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Meat Goat Production in Texas - Where Are We Going?
By Dr. Rick Machen
Extension Livestock Specialist, Uvalde, Texas
November, 1994
Editor's Note: This is the second in a serices of articles from a meat goat seminar presented by Dr. Frank Craddock and Dr. Rick Machen at Joshua, Texas, in 1999.
Although some of the information is dated the overall article should prove valuable to those investigating meat goat profitibility.
Original boergoats.com publication date Aug 12, 2000
Introduction

During an encounter with inclement weather, a young, rather inexperienced airline pilot came over the intercom of his plane and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, the storm has thrown us off course. We are not sure where we are, but let me assure you, we are making excellent progress."

In some respects, the meat goat industry is much like the pilot - making excellent progress in spite of being unsure about the destination. Perhaps the same is true for any industry in its infancy. In the development of an industry, early definition of the destination (product) facilitates development of production goals, improves the efficiency with which those goals are achieved and strengthens the possibility of prosperity.

Define Production Goals Presently, the single greatest need of the meat goat industry is a production target on which to focus. Currently, the demand for goat meat so greatly exceeds supply that essentially all product is being consumed at a premium, relative to the other red meats. In the presence of a high demand: supply ratio, few consumer signals as to quality, fabrication and packaging are sent back down the production chain.

Unlike beef, lamb, pork and poultry, a significant portion of the goat meat produced never enters a formal production chain (i.e. feeder, packer and retailer) prior to consumption. In the absence of consumer input as to desirable attributes of the retail product, the industry must focus primarily on production efficiency and the cost of production, not market prices.

Production goals must be established. During the planning and goal-setting process, the following questions warrant consideration.

  1. Is profit (return on investment) a priority or is this a "recreational venture"?
  2. What forage resources/feedstuffs are available?
  3. Which type of production system, extensive or intensive, will best utilize the available facilities, forage and labor resources? Is brush management a priority?
  4. What is/are the anticipated product(s) of this goat enterprise?
    1. meat
    2. fiber
    3. milk
    4. breeding stock
    5. other
    6. How will these products be marketed?
  5. What are the primary selection criteria for developing a goat capable of efficient production in this environment?
  6. Will replacements be purchased or raised?

Production Systems Like all other species in the livestock industry, production/management systems range from the most extensive (Spanish goats on native range) to very intensive (a dairy). Meat goat operations are described relative to labor and pasture requirements and animal attributes in Table 1.

Table 1. Comparison of Extensive and Intensive Meat Goat Production Systems
.Production System
Essential ConsiderationsExtensiveIntensive
Forage basePastureSemi-confinement
Labor requiredMinimalSignificant
Breeding programKid annuallyKid every 8 months
Animal attributeLow requirements
Moderate size
Avid foragers
High productivity
Prolific
Good disposition
Key to SuccessLOW input Production costHIGH output Production cost

Obviously, all goat operations are not polarized at either end of this scale. While some can be found at either extreme, most meat goat enterprises will find a suitable medium between the two extremes. Therein lies the challenge for every profit driven meat goat producer - to find that happy medium that balances available resources with animal production potential to yield profitable results. Perhaps observations from other livestock industries can offer some guidance for meat goat producers during this development process.

Cattle If history repeats itself across animal species, the meat goat industry can learn a lesson and avoid a significant pitfall by studying the beef cattle industry. The U.S. beef cattle industry has floundered over the past 30 years in search of the "ideal" cattle type. Prior to the 1960's, cattle were small and early maturing. Then, in the late '60's and through the 1970's, new germplasm was introduced that afforded greater milk production, rapid growth, thicker muscle structure and larger mature size. Bigger became better until we passed the "ideal" size and productivity per additional unit of input began to decline. Finally, in the 1990's, the beef industry has defined production targets (with significant help from the consumer) and is on track toward moderate sizing and improving production efficiency.

Another noteworthy observation from the cattle industry is the phenomenon of genotype-environment interaction. Examples of this principle are given below.

Longhorns are a genotype that fit a specific environment; low forage availability, relatively poor forage quality and adverse topographical conditions. Production (birth, weaning and yearling weight) is relatively low but so are requirements (labor, supplemental feed).

Brahman cattle are adapted to tropical environments where heat tolerance, insect resistance and the ability to consume larger amounts of less nutrient dense forages are essential to survival and productivity. Further from the equator, in colder climates and higher elevations these cattle are less productive.

Attempting to produce Holsteins under range conditions is an example of a negative genotype-environment interaction. Mature size, rumen capacity and milk production potential exceed the potential support of a range pasture environment. The same can be said about the larger breeds of dairy goats in an extensive production system.

Sheep Attempting to include blackface, medium wool sheep in an extensive range ewe/lamb enterprise is also an example of a negative genotype-environment interaction. While these breeds function well as a terminal sire for feeder lamb production, their relatively high nutrient requirements, susceptibility to heat stress and low tolerance of internal parasites severely limit their participation in range ewe/lamb operations.

Similar genotype-environment interactions exist among meat goat breeds and their respective production environments. Domestic meat goats are well adapted to an extensive production environment (small mature size, low requirements). Introduction of goats with greater muscle mass, especially when combined with large frame size contributions from some dairy breeds, will allow goat breeders to build a goat that is too big and too productive for many extensive production systems. Therefore, it is imperative that breeders define a production system and breed a goat which can efficiently produce therein. The wrong approach is to develop a goat and subsequently attempt to build a production system for support.

Matching Breed Composition & Production Systems Once the available resources are defined and an appropriate production system is identified, the next step is selection or development of the production units - meat goats. Specifically, the task is to identify a breed or combination of breeds that will efficiently utilize available resources to achieve production goals. A short list of important characteristics and the relative ability of the four major meat goat breeds to contribute is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Relative production characteristics of the four major breeds of meat goats in Texas.
Characteristic Spanish Angora Dairy Boer
Longevity +++ ++ + ?
Durability/Thriftiness ++++ + + ?
Frame Size + + ++++ +++
Muscle + ++ ++ ++++
Milk Production + ++ ++++ +++
Udder Conformation +++ ++ + +++
Disposition + ++ ++++ ++++
Appetite + + +++ ++++
Nutrient Requirements + +++ ++++ ?
+ less potential
++++ greater potential
? not enough data/observations in Texas for comment


Attributes, limitations and a brief comment about possible contributions or limitations of each breed are listed below.
AttributesLimitations
Spanish
small body size
low nutrient requirements
hardy/thrifty
prolific
disposition
growth rate
least muscular
enviornmentally adapted

The Spanish goat is the best suited for survival and production under extensive range conditions. As such, they remain the base of the Texas meat goat industry. Crossbreeding with any of the other breeds improves growth rate, carcass merit and production potential. The disposition and eating behavior of many Spanish goats make them undesirable for more intensive programs.

Angora
hybrid vigor (crossbreds)
largest population
acceptable disposition
mohair
unthrifty young
pelt desirability
seasonal breeding

As long as there is a demand for mohair, Angora goats will be a significant part of the meat goat industry in Texas. The ability to market fiber in addition to meat warrants serious consideration by breeders in areas suited for Angora goats. When crossed with any of the other breeds, significant hybrid vigor is expressed, frequently resulting in a more marketable meat goat. Producers of crossbred goats must make every effort to keep crossbred hair (if harvested) separate and apart from the mohair clip.

Dairy breeds
large frame size
excellent disposition
good appetite
prolific
mothering ability
nutrient requirments
heavy lactation
udder structure
large teats
loss of suspension

The Nubian and Saanen appear to have the greatest influence (of the dairy breeds) on the meat goat industry at this time. Both breeds can add frame size to a breeding program. Under intensive management, dairy breeds are very prolific and offer the potential to market goat milk. In a more typical meat goat production environment, the potential for lactation and accompanying nutrient requirements may be a detriment to a breeding program. The possible breakdown in udder structure and its effect on longevity of breeding females should be considered.

Boer
excellent disposition
high muscle:bone
body capacity & mass
excellent appetite
prolific
good udder structure
availability
nutrient requirements?

The impact of the Boer goat on the meat goat industry has been the topic of great speculation. Disposition, udder structure and appetite are certainly admirable. No doubt, the Boer has the potential to add significant qualities of lean tissue to goat carcasses. However, to date, no clear signal has come from consumers to indicate that thicker, meatier goat carcasses could ultimately result in demand for fewer carcasses (i.e. beef industry, 1994).

Conclusion

In terms of lean product produced per unit of input, goats cannot compete with the other meat producing species on grasslands, improved pastures or in a feedlot scenario. However, because of their preference for browse, goats are most efficient in the conversion of browse to lean tissue. The long term viability of the goat industry hinges on breeders ability to develop a prolific, fast growing animal with desirable carcass characteristics that can be sustained and productive on a browse diet.

Until desirable carcass characteristics are specified, breeders must focus on suitability for the production environment, production efficiency and the cost of production. Before breeders progress too far in the pursuit of any trait, clear indication regarding product attributes is needed from the goat meat consumer. While waiting on that indication, breeders must work within the confines of mother nature to determine the boundaries of production.

Like the young pilot, the Texas meat goat industry is making excellent progress. If it continues at this speed with success as a goal, the destination must soon be defined.


 

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