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, 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) A decision was made to delay the annual goat herd profile form and survey until February 2007 to make it easier for producers to summarize complete performance data from 2006.
2) The required tutorials on human subject research were completed in the winter 2006 and survey forms created for collecting farm financial information. The surveys will go out in our February 2007 mailing and will also be available as EXCEL templates to be downloaded via email and the web. We have had difficulty locating a website to house an interactive version of the survey for farmers to fill out on the web. Eight farms have volunteered to share in-depth information for budget spreadsheets, and this information will be collected in 2007.
3) The goat herd at SUNY Cobleskill agreed to raise half their kids with creep feed and half without in the spring of 2006. However, the student and farm helpers had problems with communication which resulted in some does being assigned to a different treatment pen than their kids and the project had to be discontinued. They plan to repeat the project again in 2007 without the previous year’s mistakes. Data from the two commercial farms that participated in the creep feeding study in 2005 was further evaluated in 2006. Data from the nine farms (4 in NY, 2 in PA, and 3 in VT) that participated in the 2005 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 was evaluated in 2006. Preliminary results were reported at eight Small Ruminant Integrated Parasite Management workshops in 2006 (98 participants), and at the Cornell Sheep & Goat Symposium in November 2006 (25 participants). Eight farms (7 in NY, 1 in PA) participated in the 2006 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, 2006. One New York farm participated in a study of the effects on conception rates and litter size of flushing does prior to breeding. The does in this study are due to kid in mid April 2007. Fact sheets from these projects will be completed and posted on the web by summer 2007.
4) 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 the various participants. A livestock collection point in Ulster County, NY has offered their facilities in March 2007 for a workshop on grading suckling slaughter kids. Extension personnel in St. Lawrence County, NY have requested an Evaluating Goats for Market Readiness Workshop for summer or fall 2007.
5) 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. Four mentoring teams have already started the mentoring program in 2007 but we are still soliciting more. We had approximately 14 mentoring teams in 2006. Three 2006 mentors requested additional booklets for informal mentees they were also working with or for people they had sold breeding stock to. Approximately 25 copies of the first draft of the mentoring booklet were picked up by additional goat producers at ESMGPA meetings and the Cornell Sheep & Goat Symposium.
6) Databases, forms and queries were created that now enable us to merge tables listing grant participants’ names and ways they have participated with their contact information in our sheep and goat extension database.
7) Addition to the plan of work – We had many requests from farmers in 2006 for workshops on Integrated Parasite Management for Small Ruminants including the use of FAMACHA and fecal egg analysis. We obtained permission from Northeast SARE to include these workshops as an additional component of our project “Increasing Viability of Meat Goat Farms”. 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.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Creep feeding practices at two high percentage Boer goat herds approximately 1 mile apart were compared in 2004. Additional evaluation of the results in 2006 indicated that creep fed kids grew an average of .48 lb daily during the 62 days they were studied and kids that were not creep fed grew .32 lb daily during the 59 days they were studied. Three year old does nursing twins were most common on both farms. When weight gains for each farm were standardized to 60 days, creep fed twins from three year old does gained 29.7 lb in 60 days as compared to 18.1 pounds for their non-supplemented counterparts.
Amount of concentrate consumed at each farm was similar with does whose kids were not creep fed consuming 2.25 lbs of grain daily and does that nursed creep fed kids consuming 1.5 lbs of concentrate with their kids consuming .25 lbs 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 concentrate fed to does. Thus, the average cost for the increased gain of creep fed twins was approximately $.32 per lb of gain.
Evaluating goats for market readiness workshop
The workshops were well attended and enjoyed. However, it was clear that 14 people were really too many for a single in-depth hands-on advanced workshop. The workshop leader for the advanced workshops was also less dynamic and interactive than the workshop leaders used in 2005. One pair of participants in the basic section of the Chemung County workshop left early because they had been told by their extension educator that the workshop was going to be on health problems in meat goats and felt the information covered was not relevant to their needs.
Several farmers completing the advanced workshop in either 2005 or 2006 went on to run mini market readiness courses, judge county meat goat shows, or pool slaughter goats from other producers for sale to volume buyers.
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 two mentors also took on informal mentees.
From a score of 1 to 10 with 1 being extremely satisfied and 10 being totally unsatisfied, most mentors rated the 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 examples, some mentees 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 as a 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. 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.
Department of Animal Science, Cornell University
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Ithaca, NY 14853
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