Several members of the ESMGPA Marketing Committee met together in May 2004 to prioritize activities and educational materials that they felt were badly needed by meat goat producers. These farmers all had close connections with other goat farmers as regional directors for ESMGPA or from pooling animals from multiple farms for marketing.
Issues of primary concern were 1) why new goat farmers often don’t survive their first years of operation, 2) why even experienced farmers have trouble producing the quality animals needed to command premiums over frozen imported goat meat or goats hauled in from outside the region, and 3) how to develop sufficient year-round market supply in the region to keep buyers committed to buying locally.
Based on these concerns, a project was submitted and accepted by NE SARE proposing the following activities to improve the viability of meat goat farms, 1) develop a kidding season mentoring curriculum to help new farmers through their initial kidding seasons, 2) develop sample budget spreadsheets and farm business summaries based on real farm information so that new farmers could have more accurate financial expectations and experienced farmers could have a base to compare with their expenses and earnings, 3) create fact sheets based on observations from real farms to familiarize farmers with four to six herd management practices that can potentially improve herd productivity or year round production, and 4) offer a series of market readiness and advanced grading workshops to help farmers better evaluate the suitability of their goats for targeted markets and to improve the grading skills of producers acting as marketing coordinators or livestock dealers.
During the course of this project, we conducted a kidding season mentoring program and developed a 30-page kidding season notebook to accompany the program. Approximately 30 mentoring teams enrolled in the formal mentoring program. Phone interviews with participants indicated that they found the program very useful, felt it helped them to improve herd health and save individual animals, and improved the sustainability of their goat enterprise.
We ran into problems collecting real farm figures on income and expenses from a large number of meat goat farms. Sixteen farms did complete our income/expense surveys but at least half of these were either new farms or farms with very small herd sizes (<20 does). Rather than creating sample budget spreadsheets and business summaries for several different herd scenarios, we produced a fact sheet summarizing typical incomes and expenses for smaller new and expanding farms versus steady growth farms with an example spreadsheet for a pasture based farm with 35 breeding does.
Our on-farm observations centered on creep feeding, dewormer resistance, flushing, out of season breeding, and pasture management to reduce worm loads. Although the numerous participating farms increased their knowledge base, the fact sheets for four topics became available only recently and we have measured no change in the adoption of these practices by other farmers. Results from the study on pasture management to reduce worm loads were incorporated into workshops on integrated parasite and pasture management instead of a fact sheet. Herd profile summaries indicate that farms are adopting the beneficial practices identified in this study. Herd profile summaries also suggest that farmers are more successful at out of season breeding than they were at the initiation of our project.
One hundred and twenty-two farmers (37 advanced) participated in “Evaluating goats for market readiness” workshops. Responses to a follow up survey indicated that participants found the training very useful and several went on to 1) assist other goat producers in evaluating their goats for market readiness, 2) evaluate slaughter goats when purchasing goats from other goat producers to meet market orders or when acting as a grader for a livestock auction or specific buyer, 3) teach or assist with workshops on marketing/evaluating goats, and 4) judge meat goats at either county or state level shows.
United States goat meat consumption has more than tripled since 1991. Much of this consumption is centered in the Northeast where about half the goats in the US destined for meat are slaughtered. Extension educators and the Empire State Meat Goat Producers Association (ESMGPA) increasingly have reported changes of small farms to meat goat enterprises.
However, in 2004 ESMGPA farm leaders and extension associates felt that 1) many producers were unable to match market demand with quality animals, 2) several new goat farms had failed, and 3) year-round market supply was insufficient to keep buyers committed locally. Therefore, they proposed that Cornell Cooperative Extension initiate grading and market readiness workshops; develop a kidding season mentoring curriculum, sample budget spreadsheets and farm business summaries; and study 4 to 6 herd management practices on real farms to develop fact sheets evaluating the productivity and expenses of these herd practices.
The hope was that farmers would improve the viability of meat goat enterprises by 1) utilizing kidding mentoring curriculums to mentor new farmers through their first kidding season, 2) using the sample budget spreadsheets, business summaries and herd management practices fact sheets to better estimate the expenses, labor costs and income associated with various meat goat enterprises and management practices, 3) attending market readiness and advanced grading workshops to improve both farmer and market coordinator ability to evaluate animals for health, selection grade, market readiness and suitability for different markets, and 4) reviewing the management practices fact sheets to better identify for their own farm the costs/benefits of management practices such as creep feeding, flushing does at breeding, out-of-season breeding, feeding locally grown whole grains and byproducts, and use of clean hayfield regrowth/browse/woodlands to control internal parasites.
Of approximately 1300 NE goat farmers contacted:
1) 100 people will attend “evaluating goats for market readiness” workshops and 50 will improve health and market quality of their goats, 20 will attend “advanced grader” workshops and 10 will use certificates earned to more confidently grade goats for market pools/graded auctions, thus increasing grading availability and quality. Exceeded
2) 40 farmers will contribute income/expense information modeled on federal tax farm business forms, 12 will provide in-depth information for sample budgets while 200 prospective or active farmers will access web or paper versions of the resulting financial spreadsheets and summaries of which 25% will complete these forms to improve survivability of their goat farms. Fell short
3) 200 farmers will request fact sheets on specific herd management practices based upon real farm comparisons and 25% will adopt at least one practice resulting in improved herd performance. Exceeded milestones but performance target still ongoing.
4) 200 people will request kidding season mentoring notebooks, 50 will engage in informal mentoring, and 12 beginning farmers will formally mentor with experienced producers resulting in improved kid and farm survival through their early years. Exceeded
Preliminary performance targets of being contacted and participating in activities were verified by 1) mailings returned by post office, 2) number of hard copies of the materials distributed at producer meetings, through the media, and at goat events or seminars, 3) number of people attending workshops, and 4) number of farms contributing information.
Actual adoption of information and improvement in knowledge base or performance was verified by 1) follow up mailings of herd profile forms and surveys 2) before and after questionnaires for people participating in the workshops and/or accessing our educational materials, 3) phone interviews of producers who participated in our formal mentoring program for coping with kidding season, 4) electronic and written surveys to farmers participating in our grading workshops. Initially we had planned for the herd profile forms and surveys to be available electronically through ESMGPA. However, when the web master, Tim Burley, resigned, the ESMGPA website was moved to a private company’s service and we lost the capability to develop interactive forms or surveys. The herd management fact sheets did not go out until fall07/winter08. Many people have read them and commented favorable but no one has responded to the printed questionnaire that accompanies each of them.
There were initially four components to the grant: 1) improve kid survival and reduce new farmer stress through the development and utilization of a kidding season mentoring program; 2) improve health and market quality of goats through farmer participation in “Evaluating goats for market readiness” workshops; 3) improve farm survival through the creation and use of sample farm income/expense balance sheets and farm business summaries, and 4) improve herd performance through increased farmer knowledge resulting from the creation of herd management fact sheets for 4 to 6 management practices based on results from real farm comparisons of these practices. A fifth component was added during 2006. This component was to improve internal parasite management on farms through farmer participation in “Integrated parasite management” workshops.
The materials and methods used for each component are summarized below. Results and discussion will be addressed in the following section of this report.
Kidding season mentoring program.
Past mentor, tatiana Stanton, with the help of her past mentees, Susan Jaffe and Nancy Weber, wrote a first draft of the Kidding Season Mentoring Notebook during Fall ‘05. It ended up being 26 pages rather than the 12 to 16 pages the ESMGPA Marketing Committee had hoped for. Notices were sent out in extension publications and Country Folks Magazine to explain the kidding season program and solicit mentors and mentees. Potential mentors and mentees were called to see if they were interested in working with the other potential member of their teams. Once they indicated an interest in working with the other person, we sent a copy of the Kidding Season Mentoring Notebook to each team member along with a letter providing their counterpart’s contact information and outlining the program’s expectations and activities. We followed up each team with a phone call during their mentoring program and a final phone interview after they had completed the program.
The second draft of a Kidding Season Mentoring Notebook was developed in 2006 incorporating suggestions from the 2005 mentoring teams and two veterinarians with extensive goat experience, Drs. Mary Smith and Pamela Karner, DVMs. We solicited mentees and methods for the 2007 kidding season using the same methods as 2006. However, we forgoed making an exploratory phone call to each team member and a follow up phone call during the season to see how they were getting on.
Based on mentoring team urging, a final draft of the notebook was developed in the Fall’2007 incorporating additional sections and drawings to give it a more professional look and to make it available for purchase in future years regardless of whether people participate in a mentoring program. We made no attempt to solicit mentoring pairs for 2008 because of our focus on developing a final professional product that could be marketed.
Evaluating goats for market readiness workshops.
Approximately 45 farmers participated in one of two basic market readiness workshops held in Eastern or Western New York in the fall of 2005. Basic workshops included hands-on evaluation of meat goats for body condition, health status and selection grade as well as a demonstration of carcass evaluation and indoor discussions of market channels, pooled marketing and the information farmers needed to provide buyers for each marketing channel.
Almost all participants completed before and after questionnaires to gauge changes in knowledge base. An additional 16 farmers who had already taken some sort of meat goat marketing workshop in the past attended advance market readiness courses run simultaneously with the basic courses. All 16 farmers were awarded certificates of competency after exhibiting their ability to accurately and rapidly grade market goats and after demonstrating that they could pass on their skills by working with basic participants to teach them the differences between the various market grades.
Forty farmers participated in one of two basic market readiness workshops held in Montgomery County, NY (participants were from NJ, NY or VT) or Chemung County (participants were from MA, NY or PA) in the fall of 2006. Participants in the Chemung County workshop completed before and after questionnaires to gauge changes in knowledge base. An additional 21 farmers who had already taken some sort of meat goat marketing workshop in the past attended advance market readiness courses run simultaneously with the basic courses. Six of seven advanced farmers in the Montgomery County workshop received certificates of competency after exhibiting their ability to accurately and rapidly grade market goats and after demonstrating that they could pass on their skills by working with basic participants to teach them the differences between the various market grades. There were too many advanced participants (14) at Chemung and the workshop leader did not award certificates there as he was less confident about the skill of each individual participant and his ability to differentiate between each of them.
We met total attendance targets for our “evaluating goats for market readiness” workshops by December 06. We hoped to hold two more workshops in 2007. However, the cooperative extension educators we set them up with were unable to find the diverse group of slaughter goats required for these hands–on workshops. We conducted condensed, lecture style “evaluating goats for market readiness” workshops at Penn State with 32 attendees on April 28, 2007, at the Vermont Grazing Conference on Jan 20, 2007 with 42 attendees, and at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Farmer-to-Farmer Conference on Nov 3, 2007 (25 participants). Farmers rated their knowledge at Penn State from a score of 1 (low knowledge) to 4 (high knowledge) as 1 (20 participants), 2 (6 participants) and 3 (3 participants) before the session and as 3 (16 participants) and 4 (16 participants) after the session. However, I suspect that people probably did not learn as much as they think they did in these passive teaching workshops. Farmers at Vermont graded the workshop as 1.7 on a score of 1 = excellent to 5 = poor with criticisms centering on “too fast paced and technical for beginners”. We sent a questionnaire to all previous participants in our hands-on workshops in July 2007 asking how useful they viewed the workshops in retrospect.
We were informed by our administration in 2005 that we were going to be required to complete tutorials on conducting human subject research because the surveys we wanted to distribute to farmers modeled on IRS Schedule F forms might be considered human subject research. We completed the tutorials in winter ‘06 and created the appropriate survey forms. Tim Burley, the original team member who was to have voluntarily created interactive versions of the survey and interactive reports of survey results, resigned as webmaster for the Empire State Meat Goat Producers Association and the website was moved to a private company with far less accessibility to free interactive services. Therefore, we were unable to locate a website to house an interactive version of the survey for farmers to fill out on the web. Instead we had to rely on the postal service.
A survey modeled on the Internal Revenue Services Schedule F “Profit or Loss from Farming” forms was mailed out to 515 probable meat goat farmers on the Cornell Goat Extension mailing list in March 2007. The hope was that they could easily report their income and expenses for 2006 on these forms at the same time they readied their taxes for the April 15th deadline. Thirty six anonymous meat goat farms did return the survey. However, only 50% of respondents completed both Part 1 and 2 of the survey.
A fact sheet summarizing the information gained from the 18 meat goat farms that did complete the survey is available in the appendices of this report and also on the web at http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/goats/Resources/GoatArticles/Factsheets/EconomicsFactSheet.pdf. All farms raised either full blood or crossbred Boer goats. Nine farms indicated that they had been in business 1 to 5 years and considered themselves either new or undergoing a sudden expansion. The remaining nine farms had been operating 3 to 11 years and appeared to be fairly constant in terms of sudden growth. Expenses and revenues were compared for the nine new or expanding farms compared to the nine steady growth farms.
On-farm observations and fact sheets for specific herd management practices.
The fact sheets we wrote on creep feeding, dewormer resistance, flushing, and out of season breeding based on on-farm observations of herd management all include detailed accounts of material and methods, results and discussions, and outcomes. Each of these fact sheets is included in the appendices and available on the web. However, brief summaries of them and their web addresses are given below. Please keep in mind that most of these studies were not formally designed. Instead, we determined how they wanted to approach a management problem and we kept records on what occurred.
Creep feeding study.
Creep feeding practices at two high percentage Boer goat herds approximately 1 mile apart were compared in the spring of 2005. During the study, one farm creep-fed their kids on a mixture of corn and high energy lamb pellets starting at 3 to 5 weeks of age while kids at the other farm had no access to concentrate feed. For the purposes of the study, the “no creep feed” farm decided to limit manger space at feeding time so that adult does crowded kids out from the mangers and prohibited their access to concentrate feed. Kid weights were taken at the beginning of the study and again approximately 60 days later at the end of the study as the kids approached weaning age. Litter size and age of dam was recorded as was the total amount of concentrate consumed by does and kids over the period of the study.
Dewormer resistance study.
In the early fall of 2007, the Baker Institute for Animal Health in cooperation with the Cornell Department of Animal Science sampled 174 goats from 19 meat goat farms in central New York and north central Pennsylvania to measure the effectiveness of commonly used dewormers. Dewormers were given orally and included albendazole, doramectin, fenbendazole, ivermectin, and levamisole. In some cases, farmers were deworming more than one group of goats and used a different dewormer on each group. We took fecal samples of 5 or more goats from each treatment group within a farm as the goats were being dewormed. A second fecal sample was taken from the sampled goats 7 to 10 days after deworming based on recommendations for specific dewormers.
The efficacy of each dewormer was measured by using a McMaster technique to calculate the reduction in worm eggs. The percentage of reduction for all goats treated and sampled for a particular dewormer within a herd was then summed and averaged to obtain the herd estimate of resistance to that dewormer.
A follow up study on dewormer resistance in NE US meat goat herds was conducted in the Spring of 2008 using a more sensitive “larval development assay” test to observe resistance. A single pooled fecal sample can be tested simultaneously for susceptibility to several different dewormers. Worm eggs were exposed to specific dewormers and the number of eggs that hatched and developed into larvae were recorded. Pooled samples of feces representing a minimum of 6 goats were collected from each of 12 farms. Worm eggs were isolated from each sample and incubated with either no dewormer to provide 8 control replicates per farm or with low (8 replicates per dewormer), moderate (6 replicates per dewormer) or high (8 replicates per dewormer) dosages of dewormer to test for resistance to 1) thiabendazole, 2) levamisole, 3) thiabendazole and levamisole combined, and 4) ivermectin. Thus, for each farm there were 30 samples for each of the four dewormer treatments. The average number of larvae that hatched in the control samples for a particular dewormer treatment was compared to the average number of larvae that hatched at a low, moderate or high dose of that same dewormer treatment.
In the fall of 2006, a NY meat goat farmer agreed to split the doe herd three weeks prior to breeding so that half the herd was fed extra concentrate while the other half was not. The does were scored for body condition at the same time the ration was increased and their age, breed, and the service sire they had been assigned to was recorded. Does were randomly assigned to flushing or not after making sure that similar distributions of age, body condition, genetics and service sire were represented in each group.
Each treatment group was fed grass hay and offered some ear corn daily with the restriction that the same amount of ear corn was to be offered to each group and that the daily amount (including ears and cobs) was not to exceed ½ lb per doe per day. In addition, the does in the “flushed” group were fed 1 pound each of a 16% crude protein (CP), high energy, pelleted feed. At the end of three weeks, the two groups were combined with one of two service sires and all does were fed 1 pound of the 16% CP pelleted feed on a daily basis during the breeding period. All does kidded within approximately 150 to 169 days after introduction of the bucks. Litter size was recorded at kidding.
Out of season breeding study.
In an effort to identify management practices that meat goat producers were successfully using to improve out of season breeding performance, we observed a total of 46 breeding groups on 13 different farms attempting out of season breeding during the spring/summer of 2005 through 2007. Odor samples were taken for many of the service sires used and their age and breed recorded. Breed, age, reproductive status (maiden, dry, just weaned), body condition and diet of the does was recorded as was the use (intentional or accidental) of any artificial lighting. Pregnancy rates, kidding dates, and litter sizes were recorded.
Study on pasture management to reduce worm loads.
We did not prepare a fact sheet for the following study. However, some of the results were included in Part 2 of the dewormer resistance fact sheet and in power point presentations used during our Integrated Parasite Management and Pasture/Browse Management Workshops.
Nine farms representing New York (4), Pennsylvania (2), and Vermont (3) participated in a study comparing internal parasite populations for herds switching onto clean hayfields, brush pastures, and woodlands in late summer and fall versus herds that continued to rotate through their spring pastures. Fecal samples were taken from the herds in July or early August. In most cases farms were deworming at this time as one treatment got ready to switch to clean pastures and we followed up with a second set of fecal samples 2 to 4 weeks later. A final set of fecal samples was taken in October or early November.
Two of the farms that had planned to graze their animals continuously on the same pastures and woodlands that they had used in the spring were unable to because the environments were so highly contaminated with internal parasites by early summer they were already losing kids to internal parasites. Their fecal sample worm and coccidian egg counts were dangerously high in our first sample period. One of these farms opted to discontinue the study while the other farm chose to change from the “continuous” treatment to the “move to clean/brush pastures” treatment. These were the only farms in the study that had their animals graze one vast pasture in the spring rather than rotating their animals through a group of pastures. Both farms observed a “barnyard effect” where the young kids grazed close to the barn on land with a high concentration of manure rather than going far out in the available acreage to graze or browse. Thus, we were left with only two farms willing to continue rotating their goats in late summer and fall through the same pastures they had used in the spring. During the remainder of the study, these farms were compared to six farms that moved onto clean pastures or woodlands or hayfield regrowth.
Integrated parasite management workshops.
In 2006 many farmers requested workshops on Integrated Parasite Management (IPM) for Small Ruminants including the use of FAMACHA and fecal egg analysis. Results from our on-farm observations of different pasture management strategies to reduce worms did not appear to lend themselves to a stand alone factsheet but begged to be included in a comprehensive workshop. Therefore, we requested and obtained permission from Northeast SARE to make IPM workshops an additional component of our project “Increasing Viability of Meat Goat Farms”. We revised a series of handouts used by Susan Schoenian in her Maryland workshops to reflect Northeastern conditions, added additional articles and created a small color poster of barber pole and deer worm symptoms to include in a plastic binder for workshop participants.
We conducted nine IPM workshops in 2006, training 108 goat and sheep farmers and at least 9 extension personnel. Eight of these workshops reported the effect of specific pasture management practices on internal parasite populations at the nine farms in our 2005 “worm” study. Three extension participants went on to conduct their own IPM workshops in 2006 and 2007. We set up a system to bulk purchase FAMACHA charts and distribute on request IPM binders and CDs to Cornell Cooperative extension staff conducting IPM workshops.
We held IPM workshops in Saratoga County, NY on May 19, 2007 with 14 attendees from NY and MA, in Greene County, NY on June 9, 2007 with 34 attendees from 5 states, and in Schuyler County, NY on May 31, 2008 with 10 attendees from NY and PA.
Kidding season mentoring program
We had 11 mentors and 14 mentees (4 of 14 mentees were 4 couples) in 2006. In some cases a mentee went to two different mentors while in other cases mentors handled more than one mentee. At least three mentors also took on informal mentees or requested additional booklets for people to whom they had sold breeding stock. We conducted phone interviews with all formal mentors and mentees.
From a score of 1 to 10, with 1 being extremely satisfied and 10 being totally unsatisfied, most mentors rated the Kidding Season Mentoring Program as 1 to 2. Two mentors rated the program as a 5 citing lack of opportunity for mentees to get to observe actual kiddings on their farm and lack of time for them and mentees to discuss personal time schedules and objectives in advance.
Ten mentees rated the program as 1 to 2, while three mentees rated it as 3 and one mentee rated it as 5 citing time and location constraints that did not allow them to observe actual kiddings on the mentor’s farm as the reason for ratings lower than 2. One of these mentees observed that it would have been most helpful if the program had been around a year earlier.
Some mentors were concerned that they were not an ideal match for their mentee because of possibly having too little experience or age to have the mentee really listen to them or because they were not a good match as far as sensitivities or management goals. For example, some mentors felt they ran their farm in a very intensive manner and were working with mentees more interested in an extensive management style. In contrast, a couple of mentees commented that their mentors were so experienced and had so much knowledge that initially it was a little intimidating and difficult to figure out which nuggets of information to try and retain. The match between mentee and mentor was deemed by mentees and mentors alike as crucial to the success of the program.
Several mentees and mentors suggested that it might be helpful to either 1) meet at a neutral ground beforehand with other mentoring teams to view videos of kidding and discuss individual goals, directions to farms, etc. or 2) to have follow-up meetings or discussion groups with other mentors and mentees to keep learning more. Others suggested having a support website to provide additional information.
Mentors rated the kidding season information booklet that accompanied the mentoring program from 1 to 3. Some mentors had very concise instructions about additional materials to include and about the addition of a formal activity where the mentee outlines specific tasks they want to accomplish and questions they want answered. However, the main theme appeared to be more graphics. Mentees rated the book as 1 to 2, with the exception of one mentee couple who indicated that they did not know about the book until after they had completed the program. Possible improvements cited by mentees were more graphics, more information on using a “lamb puller” and on handling different dystocia problems, including in it contact information for Cornell veterinarians or for websites where treatments for various health problems are listed so that producers can discuss with their veterinarians treatment alternatives.
Only 5 of 14 mentees got to observe kidding on mentors’ farms. All five rated observing kidding as a “very helpful” activity. Eleven of 14 mentees helped with on-farm tasks such as feeding, trimming hooves, disbudding, setting up jugs, weighing kids, eartagging, teaching kids to nurse, going into doe to assist birth. Helping with tasks was rated by mentees as “very helpful” to “helpful” as was reviewing the booklet. Listening to the mentor talk about goat management or going over the sections on management with the mentor were rated from “very helpful’ to “somewhat helpful” by mentees. Only a few people did Activities 1 and 2 as listed in the booklet but these activities were rated as “very helpful” to “helpful” by those that did them.
All mentors and mentees indicated that they would recommend the program to other mentors or mentees. Mentors found it most rewarding to help someone become more proficient, less stressed and more likely to succeed in their goat enterprise. Several of them also cited tangible benefits such as selling breeding stock, making nearby friends with similar interests, getting a different perspective of their farm which spurred them to make improvements, finding someone to raise their orphans, trading farm products, getting a little extra farm help.
Several mentees cited either the alleviation of anxiety about kidding or the opportunity to be hands-on with animals and assist with kiddings under an expert’s supervision as their biggest reward. Locating a nearby reliable resource, getting to network and observe other people’s facilities were other rewards cited. All 14 mentees indicated that they plan to stay in the business of raising goats. Those that had kidding problems after the mentoring program said that the program helped them rapidly identify problems and take action quickly so that results were better than expected without this preparation. Mentees occasionally credited a mentor’s advice with saving does or kids. One informal mentee was interviewed and stated that he did not plan to continue raising goats and wished he had met his mentor and done the mentoring program before he bought his herd because he would have realized that his expectations were not realistic.
The second draft of the Kidding Season Mentoring Notebook was piloted by nine mentoring teams in 2007. There were more than nine mentees because some mentors took on multiple mentees. Mentees and mentors gave the improved notebook higher scores than the original booklet had received in 2006 but still had suggestions of additional drawings and sections to include. They again rated “getting to observe kidding’ as the most valuable experience. Responses for the most part were very similar to 2006 with new farmers crediting their mentors with helping them to save animals, improve herd health performance, and alleviate personal stress.
One mentoring team failed to meet in person in 2007. This may have been because we did not make introductory and follow up phone calls as we had in 2006. Although we solicited no mentoring teams for 2008, eight mentee/mentor teams did contact us and obtained the notebook for either formal or informal mentoring.
At least 60 copies of either the first or second draft of the mentoring booklet were picked up by additional goat producers at ESMGPA meetings and the Cornell Sheep & Goat Symposium. An unknown number of copies were printed off our goat extension website. Sections of the notebook were printed in Cornell Livestock Extension publications such as the “Livestock Ledger”. The Kidding Season Mentoring Notebook is now a 30 page publication in a protective binder available for purchase through the Cornell Animal Science Department for $12 including shipping.
Evaluating goats for market readiness workshops.
The 2005 workshops were well attended and enjoyed. Initially, we had planned for advanced participants to work completely separately from basic participants. However, at the first workshop, we inadvertently had to have these two groups together for part of the time. Because of this, we stumbled on an excellent activity that we repeated in all the remaining workshops. Advanced participants graded goats with their workshop leader until the leader was confident that they could rapidly appraise animals. Each of them was then assigned to teach grading to a small group of basic participants. This allowed the workshop leader to observe their ability to convey to other farmers why particular animals grade as they do. This ability is very important in a market coordinator.
Scores on the “after” questionnaires improved overall by 2 points and 4.5 points(out of a possible 28 points) compared to scores for the “before” questionnaires in the Western and Eastern NY workshops, respectively. At least one of the farmers completing the advanced workshop used his credentials afterward to run a mini market readiness course in a western NY county.
The 2006 workshops in Chemung and Montgomery counties were well attended and enjoyed. Scores on the “after” questionnaires improved slightly compared to scores “before”. However, it was clear at the Chemung workshop that 14 people were too many for a hands-on advanced workshop. The workshop leader for the advanced workshop was also less dynamic and interactive than the workshop leaders used in 2005. One pair of participants in the basic workshop left early because they had hoped the workshop would cover health problems in meat goats and felt the information covered was not relevant to their needs. I have more recently run into farmers who say that they know their animals look bad and do not need a workshop to “grade’ them; instead, they need a workshop to decide why they look the way they do and what can they do about it.
Several farmers completing the advanced workshop in either 2005 or 2006 went on to run mini market readiness courses, judge county meat goat shows, provide the running critique on goats in production sales or pool slaughter goats from other producers for sale to volume buyers. A questionnaire was emailed to past attendees in July 2007 to see whether they felt they were using what they had learned. However, responses that were returned by email were not received despite farmers saying that they did send them. We believe they were identified by software as spam. Fourteen questionnaires were returned by surface mail. When asked how effective the workshop was in retrospect at helping them to better evaluate their own goats for health, body condition and selection grade, 12 respondents scored the workshop as “4” and two respondents scored it as “3” on a score of 1 (no help) to 4 (very helpful). Participants felt that the carcass evaluation and hands-on grading sessions were the most helpful activities at the workshops.
Six, five, three, three respondents indicated that since the workshop they have 1) assisted other goat producers in evaluating their goats for market readiness, 2) evaluated slaughter goats when purchasing goats from other goat producers to meet a market order or when acting as a grader for a livestock auction or specific buyer, 3) taught or assisted with a presentation or workshop on either marketing or evaluating goats, or 4) judged meat goats at either county or state level shows, respectively. One, six, five, and four respondents provided contact information to be on lists to 1) act as a market coordinator or grader for local meat goat marketing activities, 2) teach workshops on marketing or evaluation slaughter goats, 3) teach workshops on the county level to meat goat youth on evaluating goats, or 4) judge goats at meat goat shows on the county level.
Gross income was very limited in the nine new and expanding farms. Three farms reported no income for 2006 while another three reported incomes less than $500. Larger incomes from two other farms were due primarily to either agricultural program payments or to unrelated farm produce. One farm with 65 breeding does that had been in operation for 5 years but was undergoing a major expansion reported an income of $4100 from the sale of livestock.
Gross income was larger for the nine steady growth farms ranging from >$1000 to ≤$2000 (4 farms), >$2000 to ≤$5000 (3 farms), $7611 (1 farm) to $19859 (1 farm). Herds that were at steady growth had an advantage over new and rapidly growing herds because they did not need to retain all their doe kids and does in the herd. Revenues for these nine herds were almost entirely from the sale of livestock. The income of $7611 was generated from a herd with 35 breeding does through the sale of 34 weaned market kids (average price $89) and 17 excess doe kids and 10 does as breeding stock (average price $170). The revenue of $19859 was for a herd of fullblood goats from the sale of 56 yearling bucks and does as breeding stock (average price $355).
Most new farms and farms involved in major expansions probably had substantial expenses tied up in structural improvements and/or purchase of breeding stock as evidenced by the large amount of expenses attributed to the depreciation category. This category included depreciation costs, property taxes, conservation costs, repair and maintenance, and insurance. This category contributed an average of 42% of the total expenses for new and expanding farms compared to 24% for “steady growth” farms.
The promotion category included expenses for advertising, animal registration, production sale fees, and association memberships. The supply category included variable expenses due to supplies for livestock, temporary fencing and tractors, and fuel, oil, and fertilizer costs. The veterinary category included expenses due to medicine, dewormers, and breeding and veterinary services. Promotion, supplies, veterinary and feed costs were 1%, 18%, 6% and 32% of the total costs for new and expanding farms compared to 4%, 16%, 14% and 42% for “steady growth” farms. Even within steady growth farms there was a lot of variability in the distribution of these different costs. Promotion, supply, veterinary and feed costs ranged from 0% to 23%, 4% to 53%, 1% to 32%, and 28% to 59% of the total costs, respectively. This would suggest that there are many different approaches that can be taken in determining how much money needs to be spent on these different categories. It is important that farmers determine which of these costs yield the most returns and which are best kept to a minimum.
When total expenses were subtracted from total revenues, all of the new or expanding farms showed net losses. Seven of these nine farms showed a net loss even when the only expense subtracted from revenues was feed costs. Only one new or expanding farm showed a net profit when expenses due to promotion, supplies, veterinary and feed (but not depreciation, taxes, etc.) were subtracted from total revenues. However, the majority of revenues for this herd were coming from other farm produce. The inability of most of these farms to even cover their feed costs emphasizes the need for new farms to produce market kids from their does right from the beginning in order to generate sufficient revenues to cover herd upkeep.
Two of nine steady growth herds showed a net profit when total expenses were included. One of these herds was the full blood herd referred to earlier that sold only breeding stock. The full blood breeding stock market is highly competitive. This herd spent 23% of its expenses on promotion including items such as enrollment in buck performance tests, production sales, advertising and registration fees. Expenses in the veterinary category for this herd included artificial insemination training and semen purchases as well as normal health costs. Net profit for this herd was $10,214 but included no expenses due to the “Depreciation, taxes, etc.” category indicating that either another farm enterprise or outside income was covering these additional expenses. Four of the nine “steady growth” herds did not show a profit even when the only expense category subtracted from total revenues was feed costs. Five farms did not show a profit when expenses related to promotion, supplies, veterinary and feed (but not depreciation, taxes, etc.) were subtracted from herd income.
Revenues appear to be very delayed for new farms, emphasizing the importance of getting does into production sooner. Six of the 8 new farms that reported the number of kids sold per breeding doe was less than 1 kid per doe in 2006. Two of the 6 steady growth farms providing data also sold fewer than 1 kid per breeding doe in 2006. No farms indicated that they had does on an accelerated breeding schedule to kid more frequently than every 12 months. Having more kids for sale per breeding doe would increase revenues even if price received per kid remained the same. None of the farms surveyed marketed suckling slaughter kids. Instead, they marketed only weaned market kids which are normally heavier but marketed for less per pound of live weight. It was unclear whether slaughter goats were being sold directly to consumers or through auctions and dealers. Only very limited sales of goat meat and no sales of value added meat products were reported. Expenses were extremely variable indicating that there is probably significant leeway in managing these costs. Strategies such as maximizing the use of forages, pastures, and bulk purchases of concentrates should probably be used to more effectively manage feed costs.
On-farm observations and fact sheets for specific herd management practices.
Creep feeding study.
Kids on the creep-fed farm averaged about ½ lb of weight gain daily compared to about ⅓ lb daily for kids on the non-creep-fed farm during the 60 days studied. For example, creep-fed twin kids from three year old does gained 11.6 lb more during 60 days as compared to their non-supplemented counterparts. In addition, top quality (Selection 1) suckling kids usually command a better price than kids that are less conditioned (Selection 2 or 3). One rule of thumb is that suckling kids gaining ½ lb or more per day will easily grade Selection 1, kids gaining ⅓ lb will grade either Selection 1 or 2 depending on how healthy and well conditioned they appear, while kids gaining ⅓ lb or less will generally grade Selection 2 or 3. If these kids had been marketed as suckling kids at the end of this study, 98 % of the creep-fed kids would have probably graded Selection 1 as compared to 44% of the non-creep-fed.
Amount of concentrate consumed at each farm was similar, with does whose kids were not creep-fed consuming 2.25 lb of grain daily and does that nursed creep-fed kids consuming 1.5 lb of concentrate with their kids consuming 0.25 lb each daily. However, feed costs for the creep-fed farm over the 60 day period were $7.00 more per doe unit due to the higher cost of creep feed compared to the concentrate fed to does. The average cost for the increased gain of creep-fed twins was roughly $0.32 per lb of gain ($7.00 ÷ 22 lb live weight). If these kids had been sold for slaughter as suckling kids in 2005 at $1.60 to $2.25 per lb live weight, the returns from the 11 lbs of additional weight gain per kid would have ranged from $17.60 to $24.75 and easily warranted the additional $3.50/kid for creep feeding feed expenses.
Weaning was more stressful for the non-creep-fed group and they met their targeted slaughter weight 8 to 10 weeks later than did the creep-fed group. In addition, grazing the kids on pasture reduced pasture availability for does or for expansion of the breeding herd. However, the decision to creep feed must be made on a farm to farm basis. Improved early growth and quality from creep feeding may be more important for farms marketing suckling kids compared to farms marketing weaned market kids at the end of the grazing season. Creep feeding may also be more beneficial for yearling does nursing ≥ twins and older does nursing ≥ triplets compared to yearlings nursing singles or older does nursing ≤ twins. The current cost of creep feed has to be weighed against the expected improvement in weight gain and current live weight prices for goat kids. Herd owners should keep reliable farm records to compare weight gains and prices received to feed consumption and expenses in order to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of creep feeding under their own herd conditions.
Deworming resistance study.
In our first study comparing the effectiveness of dewormers using fecal egg counts before and after deworming, over half the farms tested (11 of 19) exhibited severe resistance to one or more dewormers and another 3 exhibited moderate resistance to one or more dewormers. Only five farms showed low to no resistance to the dewormers. Two of these farms had insufficient amounts of worm eggs in the initial fecal samples to accurately test whether the dewormers used were effective. Worm populations on nine of eleven farms using fenbendazole as an oral dewormer in the form of either Safeguard or Panacur were moderately to severely resistant to it. Seven of thirteen farms using ivermectin in the form of Ivomec or Privermectin exhibited moderate and severe resistance to ivermectin. Resistance to albendazole (Valbazen), doramectin (Dectomax), and levamisole was severe, moderate and moderate on the individual farms sampled using one of them.
Results of our follow up study on dewormer resistance in NE US meat goat herds using a more sensitive “larval development assay” test to observe resistance indicated that 100%, 60%, 60% and 90% of the farms analyzed exhibited moderate to severe resistance to thiabendazole, levamisole, thiabendazole X levamisole, or ivermectin, respectively. Two farms had to be eliminated from analysis because they did not have sufficient egg worm counts (≥ 100 eggs per gram of feces) to generate sufficient eggs for hatching. One farm could not be evaluated for response to ivermectin due to drying out of treatment dishes. Of the ten farms used for analysis, all of them, two farms, and one farm showed severe resistance to at least one dewormer, at least 2 dewormers, or to all four dewormer treatments. The results from both our studies confirm that dewormer resistance is present on many NE US meat goat farms and needs to be considered when undertaking internal parasite control programs.
In this small data set, age class, body condition score and service sire did not have a statistical effect on litter size. In contrast, differences in litter size due to flushing were significant statistically (P < 0.05) with does that were flushed averaging 2.0 kids and does that were not flushed averaging only 1.4 (± 0.33) kids. Flushing was achieved by providing 1 lb of a 16% crude protein concentrate for 21 days prior to introduction of the breeding buck. In this meat goat herd under the environmental and genetic conditions for the year studied, flushing by providing an additional 21 lb of feed per doe appeared to result in about 6 more kids for every 10 breeding does. Even with rising prices for concentrate feeds, flushing 3 weeks prior to the breeding period appeared to be a sound financial decision for meat goat herds with BoerX does in relatively lean body condition.
The study left open questions about whether flushing would be as effective 1) for does in better body condition or 2) for situations where the additional nutrients used for flushing were in the form of shelled corn or extremely high quality pastures rather than a pelleted 16% crude protein concentrate. Our observations indicated that flushing is an excellent tool to consider for any New York meat goat herd desiring increased litter size. Increased reproductive performance per pregnancy should increase doe revenues.
Out of season breeding study.
Detailed results are given in the out of season fact sheet. Our observations indicated that some meat goat farms in the NE US have successfully adopted at least three methods of improving pregnancy rates for out-of-season breeding. These methods include: 1) attempting to breed does shortly before, during, or after weaning; 2) using artificial lighting to manipulate day length, and 3) using teaser bucks to extend the normal breeding season. Decisions as to which method to try depend on whether 1) the herd is on an accelerated kidding schedule and has does ready to be weaned from kids at the onset of the out of season period, 2) bucks or does or both can be economically and practically exposed to an artificial lighting regimen, or 3) it is practical to have a pygmy or other high libido buck vasectomized and maintained on-farm.
Observations over the three years suggested that additional factors can help improve out of season reproductive performance. Year round use of dusk to dawn mercury lights may make goats less photosensitive and, thus, easier to breed out-of-season. Flushing does with concentrates and having them at a body condition score of 3 to 4 prior to and during breeding appears to improve out-of-season breeding performance. Suddenly introducing breeding bucks rather than having them continually with the does and making sure that at least one buck in the breeding group or in paddocks bordering breeding groups actively exhibits rut and a strong odor also contributes to the success of out of season breeding.
This study did not involve formal research. Therefore, breeding groups were not designed to study the influence of different breeds or genetics within breeds on out of season breeding performance. However, variations in buck odor and in reproductive performance were noted within breeds. Therefore, selecting bucks and does to use for future out of season breeding based on their previous performance may improve the out of season breeding potential of their offspring.
Study on pasture management to reduce worm loads
The worm results were not as anticipated. Important results were at the beginning of the study when two farms that did not rotate pastures but instead allowed their goats to roam on large parcels surrounding barn areas were each compared to two similar farms in their region that practiced pasture rotation on the spring and early summer. Worm counts were far higher for the two farms that did not rotate and, unlike for any of the other herds, kid losses to worms and coccidia were observed by early to mid July. These two farms were unable to continue on in the same pastures for the remainder of the study as originally planned. Farm managers observed that suckling kids tended to graze close to the barns where fecal contamination was intense unless they were in a pasture rotation system. This problem was labeled as a “barn yard effect”. Thus, only two farms willing to continue rotating through the same set of pastures throughout the grazing season. However, for these two remaining farms, worm counts did not increase more over the late summer and fall compared to farms that switched onto clean pastures, woodlands or hayfield regrowth. Neither of the two remaining “no switch” farms was representative of most NE meat goat farms. One farm was in its first year of operation. It purchased its herd as newborn kids and bottle-raised the kids prior to putting them on newly established pastures on land that had not been grazed in many years. The other farm ran a closed herd of Spanish does with only a small percentage of Boer in them that had all been purchased from one farm three years earlier. Neither herd had a “barn yard effect”. In one case the herd was run out to individual pastures by a long, narrow lane from their barn every day. In the other case, the barn was portable and was moved with the herd as they cycled through the pastures.
The herds that moved their animals to new pastures, browse or hayfield regrowth in late summer and fall did have increases in worm counts as the grazing season progressed but the worm counts stayed within manageable levels. All of them had some problems with a barn yard effect. Their herds either returned to a barn with access to an adjoining pasture at night or had 24-hour access back from whatever browse area had been opened up for them to a central pasture with shelter and mangers. Herds that returned to a barn at night tended to graze the barnyard pastures during the evening, early morning and on moonlit nights. Herds with 24-hour access to central areas tended to return to these areas during the heat of the day and at night and were observed grazing there despite the manure concentration in these areas. All of these farmers believed that their worm counts would have been much higher if they had not switched to clean areas and one of the “no switch” farmers immediately moved their herd to hayfield regrowth in the mid fall as soon as their last set of fecal samples had been collected because they believed their pastures had become too contaminated with worm eggs.
There were inadvertent results gained from the study. Worm populations in two herds were found to be highly resistant to cydectin and ivermectin respectively as evidenced by fecal egg counts increasing or remaining the same 7 to 10 days after drug treatment. A commercial mix of garlic powder, diatomaceous earth and silica that was tele-marketed as an organic dewormer was found to be ineffective as an acute dewormer in one herd as judged by fecal egg counts increasing or remaining the same 7 days after treatment.
Results from our internal parasite studies for 2005 were incorporated into two power point slide show series presented at our Integrated Parasite Management Workshops and Managing Goats on Browse and Pasture Workshops in 2006 and 2007.
Results from our on-farm internal parasite studies were also shared at Managing Small Ruminants on Pasture and Browse workshops at the 2007 Vermont Grazing Conference (38 participants) and 2007 Cornell Sheep & Goat Symposium (130 participants), and at in-depth grazing field days at High Woods Farm in Tioga County, NY (12 attendees), Consider Bardwell Farm in Southern Vermont (20 attendees), and Claude Roberge Farm in Northern Vermont (10 attendees).
Integrated parasite management workshops.
A great deal of material is normally covered in these workshops and it is difficult to evaluate whether farmers get a good grasp of all the topics covered. We used a “before” and “after” questionnaire in our early workshops but did not find it particularly helpful. Later we opted to include two copies of the questionnaire (one blank and one with correct answers) in the IPM binder and to devote the last 20 minutes of the workshops to letting farmers meet in small groups to write down and discuss their internal parasite management plans for the coming year.
This was a more successful activity at letting farmers use what they had been taught. It was also beneficial for clearing up possible misconceptions farmers may have gotten.
We encouraged farmers who already owned microscopes to bring them to the workshops and were able to help farmers learn how to set up and use microscopes that had had them completely stymied.
Our kidding season mentoring booklet has been very well received. One goal when creating the booklet was to address the substantial kidding losses experienced by some new producers kidding in winter to target the Easter suckling market. However, by virtue of this role, the booklet focuses on emergency intervention techniques as well as preventative management giving the impression that kidding is a very labor intensive activity. To try to counteract this impression, we added a photo of a goat kidding out on pasture to the preface of this booklet with a caption reminding people that the primary goal of a good kidding management program is to have the vast majority of goats produce a live, healthy litter without the need for physical intervention.
Several of our fact sheets on herd management practices have been eagerly read by extension educators and reprinted in the Livestock Ledger and other extension agriculture newsletters as soon as they’ve been released. Some have also been printed by the Goat Rancher (a national publication) and Country Folks (multi-state NE publication). We have also added them to the CD on raising meat goats that Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Empire State Meat Goat Producers Association distributes to new meat goat producers. They are also available electronically from the Cornell Goat Extension website. However, our plan is to add a fact sheet on bulk purchase of feeds to them by mid October 2008 and then to consolidate them into a single printed publication available as a Cornell Mimeograph for winter reading by meat goat farmers.
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
Results and impacts were reported in the previous section for each component of the project. Results and potential impacts for the herd management practices we observed are reported in the fact sheet for each herd practice.
Information on expenses and revenues expected from implementing specific herd practices can be inferred from our fact sheets. Several of our fact sheets included the amount of concentrate feed needed to support certain herd practices. Our goal in the fact sheets was not to say that a farmer had to adopt a particular practice, rather it was to provide information to help farmers make more informed decisions about what management practices make sense for their own farms.
Creep feeding resulted in a total of 22 lb more gain for a set of twins compared to a set of twins in a different herd that were not creep fed. Creep-fed kids ate on average ¼ lb of concentrate each per day over the 60 days studied. Thus, the increases revenue from an additional 22 lb of gain for a set of twins is offset by the expense for the 30 lb of creep feed they will consume. If a farmer receives $1.60 per lb live weight for Easter suckling kids, the increased revenue will total $35, meaning that even at current increased costs for concentrates, creep feeding would still appear to be economically justified. However, if the farmer is being paid a certain price per head with no regard for the weight of the kids as long as they fall within a particular weight range and can get suckling kids to this weight range without creep feeding by the target date then the economical situation is very different and creep feeding may not be justified. It may even penalize a farm if it results in kids that exceed the weight limits of the buyer. Thus, the economic rewards from creep feeding rely on actual farm situations.
Even when paid by pounds of live weight, the choice a farmer makes as to cost and/or quality of concentrate will affect the overall profit expected from creep feeding. To this end, several formulations of satisfactory creep feeds with different costs were included in the creep feeding fact sheet. For example, if a farmer uses a creep feed purchased at 12 cents per lb ($240/ton) as compared to a creep feed formulated at 24 cents per lb ($12 per 50 lb bag), the profit from creep feeding in the scenario outlined above will be $31.40 ( $35 – $3.60) compared to $27.80 ($35 – $7.20) for each set of twins.
The increased costs of concentrates today (September 2008) may also affect farmer preferences for flushing their does prior to breeding. One reason many farms cite for not flushing their does (increasing the nutritional plain suddenly 3 weeks prior to breeding) is that their does are already fed concentrate year-round and are relatively plump at breeding time. However, with current feed costs, year round concentrate feeding will become less likely in commercial herds and body condition scores similar to those in the herd studied will be more common. In this situation, the response to flushing resulted in 6 more kids per every ten does. Thus, the judicious feeding of concentrate at this time resulted in substantial increases in the reproductive performance and economic potential of commercial does. Thus, current economic conditions make this practice more relevant.
We had planned to use interactive herd profile surveys to track farmer adoption of the herd management practices discussed in our fact sheets. However, the resignation of the ESMGPA webmaster and relocation of the website eliminated this possibility. Instead, we had to surface mail these forms to NE goat farmers. Forty-one meat goat farms returned the herd profile surveys for 2005 and 2006 as compared to 42 herd profile surveys returned for herd information for the year 2004. Data were returned for both years (2005 and 2006), only 2005, and only 2006, from 26, 2, and 12 farms, respectively. Twenty three farms were based in NY, nine in PA, three in OH, two in MA, two in ME, one in NH and one in WV. Based on herd sizes reported, it appears that several farms with 25 to 50 goats that reported results for 2004 did not send in results for 2005 or 2006. The most common farms reporting data for 2006 had been in business for 3 to 4 years and had 11 to 25 goats. Herd size in 2006 ranged from <5 (5.1%), 5 to 10 (23.14%), 11 to 25 (38.5%), 25 to 50 (20.5%), 51 to 100 (7.7%), 100 to 199 (2.6%), up to 300+ (2.6%) breeding age does. The trend for herd size to increase continued. In 2004, 75% of the herds reporting indicated that they had expanded since the previous year as compared to 61.4% in 2005 and 75.7% in 2006.
The series of survey questions dealing with specific herd practices the farms were using is probably most pertinent to our NE SARE grant. Creep feeding continued to be more common than flushing or out-of-season breeding. However, more farms practiced creep feeding, flushing and out of season breeding in 2004 (70%, 45%, and 35%) compared to 2005 (59%, 21% , and 31%) or 2006 (67%, 34%, and 24%). This may have been because the large number of farms with 25 to 50 animals that participated in the survey in 2004 but failed to respond in 2005 or 2006 were more innovative than the farms reporting in the later years. We also observed a new trend in 2006 with 2 of 38 farms reporting that they were raising only grass/hay fed goats. It appears that farms may have learned to do a better job of out of season breeding over the course of our study. The percentage of farms using out-of-season breeding that had 50 percentage or better conception rates went from 35.7% in 2004 to 33.3% in 2005 and 50% in 2006.
In 2004, only 15% of the farms indicated that they switched to clean pastures, browse, hay fields or woodlands in late summer and fall to control internal parasites in their goats rather than rotating through the same pastures continuously for the grazing season and at least 2 of the six farms were new farms that appeared to do it inadvertently as they fenced more land rather than out of any attempt to control internal parasites. However, this was one herd practice that was included in our studies that did appear to change substantially in 2005 and 2006. In 2005, 31% of the farms indicated that they switched in late summer/fall to pastures that had not been grazed by small ruminants for 6 months (4 farms), pastures that had not been grazed by small ruminants for 2 months (one farm), hay fields (3 farms) or browse, woods, or vacant lots (5 farms) to control internal parasites. In 2006, 41% of the farms indicated that they switched in late summer/fall to pastures that had not been grazed by small ruminants for 6 months (5 farms), pastures that had not been grazed by small ruminants for 2 months (one farm), hay fields (8 farms) or browse, woods, or vacant lots (8 farms) to control internal parasites. These pasture management methods are taught in our IPM and small ruminant grazing workshops based on the changes in worm populations we observed during our 2005 “worm” study.
The remaining survey questions had to do with the marketing and health of kids. About 85% of kids continued to be marketed by farms in only one or two seasons of the years. A large percentage of farms indicated that they did not sell any suckling slaughter kids but only sold weaned market kids (78% in 2005 and 82% in 2006).
Mortality rates did not improve over previous figures reported for 2004. Average mortality rates for 2005 kids at birth, prior to weaning, and after weaning were about 7%, 3.8%, and 0.74%, respectively. Sixty three percent of the farms reported that they experienced deaths at kidding (2 to 50% mortality), 44% of the farms reported that they had deaths prior to weaning (2 to 20% mortality), and 11% of the farms reported having deaths after weaning (3 to 4% mortality).
Average mortality rates for 2006 kids at birth, prior to weaning, and after weaning were about 5.5%, 2.9%, and 2%, respectively. Sixty eight percent of the farms reported that they experienced deaths at kidding (1 to 25% mortality), 35% of the farms reported that they had deaths prior to weaning (1 to 22% mortality), and 18% of the farms reported having deaths after weaning (2 to 40% mortality). The reporting of 40% was an outlier and the respondent indicated that it was due to a coyote attack on a farm in New York.
Areas needing additional study
Kidding season mentoring program
Although mentors and mentees were very pleased with the kidding season mentoring program, we had several experienced meat goat farmers contact us wanting to mentor with other experienced meat goat farmers to find out how they kept their labor and feed costs down during kidding season. Revenues from meat goat farming appear to be fairly modest emphasizing the need to keep labor and feed costs down while still maintaining very low kid mortality rates. Case studies are needed on how best to implement “low input” kidding.
Evaluating goats for market readiness workshops
During the course of our project several meat goat producers who had served as dealers buying other producers’ animals for resale stopped serving as dealers because of increased fuel costs, long hours, and insufficient returns. Marketing opportunities for many producers in more remote parts of the NE have decreased while competition in areas closer to urban areas has increased. There is an important need to re-establish pooled marketing opportunities for farmers and to make direct connections with buyers willing to purchase off the farm.
The primary goal of our income/expense questionnaires was to obtain real figures that could be used to develop sample financial spread sheets for various types of meat goat farms. However, there was so much variation in income and expense figures among the farms completing the surveys that we would have needed a very large number of them to obtain reliable averages to develop these spread sheets. A more practical alternative to obtain these badly needed example spreadsheets would be to interview example farms in depth to obtain detailed estimates of expenses and income for their specific types of farms. Although figures are available for sample business summaries from Penn State, University of Maryland and ATTRA, most of the figures in these are not very applicable to our region and they allow no interactive comparisons for different management alternatives. Interactive spreadsheets and business summaries are needed to allow farmers to identify most promising changes to implement.
Herd management practices fact sheets
The main cost associated with several of our recommended practices (i.e. creep feeding, flushing) is feed costs. However feed costs have increased sharply since we started this project in 2005. The popularity of grass/hay fed meats has also increased. Thus, studies that help identify more effective use of forages or improve forage quality without substantial increases in cost are critical. For farms using concentrates, it is important to quantify the savings in feed costs that can be made through 1) bulk purchases of concentrates, 2) use of grain byproducts, 3) feeding of the herd in management groups, and 4) use of concentrates at most critical times when response will be greatest rather than throughout the life of the animal.
Integrated parasite management workshops
More work is needed on high tannin forages that discourage worm survival and are suited to the NE US. We know that birdsfoot trefoil does not impact worm populations in the low density it is usually found in a standard pasture mix. At what density would it have an effect? What other condensed tannin plant forage species are adapted to the NE US? What sort of weight gains and reproductive performance can you expect on them? We also need to know more about the differences in tannin quality and quantity for common NE browse forages.
We also need to explore more the role of alternative botanical or mineral worm discouragers in helping to keep worm loads low and in reducing the number of dewormings needed within a herd or for individual animals. Some of these alternatives have toxicity problems associated with them (e.g. Epazote). Others do not seem particularly effective. More work is needed to assess their potential and best methods for incorporating them into an integrated parasite management system.