COLUMBIA — Glenda DeShon and her husband started raising meat goats two years ago after looking into options for unused land on her family's farm 14 miles east of Columbia.
“We looked at university and other budgets and compared cattle, goats and sheep,” DeShon said. “We looked at the money and how much it was going to take to start up and also looked at what animals we could physically manage as we got older.”
A list of commonly-used words and phrases within the goat industry:
Billy: The name for a male goat. Most breeders prefer the term "buck."
Boer goat: Breed of goat specifically raised for meat. Boer goats are stocky, stout-featured and known for their high-quality meat and rapid growth. Mature females can weigh from 190 to 230 pounds and mature males can weigh from 200 to 340 pounds.
Buck: Mature male goat of breeding age.
Dairy goats: Dairy goats are raised to produce milk. They are more refined in their appearance when compared with meat goat breeds.
Doe: Mature female goat of breeding age.
Kid: A young goat.
Nanny: Another term for a female goat. Many breeders prefer the term "doe."
Wether: Castrated male goat.
One of the main reasons they finally decided on goats was because of the low start-up costs of purchasing the animals. The DeShon’s raise commercial Boer goats for meat production. They now have 60 full-blood and Boer-cross does and another 25 young replacement females to add to their herd, which they plan to keep expanding.
“The goal was to make more money and utilize land that wasn’t being utilized," DeShon said. "As with most enterprises in agriculture today, we learned that in order to make a profit you need large numbers."
The DeShon's are not alone. The number of meat goats in Boone County more than doubled between 2002 and 2007, according to the latest Census of Agriculture data. In 2007, there were 40 farms in Boone County with a total inventory of 726 goats, compared to 358 goats on 35 farms in 2002.
The increase in Boone County mirrors a national trend of increasing meat goat production. Over the same time period, the number of goats produced in the U.S. increased by roughly 1/3, with about 2.6 million goats counted in the 2007 census.
Like Glenda and Jeff DeShon, many goat producers raise full-blood and Boer-cross goats. The Boer goat is a breed of meat goat whose rapid growth rate, meat quality and ability to adapt to a variety of environments has allowed it to flourish in the United States. The Boer goat was introduced into the U.S. in 1993 from South Africa, according to the American Boer Goat Association.
The increasing number of meat goats is a response to several trends both locally and nationally, including the growing popularity of goat meat and the practicality of raising the animals on smaller farms.
Goat meat grows in popularity
Goats have been a major source of meat in many parts of the world for years. Three-quarters of all goats in the world are still located in developing countries, according to the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
But as immigration has expanded the population of ethnic communities across the United States, the demand for domestic goat meat has increased as well. Goat is a popular source of meat in Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Indian communities.
“Right before holidays, markets will jump and then go back down afterward ,” said Lloyd Guilford, northern division president for the Missouri Meat Goat Producers Association. This increase in demand is because goat meat consumption is often centered around ethnic holidays and festivals.
For example, Muslims eat goat meat during Ramadan and the Festival of the Sacrifice. Goat meat is also popular during Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Some popular goat meat dishes include the soup Seco de Chivo, West Indian goat curry and Texas-style barbecued goat.
The taste of goat meat is often compared to lamb or beef. Others say that goat has a gamier taste.
"In taste tests we've done between lamb and goat, many people prefer goat," said Rick Disselhorst, plant manager at the Mizzou Meat Market.
Many local producers market their goats though livestock auctions that hold weekly or monthly sales. Others will sell a few goats per year to private individuals for meat.
Goats are marketed at a weight anywhere from 40 to 100 pounds. The ideal market weight varies for different times of the year, depending on the ethnic holiday, Guilford said.
Even though goat numbers are increasing, producers in the area are still not meeting the demand for goat meat, Guilford said. The buyers who pick up goats to take back to meat-packing facilities around Chicago and areas farther east are always wanting more.
“The packers would like 300 head per month, but there aren’t that many goats around that are ready (to slaughter) at one time,” Guilford said.
Mizzou Meat Market has also seen an increase in demand.
"The demand has picked up," Disselhorst said. "Three years ago we didn't sell any goat meat or goat products, so the demand is rising."
Disselhorst also said people have come in all summer looking to buy goat meat, but the market won't start selling it again until September. Mizzou Meat Market prices goat meat at $3.50 per pound for loin and $2.50 per pound for leg of goat, along with other cuts of goat meat.
Goats eat what other animals won't
Meat goats are also popular among farmers for their unique ability to control brush. Unlike most farm animals, goats prefer to eat brush rather than grass, Guilford said. They eat noxious weeds, thorn bushes and other plants farmers want to keep off their land.
Larry McBride started raising goats about 10 years ago in Centralia because he had some hog lots that were overgrown with weeds. McBride now groups his goats and cattle together in the pasture so that the goats can eat what the cattle won't.
"I can run five or six nannies with kids per acre," McBride said, referring to the number of goats he can group together per acre of land.
For his part, Guilford started raising goats in 2002 in Meadville with an eye on cleaning up the brush and weeds around his farm. He said a large group of goats can clean out a pasture overgrown with brush in two years.
Since that time, Guilford has transitioned to raising high-quality breeding stock that he sells to other producers.
Guilford, like a growing number of other goat producers, also takes advantage of the opportunity to exhibit goats in competitions.
At the Boone County Fair this week, 58 head of market goats were shown, compared to 35 at last year’s fair. For a number of reasons, Boer goats have become very popular for 4-H and FFA youth livestock projects.
“When I first got goats, in the back of my mind I knew the grandkids might want to show someday,” Guilford said. “The association had its first show and we took a buck and got grand champion, and that got us hooked on showing ever since.”
Tessa Chambers, 14, of Fayette, has been showing goats for three years. She said she has fun raising goats and loves taking care of baby goats.
“Goats are more personable; they interact with you and have more of a fun personality than other animals,” Chambers said.
Doug Chambers, Tessa’s father, highly recommends goat showing for youths. Larger animals such as cattle can be difficult for small children to handle and work with.
“It’s a great project as a parent,” Chambers said. “You don’t have to worry about the kids getting hurt and you don’t have to supervise them feeding the goats.”
The Chambers’ own four females right now. Their goal is to raise their own market goats for Tessa and her 8-year-old brother Trace to show.
McBride, the goat producer from Centralia, also has children who show goats. This year, McBride's daughter Melissa won Grand Champion Market Goat at the Boone County Fair.
McBride agrees that goats are easy for kids to show.
"Everyone ought to try one," he said.