After a 2-day workshop in the fall of 2011, I became a “Tennessee Master Meat Goat Producer.” And although I had the paperwork to prove that fact, I still had never even seen a goat up close. Telling the difference between a goat and a sheep was an untested skill!
To further my education, I began attending the sheep and goat auction at our local sale barn a couple of times a month. The main thing I learned was that goats don’t go for much money at the local sale barn, but they do “go”--everyone of them was bought. Most were shipped for slaughter to the Northeast US. I also learned that If I were going to raise meat goats, I would have to consider some basics:
1. With limited resources, I needed to know how to raise them without putting more into them than I could sell them for.
2. What would I do with all those extra bucklings that were sure to come? Considering their rumored smell and disposition, did I even want to keep bucks?
3. I would have to come to terms with how they would be slaughtered. My goal was a quick, humane death after a good life of pasture grazing and brush browsing--and not after a long, crowded, death march across the country to a far-off slaughterhouse.
I had several goals for keeping goats. I wanted them to control brush and to browse my pastures, thus preventing the pastures from having to be bush hogged and from going back to forest. I also wanted the challenge of learning something new and of having a new activity here on the homestead to keep me productively occupied in “my golden years.” Finally, I wanted to eventually supplement and maybe one day replace my beekeeping income. When I reached capacity for my acreage, I would sell the extra goats for breeding stock, pets, or meat.
After reading about all the different breeds, I chose myotonic (fainting) goats for several reasons. They are hardy, love weeds and brush, are native to my area, kid easily, are more easily fenced in than other types of goats, and are unusual enough that I thought I might be able to sell them as breeding stock to keep the breed alive. For their size, they are quite meaty--from all that seizing up and muscle flexing they do when they are startled.
My plan was to raise them only on pasture or hay--no goat chow or sweet feed - and not to use antibiotics (unless absolutely necessary) and no wormers. I had backup for this approach from a vet who gave one of the lectures in the goat workshop. She said the goal in raising meat goats was to breed animals that could carry a normal parasite load, culling those who couldn’t was more cost effective than spending money on medicines and vet bills. I would not let them get overcrowded, which would limit their exposure to parasites and other diseases. I kept this plan of action to myself at the time--I still don’t know any other breeders who aren’t adamant about routinely worming their goats.
Next I had to find a breeder. I wanted healthy goats to start with and was willing to pay for my breeding stock. I also wanted them to be registered with the Myotonic Goat Registry so I could one day sell my own breeding stock. I found a farm about an hour and a half away and went to visit. There I met a woman truly in love with her goats! They appeared healthy and well cared for and had plenty of room. She’d advertised that she did yearly testing for Johne’s disease, CAE (caprine arthritic encephalitis), and brucellosis. It was late winter and many of her does had just kidded and she had a riot of frisky young kids to choose from. She was concerned that they stay with their mothers until they were weaned. I made a down payment on five little doelings. The girls were only a week or two old when I picked them out, but they would stay with their mommas another 3 to 4 months. I spent $250 each for them. Each would come with registration papers and I was satisfied that they would be a healthy starter herd. I drove away grinning from ear to ear.
Meanwhile back at the homestead, I had to get ready for them.
I had a 3-acre pasture behind the house that I planned to start them in. I hired someone to fence that first 3 acres, and that to date has been my biggest expense in this project. Since then I have learned to do my own fencing but I spent $5,000 for that first tight, sturdy farm fence that was 48 inches high with twisted wire at the top. Goats need 4x4-inch wire fencing to keep them from getting their horns caught in the fencing. My first mistake was paying for 2x4-inch--overkill and more costly. To date a goat has never got out of this enclosure unless I let it out!
For housing all I really needed was a shed-type structure so they could get out of the rain and wind. I had all the old barn wood and used tin I needed to build this structure, which I’d salvaged after the restoration of anold tobacco barn. All I had to buy were the five 2x4s that I used for the roofing. As you can see from the picture on the left, it was very crude. But the unsightly monstrosity is still VERY sturdy and continues to serve its purpose well. The picture on the right is of a shed I built this summer--see, I’m improving!
Finally I bought a new water trough for about $80 at the time. So with the fence, the goats, housing, and water tank, my bank account was now $6,330 lighter. How many years would it take me to recoup that investment?! I guess I could have spent the money on a luxury vacation, but then the adventure would have been over instead of just beginning!
Click here for the next installment, “Goat Farming, Part 2: Bringing Your Goats Home.”