Meat Goat Production

by Susan Schoenian
Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of Maryland Cooperative Extension

Goats were one of the earliest animals to be domesticated and are underrated as farm livestock. Goat meat is the primary source of protein in many parts of the world. Worldwide, more goat's milk is consumed than cow's milk. Goats are also an important source of fiber and skins.

While dairy goats are raised throughout the United States, most of the fiber and meat goats can be found in Texas. In many areas, there is a growing interest in raising goats for meat. The growth in the meat goat industry can be attributed to several factors, including the increased demand for goat meat brought about by the influx of immigrants who have a preference for goat meat in their diets. The elimination of subsidies on mohair and importation of the South African Boer goat are also contributing factors.

Fencing and Housing return to top

Meat goats require shelter, a feeding area, access to water and feeding equipment. The shelter need not be elaborate, but should provide protection from drafts, particularly if kidding will occur during periods of inclement weather. Oftentimes, existing buildings can be adapted for goats. Three-sided shelters work well in many areas. Greenhouses, hoop houses, shade structures, and poly hutches may offer low-cost alternatives to traditional housing.

Oftentimes, the biggest capital expense in a meat goat enterprise is fencing. There are two types of fencing: exterior (or perimeter) and interior (or cross fencing). Perimeter fencing needs to accomplish two goals: keep goats in and keep predators out. Like sheep, goats can fall prey to dogs, bears or coyotes, and this should be a consideration when erecting fence. High-tensile fencing is considered to be the best type of fencing for all classes of livestock. Goats must be trained to respect electric fence. Woven wire fences are popular with many goat producers, but their cost is much higher. Board fences can be made suitable for goats, if strands of electric wire are placed between boards and the ground. Temporary electric fences are suitable for interior fences. They are inexpensive and easy-to-install and facilitate rotational grazing and parasite control.

Breeds and Breeding return to top

While any breed of goat is a potential meat producer, there are some breeds which have characteristics which make them more suitable for profitable meat production than others. Selection of breeds and foundation stock for profitable meat goat production should be based on four primary factors:

Crossbreeding (mating individuals of different breeds) is recommended in most commercial livestock programs. Crossbreeding results in heterosis or hybrid vigor. Hybrid vigor is the superiority of the crossbred offspring to the average of its parents. Heterosis can be maximized by using crossbred females and producing crossbred kids. Another advantage to crossbreeding is that it combines desirable traits from more than one breed.

Breeds return to top

The South African Boer Goat, introduced to the United States in 1993 after a quarantine stop in New Zealand, is considered to be the only true meat-type goat, bred and selected specifically for superior body conformation, high growth rate, and fertility. Boer goats are large framed with short, white hair on their bodies and black or brown markings on their heads and necks.

Until the arrival of the Boer Goat, the Spanish goat was the standard for meat goat production in the U.S. The Spanish goat descends from goats brought to Texas by early settlers and Spanish explorers. The Spanish goat is not a specific breed, but more a name to differentiate it from fiber-producing goats. Spanish goats are well-adapted to the Southwest where at one time their utility for brush control was as important as their role in producing meat.

Like Spanish, Brush goat is a "catch-all" term for goats that do not fit any particular breed standard. Also called wood, hill, briar or native goats, Brush goats have been bred for adaptability to their environment. In research trials, they have demonstrated stronger resistance to parasites and are more likely to breed out-of-season than other goats.

The Myotonic goat has obscure origins in Tennessee and goes by several names, including the Tennessee Fainting, Wooden or Stiff Leg goat. These colorful aliases allude to the fact that the goats "faint" (or stiffen) when they are startled or frightened. Though these fainting spells can be a management nuisance, the breed is deemed desirable for meat production due to its extending breeding season and good muscle to bone ratio. The Kiko goat was developed in New Zealand after 20 years of intensive selection of feral goats.

The Pygmy goat, also known as the West African Dwarf Goat, was introduced into the U.S. in the early 1960's for biomedical research and petting zoos. Though small and slow growing, the Pygmy has some potential for meat production due to its out-of-season fertility and compact body style.

The Anglo-Nubian is the most popular breed of dairy goat in the U.S. It is differentiated from other dairy breeds by its long, pendulous ears and roman nose. Though selected predominantly for milk production in the U.S., the Nubian was developed originally as a dual-purpose goat and tracing its origins to North Africa. Nubians are known for their docile temperaments and high milk fat content. Their teats and udders are smaller than the Swiss breeds, and there is enough genetic variation in the breed to select for meat-type.

The Alpine, Saanen, Toggenburg, and Oberhasli, known collectively as the Swiss dairy breeds, and the LaMancha are considered less appropriate for meat production due to leggy conformation, large, pendulous udders and large teats, noted disadvantages to meat production. However, their crosses are widely used in the industry and they will likely continue to play a large role.

Goats which produce fiber – Angora and Cashmere – are generally not as suitable for meat production. This is because they are small-framed and produce smaller litters than other goats. Generally speaking, fiber production is antagonistic to meat production, though specific crosses between fiber goats and meat goats may prove suitable.

Breeding and Reproduction return to top

The normal breeding season for goats is August to March, though some individuals will cycle at other times during the year. Goats are seasonally breeders. They experience multiple heat cycles during the fall of the year when the day length is shorter. The heat (estrus) period averages 21 days. The doe will be in "standing heat" (be receptive to the buck) for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. Ovulation (egg release) occurs 24 -36 hours after the onset of heat.

Artificial insemination (AI) is a viable option in meat goats. Unlike sheep, conception rates from trans-cervical A.I. can be quite good. A.I. can accelerate genetic improvement and provide access to breeds not readily available. Ownership of a buck is still advisable for determining when does come into heat.

The gestation length of a goat is approximately 5 months or 150 days. Goats typically give birth to one, two or three kids. Quadruplets are not uncommon. Does should kid in a clean environment, either a well-rotated pasture or a stall bedded with straw or other absorbent material. Few does require assistance during kidding, though problems are always a possibility. Normal delivery is the nose between the front legs. A breach birth (hind legs coming out first) is also considered normal. If a doe has made no progress within an hour after hard labor begins (after the water sac breaks), her birth canal should be entered and the status of delivery determined.

Newborn kids should have their navel cords dipped in a solution of tincture of iodine to prevent entry of disease-causing organisms. If necessary, the navel cord should be cut to a length or 3-4 inches. It is important that newborns consume adequate amounts of colostrum during their first several hours of life. The colostrum or "first milk" contains antibodies that are essential to the development of immunity in the newborn kid. It is a good idea to "strip" the doe's teats to make sure the teat canals are open and the flow of milk is adequate.

It is common to wean kids when they are about three months of age. Buck and does should be separated to prevent unwanted pregnancies. If grain is being fed to the does, it should be reduced 5 days prior to weaning, to help prevent mastitis (infection in the udder).

Health and Management return to top

Goats experience similar health problems as sheep and other livestock. Adult goats should be vaccinated annually for enterotoxemia (overeating disease) and tetanus. Does should be vaccinated prior to kidding so that kids receive temporary immunity through the colostrum. Two shots are required the first year followed by a yearly booster vaccination. If does kid more often than once a year, they should be boostered before each kidding. Kids should be receive their first vaccination at approximately 30 and 60 days of age. Clostridium perfringens type C & D and tetanus toxoid are the products that should be used. Vaccines for other disease conditions will depend on the incidence of the disease in the herd. A large animal veterinary or state animal health lab can help diagnose disease problems in the herd.

The most common health problem affecting meat goats is internal parasites. Unfortunately, there is no "miracle" drug or magical recipe for dealing with the problem of gastro-intestinal worms. Essentially, all healthy goats have worms present in their guts. Effective parasite control is best achieved through a combination of strategic dewormings and pasture management. Frequent anthelmintic treatments, without regard for pasture conditions, are costly and may lead to a false sense of security. Moreover, frequent exposure to anthelmintics causes worms to become resistant to the drugs.

Reducing the worm burden on pasture is the key to effective parasite control. Treating the goats at strategic times can reduce the contamination of the pasture. Does should be dewormed prior to or shortly after kidding. Early spring treatments are advocated to prevent the "summer explosion" of worm eggs. Moving animals to a "clean" or rested pasture after deworming will prolong the effectiveness of the treatment. Taking a hay crop or plowing and reseeding a pasture will lessen worm burdens. Pastures should be regularly clipped to allow the sunlight to kill off eggs. Multi-species grazing is another method of managing parastite burdens (only sheep and goats share the gut worms).

Anti-parasitic drugs are available in many forms of administration - oral drench, paste, gel, bolus, injection, pour-on and feed additive. Oral drenching is the recommended method for deworming goats. Oral products clear the animal's system faster and are more effective than other methods.

Unapproved drugs and/or methods of administration, if used, must be under the guidance of a veterinarian. Resistance problems have been widely reported in the benzimidazole family of dewormers (TBZ, Fenbendazole and Albendazole). Tramisol and Ivermectin are effective against hypobiotic larvae. Ivermectin is effective against "biting" external parasites.

The following anthelmintics have been used in goats:

Coccidia are a single-celled protozoa that can be devastating to young goats. Prevention is the key to controlling coccidiosis. Good sanitation is a must and overcrowding should be avoided. Weaning is a particularly stressful period for kids. The addition of Rumensin© or Deccox© to the feed or salt-mineral mix can prevent outbreaks of coccidiosis. Sick goats, including their pen mates, should be treated with amprolium (Corrid) or sulfa drugs. Watery diarrhea, smeared with blood is a common symptom of coccidiosis and should be suspected any time a young kid is sick.

The following products have been used to treat and/or prevent coccidiosis in goats:

Management return to top

Some producers prefer horns for handling goats and though it is common to leave the horns on meat goats, many producers will want to remove them. Goats with horns get their heads stuck in feeders or fences and can cause injury to each other, as well as to people.

Disbudding is usually done with a hot iron and is done when the kids are very young, as soon as the horn bud is visible. Polled (naturally hornless) goats should not be kept for breeding. The polled trait is genetically linked to an intersex (both sex organs present) condition in goats.

The decision to castrate should be based on management preferences and market requirements. Oftentimes, customers prefer to purchase intact male goats. If male kids are not castrated, they should be separated from the females at three months of age to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

There are several methods of castration. including the open (knife) method, elastrator rings, burdizzo and emasculor. It is very important that goats be vaccinated for tetanus before or at the time of castration. If vaccination is not given until the time of castration, the anti-toxin should be used. An anti-toxin provides immediate, temporary immunity, whereas a toxoid yields a longer lasting immunity, but it takes 10 days to adequately develop.

Nutrition and Feeding return to top

Feed costs typically account for about 70 percent of the total cost in a meat goat enterprise. It goes without saying that feeding program has a large effect on profitability and herd productivity.

The nutritional needs of meat goats vary according to weight, age and stage of growth and/or breeding cycle. They can be met by a variety of feedstuffs and feeding programs. There is no perfect feed or feeding program. Ration formulations are usually based upon a combination of the animals' nutritional needs, feedstuff availability and cost. The cost of feeding goats can vary tremendously according to feed formulation and source of feed ingredients.

Meat goats require water, protein, energy, minerals and vitamins. in their diets. Water is by far the most important nutrient. Animals can go for a long time without food, but not without water. Energy is usually the most limiting ingredient in goat rations; protein the most expensive. Calcium and phosphorus are the two most important minerals. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the diet should be at least 2:1 to prevent urinary calculi, the formation of kidney stones in the bladder of male goats. Selenium is another important mineral. Mid-Atlantic soils are generally deficient in this mineral and supplementation is usually recommended through feeding of a free choice, trace mineral mix. Dietary supplementation of selenium is recommended over selenium injections. Goats requires vitamins A, D, E and K in their diet, but synthesize the B vitamins in their rumens.

Pasture should comprise the majority of the diets of meat goats. Goats are ruminant livestock, whose systems were designed to utilize forage and other fibrous materials. When fresh forage cannot meet the nutritional needs, supplemental feeding may be necessary. Supplements should only be fed to the point where they support profitable levels of production. It is questionable as to whether goats can be grain fed profitably to the extent than other livestock can. The amount of pasture needed to support a meat goat doe and her offspring will vary considerably, depending upon the quality of pasture and management system. Goats will do well on improved pastures, as well as brushy, woody areas. They are natural browsers and if given the opportunity will choose brush and weeds over grass.

Nutritional Requirements of Meat Goats

Protein (CP) Energy (TDN)
Dry Doe
Late Gestation
Lactating Doe
High Producing Doe
Weaned Kid

Marketing return to top

The meat goat industry is built around ethnic demand for the product. Ethnic demand is derived from various religious and social traditions. The largest goat-consuming ethnic populations in the U.S. are Hispanics, Moslems and Carribean Islanders. Each group has a different preference for the type and weight of the slaughter goat or goat carcass they purchase. Hispanics prefer young kids, Moslems want a heavier, but lean, goat, and Carribean Islanders prefer mature bucks. It is important that meat goat producers familiarize themselves with the customs, holidays and preferences of their ethnic clientele.

In addition to ethnic markets, there are two other potential niche markets for goats: 1) Markets serving health conscience consumers -- goat meat is low in fat; and 2) Restaurants that feature ethnic foods or feature goat meat as a gourmet food. These markets are largely untapped, but will be a challenge to develop as the average American of European descent does not eat goat.

A majority of meat goat sales are made at the farm gate, with most of the rest going through public livestock auctions. Unlike other livestock, goats are generally sold by the head. While this is not the preferred method of selling livestock, it is quite commonplace in the goat business.

Meat Goat Associations return to top

American Meat Goat Association
P.O. Box 333
Junction, TX 76849
(915) 835-2605 phone, (915) 835-2259 fax

American Boer Goat Association
P.O. Box 248
Whitewright, Texas 75491
1-800-414-0202, FAX: (903) 965-7229

American Tennessee Fainting Goat Association
Route 1, Box 111
Curreyville, MO 63339
(573) 324-5698

Meat Goat Publications return to top

Meat Goat News
Ranch Publishing
P.O. Box 2678
San Angelo, Texas 76902
(915) 655-4434

MCE Logo