providing access to clean water while on the property, and how to effectively and appropriately protect the goats at night in areas of high predator density.  A recent SARE project (FNC21-1306) utilized virtual fencing with a great deal of success for containing goats while clearing brush.  However, we did not plan for using this technology, so we are reliant upon putting up temporary electric fence around the area to be cleared.  Through dense brush the process of putting and moving fence can be labor intensive, so proper planning of the fence path is important.  In some areas that are intended to be cleared, there is no ready access to fresh water.  Therefore we will need to supply fresh water to the goats by transporting water in totes or tanks to the area.  As goats will need water changed multiple times per day, setting up a large water tank hooked up to automatic waterers seems like the viable solution.  Alternatively, the water troughs could be manually refilled throughout the day.  In our area we are hesitant to leave goats unattended in an unsecured paddock overnight due to risk of predation.  Therefore we need to provide a secure pen at night.  We have determined that using livestock trailers as overnight pens or modifying flatbed trailers with a shed and pen would allow the goats to be protected from weather and from predators.  We would also provide goats with access to these areas during the day so that they can move into shelter during periods of weather.  Modifying the flatbed trailers such that the water totes are also carried on the trailer would increase the efficiency of the system.  We will be testing the use of the modified trailer and portable electric fence on each of the landowners property in the coming year.  The three landowners offer opportunities to test the system in different types of habitat, including scrub forest, overgrown pasture with emergent trees and brush, and overgrown pasture.  Following our testing we will be able to determine the effectiveness in different environments.

Research results and discussion:

We raised Saanen (or Saanen-Alpine hybrid) billy goats as brush goats in order to determine if it was economical to raise them for meat.  Dairy billies do not put on as much meat as meat goats, but if we could reduce costs by raising them as brush goats we might be able to do so economically.

Our goats were successfully weaned on April 5, 2023 at an average of 13.7 kg (30.2) at 72 days old. We bottle fed milk replacer twice per day for 60 days according to directions provided with replacer.  We weaned goats over the course of 12 days while increasing water, grower feed, and alfalfa hay. Weight at weaning was within the range reported for Saanen goats in the literature (Dincel et al., 2019).   Time to weaning was shorter than observed under natural situations and longer than observed in most artificial rearing situations (Vickery, 2023).  We will likely wean goats sooner in the next iteration of the project, while feeding the same amount of milk replacer (increase volume of replacer fed per day for fewer days).

After weaning, goats were placed into paddocks on natural browse and allowed to feed freely within the paddock.  During post weaning, goats were provided grain (~1 cup/day) to keep them interested in following the caretakers to assist in moving goats when necessary and grass hay was available in the overnight pen.  Paddocks were sized based on topography, forage density, and land cover type.  In general, paddocks were 1.0 acre in size and were divided into 0.5 acre subsections.  We rotated goats between subsections every 5 days or when forage appeared limited.  Goats were not returned to any subsection within 30 days of removal to reduce the chance of parasite transmission.  No goats were observed to have any issues with parasites during the study.  Based on visual distance assessment, the distance at which a modified secchi disk was visible increased across the 5 days at ground level from 0.2 m to 10.0 m and at 1 meter from 3.5 m to the complete width of the subsection (varied, but was generally about 25 m).  Leaf litter ground cover decreased from 65% to 35% over 5 days and vegetative ground cover decreased from 25% to 10%.  Goats generally browsed preferred vegetative types first before moving to less preferred types, but consumed leaf litter regularly even when preferred forage was still available.  Plant species that were preferred included mulberry, poison ivy, autumn olive, sumac, oak, maple, multiflora rose, redbud, walnut, cherry and persimmon. Red cedar was also consumed regularly, but not in large quantities.  For most species, the leaves, flowers, and fruits were consumed and the woody tissue was avoided, although bark was browsed for some species including sumac, autumn olive, and mulberry. An interesting observation was that buckbrush (coralberry) was not initially consumed by younger goats, but when buckbrush was fruiting the goats (older at this point) consumed both fruit and leaves with vigor. A number of the species consumed by the goats are considered toxic, but we did not see any issues related to toxic forage.  That may be that goats only consumed small quantities at a single feeding, or avoided those species during periods of higher toxicity.

We harvested the goats on October 23, 2023 at 253 days old (181 days post weaning) at an average of 40.0 kg (88.2 lbs).  Goats gained weight post weaning at a rate of 0.32 kg/day (.15 lb/day).  Post weaning weights and growth rates were similar to those reported in the literature (Dincel, 2019).  Date of harvest was based on body size and the reduction in available forage due to seasonal change.

The main objective of the study was to determine if raising the goats was economically feasible.  To determine the economic feasibility we calculated the expenses associated with raising the goats (did not include cost of infrastructure) and determined how much meat was produced.  All calculations are based on costs per goat.

It cost $75 (goat = $20, milk replacer = $30, feed = $15, hay = $9, medication = $1) to raise a goat during our project , not including labor.  The most labor intensive time of raising the goats was during bottle feeding, which took on average 3 hrs/day.  Post weaning labor included putting up and moving fence and letting goats out in the morning and putting them up at night.  Moving the goats involved minimal effort (<1 hr/day), while moving fence could be labor intensive, but didn't happen every day.  Moving fence averaged out to about ~1/2 hr/day).  Therefore, labor during bottle feeding was 216 hrs and during post-weaning was 181 hrs (total of 397 hrs).  At $15/hr labor would amount to $5955 for all goats. Therefore, total costs were $7455.  There is an issue with scale that must be considered, as labor will be similar if you are raising one goat or 20 goats for some activities. Deboned meat weight averaged 26.75% of final live weight (average = 40.0 kg) resulting in 10.16 kg (27.2 lbs) of deboned meat.  At an average price of $12/lb meat weight goats would generate $6528 from 20 goats.  Based on these results, raising dairy billies as brush goats to produce meat is not economically viable.

There are potential mechanisms to increase economic viability.  Further reducing costs by reducing weaning period by 20 days would save 40 hours of labor.  Alternatively, you could purchase weaned dairy billies at a higher price.  Without the costs of weaning, raising goats this way only costs $3675 ($45/goat plus $2715 total labor).  If you paid an additional $50 per goat for weaned goats ($1000 total) you would still generate an income of ~$50/goat ($1000 for 20 goats).  The issue would be finding weaned goats for $70/goat, which may not be an easy task. Another possible way to make the project economically viable is to charge landowners for using the goats the clear their lands.  Gaining income from this activity could increase the viability of the project.

During the second year of our project we will reduce weaning time and attempt to reduce labor costs further (which should be feasible as we have become more streamlined as we moved through the project).


Participation Summary
5 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 On-farm demonstrations
2 Tours
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

4 Farmers participated
2 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

During our project we utilized social media posts through our @cedarmeadowfarms_mo instagram page to publicize the project and show the progress of the goats and various activities with the goats.  Early in the project, we utilized baby goats (not the same individuals that we raised as they were too big at that point) in a goat yoga class in conjunction with Mystic Meadows Yoga, LLC and WagMore, LLC to promote goats in general.

We consulted with Hudman, Pekosh, and MillJohnerson Farms to work out logistics for using goats to clear properties.  We will be implementing those plans in the coming year.

We worked with Truman State University for a workshop, outreach event for 4th-6th grade students to demonstrate sustainable agriculture, including goat ranching, at Truman State University farm.  There were 50-60 students along with 10 middle school student assistants participating in the event.  Students were able to interact with the goats and be involved with them feeding on various invasive species and weedy native species.

We hosted an event at Cedar Meadow Farms to demonstrate the project in action for 10 middle school children involved in an agriculture summer workshop.  Students were able to observe how the goats were rotated through different paddocks and see the before and after of the goats clearing a brushy area.  Students then traveled to the Miller farm to see how a goat dairy operates.  Chad Miller presented and demonstrated a typical milking and students were able to socialize the nanny kids that were being reared for inclusion into the dairy herd.

We hosted informal goat tours with area landowners interested in sustainable agriculture.  Tours included feeding goats, going on walkabouts with the goats, touring facilities, and examining before and after browsing.  We provided 8 such tours to area landowners. 

Learning Outcomes

5 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

Raising dairy billies as brush goats produces similar growth rates to traditional rearing techniques.  However, they do not reach full size before natural foliage goes dormant.  Therefore, you can either harvest them when forage goes dormant (at less than full size) or feed them more traditional forage (hay, grain) overwinter to reach full size.  We chose to harvest them at less than full size, when foliage went dormant.  Due to the labor investment, rearing offcast dairy billies as brush goats to produce meat is not economically viable.

Ways to potentially increase economic viability are to 1) reduce labor costs by weaning at an earlier age; 2) increase the number of goats being produced since most activities will take the same amount of labor whether there is 1 goat or 40 goats, thus reducing labor cost per goat; 3) earning income by leasing out goats to clear brush on other properties; 4) buying weaned goats at a higher cost (bottle feeding is the highest cost, so buying weaned goats could reduce costs overall).

However, if you ran your own herd and got billies for free (product of breeding your nannies) and were rearing the nanny kids to incorporate into your herd, the addition of the billies would not increase costs to any great extent.  Then raising the billies as brush goats may be more economically viable.


Dairy billies are effective at clearing brush, although they do not consume woody material to a great extent or kill plants outright.  They would need to be repeatedly rotated through an area to ultimately kill plants by consuming all new leaf growth.  They would be a terrific tool for opening up overgrown woodlands and providing access for invasive/weedy plant removal.

Project Outcomes

4 New working collaborations
Success stories:

A local cattle rancher in northeast Missouri that is utilizing intensive rotational grazing for his small herd is excited about the opportunity to use goats to run through paddocks after his cattle to remove weedy species an encroaching species that his cattle do not consume.  Part of the issue with rotational grazing is that cattle are moved before they overgraze preferred species, but some species are passed over because they are completely unpalatable or due to shorter grazing times and can become a problem.  Utilizing goats to browse those species will increase the productivity of the pasture.

A number of people have been surprised at the flavor of the goat meat we produced.  They previously had not considered having goat as part of their normal menu at home.  They now consider goat as a viable meat to include in their family diet.  This could increase the overall demand for goat meat.


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.