Goat And Sheep Producers Take Future By The Horns
The Alabama Goat Auction is a long way from the Chicago Board of Trade, but every first and third Saturday of the month buyers and sellers from across the Southeast flock to Boaz, Ala., to trade one of Alabama’s fastest growing agricultural commodities.During an average sale, owner and auctioneer David Sumners sells about 300 goats in a converted chicken house, but that number could double if Alabama producers approve the Goat and Sheep Checkoff Jan. 13.”It’s going to enable us to do things we’ve wanted to do for the past several years,” Sumners said. “It will allow us to set up seminars and meetings to help people learn how to produce goats.”With the United States importing more than 12 million pounds of goat meat per year (and more than 10 times that much lamb and mutton), Sumners said there are plenty of opportunities in the goat and sheep industry for Alabama farmers.”In my lifetime, we’ll never produce enough goats that there won’t be someone standing in line to buy them,” Sumners said. “The oldest markets are in New England, but Atlanta, Knoxville and all the big cities are buying a lot of goat meat. We have two large buyers at the auction. About 20 percent of the sale goes to New Jersey and another 20 percent goes to Indiana.”According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, imports of frozen goat meat have quadrupled in the past 12 years while domestic production has doubled. Experts attribute the increased demand for goat meat, or chevon, to the popularity of the product among Muslims and immigrants of Latin American descent.Butler County farmer Jim Cassidy, who serves as chairman of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s Meat Goat and Sheep Committee, said the checkoff program will help producers expand production to meet growing demand and provide much-needed money for research and market development.”The checkoff is going to provide funding to supplement research that will hopefully help producers address parasites and other health issues,” Cassidy said. “We also could hold seminars to educate producers about how to raise a meaty animal that is more valuable to consumers. And, we can educate consumers about the health benefits of eating goat meat.”One project aimed at assessing the desirability of goat products among Alabama households already is under way at Alabama A&M University, thanks to a $49,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If the checkoff program is approved, producers would voluntarily contribute 50 cents from the sale price of each sheep and goat to help fund additional promotion and research activities. A committee of producer-elected farmers would determine how the checkoff money would be spent.Cassidy said one of the biggest issues the committee will have to address is product consistency.”In order for producers to get a good price for their animals, they have to bring a consistent, good quality animal to the auction. A lot of people are bringing old brush goats, which look thin, to the sale expecting to get a high dollar for them. We’ve got to educate farmers so they will produce the meaty animals consumers are looking for,” Cassidy said.Cassidy said one of the keys to producing meaty goats is having a high-quality buck (billy). For most farmers, that means taking advantage of the superior genetics found in Boer goats, which were originally imported from South Africa in the early ’90s. Sumners, who now has 450 head of goats, started with one Boer buck and 10 does (nannies) in 1995. “We had some land that wasn’t good enough for cattle. I read an article about imported Boer goats and decided to get into the business,” Sumners recalled. Today, Sumners remains optimistic about the goat and sheep industry, but he is careful when advising people who express interest in raising goats.”I caution people about the problems because I don’t want them to get into it and then be disappointed,” Sumners said. “A lot of the problems I see are when people who have never raised a houseplant go out and buy 30, 40 or 50 acres, put up a regular cattle fence and put goats in there. Those are usually the ones who are disappointed. I tell people who are thinking about buying goats that you have to take as much care of these goats as you do a dairy cow.”Cassidy and Sumners said goats and sheep are vulnerable to parasites, so they have to be wormed regularly. The farmers said parasites, foot diseases and other health problems were especially bad this year because of heavy rains in the spring and early summer. Even with these challenges, though, Sumners said goat farms can be profitable businesses when properly managed.At the Alabama Goat Auction, Sumners routinely sells four-month-old kids weighing 60 pounds for $55-$60 each. Adult does bring as much as $125-$250, and it’s not unusual for adult bucks to fetch $300-$400. Sumners said a farmer can run five to seven does per acre of land. If he maintains a good health program, a goat producer could net twice as much money per acre as he would from a typical cow-calf operation, Sumners added.In order to get started in the goat business, Sumners said a farmer needs a good barn, a good fence and two guard dogs to control predators. He said goats thrive on marginal pastureland because they prefer weeds, trees and shrubs to grass. “The most important thing is you’ve got to have a good working knowledge of how to take care of goats. That’s where the checkoff can help,” Sumners said. Sumners said most Alabama goat producers have 20-30 head, and some parents are raising goats as a way to teach their children responsibility while introducing them to agriculture. In recent years, however, he’s beginning to hear of more producers with 200-300 head of goats. “It’s getting to where instead of bringing two or three kids to the auction, farmers are bringing 20-30 at a time. As demand for goat meat increases, we are seeing the herds getting bigger,” Sumners said.Federation Meat Goat and Sheep Director Perry Mobley said Alabama is one of the first states in the country to recognize the importance of the goat and sheep industry. He’s encouraging all sheep and goat producers to vote in the checkoff referendum Jan. 13 (at their local Alabama Cooperative Extension System office.)”The goat and sheep industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the agricultural economy. The checkoff program is an excellent opportunity for producers to fund promotion and research activities that will help the industry continue to grow,” Mobley said. For more information about the checkoff, contact Perry Mobley at 1-800-392-5705, ext. 4221 or by email at email@example.com.