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By Dr. Frank Pinkerton
retired extension goat specialist



Some time after the end of his professional career, a retiree is occasionally seized with a near irresistible notion to offer, sought or not, some semblance of "end-of-tour" reporting to former colleagues, industry cohorts, and to (possibly) interested others. Such observations may be replete with professional commentary on accomplishments (real or imagined), problems encountered, current situation, (cautious) expectations, etc., Traditionally, the retiree feels entirely free to express cause-and-effect opinions, render value judgments, and forecast the probable while all too frequently grounded only in personal observations, private prejudices, and a serene confidence in his own sense of worth to the institution and/or industry he has served. Like Galbraith, I view modesty concerning noteworthy achievements as a greatly overrated virtue; contrarily, I am quick to say that, when I first left the University classroom for the real world in 1968, I experienced a precipitous decline in my powers of divination and the uncritical acceptance of my pronouncements; similarly, I suspect, with Galbraith

John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian-born 1909, Distinguished Professor (Emeritus), Harvard University--its only agricultural economist ever, noted author of economic and social history, and valued advisor to political leaders, domestic and international. Among his myriad perceptive quotes in his observation that:

"Agriculture works well only under a widely accepted and much celebrated form of exploitation, that by the farmer of himself, his family and his immediate and loyal hired hands"--The Culture of Contentment, 1992.

Essentially, this keen observation is based on the long and documented record that farmers have historically subsidized consumer food and fiber expenditures while consistently earning returns to their labor, management, and capital far below those earned by corollary industrial and commercial sectors. With only rare exceptions across time and place, goat enterprises have demonstrated well this on-going economic phenomenon.

Thus, though I will not preface my more positive sounding generalization with qualifier phrases such as, to the best of my knowledge, in my personal, unsubstantiated opinion, etc., readers are urged to be ever mindful of their absence; you are also urged to remember that, like the early French philosopher, Montaigne:

"All I say is by way of discourse....I should not speak so boldly if it were my due to be believed.

In any case, I illustrate my pleasure and my pride in having been associated with the development of our goat industry since l979 by joining spiritually with one Samuel Deane, who, writing in the New England Farmer, 1790, said:

"Agriculture is one of the noblest employments to assist Nature in her bountiful productions. Instead of being ashamed of their employment, our laborious farmers should toss about their dung with an air of majesty". I now choose to so toss....

INTRODUCTION: The initiation and expansion of various aspects of our goat industry during the past century was due to personal initiative and private investment by owners seeking to increase returns/profits to their land and labor. In the time-honored rural tradition, such owners then freely shared their experiences with those neighbors similarly inclined toward novel opportunities. As may be imagined, this sharing mostly took the form of verbal communication with individuals or small local groups. This early, on-going generation and extension of practical results and economic applications concerning general agriculture is delightfully and effectively described by one Arthur Young who wrote in his Rural Economy, l792:

"All gentlemen who make agriculture their business or amusement, should register their trials and either publish them themselves, or communicate them to others who will take that trouble. It is inconceivable how much the world would be benefited by such a conduct; matters relative to rural economics would receive a new face; every day would bring forth some valuable discovery, and every year that passed yield such an increase of knowledge, as to point and smooth the way to discoveries now unthought of. As far as a manís fortune will allow him to go, no amusement in the world equals the forming and conducting experiments in agriculture; to those, I mean, who have a taste for rural matters; nor can any business, however important, exceed, in real utility, this amusement. Experiments that are made with spirit and accuracy are of incomparable value in every branch of natural philosophy; those of agriculture, which is the most useful of these branches, must be particularly valuable".

This incredibly prescient paragraph recognizes the central role of agriculture in the lives of all people. In the U. S., as elsewhere, food and fiber production was then the basic occupation of the majority of the population; it was also the basic preoccupation of all citizens....starkly put, too few family foodstuffs, too few survivors. However, as populations increased in size and complexity over time, broad social and, ultimately, political pressures identified food and fiber production as a paramount societal concern, one that could not safely be left to localized, unorganized information exchanges of largely anecdotal information among farmers. As a result of this recognition of urgent national need, Congress in 1865 established a system of Cooperative Land Grant Colleges (one in each state) to generate research findings leading to improvements in farm output. (The word, Cooperative, refers to the required b>joint, but not necessarily equal, funding from Congress and State Legislatures); Congress established a second such program for Black Colleges in 1890).


In early 2004, the Goat Rancher published an article in which I described, in broad profile, certain categories within the U.S. goat industry, as characterized by enterprise scale, scope, and goals, while in a fall article, 2004, I identified incipient difficulties likely to be encountered by novice goat owners. In 2002, the Goat Rancher presented my "take" on aspects of meat goat marketing. I cite these for your possible review, but also to document my long acquaintance with the industry, one which does have its problems--some of which seem "researchable", while others seem less amenable to investigation.

However, it must first be conceded that, as a group, we owners already have sufficient technical know-how, from whatever formal or informal sources, to manage the national herd of perhaps 2.5 million goats--sometimes profitably so. On the other hand, we do seem to have great difficulty in identifying specific production constraints, in priortizing among them, and, in particular, making our collective needs known to appropriate research entities/funding sources. Just poll a collection of goat owners informally for their views on goat industry research needs; the number and range of answers will be astounding. Indeed, I have devised a descriptive equation, possibly mathematically dubious, to quantify my findings: Pdv =Dsquared x SIn, (the volume of producer discussion is equal to the square of the number of discussants times the number of special interests represented). In the vernacular, we too seldom get our shit together.

Be that as it may, suppose a large number of us, acting (logically) through a State or Regional Association, could/would identify a researchable production constraint to industry growth/profitability....what to do? First, draft a written "position paper" describing the problem, its particulars and its extent, and, insofar as possible, quantifying its negative economic impact on a majority of producers. Secondly, take it to the Dean of Agriculture of your Land-Grant University or perhaps to his deputy (often called Director of the Experiment Station) or perhaps to the Chairman of the Animal Science Department. Alternatively, you could appear before the Administrator of the Extension Service or, a distinctly lesser personage, to your State Extension Livestock (goat) Specialist (I was such a fellow), who then could buck your request upwards through channels. In any case, the objective is to bring informed attention to your collective needs and, one may hope, get a full and frank discussion of possible responses.

And now for a dose of reality.... the administrator you contact, invariably polite and sympathetic to petitioners and possibly even preliminarily persuaded by well-documented needs, will necessarily follow some form of Upper Administrative Policy Guidelines, i.e.,, he will have to convince the Final Decision-Maker and associated bean-counters of the economic relevance and possibly the political significance of the proposed research project. If so convinced, your project will go forward; if not, it becomes, with regrets, still-born.

More reality....there is a further, perhaps insidious factor at work in University precincts you should be aware of.....most any research project nowadays is selected in part on what available funding sources will authorize, in part on its prospects for scientific publication, in part on the training, reputation and current availability of the needed investigator, and in part (one may hope) on its practical relevance to its target clientele (thatís you). But, once approved, done, and published, extension specialists have the opportunity/onus to deliver the findings to you.

Even more reality....most federal agricultural research dollars are currently distributed to States as lump sums (not partitioned by crop, livestock, etc.). They are targeted, according to USDA fiat, for "basic science", i.e., to fundamental investigations. Consequently, very few of these funds are currently allocated for applied/practical research projects (the kind of help most goat producers most often need). Note, too, that the USDA has itsí own extensive research capability, the Agriculture Research Service, with many subject matter areas of interest and at several locations (some have State "partners", some not). Note, too, that Congress itself may direct, and specifically fund, USDA to undertake politically-sensitive research (and extension) activities aimed at solving high visibility, national or regional problems (e.g., animal/plant disease control, food safety issues, etc.).

Goat organizations should know that USDA also has, from time to time, certain "ear-marked funds" available for livestock producer groups seeking direct federal help. The competition for these grants is fierce, and technical competence can sometimes be usefully abetted by political influence. Readers should recognize that goat owners constitute a minority group with few and less vocal supporters (prospective voters); as such, they are critically under-represented at decision-making levels--sad, but true. But, when a grant is forthcoming, producer groups commonly "sub" the execution of the research project to University or other qualified personnel. (Such funds powered my early investigations, with South Carolina, North Carolina, and New York personnel concerning goat marketing, and my later work with Louisiana co-workers concerning development of goat grading standards).

Currently, there are substantial goat research efforts at Langston U (OK), Texas A&MU-San Angelo, Fort Valley S U(GA), and Virginia S U; smaller efforts, due perhaps to less funding and/or Administrative interest, are found in NC, FL, TN, and LA. Additionally, Veterinary investigations have been conducted, primarily in TX, NY, MD, CA, WA and OR.  Substantial goat research is also conducted in France, Israel, South Africa, India, Malaysia, Australia, and, more recently, in China; some has/will have relevance to our own needs.

 In addition to federal and state monies given to Universities as described above, some State Departments of Agriculture occasionally distribute modest sums for livestock and goat activities (but rarely for research projects per se). The few goat funds made available to date have gone mostly to marketing studies and to industry development programs in TX, OK, LA, NC, KY, VA, and NY.

Goat groups occasionally inquire as to how they might get a commercial company to research/develop a product to meet a particular industry need (parasite control is the paramount concern identified). Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies feel they can not afford even the financial outlay necessary to obtain FDA "goat labeling" for existing health products, much less justify the expense of new product development, testing, and approval. Thus, prospects for novel, effective products are not good, not only because of expense, but also because goat owners simply do not constitute a sufficient size of market to warrant such products; again, sad but true. Commercial companies do formulate goat feeds and mineral/vitamin supplements by using existing data from various sources, but they rarely do goat nutrition research per se. Incidentally, I have never known any feed company to utilize any sort of public (on-farm) comparative demonstration of their products. The logistics of such an undertaking are admittedly complex and daunting; besides, their product might not win.


The need for agricultural extension activities was recognized early on by one Jared Elliot, who wrote in 1760 in Essays upon Field-Husbandry In New England:

 "Useful Arts are sometimes lost for want of being put into Writing. Tradition is a very slippery Tenure, and a slender Pin to bear any great weight for a long time.....whoever has made any Observation or Discoveries, althoí it be but a Hint, and looks like a small Matter, yet if pursued and improved, may be of publick Service....I am sure I should have been glad of such an History of Facts (as imperfect as it is). It would have afforded me Light, Courage, and Instruction".

The need for retaining and extending agricultural technology was again recognized in 1826 by one Leonard Lathrop in The Farmerís Library, who warned us that:

"For want of records, much useful knowledge is continually lost. Though many individuals have derived advantages to themselves from experiments, but few have recorded them. Even those who make experiments are liable to forget them, so as to give incorrect representation of them when they attempt to relate them".

And so it came to pass, in the sometimes leisurely manner of political and bureaucratic affairs everywhere, that the USDA in 1902 created the joint Federal/State Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service. Its charge, initially, was to disseminate research results to crop and livestock producers, primarily through the Land Grant University System. (In later years, the AES added programs in home economics, human nutrition, child care, etc.). Goat owners are locally impacted by the Extension Service via itsí County Extension Agents, who are necessarily "generalists" in that they field questions, supply information, and conduct training for a wide variety of subject matter areas including 4-H youth programs--for which goats have been particularly well suited.

At the next level are State Extension Specialists, those with in-depth training/expertise in a certain subject matter area, e.g., animal science, crop science, economics, sociology, etc., and, within such areas, specialization in, say, livestock nutrition,   physiology, or genetics. Some specialists may have particular expertise concerning beef cattle, poultry, sheep/goats, etc. and may be stationed at the LGU campus or at regional research/extension Centers in the State. They serve primarily as technical backstop to County Agents, but also interact directly with farmers and ranchers and sometimes conduct result-demonstrations on-site with cooperating farmers. Some also do occasional joint activities with other USDA entities such as Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Natural Resources Conservation Service. (I was just such a Specialist for 14 years in TX/OK and, on request, in other states with interests in developing a goat sector).

Historically, only those states with large populations of goats (TX) and sheep (Rocky Mt States. OH, VA) had State Specialists for these species. However, in the recent past, goat populations have increased dramatically in the southeastern states; consequently, a number of full- and part-time State Extension Specialists are now available to goat owners there; so also in NY, MD, and VT. Note that goat numbers first expanded; only thereafter were extension efforts instituted in response to owner needs. Oklahoma was an exception in that it established, in 1983, research and extension programs, at Langston University, with the express purpose of developing a goat industry where one did not exist.

Goat extension efforts take many forms, among them Newsletters, Field-Days, on- or off-campus seminars/training sessions or demonstrations. Early on, there were bulletins, fact sheets, and leaflets, but, with increasing printing/distribution costs and, particularly, with the advent of Internet service, these have all but disappeared.   Once an Extension staple activity, on-site visitations to owners for problem identification/solving have now declined markedly due to cost considerations; however, telephone/email exchanges still enable some personalized interactions.

One of the ways Extension Specialists could offer counsel to goat owners, widely and economically, is via publication in monthly magazines having substantial regional/national circulation. Curiously enough, this opportunity seems under-used to date, for whatever reasons...perhaps the available research findings have not been yet published in research journals (a bureaucratic no-no)...perhaps the research findings, though of scientific and, possibly, of long-term merit, are of too little obvious/practical value to current producers....perhaps the Extension Agent is too swamped with corollary duties....perhaps he/she feels inadequate as a writer of "lay-language" articles....perhaps he/she perceives that their Administrator values publication in more scientific venues as somehow professionally preferable to producer education via popular periodicals (which are certainly more often read by goat owners than are the more "learned" publications).

The "quality" of goat extension efforts is said by informed and thoughtful goat owners to vary widely, possibly due to Administrative interest/funding levels or to differences in personnel qualifications/interest, and possibly, I have seen, to erroneous levels of expectation and lack of positive response from the producers themselves. In any case, Extension Agents are not the only source of technical information available to goat owners. In addition to the few industry magazines, goat producers have available books on herd health, basic nutrition, and herd management as well as useful information from suppliers of needed goods. Too, Breed publications commonly contain some useful information among their more voluminous promotional materiel, Show results, and occasional puff pieces.


Perhaps one of the better, immediately available sources for goat production/marketing information is person-to-person conversation. Indeed, learning this strategy was so noted in 1800 by one Thomas Fessenden in The Register of Arms, who said:

 "What may seem to some persons as merely commonplace information may, perhaps, prove valuable to others, whose time may have been devoted to pursuits of a different nature:

This advice to seek private counsel (e.g., from one goat owner by another goat owner) can be--and often is a cheap and effective way to learn. Contrarily, such one-on-one discussion can be, as many unhappily know from experience, a classic case of the blind- leading-the-blind; in short, know your source, or be prepared to be occasionally led astray. The difficulty for greenhorns is that, being poorly informed, they canít readily distinguish among the "facts" being offered, all with the best of intentions, of course.

A geographically close collection of goat owners will, almost invariably, hit on the notion to form some sort of collective group for the furtherance of shared goals and objectives, however defined as to organizational structure and program of work needed to accomplish their aims. Sometimes, particularly early on in itsí life, a newly formed group will proceed enthusiastically, harmoniously, and effectively. In other instances, with the passage of time, there is a tendency--indeed, a near certainty-- for contrary personalities to emerge, to clash, and to precipitate crises --to the detriment and, occasionally, to the dissolution of the group. Such unfortunate occurrences are clearly adverse to group harmony, to effective communication, and, worse of all, to sustained organizational effectiveness. However, those group members with a bent toward cooperation, compromise, and consideration of others (too frequently found within the too-silent majority) can--indeed, must seize the stage, as it were, and regain the upper hand in order for the group to proceed effectively. If so, they can readily and appropriately identify with an earlier advocate of communalism-of-purpose, one James Donaldson who in 1700 wrote in The Undoubted Art of Thriving:

"That every Man should imploy himself not only for the advancing of his own Interest, but likewise that he may propagate the Welfare of others, will, I suppose, be sooner granted than practiced.... it is necessary, that some be imployed one way, and some another, so that each may attain to some Competent Degree of Knowledge of, and Dexterity in the Vocation or Imployment he Professes, so that every one may be Useful and Assisting to another, and by mutual Good Correspondence with one another, all may live Comfortable together".

Localized or multi-county goat organizations that arrange technical assistance sessions, conduct Shows and assorted Sales, do Youth activities, etc. to successful and encouraging effect, may then decide to look further afield.  They may perceive the need for, and possibilities of, creating (or joining other groups to form) a State Association, or even a Regional or National Association of like-minded (concerned/intelligent/forward-thinking) goat owners. Their primary goal would likely be actionable interests in industry betterment, however defined, or perhaps in pursuing State or National Government grants, or Federal legislation to fend off potentially intrusive regulations, or to obtain favorable regulatory assistance in marketing, or possibly for legal intervention to protect themselves from international competition.

These interests (wishes) are, by definition, noble, possibly achievable, but.... they are also invariably difficult, costly, and potentially enervating for members. Particularly so for those individuals (usually elected leaders) within the enlarged organization who physically carry the onus, i.e., who do the organizational fine-tuning of the Association and thereafter guide its operational logistics, and (only then) obtain consensus on the proposed course of action, and finally, make the time-consuming and expensive trips to Washington for jaw-to-jaw meetings with Congressional mover-and-shakers...well, for them, the glory, always fleeting, may not adequately compensate. They may need, and certainly deserve, sustained emotional as well as financial support. I do concede that Association members are permitted, even obligated to provide (constructive) criticism, but they should also be sparing in their (sometimes) uninformed criticism of the chosen leaders--at least until they themselves have walked-the-walk (Thereafter, such critics would likely be a noticeably subdued and certainly more understanding--of issues and personal sacrifice).

A concluding word on goat Cooperatives, whether for buying goods or for selling animals or products, or for seeking political influence for various purposes. In over 50 years in the livestock industry, I have encountered few such successful enterprises, no matter how valid their chosen cause. Failures, early and late, have been the norm, for whatever particular reasons. A major reason for failure, I have come to believe, is that, to be successful and sustainable, Cooperative members would have to practice a nearly untenable togetherness over time. Such close personal interaction may simply require more virtue than mere mortals can stomach.....occasionally, after a Bud-Lite or two, I phrase it as: like Socialism, a Cooperative is way too Christian a notion to ever catch on widely.

 I close these free-ranging, incomplete observations with yet another delightful quote, all the while conceding that I have in no way "fully satisfied your desire to know"--but, even a modest effort can be a useful one, so....

"Thus gentle Reader I have (I trust) fully satisfied thy desire In as many things as are needful to be knowne: wherefore I commit my little Booke to thy gentle judgement. If thou maist receive any profit or commodities thereby, I shalbe glad to it; and if not, favorably let it pass from thee to others, whose knowledge and experience is lesse than thine therein, that they may gather such things as to them are strange, though to thee well knowne before."--Thomas Hill, The Arts of Gardening, 1608.


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