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Changing America, changing tastes
Submitted by
Amanda Archibald, through the A.M.G.A.

The increase of immigrants, particularly Muslims, is driving a profitable market for goat meat, a popular food in cultures around the world

By Andrew Martin
Chicago Tribune national correspondent
November 30, 2004

NEW HOLLAND, Pa. -- A growing demand for goat meat among New York City Muslims has been a boon to a livestock auction tucked away in the middle of Amish country.

Here, where a covered shelter in a parking lot keeps Amish buggies dry when it rains, Mohammad Khalid arrives from Queens every Monday morning to buy as many as 50 goats, which end up in the meat case of Queens Discount Halal Meat by Wednesday afternoon.

"A good goat is a Boer goat," said Khalid, a Pakistani immigrant, pointing to a redheaded goat standing in a pen with his other purchases, all of them bleating and staring nervously at their new owner. "It's very good meat. Tender."

Khalid is one of a handful of Muslim buyers who trek to New Holland every week to buy goats and, to a lesser extent, sheep, for Muslim markets in New York and other East Coast cities.

While the idea of eating goat is considered distasteful by some in the United States, goat is the primary meat dish in many parts of the world. With the number of immigrants arriving from the Middle East, Mexico and Asia surging, so, too, does the demand for goat meat.

According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, which the Department of Agriculture publishes every five years, goats are among the fastest growing sectors of the livestock industry. The number of goats raised annually for meat increased from 1.2 million to 1.9 million--a jump of 58 percent--from 1997 to 2002. The number of farms that raise meat goats grew to 74,980 from 63,422.

"If you want to know who eats goat, it's anybody but white people, descendants of Northern Europe," said Susan Schoenian, a sheep and goat specialist with the University of Maryland extension service. "Now all the immigrants come from every other part of the world, and they all come from goat-eating parts of the world."

Many Muslims and Jews, for example, don't eat pork and Hindus and Sikhs do not generally eat beef.

"Goats cut across all religions," she added. "There's no taboos against eating goats. They are raised all over the Third World because they don't need a lot."

The growing demand for goat in metropolitan New York has provided a boost for farms that are worlds away from Queens Discount Halal Meat, geographically and culturally. Despite New Holland's relative isolation in rural Pennsylvania, farmers from as far away as Texas ship their goats here because of its relative proximity to major East Coast cities.

Jim Bob Moore, who drives a truckload of goats 536 miles from Tennessee to New Holland every Monday, said it seems like every farmer with even a few acres in eastern Tennessee and western Virginia has goats.

"Everybody that has 5 acres has goats," he said. "If they have 2 acres, they have goats."

But by far the biggest state for goat meat--those raised specifically to be eaten--is Texas, where 16,145 farms reported raising 941,783 goats in 2002, according to the agriculture census. Texas is also the home to the nation's largest goat auction, in San Angelo, where many of the goats are shipped south to Mexico.

Tennessee is second, with 4,758 farms raising 107,211 goats, according to 2002 statistics.

Other states are encouraging farmers to raise goats to help supplement their incomes. In New York, for instance, goats are being raised on some farms that were squeezed out of the dairy business.

At a time when many other sectors of agriculture are consolidating, "the meat goat business is the bright spot in agriculture," said Robert Herr, an agricultural consultant and sometime goat buyer who conducts seminars for people--from retirees to down-on-their-luck farmers--considering the goat trade. "Goats are bringing more [money] per pound than any other livestock."

Biggest seller at auction

The industry started taking off about a dozen years ago when the Boer goat from South Africa--Herr calls them "the Angus cattle of the goat industry"--was introduced in the U.S. With its distinctive red head, the Boer goat is meatier than average goats and makes raising the animals more profitable.

Goats are now the biggest seller at the New Holland livestock auction, which hawks everything from cattle to horses. "My father told me 40 years ago that you couldn't sell a goat," said David Kolb, whose father and grandfather owned the New Holland auction before him. "Now if we sell anything less than 1,000 [each Monday], we think something is wrong."

While there's no goat auction in the Midwest that compares with New Holland--an auction in Kalona, Iowa, sells about 150 goats a week--a small but growing number of Illinois farmers are raising goats with the hopes of tapping into Chicago's ethnic markets.

Clause Miller, president of the Illinois Meat Goat Producers, said his organization now has 50 members and a mailing list of 200.

Miller, who lives in Rushville, Ill., said several goat farmers are trying to figure out a way to ship their goats to New Holland, where they command a higher price than they do in the Midwest. Miller sells his goats directly off his farm or ships them to a halal slaughterhouse, which kills the animals in accordance with Islamic law, in Shannon, Ill.

A retired trucker, Miller said he first tried to raise deer but bailed out because the animals were too difficult. Goats, he said, are easier to handle, although they are prone to worms and parasites.

Now that he's raising goats, Miller said, he has developed a taste for their meat, which he substitutes for beef in dishes ranging from spaghetti and meat sauce to meatloaf.

`Meat you want to go with'

"It's good anyway," said Miller, noting that it's also low in fat. "If you've got a cholesterol problem or a heart problem, this is the meat you want to go with."

On a recent Monday in New Holland, Khalid, the New Yorker, sat in the front row of the goat auction in standard-issue farmer attire: work boots, work pants, a flannel shirt and a cap. He was among 50 or so people perched in wooden, u-shaped bleachers around the sales floor, a diverse group that included several other Muslim buyers from New York, two Guyanan store owners from New Jersey and a handful of Amish farmers, a small but growing presence in the goat business.

With an auctioneer sitting in a booth above the sales floor, anywhere from one to a dozen goats were rushed in at a time and buyers began signaling their bids with barely perceptible nods or slight tips of their sales card. A good Boer goat costs about $140.

While Muslims account for most of the rapid growth at the New Holland goat auction, there are buyers for other ethnic markets, too.

David Perez, a 27-year-old Mexican immigrant who owns a store in New York's Chinatown, said he sells half of his goats to Chinese customers, who prefer smoked kid goats, and the other half to Hispanics, who favor older and larger goats. Goats are sold whole or in various cuts.

"When I started I was selling 15 or 20 goats a week," said Perez, who drives to New Holland twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. "Now on average, I sell 100 to 120 goats a week."

Vish Persaud, an immigrant from Guyana, said he planned to buy 40 or 50 goats for his store in Newark, N.J., the Mount Prospect Livestock and Poultry Market. He sells his goats live, along with sheep, chickens and ducks.

Paul Leinhauser, who manages the goat auction, said business for goats has doubled in the last five years, mainly because of demand from Muslim customers. A towering man with a salt-and-pepper goatee and a Harley-Davidson vest, Leinhauser shrugged when asked about the improbability of attracting such a diverse group of buyers to Amish country.

"We don't do anything special for them," Leinhauser said of the Muslim crowd, noting that they occasionally pray on a grassy berm beside the parking lot. "These people out here just live and let live."

Copyright (c) 2004, Chicago Tribune


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