Increasing viability of meat goat farms
United States goat meat consumption has more than tripled since 1991. Much of this consumption is centered in the Northeast where half the goats in the US destined for meat are slaughtered. Despite this regional demand for goat meat, only about 4.5% of the goats in the US are actually raised in the Northeast. Extension educators and meat goat associations increasingly report NE farmers transitioning into meat goats.
New and expanding meat goat farms are important for building enough year-round market supply to keep NE buyers interested in buying slaughter goats locally. However, not all NE meat goat farmers meet with success. Many have difficulty matching market demand with quality animals, and several new farms fail either because of poor preparation for kidding season or unrealistic expectations of the financial returns and labor demands of livestock farming.
This meat goat grant has four components aimed at helping farmers to improve the viability of meat goat farms. These components are 1) initiating grading and market readiness workshops; 2) developing a kidding season mentoring curriculum,3) creating sample budget spreadsheets and farm business summaries for meat goat enterprises based on actual figures from operating farms; and 4) studying 4 to 6 herd management practices on-farm to develop fact sheets evaluating the cost and benefits of these herd practices.
The herd practices to be studied include creep feeding, flushing does at breeding, out-of-season breeding, feeding locally grown or locally milled grains and byproducts, and switching to hayfields, brush pastures, new pastures or woodlands in late summer and fall 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;
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;
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;
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.
Preliminary performance targets of being contacted and participating in activities will be verified by 1) mailings returned by post office, 2) number of people requesting hard copies of the materials or accessing them through the ESMGPA web site (we will have a counter on these pages), 3) number of people attending workshops, and 4) number of farms contributing information. Actual adoption of information and improvement in knowledge base or performance will be verified by 1) follow up mail surveys and annual electronic ESMGPA 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 participate in advanced grading workshops and/or formal mentoring during the kidding season.
1) 1400 goat raisers (includes people raising all types of goats) and cooperative extension educators received mailings in late August 2005 announcing the project activities. Forty two meat goat farmers, or 3% of all people receiving the mailing, completed the survey that accompanied the letter.
2) No progress was made on collecting income/expense information based on federal tax income forms. However, at least four farms wrote back volunteering to share in-depth information for budget spreadsheets, and several farms verbally indicated an interest in cooperating with this part of the grant. We anticipate taking the required tutorials on human subject research and getting our surveys approved during winter 2006. This will allow us to collect on farm financial information during the spring and summer of 2006.
3) Two New York farms collected information on the costs and benefits of creep feeding in 2005. The goat herd at SUNY Cobleskill has agreed to raise half their kids with creep feed and half without in the spring of 2006. 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. Six New York farms representing nine herds participated in a study of out of season breeding. Animals were bred from March 15th through June 30th and kiddings were recorded from August 15th through October 30th, 2005.
4) Forty five farmers participated in one of two basic market readiness workshops held in Eastern or Western New York in the fall of 2005. 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. All participants in the market readiness workshops were from New York with the exception of one NJ farmer. We plan to hold market readiness workshops in summer 2006 in Schoharie County, NY (drawing farmers from MASS, NH, NY, and VT, and in Tioga County, PA (drawing farmers from NY and PA). A livestock collection point in Ulster County, NY has agreed to use their facilities in March 2007 for a workshop on grading suckling slaughter kids.
5) The first draft of a Kidding Season Mentoring Notebook was developed during 2005. Currently, it is under review by experienced meat goat producers. Three mentoring teams have confirmed and five other teams have tentatively agreed to pilot it in spring 2006.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Forty two goat enthusiasts returned the meat goat survey. Approximately 70%, 25%, 12.5%, and 17.5% of them had been operating their current meat goat herd for 1 to 5, 6 to 10, and 11 to 25 years, respectively. Their herd sizes ranged from <5 (9.8%), 5 to 10 (24.4%), 11 to 25 (17.1%), 25 to 50 (34.1%), 51 to 100 (9.8%), 100 to 199 (2.4%), up to 300+ (2.4%) breeding age does in 2004. Ten percent of the herds decreased in size from 2003 to 2004 while 17.5 % remained the same and 75% expanded.
One series of survey questions dealt with what specific herd practices the farms had used in 2004. Seventy percent, 45%, and 35% of respondents said they had practiced creep feeding of kids, flushing does prior to breeding, or out-of-season breeding, respectively. Of the 14 farms that attempted out-of season breeding, .14.3%, 50%, and 35.7% said they had had conception rates of 0%, <50%, and 50+%, respectively. Approximately 52.5% of the herds purchase all their grain as individual bags of a commercial brand. Only one farm purchased a commercial brand of grain in bulk. However, one fourth of the farms purchased their grain in bulk from local mills using mixes formulated by either the mill or farm. Two farms indicated that they grew at least 50% of the grain they fed. Only 12.5% of the farms indicated that they purchased any whole grains, ground grain, or grain byproducts direct from local farms, flour mills or breweries.
Eighty five percent of the farms indicated that they rotated their goats through the same pastures continuously throughout the grazing season. Of the 6 farms (15%) that switched to clean pastures, browse, hay fields or woodlands in late summer and fall, two were new farms that appeared to do it inadvertently as they got more land fenced in rather than out of any attempt to control internal parasites.
The remaining survey questions had to do with the marketing and health of kids. Approximately 50%, 41.6%, 2.8% and 5.6% of the farms sold their 2004 slaughter kids in one season, two seasons, three seasons, or four seasons of the year. Thirty nine farms reported mortality rates for their 2004 kid crop. Deaths occurred primarily at birth and before weaning. Average mortality rates at birth, prior to weaning, and after weaning were about 4.5%, 2%, and 1%, respectively. Two thirds of the farms reported deaths at kidding (1 to 15% mortality), 36% of the farms reported deaths prior to weaning (1 to 20% mortality), and 23% of the farms reported deaths after weaning (2 to 7% mortality).
On-Farm Creep Feeding Study
Creep feeding practices at two high percentage Boer goat herds approximately 1 mile apart were compared in 2004. Both farms kid in April, raise does and kids on pasture starting in May, and market weaned slaughter kids. Preliminary evaluation of the data indicates that the kids on the farm practicing creep feeding averaged about 5 more lbs at weaning than the kids on the farm practicing no creep feeding. Feed costs for supplemental grain were $7.00 more per doe unit due to the higher cost of creep feed compared to doe grain rather than due to increased consumption of grain per doe unit. In general both farms felt that there was little difference between kids at weaning. However, the kids that had not had access to creep did not quickly gain weight after weaning. Instead they took weaning far worse that the kids that had been creep fed. The creep fed kids were so close to their target market weight at weaning that rather than being put out to pasture they were put in a drylot environment on free choice hay and grained twice daily. They were marketed when they reached 60 to 75 lbs as two groups at 2 and 6 weeks after weaning. In contrast the non-creep fed kids were far enough from their projected market weights that they were put out to pasture and supplemented with grain once daily. Weight gain after weaning was far slower than in the creep fed group because they lost weight when removed from their dams, took longer to adjust to grain rations, and suffered high worm loads on the pasture they were placed on. This pasture was the only one available with substantial fencing to keep them separated from their dams. It had already been grazed twice that year and was short due to drought conditions. They were marketed when they reached 60 to 75 lbs as two groups at 10 and 16 weeks after weaning.
Internal Parasite Study
The worming results are too vast to report here. In general, two 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. 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. Both of these farms suffered far less increase in internal parasite loads during the grazing period than we had anticipated. Neither of these 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 them 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 on to new pastures, browse or hayfield regrowth in late summer and fall did have increases in worm counts as the grazing season progressed. 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.
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.
Out of Season Breeding Study
The results are still being evaluating from the 2005 out-of-season breeding trial. Preliminary results indicate that does that have just been weaned from kids are more likely to breed in the out of season than virgin does or does that failed to kid during the normal kidding season. Few bucks had appreciable buck smell in the out-of-season. Bucks with an appreciable smell were more likely to get a doe bred despite the doe’s past pregnancy status. Although all farms reported that they did not attempt to use lights to bring bucks into rut, it was founds that at least two bucks with appreciable smell were inadvertently exposed to artificial lighting in January and February. In one case the buck was housed under a mercury vapor light that is left on all night in winter. In the other case the buck was housed in a barn where a group of does was kidding in January and February and lights and heat lamps were often left on at night. . Nutrition may play a more significant role than we had anticipated in determining whether herds will breed out of season. The only farm where does and bucks had no access to grain prior to and during out of season breeding failed to have any does breed out of season.
Evaluating goats for market readiness workshop
The workshops were well attended and enjoyed. 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 afterwards to run a mini market readiness course in a western NY county. We will contact the remainder of the advanced participants in summer 2006 to see how they are using their certificates.
Kidding Season Mentoring Program
A kidding season mentoring notebook was written by past mentees, Susan Jaffe and Nancy Weber, and past mentor, tatiana Stanton. It ended up being 28 pages rather than the 12 to 16 pages we had hoped for. Notices sent out in extension publications and in Country Folks magazine explaining the kidding season program were met with interest by both experienced and new producers. However, potential mentors and mentees were often located a farther distance from each other than either wanted to travel. At least 6 to 8 mentoring teams have agreed to try out the program in 2006. The notebook will be streamlined if these mentoring teams decide it contains too much information.
Department of Animal Science, Cornell University
Rm 114, Morrison Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072546024