Linking Downstate Illinois Small-Scale Goat and Sheep Producers

Final Report for FNC98-245

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1998: $2,338.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $1,320.00
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Less and Penny Gioja
Joy-of-Illinois Farm
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Project Information


My wife and I purchased a farmhouse on 6.18 acres of tillable land in September 1993. The following spring, we started our farm/ranch operation with a half dozen goats and 25 free-range layers. We have since employed a number of sustainable practices, mixed-grazed a number of species of livestock, and direct-marketed locally so that our operation has grown to a considerable size. We now have the following livestock on an annual basis:

14 dairy-type brood does
1 Boer billy
1 Saanen buck
1 Nubian buck
20-30 market animals
6 brood ewes
1 ram
10-20 market animals
We are currently replacing our wool-type herd with a hair-type herd
60-100 layers
200-400 broilers and stewing hens
20-30 turkeys
30-50 ducks
6-10 geese
2-3 steers

We do our own poultry processing and we sell milk and eggs in addition to selling animals for meat.

All of our animals are managed-intensive grazed, supplemented with feeds not containing antibiotics or hormones. Most of our operation is based on CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) principles. Our customers pay for shares of milk and eggs and put deposits on meat animals at the beginning of the year, and collect their portions at our farm according to a preset schedule. We also sell vegetables and other value-added products during customer pickup times as they become available.

We direct market all of our livestock and have almost all of it sold prior to its purchase or “birth.” Our project was conceived because many of the people whom we help begin a livestock operation either do not have the market we do, or have the need to cull their herd with no profitable outlet.

Background/Objective: When we started this project, we knew that there were a number of small family producers of goats with a small, but consistent supply of buck kids and cull does with no profitable local market. We also recognized that there were large ethnic communities in the Chicago area that provided a demand for these animals that was largely unmet. The overall objective of this project was to provide a means of linking the supply with the demand by creating a downstate network that would cooperatively market to the Chicago area.

Goals: The goals of this project as identified in our grant application were:
1. Locate consumers who desire sheep and goat by researching existing leads and generating new leads by phone, letter, email, website, and newspaper. Contacts may include restaurants, neighborhood grocery stores, and houses of worship.
2. Locate processors near metropolitan areas willing to work with our small volume and ethnic groups.
3. Use the grant to pay for phone, postage, shipping, and coordinator time costs.
4. Keep in contact with what producers have available.
5. Publish a directory of consumers, processors, and producers.
6. Purchase film and developing for outreach.

Focus: Our initial focus was on the consumer end – trying to find the market for as many goats as our fledgling network could produce. As the project progressed, external factors eventually caused us to shift our focus to the producer end – trying to unify and educate producers so that the quantity and quality needed could be produced. We have made significant progress at both ends, and the mechanism is now in place to allow total fulfillment of our original project objective in the future.

Process: The first thing we did was create an interest survey form. In the form, we explained the project and requested, for anyone interested in jointly marketing goats, his/her name, contact information, quantity and type of animals raised. We quickly had twenty-eight names of interested farmers/ranchers who could provide about 500 market animals per year. Rejoicing in our success, we contacted the half-dozen processor/buyers we knew of in the Chicago area and found that we needed to promise 500 goats/sheep per month before they would guarantee purchasing any shipments. Since the processors demanded 12 times what our group could produce, we had two choices: 1) increase the size of our group and its production, and/or 2) find a way to direct market our animals to the consumers. We worked in both directions simultaneously, though we made significantly more progress in increasing the size and corporate production levels of our group.

In order to increase the size and overall production capabilities of our group, we went to dairy and Boer goat events in our state, gave presentations, handed out flyers and collected names of interested people. We also offered our services to anyone interested in starting a new herd, particularly a meat goat herd. We also supported the formation of a group called the Illinois Meat Goat Producers (IMGP), which held its first meeting in April 2000. The members of this group are focusing on increasing their individual production levels and marketing their animals cooperatively.

In trying to find ways to direct market the group’s animals to the consumers, we stepped up our own successful direct marketing efforts and we tried to identify and contact the existing market in the Chicago/Aurora areas. Our farm name was published in Why Grassfed is Best, by Jo Robinson in summer 2000. A large story about our farm and our goals appeared in the Champaign News Gazette in August 2000. When we advertised to our customers at the beginning of each year, we included advertisement brochures from other local producers. We collected names of ethnic restaurants in the Chicago area and visited the 6-block long ethnic market on Devon Street, leaving field day invites in many of the butcher shops. We also discussed the project with internationals in the Champaign/Urbana area whom we felt might “open some doors” in the Chicago area for us. Additionally, we started an IMGP web site in which we listed a number of producers with contact information. While we made some inroads in direct marketing, significant work will be required after the completion of this SARE project.

Some events occurred during this project which significantly affected its course. One was the start-up of the Benavides Goat & Lamb Meat Company. Alejandro Benavides, who had bought some goats from us, worked in Aurora and commuted weekly to his meat goat ranch in southern Illinois. Shortly after we started this project, he quit his job and sold his ranch to purchase a processing facility outside of Hinckley, Illinois (near Aurora), which he named the Benavides Goat & Lamb Meat Company. He was interested in our project and he accepted three shipments from our group in 1999, the first of which was delivered on January 1, 1999. He was offering better than market prices for shipments of 15-20 goats, until some of the goats died in transit for health reasons and he stopped shipping. The death of these goats opened our eyes to the need for standards of acceptability and agreement on responsibility and liability. This event also prompted our request for an extension to our project, which was granted in December, 1999.

Another was the previously mentioned formation of the Illinois Meat Goat Producers. Curt Knapp, an Illinois farmer and meat goat producer, founded this organization for the purpose of networking and marketing. He was one of the first to become a part of our group and had six goats on our first shipment to the Benavides Goat & Lamb Meat Company on January 1, 1999.

A third was an indication from the state of Illinois that they are very interested in supporting Boer Goat shows at the state level, both open and 4-H youth shows. In February 2000, Curt Knapp and I were asked to provide rules for a goat wether class for next year’s state fair, which we did. The winner will be auctioned with the other state fair champion animals. When it occurs, it will be the first time that a meat goat has been in this auction, which receives much attention.

At the end of our project, we held a field day that we designed for both producers and consumers. We advertised nationally and locally through numerous goat, meat goat, and homesteading publications. We also distributed brochures to producers throughout the state, and to consumers in the Chicago and Aurora areas. We had presentations on marketing, judging, butchering, cooking, and carcass evaluating. We served a goat meat lunch as well. Both a brochure and the handout from my presentation are included in this report. We were a little disappointed by the turnout, but those who were there were very appreciative of what they learned and experienced. We had 70 people when we expected 150-200. Nearly all of the attendees were producers when we expected half consumers. Many present had never eaten goat meat. At least half had never seen the slaughtering process, and though we had something else planned during that time, many left to watch.

Besides Alejandro Benavides and Curt Knapp, there were a few people who made significant contributions to our efforts. Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant of the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign Agroecology/Sustainable Agriculture Program informed us of the grant and encouraged us to apply.

Rafael Valencia, a chef at the Tachatitlan Restaurant in Aurora donated his time and some food to our field day.

Mike Hartman, a USDA inspector also donated some of his time to our field day.

Early in the project, we discussed the need for a directory of processing plants with Juli Brussell and mentioned that we intended to create one once we identified them. In May 2000, the University of Illinois Department of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences published the Directory of Mid-Scale and Specialty Livestock Processing Plants in Illinois, by Juli Brussell, Burton Swanson, and Mohamed Samy. We appreciate Juli’s work in this effort.

The conclusions and recommendations to producers are summarized in my presentation notes, attached. We have determined that there are three primary end-users of meat goats (breeders, large ethnic communities, and local consumers) and there are three primary means of raising and marketing the animals (show animals, traditional market animals, and locally marketed value-added animals). The three methods are nearly mutually exclusive and each only best fits one of the three primary end-users. An individual must decide upon his/her own method(s) and market(s), but a network of producers must also decide upon its corporate method(s) and market(s) for the highest profitability and internal integrity. This needs to include at a minimum a set of rules of conduct/procedures outlining responsibilities and liabilities related to buying, selling, and shipping animals. It could include a corporate set of standards, resulting in a defining label or trademark under which the animals could be marketed at a premium. These issues were unanticipated by us before this project. They also are not intuitively understood by the typical producer, increasing the complexity of the issues our group must deal with as it grows.

Since each market exists, there is a need for each of the three markets to be served if the meat goat industry is to grow and thrive in the Midwest. Individual producers must decide upon his/her market(s) and a large organization of producers would best be served in diversifying its efforts and benefits to each.

Raising and marketing show goats/breeding stock best fits selling to other breeders and producers, can have the highest profit and poses the greatest risks. It was through shows and breeders’ organizational meetings that we have made most of our contacts, done most of our networking, and spawned most of the fledgling producers we have helped.

Raising animals to be sold at auction or to processors best fits the large ethnic communities, but requires large quantities and many corporate issues and potential problems. A market exists and is strong, but the prices per animal willing to be paid are relatively low. Circumventing the processors and auctions and selling directly to large urban communities is difficult. The ethnic groups we observed at the Devon Street meat markets in the Chicago area seemed to be composed of refugees and immigrants who do not speak English well, if at all, and do not have much money. Additionally, most individuals there do not have slaughter facilities in which to process the animals themselves and, by law, producers must sell the animals live if they do not have a licensed slaughter facility. Some groups also have certain religious requirements for animal processing which could limit the acceptability of some of the available licensed facilities.

Raising animals for consumption by a market that will give the highest profit potential best fits the local market, consisting of both ethnics and the major American populous which does not currently eat goat meat. We believe that this market is looking for healthy alternatives to store-bought meat, and the best way to reach them is to meet their needs through local, pasture-raised animals. We also believe that the biggest boost to the Midwest goat industry would be to get Midwesterners to eat goat meat. If a significant percentage of Americans spread throughout the Midwest would eat goat meat, then any producer anywhere in the Midwest could direct market locally and see a higher profit margin. This appears to be the most sustainable solution for the typical farmer/producer. It also provides a door into the large urban communities. Some Chicagoans travel as far south as Arthur, Illinois (3 hours) to purchase goats. This is the method we have chosen and have put forth considerable effort to promote goat meat to the public.

Through the use of our grant, we have been able to identify and organize meat goat producers, identify three primary markets, identify the means to reach each of those markets, identify the problems associated with corporate shipping of livestock, help some producers get started, encourage the state of Illinois in the support of meat goat production, and successfully ship a number of goats (100+/-) from a number of producers to the Aurora area for consumption by the ethnic community. We have also been able to create a web site that lists producers’ names and contact information. We identified and provided to all field day attendees, a directory of small Illinois processing plants.

Initially, we had intended the outreach function of our project to be only a vehicle for boasting about the great job we did. Eventually, we figured out that this concept does not fit the nature of a marketing project like this. Firstly, while THE project ends, our efforts cannot end. The things that we desire to accomplish cannot be accomplished in one or two years. Secondly, outreach is a vital component of any marketing project. Much of our time was spent in meetings, on the phone, giving presentations, or preparing and distributing flyers and brochures. We held a field day at the Benavides Goat & Lamb Meat Company in Aurora, Illinois on November 11, 2000. It was a major marketing effort to producers and consumers. We also held meetings/discussions at the Illinois State Fair Boer Goat shows, the Illinois Dairy Goat Association meetings, and the Illinois Meat Goat Producers meetings. The Champaign News Gazette ran a story on our farm. The article is enclosed as is the new release concerning our field day, which was run in many national goat publications.

We also gave a presentation at a SARE Grant workshop in Effingham, Illinois on February 25, 1999.

We have seen a number of public organizations gobble up grant money from other programs in order to set up programs or institutions that will study or help farmers in some way. Very little of those funds ever really reach the farmers. The North Central Region SARE Program, however, appears very different. The grants that you award to institutions are good and needed, but we really see and appreciate the need for grants which are awarded directly to farmers and ranchers to carry out the projects that will better serve them within their regional, temporal, and financial constraints. We also appreciate your effect on the virility of the family farm. Not enough people want to farm, and too few of them want to change the way they farm. SARE grants provide an incentive to improve the livelihood to the American farm.

We have seen nothing that we would want to change in the administration of the grants. A good addition to the program would be the holding of regional SARE conferences, where a number of grant recipients and knowledgeable “sustainable agriculture representatives” would make presentations. We attended Grasstravaganza 2000, hosted by the South Central NY Resource Conservation & Development Project, held in Syracuse, NY on October 27 & 28, 2000. We attended a number of workshops which related directly to our project and our farming practices, and which helped us formulate some good conclusions and future strategies. An outline of the NY conference is enclosed for your benefit.

[Editor's Note: The following is a handout on Meat Goat Marketing options that was developed for the project field day.]

Les Gioja
November 11, 2000


 Requires the most selective breeding and individual goat care
 Has the highest profit potential (contested by some experts)
 Has the highest loss potential
 Requires the most financial input
 Requires specific feeding plan for growth
 Requires feeding and personal attention in winter months
 Requires attendance at shows. Time and transportation are necessary
 Risks more deaths due to birthing in winter months
 Risks disease from other show stock and general public
 Show presence is good for outreach to general population
 Other outreach functions can be performed in conjunction with shows
 Show/meat goat owners can support 4H efforts

 Before buying any goats,
o Subscribe to and read Boer Goat organization publications
o Visit some show goat farms
o Get to know what a GOOD goat looks like
* Illinois Meat Goat Producers
* The IBGA
* International Boer Goat Association
* American Boer Goat Association
* American Meat Goat Association
 Buy good stock. (consider AI and possibly embryo transplants)
 Be armed with brochures, business cards, and smiles at shows


 Price fluctuates, but typically lowest price per animal
 Higher prices can be obtained with larger quantities and target weights
 Highest profit requires fast growth, a good market, low transportation costs and good health
 Animal quality is not as important as for other markets
 Moving goats across state lines frequently requires health inspections/papers
 Guaranteed processor market and higher price requires large, year-round production and supply. This frequently means a cooperative effort between a number of producers. Cooperative transportation and sale of livestock requires honesty, trust, risk and loss. Each participant must be willing to embrace each of these for this effort to work.
 The current market is primarily ethnic communities and processors.
o Middle Eastern
o Muslim
o Jewish (?)
o African
o Mexican
o Other
 Each ethnic group desires a different sized goat, at its own special times of the year, processed by its own recognized organizations in its own ordained way
 Large ethnic communities exist in the Chicago, Aurora, and other urban areas
 Even within these areas, goat does not appear to be widely available, so the market could be expanded.

 Continue building our cooperative supply of goats
 Continue efforts to find the best market. I believe that we should work on 2 fronts:
o Market directly to one ethnic processor in the NE portion of the state.
o Lead an effort to introduce goat into the typical American diet
 Work out communication and transportation problems
o Update and maintain website and personal e-mail addresses
o Work out drop-off points and procedures
o Determine how animals change hands, how pay is determined, and how risks and liabilities are assigned
o Market/advertise to consumers
 Consider specialty market (pastured/organic)


 Higher price per goat, low input costs, higher profit margin per goat
 Lower quantities, but easily combined with other animals/products
 Livestock can be bred later, reducing kid losses due to cold weather as well as reducing winter feed and barn requirements
 Farm/house becomes more public
 Health-conscious consumers and distributors are currently hunting for pasture-fed meat and animal products, though goats are not normally foremost on their minds
 The current market is primarily ethnic communities and existing customers. You must decide whether customer processing is/isn’t acceptable on your property
 The animals pretty much sell themselves
 If properly done, process is sustainable and can be done on small acreage

o "You Can Farm" by Joe Salatin, Polyface, Inc., Swoope, Virginia, 1998
o "Why Grassfed is Best" by Jo Robinson, Vashon Island Press, Vashon, WA, 2000
o “The Stockman Grass Farmer” Magazine, PO Box 2300, Ridgeland, MS 39158-2300 (Tell them Penny Gioja sent you)
o "22 Immutable Laws of Marketing"
o "Guerrilla Marketing", "Guerrilla Marketing Excellence", "Guerrilla Marketing Weapons", and other by Jay Conrad Levinson
 Talk to someone who is marketing goats this way
 Research the market in your area. Find a CSA or co-op
 Eat goat yourself
 Learn about ethnic communities and their customs regarding goats
 Plant or find pasture. Goats do best on brush, weeds and alfalfa (not alfalfa alone)
 Publish individual and group brochures


Participation Summary
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.