2012 Pen vs. Pasture Study
Consigners to the 2012 Western Maryland Pasture-Based Meat Goat Performance Test provided thirty (mostly Kiko) bucks for this year’s pen vs. pasture study. Fifteen bucks were put in a pen for hay and grain feeding. The other fifteen were mixed in with the bucks in the performance test. The allocation to treatment groups was random.
The pen-fed goats were hand-fed grain once per day, based on appetite, the amount they could clean up in 20 minutes. The grain ration was composed of 4 parts whole barley to 1 part protein (38%) pellet. The bucks also had free choice grass hay and minerals. The hay was a first cutting made from the same pastures that are used in the performance test.
The bucks allocated to the pasture group grazed alongside the 49 bucks in the performance test. They had free choice minerals, but did not receive any supplemental feed. The bucks in the study, along with the bucks in the test, were weighed and handled every two weeks. The same data and samples were collected from all the goats.
On June 2, all of the goats were triple-dosed with dewormers (moxidectin + albendazole + levamisole), which resulted in a fecal egg count reduction of nearly 100 percent by June 14. While the bucks in the test received an artificial dose of worm larvae, the bucks in the study did not. After a 12-day adjustment period, the bucks consumed their respective diets for 84 days.
On September 7, all of the bucks were transported to Country Foods, a custom-exempt abattoir in Waynesboro (PA), for same day slaughter. The chilled carcasses were deboned and measured six days later. A sample of the longissimus dorsi was removed from each carcass and is being analyzed by the University of Maryland for fatty acid content.
In contrast with last year’s study, the pasture-raised goats had a higher rate-of-gain than the pen-fed goats (0.183 vs. 0.149 lbs. per day). However, the pen-fed goats had lower worm burdens, as evidenced by lower average fecal egg counts (565 vs. 1163 epg) and lower average FAMACHA© scores (1.6 vs. 1.8).
None of the pen-fed goats required deworming, whereas eleven anthelmintic treatments were administered to the pasture-fed goats. There were no differences in body condition, coat condition, or dag scores among the goats in the two groups. At the end of the feeding perid, the goats in both groups had similar USDA live grades (mostly Selection 2-3).
Though there were differences among individual goats, carcass data did not differ between the two groups. Dressing percentage averaged 42.6 percent. Goats in both groups had an average rib eye area of 1.5 square inches.
The pen-fed goats did not get as fat as last year's pen-fed goats, having only slightly more fat in their carcasses (2.44 vs. 2.04 percent) than the pasture-fed goats.
The pen-fed goats had only slightly more kidney and heart fat (1.66 vs. 1.50 percent). Ironically, the "fattest" goat in the study was a pasture-fed goat with 2.83 percent KH and 6.18 percent overall fat.
The yield of boneless, fat-free meat did not vary between the groups, averaging 18.7 percent. The best carcasses were produced by the two Myotonic bucks in the study. The highest yielding goat (24.2%) in the study was the pen-fed Mytonic. A Myotonic also had the highest yield (22.8%) in the pasture group.
While the economics of different production systems will vary by farm, the pen-fed goats in this year’s study failed to perform at a level necessary to compensate for their higher feed costs. This year, pasture-rearing proved to be more economical, though neither group had many goats that would have been deemed market-ready (Selection 1-2).
On the other hand, the pen-fed goats had lower worm burdens and did not require any anthelmintic treatments. Internal parasitism is a major obstacle to the profitable rearing of goat kids on pasture.
Pending funding, we hope to repeat the study in 2013, with some important changes. Instead of grass hay, we plan to feed a good quality mixed hay. The grain ration would be whole barley, without any additional supplement. The goats will be obtained from a single source. Treatment groups will be better balanced, because despite similarity in starting weights, there is considerable variation in how individual goats perform.
This year’s study was funded by the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board. It was conducted at the University of Maryland's Western Maryland Research & Education Center in Keedysville.