Comparison of on-farm winter feeding strategies for sustainable meat goat production

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2013: $14,500.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Nar Gurung
Tuskegee University

Annual Reports


  • Animals: goats


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed management, grazing management


    Overwintering strategies were evaluated for meat goats in Alabama in collaboration with two meat goat producers. We wanted to demonstrate that limit grazing of cool-season annuals or cool-season annual-legume mixtures could provide a high-quality grazing system over the winter months to be more economical and sustainable compared to the traditional approaches. Based on the observations for two years the traditional approach of feeding hay with soyhulls appears to have performed better than the other two approaches including limit grazing.  However, under favorable weather conditions, limit grazing holds a great promise.

    Keywords: Overwintering, cool-season annuals and legumes, meat goats, soyhulls, protein supplements


    The meat goat industry continues to expand in the U. S. due to demand driven mainly by increasing ethnic population whose meat of choice is goat (USDA/NASS, 2010). Efforts are being made to attract traditional Americans towards eating goat meat. The goat meat has potential health benefits such as low fat and low cholesterol contents compared to other red meats.  Many ethnic markets such as H-Mart in Atlanta areas are selling goat meat. Recently a private company called GOTCHA GOAT has begun to supply American grown goat meat and goat products to consumers. Almost 80 Kroger stores in and around Atlanta carry GOTCHA GOAT products in the Southeast. But the majority of the goat meat demand is fulfilled by the imported goat meat, mainly from Australia (USDA/NASS, 2016). In 2016, U.S. imported more than 98.5% goat meat from Australia to meet the domestic demand. The domestic supply is, however, sporadic, and haphazard with substantive variations in animal availability, body weights and condition at slaughter, as well as variable carcass characteristics (Machen, 2009). The meat goat production offers a viable form of sustainable livestock production, particularly for individuals with limited financial resources, limited land availability, and limited physical abilities. However, the growing demand has not necessarily translated into larger profit margins for many native goat producers who are already engaged in meat-goat production. Several factors have contributed to this situation. Many small and limited resource farmers lack the expertise to carry out a sustainable goat management system. Besides, the meat imported from Australia is cheaper than the meat produced in the U. S. Most of the goat meat imported from Australia is harvested from extensively managed “feral” goats now called as “Rangeland Goats” and slaughtered according to lamb exportation guidelines (Stanton, 2005). The meat imported from Australia is available on a year-round basis. 


    One of the potential ways of reducing the cost of production is by alleviating the feeding costs because feeds account for almost two-third of the cost of meat-goat production. Feed costs are relatively high in Alabama and the surrounding states although the production is pasture-based. It is because most of the goat producers still do not have improved high-quality pasture that can produce on a year-round basis. So, during the winter time, when there in not much forage available for grazing, producers have to supplement their goats with high-cost feedstuff such as agricultural byproducts, hays, and commercial feeds. These feed supplements may not be economical for maintaining goats over the winter. Many cooperative extension publications highlight the benefits of winter grazing for beef cattle but there is virtually no information regarding meat goats. But the question is “Is it economical to grow winter forages for meat goats? Can we raise goats like we raise cattle? What is the cost-effectiveness of winter grazing for meat goats?  There is a need to develop a sustainable feeding strategy for successful overwintering of goats when forage quality and availability is low, and disseminate the promising option among the producers and other stakeholders.

    The overwintering goats primarily relies on feeding hay plus high-protein supplements or some by-products feeds such as soyhulls, corn gluten feed, wheat middlings, etc. (Boggs et al., 1997). These are relatively expensive strategies.

    Limit-grazing goats for a 2 or 3 days a week by accessing them to high quality cool season pastures for a few hours could provide the necessary nutrient requirements while avoiding overgrazing. This has been practiced by beef cow-calf producers successfully.

    Producers need on-farm demonstration trials to directly see this practice and compare with other practices for a sustainable meat-goat production. The economic analysis each system will provide an insight in understanding of which supplementation strategy is sustainable in Alabama and surrounding states with similar climatic conditions. The project compared three overwintering strategies and evaluated economic profitability. Two farmer cooperators have been selected from Dallas and Lee Counties of Alabama to participate in the project. Each mentor farmer represented a treatment. These farmers served as model farmers to help other small farmers in the surrounding counties and across the region.


    • Boggs, D., K. Cassel, J. Held, and B. Thaler. Utilizing Soyhulls in Livestock and Dairy
    • cool-season pastures for wintering Angora does. Sheep and Goat Research J. 11:1-3.
    • Machen, R. 2009. Meat Goat Production -Elements Essential for Long-Term Success. (Accessed on November 14, 2009).
    • 1991. Users Guide (4th Ed.). SAS Inst. Inc., Cary, NC.
    • Stanton, T. 2005. Marketing slaughter goats and meat goat. In: Gipson, T. A., R. C. Merkel, K. Williams, and T. Sahlu edited. Meat Goat Production Handbook. American Institute for Goat Research, Langston University, Langston, Oklahoma.
    • USDA/NASS. 2016. 2016 Census of Agriculture. United states Department of Agriculture. National Agriculture Statistics Service.

    Project objectives:

    The purpose of this project was to compare production and economic performance of different winter feeding strategies by Alabama mentor goat producers.  The specific objectives are to:

    • Compare three different supplementary feeding strategies for overwintering goats by way of measuring animal response variables.
    • Conduct economic evaluations of the different feeding strategies to assess their profitability and sustainability.
    • Disseminate results to meat goat producers and other stakeholders through on-farm field days, fact sheets, and to wider audiences through appropriate publications.
    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.