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Raising goats for Iowa’s ethnic markets

By Staff | Feb 5, 2017

DEB FINCH talks about her meat goat operation in Marshall County during the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual conference in Ames Jan. 21.

AMES – A few years ago, Deb Finch, a sheep producer in rural Marshalltown, purchased a nanny goat for $100 to provide nutrition for her orphan lambs.

The goat birthed a pair of kids for which Finch had no use.

A Latino worker on her farm offered to take the goats off her hands, sold each for $50 and handed Finch back her original investment.

“That’s when I discovered the local area had people wanting goat meat,” Finch told a room of listeners Jan. 21 during the Practical Farmers of Iowa’s annual convention in Ames.

The demand is so great, Finch said, she has since expanded her meat goat herd to 75 to 100 head and sells every yearling. Her customers are mostly Latino, Middle Eastern and African families living in the Marshall County and central Iowa area.

BOER GOATS feed in a barn near Williams in this October 2011 photo.

Finch was on hand to talk not only about how her business started, but also relate what others interested in getting into this niche market can expect.

“Goats require a different set of management skills than sheep and cattle,” she said.

Goats 101

The most popular meat goat in the U.S. is the Boer goat, sporting a white body and a liver-brown head. It is the typical breed of meat goat being exhibited by Iowa 4-H’ers in county fairs.

Others include the Kiko and Spanish breeds. Kiko, a fast-growing vigorous meat animal, is capable of significant weight gain on forage-based diets.

“Goats require a different set of management skills than sheep and cattle.” —Deb Finch Marshalltown-area farmer

They are resistant to parasites, Finch said. Spanish goats are an old, black breed raised for meat and milk.

Other meat goat types are cashmere, pygmy, myotonic and dairy wethers.

Market facts

According to Finch:

  • 80 percent of all goat meat consumed in the U.S. is imported.
  • A limiting factor to a growing market is a lack of slaughter facilities designed for goat and the various ethnic processing requirements – halal and kosher being two of the major protocols.
  • The greatest demand for 50 to 70-pound animals, usually less than a year old.
  • Prices fluctuate from low levels in the summer, a high level from December to February (when the supply is lowest) and a price spike at Easter.
  • Goat meat dresses out to about 50 percent.
  • It doesn’t marble.

Ethnic markets

Finch said two-thirds of the world’s population eats goat meat, “and, if anything, that number is getting larger.”

One of Iowa’s biggest niche goat markets is halal processing for Islamic families. Halal means permissible.

Among the requirements for halal meat is no hindquarters, not pork, slaughtered by slitting the throat, the animal cannot be unconscious at slaughter and must have been fed natural foods – no animal by-products.

Another niche is kosher, meat processed to Jewish acceptance, based on position of the animal at slaughter, who does the slaughtering and which meat parts are acceptable and which to be discarded.

Finch said each ethnic group is looking for something different in their goat selections.

For instance, Latino families prefer goats between 40 to 60 pounds, although dollar amount at sale is also a consideration.

They prefer white goats with colored heads and will take wethers and does, or intact young bucks. They often process on the spot.

Middle Eastern families, Finch said, prefer larger animals, 70 to 100 pounds, castrated males, no females. They will process at a local locker and want multiple goats packaged separately.

African families will accept almost any kind of goat, being unrestricted as to gender, age or weight.

“In fact, they don’t mind an older animal,” Finch said. “It tastes OK to them.”

Facts/options

In Iowa, Finch said meat goats can be sold through sales barns, directly to processors, at farmers markets, processed at local lockers and sold there, or sold directly off the farm.

“If you are going to sell off the farm,” Finch said, who has 80 to 90 percent of her sales off the farm, “be prepared for slaughter on site.”

She uses blood collected to fertilize her garden. Entrails are composted.

She said her goats are pasture-fed – orchard grass and hay – in summer. In the final six weeks of finishing, their feed switches to a corn/protein pellet mix.

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