Characterizing the myology (muscle profile) of meat goat carcasses to improve value-added processing and retail consumption in farm-to-fork marketing

Progress report for LS23-377

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2023: $372,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Grant Recipients: Animal and Dairy Sciences Mississippi State Univer; Tuskegee University
Region: Southern
State: Mississippi
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Derris Burnett, PHD
Animal and Dairy Sciences Mississippi State Univer
Dr. Clarissa Harris
Tuskegee University
Dr. Leyla Rios
Department of Animal & Dairy Sciences at Mississippi State University
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Project Information


While consumption has increased nearly 300% since 1999 (extension, University of Tennessee), the American consumer still eats less than half a pound of goat meat each year which threatens the long-term sustainability of the meat goat industry. Contributing factors to this dearth of consumption include lack of consistent quality and supply of goat meat outside of niche market spaces. The beef and pork industries have benefited from large scale bovine and porcine myology (muscle profiling) studies to garner an intricate understanding of these carcasses and inform precision valuation and marketing schemes. As a result, retailers and consumers are relatively confident they will get a consistent beef or pork product and can price and pay for it accordingly. This confidence and consistency are lacking in the modern meat goat industry and the goal of this proposal is to improve the consistency of goat meat to improve consumer confidence and contribute to the sustainability of the goat industry.

Our long-term goals include increasing the viability of small-scale producers and processors in the Southeastern United States. The overall objective of the current proposal is to conduct a comprehensive myology investigation using meat goats reared under 3 practical production scenarios employed by farmers in the Southeast. These include a confined intensive management system, a brush/browsing system, and an organic transitioning system. In Year 1 we will conduct a controlled feeding trial at the Caprine Research Unit at Tuskegee University. A total of 60 weaned goats will be assigned to one of the 3 production scenarios (intensive feeding, browsing, or organic transitioning) and then fed for 90 days. These goats will then be transported to the Mississippi State University Meat Science and Muscle Biology Laboratory for processing and a comprehensive evaluation (myology) of each individual muscle group and meat cut. In Year 2 this study will be replicated on the farms of 3 local Mississippi and Alabama producers These goats will also be transported to Mississippi State University for processing and profiling. In Year 3, we will use the combined datasets from Years 1 and 2 along with sensory evaluation and willingness to pay analysis to complete our evaluation of the farm to fork meat goat/goat meat pipeline. These data will be used to optimize fabrication and processing techniques to increase the consistency, sustainability, and profitability of farm to fork goat meat marketing. The current study will address a critical research need in the meat goat/goat meat industry and will be immediately impactful for producers, processors, retailers, and consumers. We will make these findings available in the form of enhanced fabrication videos, on-site and remote training sessions, cookery demonstrations, and reliable infographics to reach a broad audience of producers, processors, retailers, and consumers in the meat goat arena.

Project Objectives:

In the current proposal, we will conduct a comprehensive myology investigation using carcasses from meat goats reared under three practical SE production scenarios. A total of 60 weaned meat goats will be assigned to one of three feeding systems (feeding, browsing, and organic transitioning; n = 20 per treatment) and fed for 90 days which is typical of the SE meat goat industry. This experiment will be conducted at the Tuskegee University Caprine Research Unit in year one and repeated on the farms of cooperating farmers in year 2. In each case, these goats will then be transported and processed at the MSU Meat Science Laboratory  where we will assess a series of physiochemical parameters associated with muscle composition and meat quality, and combine this with consumer sensory and willingness-to-pay analyses. We hypothesize that the intrinsic physiochemical properties of  individual muscles/meat cuts will impact the consumer eating experience and the value they place on these products. The specific objectives to test this hypothesis are to:



  1. Determine the impact of intensive feeding, browsing, and organic transitioning operations on performance and managerial economics of market meat goats in the SE. This will be conducted at Tuskegee University (year 1) and repeated at local collaborating farms (year 2).


  1. Determine the impact of the above feeding systems on the myology (muscle profiling), yield, and processability of the resulting market meat goat carcasses. This objective will allow us to inform producers and processors on the optimal processing practices to maximize the yield and quality of meat cuts coming from goats reared under the aforementioned production conditions.


  1. We will then evaluate the harvest, fabrication, and post-processing efficiency in small processing systems to determine economic parameters for stakeholders in the direct-marketing pipeline. This objective allows us to inform processors on the inputs, turnaround times, and optimal processing logistics necessary to ensure consistency and profitability for the various stakeholders in the farm-direct marketing pipeline.


  1. Determine consumer willingness to pay and sensory parameters for goat meat cuts from the previous objectives. Once the intrinsic parameters of the various muscles and meat cuts have been delineated, this objective will bring in the final stakeholder and the ultimate determinant of marketability with the input of consumers and their perceived valuation of the products they are offered in the sensory and economic studies.


  1. Using the data garnered and analyzed in the previous objectives, we will refine and present contemporary guidance for the SE meat goat industry regarding the best harvest, fabrication, processing, marketing practices using these data. This final objective provides the deliverables that will be disseminated to producers, processors, retailers, and consumers to instill more confidence and competence into the farm to for meat goat/goat meat production system. In addition, these findings will be made directly available to these stakeholders via a comprehensive digital repository and through our mobile meat processing and fabrication demonstration system.

The strategic impact of these combined objectives including the feeding trials (Objective 1), physiochemical measurements (Objective 2), sensory evaluations (Objective 3), and economic analyses (Objective 4) will allow for a comprehensive understanding of the intrinsic myologic parameters and provide biological context to variations in goat meat cuts. Using this data, we will help processors and producers implement novel fabrication and marketing strategies to maximize the efficiency and profitability of the complete farm-to-fork goat meat pipeline (Objective 5). This will inform how meat goats are processed and assigned value by retailers and consumers. Moreover, this will help extend the prevailing perspective of underserved producers beyond simply selling live meat goats and towards marketing goat meat as a reliable alternative to traditional red meat products. These data will be used synergistically with our mobile meat processing trailer and demonstration system to directly disseminate this knowledge and train/retrain these stakeholders to increase the application of these science-based techniques in the industry. This project will also result in an accessible database for producers and processors to rely on as the industry makes inroads into a more mainstream marketing model. This repository will resemble that of the bovine and porcine myology databases that have been established by the University of Nebraska, Lincoln (; in conjunction with the Beef Checkoff and Pork Checkoff programs, respectively. Ultimately, the merits of the current project will usher in a paradigm shift towards more consistent, precision-marketing of goat meat products based on empirical data generated to meet the demands of a growing consumer base.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Sylvester Adams - Producer
  • Cindy Ayers-Elliot - Producer
  • Joseph Mangano - Producer


Materials and methods:

All animal procedures will be conducted in accordance with protocols approved by the Tuskegee University and Mississippi State University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees. A total of 80 weaned goats in Year 1 and Year 2 will be assigned to one of three treatment groups based on nutritional regimens typically employed by producers in the Southeast.

  1. Intensive fed/managed group (n = 40). The goats in this group represent those meat goat operations that are intensively managed in a confined feeding setting, and intentionally destined for marketing on a defined schedule. Castrated Boer and Kiko males, 4 to 5 months of age, will treated with different feeding regimen (High concentrate or Feedlot type diets; >75% concentrate) and low concentrate diets (less than 20% concentrate diets) at the Tuskegee University Caprine Research and Education Unit. This will be a 2 x 2 factorial design with 20 goats from each breed in each treatment group (High Concentrate or Low Concentrate). They will be fed indoors for 90 days. Dry matter intake, rumen fermentation, blood metabolites, and growth performance will be monitored for the feeding period. While this is not the most prevalent management strategy in the SE, this scenario is intentionally designed to give us a baseline of how intensively managed goats perform in terms of live animal growth and how this translates to meat quality.
  1. Browsing group (n = 20). Goats used to manage land or clear browse are less intensively/intentionally managed to produce high quality goat meat. These goats may vary in age, size, etc., but still enter into the US goat meat supply. Therefore, it is critical to understand how this management system impacts the quality, composition, of these carcasses. Boer and Kiko goats (n = 10 of each bred) will be grazed together on the browse sites at the Atkins Agroforestry and Browse Research and Demonstration Site of Tuskegee University, Alabama. Each breed will represent 10 growing intact males of 4 to 5 months of age. This study will be conducted during the late spring and summer months when browse species are actively growing. The species composition and nutritive values of browse species will evaluated over the growing season. They will be supplemented with energy plus protein sources as needed. The level of supplementation will be based on the BCS (scale 1 to 5) of growing goats. Water and mineralized salts will be fed ad libitum. Goats will be monitored for BW changes, BCS (scale 1 to 9) and parasite counts.
  1. Organic transitioning group (n = 20). To recapitulate a common scenario for producers interested in organic goat farming. The inputs and outputs from an organic meat goat system are demonstrably different from a conventional system and data regarding the impact on carcass quality and sensory characteristics are lacking at the systems level. Boer and Kiko goats will be grazed together on organic transitioning paddocks at the Tuskegee University Caprine Research Unit. During the project period, the entire process will be documented to develop a training program for dissemination to producers who are contemplating transitions to organic production systems. This training program will be done on an annual basis for the entire project period. The processes to be documented for the training programs include basic information about the rules and regulation for Organic Meat Goat Production as follows:
    1. What is organic goat production?
    2. Certification process
    3. Exemptions from certification
    4. Land requirements
    5. Feeds, ingredients and forage production methods
    6. Purchase of goats
    7. Parasite and disease control procedures
    8. On-line inspection requirements
    9. Continuing certification

These treatment groups will be repeated on the farms of participating farmers in year 2. The participating farmers have helped to design the treatment groups based on their operations and objectives for their business models. They will also be involved in study design and data collection in year 1 to prepare and train them on proper data collection and management techniques for year 2. Together these dietary treatments are designed to represent the wide range of yields and physiochemical properties of the muscles and, ultimately, the meat products that are generated from contemporary meat goat carcasses. The goats will be fed their respective diets for approximately 90 days until they reach a market weight of 100lbs at which point they will be harvested at the Mississippi State University Meat Science Laboratory.

 Objective 2: Goat Myology (Muscle Profiling)

We will conduct a comprehensive myologic evaluation of the carcasses in Objective 1. The carcasses will be completely dissected and subjected to morphometric and physiochemical analysis to determine the following parameters. Carcass parameters including USDA selection grade, dressing percentage, lean color, loin eye area, and fat score will be determined after harvest. Each carcass will then be subjected to a comprehensive myologic evaluation in which it will be completely dissected to determine the morphometric and physiochemical composition of each muscle. The myologic evaluation will include the following parameters for each muscle:

  1. Name, origin, insertion, action, innervation, and blood supply
  2. Relative muscle weight (weight of muscle/carcass weight)
  3. Moisture content
  4. Fat content and composition
  5. Collagen content and composition
  6. Protein content
  7. Objective Color
  8. Tenderness
  9. Texture

From one side of the carcass, each muscle will be identified, weighed, and then ground using a counter-top meat grinder and prepared for compositional analysis. Total moisture, fat, protein, and collagen content will be determined using a near infrared spectrometer (NIR; NDC Technologies, Irwindale, CA). Once these crude parameters are determined, each muscle sample will then be subjected to further biochemical analysis to determine the chemical composition the muscle. The fatty acid profile of each muscle will be determined via gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy. Expressible moisture will be determine using centrifugation and the amount of soluble and insoluble collagen will be determined using a modified Hill method as described by Gonzalez, et al., (2014).  A Hunter Lab Miniscan EZ spectrophotometer (Illuminant A, 2.54-cm diameter aperture, 10° observer; Hunter Associates Laboratory, Reston, VA) will be used for objective determination of lean color according to American Meat Science Association (AMSA) guidelines (AMSA, 2012). Objective tenderness and texture of each muscle will be determined using a shear force meter and an instrumental texture analyzer, respectively, according to AMSA guidelines for cookery, sensory evaluation and instrumental tenderness measurements of fresh meats (AMSA, 2015).

Sensory Analysis: From the other side of each carcass, the muscles will be fabricated into fresh meat cuts and prepared for sensory analysis by a trained consumer panel. The collaborating farmers will help to recruit sensory panelists as they already have client bases that are familiar with goat meat. We will also include those not familiar with goat meat as would-be consumers that may adopt goat meat in the future. Sensory analyses Will be conducted according to procedures outlined in the AMSA meat cookery and sensory guidelines (AMSA, 2015). Panelists will evaluate cooked meat samples (from each muscle) for firmness, cohesiveness, overall tenderness, juiciness, goat flavor intensity, and off-flavor intensity using an 8-point scale (1 = extremely soft, not cohesive at all, extremely tough, extremely dry, extremely bland, or abundant, respectively, and 8 = extremely firm, extremely cohesive, extremely tender, extremely juicy, extremely intense, or none, respectively).

Willingness to Pay Analysis: Consumer willingness to pay (WTP) is an economic analysis that monetizes consumer preferences and gives an indication of how consumers value a product and their perception of its quality characteristics. This analysis will be conducted to determine how the intrinsic parameters determined in the objective myology profiling and subjective consumer sensory investigations influence the valuation of the individual muscles. This analysis will provide meaningful insight into the purchase intentions of prospective goat meat consumers. To determine WP, a Becker–DeGroot–Marshak (BDM) auction will be conducted after each panelist completes the consumer sensory session. Using this approach consumers can assign values to their sensory experience and provide an indication of the price premiums or discounts they assign to these experiences.

Statistical Analysis: Data will be analyzed using the PROC-MIXED procedure of SAS (SAS Institute, Inc., Cary, NC) with goat as the experimental unit. Myology parameters will be analyzed for individual muscles within and across treatments. Pair-wise comparisons between the least square means of within and across treatments will be computed using the PDIFF option of the LSMEANS statement. Differences will be considered significant at P ≤ 0.05 and tendencies will be considered at P > 0.05 and ≤ 0.10.

These analyses will allow for a comprehensive understanding of these intrinsic parameters in the context of individual goat meat cuts and will inform how they are processed and assigned value in the future. We will develop training materials and fabrication demonstrations in which processors and producers will learn novel fabrication and further processing techniques based on these data. Thereby, we can directly disseminate this knowledge and train/retrain these stakeholders to increase the application of these science-based techniques in the industry. 

Objective 3: Optimizing fabrication and value-added processing of goat meat

In years 2 and 3 we will use the data from the previous objectives to optimize fabrication, processing techniques and retail marketing strategies for goat meat products. Using the objective measures of meat quality, we will identify 4 muscles that have the lowest quality in terms of tenderness and juiciness. We will subject these particular muscles to value added, enhancement techniques including mechanical tenderization and injection to determine how amenable they are to these technologies. These will include understanding optimal aging times and shelf-life for the various cuts and processing mechanisms. One of the primary considerations for processing facilities is food safety. Processors must be confident that their practices are effective in the critical control of processes and pathogens that might compromise product safety. Microbial analysis will be conducted to help improve HACCP and other food safety considerations for meat goat harvest and fabrication. This systems approach will contribute novel data to improve the productivity, profitability, and sustainability of the meat goat/ goat meat industries.

Objective 4: Economic and Retail

In year 3, data will be used from the previous objectives to optimize fabrication, processing techniques and retail marketing strategies for goat meat products. These will include understanding optimal aging times and shelf-life for the various cuts and processing mechanisms. We will also conduct economic analyses on the consumer willingness to pay for goat meat products. This objective completes the farm- to-fork pipeline taking into account the consumer-retailer transaction and the consumer eating experience.

Objective 5: Results dissemination and training sessions.

The results from these meat goat/goat meat systems study will be disseminated to producers, processors, and consumers via infographics and training videos to increase the knowledge base and improve the consistency, sustainability, and availability of goat meat produced in the SE. Our dissemination plan is described in detail in the outreach and publication sections.

Research results and discussion:

To date, we have worked with farmers on the design of the on-campus research projects which will then be repeated on farms. The producers have provided valuable insight into practical considerations that will be taken into account as we develop and implement the research trial. 

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research


Educational approach:

We recently hosted a small ruminant workshop at Mississippi State University and are hosting a series of goat meat processing workshops including at the annual Tuskegee University Goat Day (April 20, 2024). These workshops are designed to educate small and medium sized producers about the potential for value added processing of goat meat products. We are leveraging these outreach programs to gain producer input on the current study and to disseminate preliminary results to them so that they can begin adopting value added strategies into their operations. These workshops include technical information on carcass fabrication, yield and quality as well as information on product valuation and market development.  

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
2 Tours
2 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

30 Farmers participated
7 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

We are specifically qualified to conduct this research and outreach components of this proposal based on two successful current programs that will contribute directly to its dissemination and impact. First, we have developed a small-scale, mobile small ruminant processing system that allows for real-time, on-site fabrication and cookery demonstrations. Our initial system consisted of a deer processing tripod, a portable band saw, a collapsible cutting table, hand saws, butcher knives, and a charcoal grill. We transported these supplies in a pickup truck along with whole carcasses and primal cuts stored on ice in a large cooler. Despite its simple design, over 100 producers have been trained at the annual Tuskegee University Master Goat Producer Certification program. This system was also used at the 2018 National Meat Goat Producers Conference to demonstrate to over 200 attendees from across the country and successfully improve their knowledge of the principles of meat goat selection, fabrication, and cookery. We have since been awarded a grant from the USDA Southern SARE Professional Development Program in which we are building an improved mobile meat processing trailer for training and of extension agents, producers, and other frontline professionals in the goat meat industry. We will use the empirical data generated in this proposal to undergird our training programming and reinforce these principles with tangible economic and sensory data. Our second specific qualification is that we have created a dynamic college-level course entitled “Meat Chemistry and Cuisine” which uses the anatomical, biological, and chemical properties of muscle and meat to help students understand the valuation and cookery of meat products. The course challenges us to effectively disseminate scientifically sound information to an audience with a range of expertise/interest in meat production. The positive impacts of this teaching program and of our mobile meat processing system for limited resource farmers demonstrate our ability to instill this expertise in the target audience of extension agents, existing processors, and frontline professionals. In addition to live outreach demonstrations, we will create fabrication videos, infographics, and an accessible database for producers and processors to use as the industry standard for reliable data on the physiochemical, sensory, and economic profile of individual muscles and meat cuts. Together, these deliberate outreach activities will work synergistically to provide a comprehensive, data-driven research and training program to improve precision valuation and marketing of meat goat products.

This study will address a critical research need in the meat goat/goat meat industry and will be immediately impactful for producers, processors, retailers, and consumers. These data will be used to optimize fabrication and marketing approaches to increase the consistency and profitability of goat meat marketing. These findings will be disseminated in the form of fabrication videos, on-site trainings, and cookery demonstrations for industry stakeholders. We will also leverage our currently funded mobile meat processing trailer to directly train producers and other frontline professionals using these data. We will demonstrate the principles of processing, packaging, marketing, and cookery in the context of the data derived from this project. By participating in these workshops, extension agents, existing processors, and other professionals will experience the principles and distinctions between meat cuts which will improve their comprehension and retention of these principles.    Outreach venues that have been identified for this project include the Annual Goat Day at Tuskegee and Alcorn State Universities, the Annual Meat Goat Producer’s Conference, Master Goat Certification Program trainings, and Regional or Breed Specific Goat Association meetings. With a demonstrable history of providing mobile programming to producers, and our proven pedagogical “Meat Chemistry and Cuisine” program, we are well equipped to deliver this training in a manner that creates an impactful and enduring skillset for participants. While presenting face to face workshops is always desirable, the content developed from these data will be available in multiple formats and is easily amenable to virtual delivery. For example, similar to how we have had to adapt laboratory courses on campus, interactive workshops can be maintained by shipping supplies, specific meat cuts, and detailed cookery instructions to participants so that they too can experience the completion of the farm to fork pipeline through consumption of the final product.

Farm-direct producer perspective: Many producers are shifting their operations to provide more farm-direct meat products to supply this burgeoning market. With this shift, comes a learning curve and the necessity to build relationships with processors and their consumer base. Producers and consumers often have expectations based on misunderstanding of the farm-to-fork processing pipeline. These discrepancies can lead to confusion and even confrontations when producers’ expectations or understanding of farm director processing do not match realistic outcomes. Much of the data currently available on livestock cutouts, yields, quality, etc. are based on large data sets from commercial operations. The situation in Mississippi is different from these commercial operations in that many of our producers are interested in farm-direct processing and marketing of their products to local consumers. As interest in farm-direct processing increases, there is a critical need to develop contemporary data that reflects the products, prices, and consumer expectations in local and regional markets. In order for this to be a viable pipeline, producers must have relevant data that will help them to optimize productivity and satisfy their target markets. 

The farm-direct supply chain does not typically involve the intensive feedlot finishing as is practiced for commercial markets and these animals are not typically finished to the commercial endpoints for weight and composition specifications that are characteristic of larger commercial operations. As such, the yields and composition of the resulting meat products varies, and are not clearly understood by many producers that are new to the farm-direct market. These data are needed for these producers to effectively define their production targets, market price and retail strategies to remain profitable. Some producers will pre-sale “shares” or portions of the carcass (quite whole, half, quarters) while others elect to retail their product at farmers markets or direct to other consumers. In either case, these producers need reliable data upon which to set their expectations for yield, composition, etc. to meet their consumer demands. 

Farm-direct processor perspective: Mississippi alone has about 5 new small USDA processing inspected plants that will come online in the next year. We have been intricately involved in consulting with many of these processors as they design, build, and equip these facilities and in doing so, have observed a noticeable lack of reputable and accessible data and resources that apply to farm-direct goat meat processing for small producers and processors. These processors will be expected to be well-versed in processing specifications and valuation in order to accommodate their customers’ requests while leveling their expectations. These processors will need quality and contemporary resources to effectively communicate with their customers and to meet the needs of their end consumers. In addition, these data will help the processors to optimize their processing lines to increase efficiency and output to the benefit of their bottom line.

Extension agents and other frontline personnel: The Mississippi state extension service and its agents serve as a frontline resource for producers and processors in the state. These agents must be equipped with contemporary data and relevant resources to support the farm-direct clientele and stakeholders including producers and processors in the state. Our overarching goal is to improve the long-term viability and productivity for farm-direct meat goat producers and processors in this space by providing them the necessary data and resources to support their operations. Given the critical need for reputable data described above, this proposal will provide a valuable resource for the target audiences and educate these stakeholders on the processes, pitfalls, and potentials of farm-direct marketing. Our specific outreach plan objectives are to: 

Specific Objective 1: Generate a farm-direct database complete with empirical data from livestock processed at our USDA inspected facility as well as from participating local abattoirs in order to garner a comprehensive perspective of farm-direct livestock performance and processing in the SE. This database will provide a reputable resource for SE meat goat producers on Dressing Percentage, Cooler shrink, Optimal aging times, and processing options to maximize yield and quality of farm-direct products. Economic analysis (cost of gain, processing, and break-even marketing) and value-added processing to increase profitability. 

Specific Objective 2: Based on these data, we will develop optimization scenarios to maximize the yield and/or value of the carcass fabrication and processing. We will develop models based on these various inputs and various value-added scenarios to maximize the value and efficiency of the local farm-direct industry. 


Learning Outcomes

3 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • Value added processing

  • Accessing and utilizing goat market reports

  • Commodity vs. Value added pricing

Project Outcomes

3 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

So far, we have been able to increase producers and processors knowledge about the meat goat and goat meat industries in the SE. By focusing on the value added potential for these products, this has helped shift the mindset for production of commodities, to creating value added products and novel marketing approaches to maximize profitability and sustainability of the Southeastern meat goat industry. 

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.