Raising goats for meat can be a profitable small-farm venture. Currently, in the United States, there is a higher demand for goat meat, also called chevon, than there is a supply. Many ethnic groups who live in the United States—from Hispanic to Eastern European to Southeastern Asian—rely on the lean, tasty meat as a protein staple.
Raising goats for meat involves a variety of decisions: choosing a breed, deciding on housing and fencing, and finding a market for your goat meat, to name a few. It also means providing your goats with proper food, forage, and health care.
Choosing a Goat Breed
When raising goats for meat production only, you'll want to consider mixed breed does and full breed bucks. Or rent a buck so you don't have to maintain one on your farm. If you want to show your goats or if you want to produce registered stock to sell, you will want to consider maintaining your own buck. But if you're just starting out, consider starting with all does or wethers.
Certain breeds, particularly Boer goats, have been developed with an eye toward meat production. These goat breeds put on weight quickly, instead of producing lots of milk. Some breeds are dual-purpose, meaning they produce plenty of milk as well as put on weight well. Many meat goat farmers have crossed meat breeds like Boer goats with dairy breeds like Nubians to improve certain qualities in their herd.
A female goat is called a "doe" or "doeling," and a male goat is called a "buck" or "billy." A "wether" is a castrated male goat.
Housing and Fencing
Meat goats need a clean, dry, draft-free shelter. This can be a simple three-sided structure or a fully insulated barn. If you will be raising kids in the winter, you will want to have a clean, warm building for this purpose.
Fencing needs to be sturdy and strong for goats, who will make the most of any breach in a fenceline. Goats need access to a lot of land ideally for forage and pasture. You may want to combine perimeter fencing, which goes around the outside of your property to keep predators out and farm animals in, with interior, temporary fencing for smaller paddocks to keep does separate from bucks and, if needed, kids separate from does.
What to Feed Meat Goats
The best meat goats will be raised primarily on forage: shrubs, grasses, and small trees that exist in the woods and in overgrown fields. Unlike cows or sheep, goats cannot live on grass alone. And if you're putting meat on goats in a production setting, you will want to make sure that their forage is dense and high quality to ensure that they put on weight efficiently. You may need to supplement with hay or pelleted feed in some cases.
Keeping meat goats healthy starts with a good foundation: the proper housing, fencing, and feed, as detailed above. But there are usually other issues to consider as well, and no one has perfectly healthy animals all the time, despite the best conditions. Learn how to care for your goats' health so that you can nip any problems in the bud and prevent communicable illness from ripping through your herd. Here are some common goat illnesses to know about that affect babies and adults:
- Tetanus infection
- E. coli infection
- Overeating disorder (enterotoxemia)
- Urinary calculi
Goats can be energetic and playful. Some goats bleat; others are quiet; and sometimes noise may mean pregnancy, thirst, or sickness. You'll get to know the behavior of your goats, so be on the lookout for signs of an ill animal:
- Avoidance of water and food
- Isolating away from the herd
- Lying down lifeless for a few hours
- Bloated stomach that the goat bites or kicks
- Tail hanging down
- White gums, dull coat, pale eyelids
- Pressing head up against a fence or wall
- Breathing and diarrhea problems
- Discolored nasal discharge
Finding a Market
Finding a buyer, preferably a distributor, for your goat meat is key to your success in making a profit and moving forward with your business plan. Learn what markets are available for your product, and plan accordingly.