Getting Our Goat(s) & Maybe Our Profits, Too
By Martha Jackson
|It may have all started with Jim Raglands ancestor. He was an 18th century youth who was kidnapped from Wales and sold as an indentured servant to a southern Virginia plantation. He worked for 12 years, was freed, and married the plantation owner's daughter. Definitely a young man who put his eye on the main chance.
Jim Ragland is one of the pioneers in Kentuckys goat production.
Maybe thats what Ragland, that young mans great-great-great-grandsomething, did on Oct. 24, 2001, when he traveled from his LaRue County farm to the Kentucky Boer Goat Classic Show and Sale in Harrodsburg. Thats where Ragland laid eyes on Boer (meat) goats for the first time. He bought 24 of them and came out of retirement to show his fellow Kentucky farmers that the book's not finished yet on how many ways the Bluegrass State can spell farmer.
I felt meat goat production was the best alternative enterprise for Kentucky small farms, and I wanted to be a part of introducing and developing this industry in Kentucky, said Ragland. He is a 1961 graduate of the College (Animal Sciences). His daughter Kim Ragland, an associate Extension professor, is also a graduate of the College (87, 90), as is his son Chris (85).
Less than three years ago, Ragland said, it was not considered really acceptable
to raise goats. Youd never go to the Quick Stop and drink coffee and say, I raise goats.
As he talked, his herd of about 270 goats bleated, snarfed down a midmorning feed, and moved from pen to pen under the practiced hands of Vernon and Pam Weaver, the husband-and-wife team managing them.
Ragland has had a reputation in Kentucky based on more than his cagey Welsh ancestor. He was in livestock breeding and production much of his farming lifein fact, he has been an active Simmental and Hereford cattle breeder in Kentucky. If a respected and well-known farmer thinks goats are worth getting into, it sends a message.
The message has been delivered, thanks to Ragland and hundreds of other Kentucky farmers, the Cooperative Extension Service, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, and others. Consider this:
- Kentucky now ranks in the top three nationally in its number of goats, which is estimated to be between 100,000 and 150,000. (Texas is by far the front-runner, followed by North Carolina, then Kentucky.)
- A statewide goat producers association and more than 25 local and regional associations are up and running.
- Monty Chappell, Extension professor, and Terry Hutchens, Extension associate, are now providing the states meat goat farmers the information they need to buy, breed, and raise goats. Chappell teaches and writes how-to material for both sheep and goat farmers (the livestock management issues are somewhat similar). Hutchens, a longtime Extension agent in Kentucky, is now a full-time Extension associate for goat management in a partnership between UK and Kentucky State University. He was most recently in Armenia as part of a USDA project to help that former Soviet nation build up its dairy goat industry.
- UK and KSU work together on field days and newsletters. They also work with land-grant schools in several other southern states to educate goat producers and consumers in a project sponsored by the federal Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.
- Extension agents throughout the state assist goat producers with everything from setting up meetings, to obtaining educational materials, to applying for cost-share funds.
- Farmers can now take advantage of tobacco settlement money through the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board to purchase equipment and breeding stock and convert tobacco barns for goat production.
- Three research trials on goat parasites (sponsored with grant funds from USDAs Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program) are going on across the state, including one trial at KSU.
- The states goat farmers are selling their product direct from the farm, at graded sales, and through a telephone auction managed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
I felt meat goat production was the best alternative enterprise for Kentucky small farms, and I wanted to be a part of introducing and developing this industry in Kentucky.
A Family Enterprise
Perhaps the biggest asset Kentuckys goat industry has is the producers themselves, about 4,000 of them. Among them are true believers that Kentucky, with its abundant forage supply, has the potential to reap great profits from the goat industry.
Keith Jeffries, with UK degrees in both animal sciences (85) and law (91), is a full-time attorney in Henry County. His statewide client base is made up almost entirely of Kentucky farmers. Jeffries is also a part-time goat farmer who sells primarily Boer goat breeding stock. The Jeffries family bought its first goat at the Kentucky Classic Boer Goat Show and Sale in October of 2000.
The Jeffries family
Laura and I wanted something the boys could be involved in, said Jeffries, explaining part of his motivation for raising goats. We have 20 goats; I wish we had 40. Wife and partner Laura manages the farm during the week with lots of help from sons Derek, 8, and Jackson, 6. With some supervision, the boys can do almost all of the work needed to care for the herd.
Not only do the Jeffries breed, raise, and sell goats, but their farm has become an unofficial gathering place for the Henry County Boer Goat Association. Its members, who come from several counties, gather at the Jeffries barn and sit on hay bales to learn about goat breeding, nutrition, parasite control, and herd health.
Jason Brashear, a senior ag education major from Perry County, is another pioneer. He has been raising goats since he was in the fourth grade, when he used his chore money to go down to the stockyards and pick out a doe. By the time Brashear was in the sixth grade, he had 30 head, and he and his parents continue to expand their goat operation.
Goats are ideally suited for the Brashears 130-acre farm. Its so hilly that the Brashears have to seed and fertilize by hand. It grows thicket (but not forages and grasses) and thats just fine for grazing goats. Brashear and his father now have about 100 head.
Kentucky is not the only state in the Mid-South and Southeast gearing up to capitalize on an increasing demand for goat meat.
ag agent in LaRue County
Consumer demand in the United States is being fueled by a influx of Muslims, Hispanics, and Asiansmost of whom eat goat meat and would probably eat more if it were available. A large portion of what they do eat is imported from New Zealand and Australia.
Definite market opportunities exist for Kentuckys goat farmers, but here and elsewhere in the United States, the localized nature of the meat goat industry creates some hurdles. Few facilities are dedicated to processing goats, so processing costs are relatively high. Also, marketing is fragmented because, in this fledgling industry, farmers generally sell independently.
But Kentucky has some advantages on which it can capitalize.
The small farmer in Kentucky has pasture, hay, and a tobacco barn that could be renovated and used for goats, Ragland said.
|David Harrison, Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources in LaRue County, sees goats as a good complement to grazing beef cattle. You can get multiple marketings off facilities dedicated to cattle, he said.
An extensive marketing study, carried out in 2003 for the Governors Office of Agricultural Policy, said that Kentucky will need to move quickly to take advantage of the marketplace situations before others can.
About 3.5 million people who eat goat live within a short distance from Kentucky, and for now the industry is expected to grow at 10 percent a year.
The burning question, said Terry Hutchens, is "Whos gonna win this race?
Goat production, for Kentucky, may definitely be a race worth winning.
Terry Hutchens (above) works full-time
for Extension in goat management.