Cattlemen cut costs, boost income with goats

Jan 14, 2011
by WLJ

“Raising goats requires minimal costs for facilities and investment,” says Jodie Pennington. “They are also attractive for their ability to use grass and other lowcost forages, brush control, high pregnancy rates, and potential for high returns per acre.”

More cattle producers, like Brian and Richard Pemberton, are running goats with the cattle, either in a leaderfollower system or concurrently, according to Pennington, a small ruminant specialist working with Lincoln University and University of Missouri Extension. The advantage of this system is the pasture is used more efficiently. The goats are browsers and eat the bushy plants, including many weeds, and the cattle eat the lowergrowing grass. Pennington says forage use can be improved 10 to 20 percent by this system.

While the men admit incorporating goats into their management intensive grazing program was primarily for brush control, they have found the venture provides extra income for the farm.

“In the U. S., meat goat production has gained popularity in recent years in part because of a growing population of ethnic and faithbased groups who consume goat meat,” Pennington explains. “Missouri has followed similar trends, but more goats are needed to meet consumer demand.”

The last official census in 2007 had 80,000 meat goats in Missouri, or 3.2 percent of the U.S. goat population. That means Missouri ranks eighth of all states in number of goats.

The national estimates indicate the U.S. in 2007 needed an additional 750,000 head to meet demands for goat meat.

Pennington says complicating the shortage of goats is many producers sold their breeding goats when feed prices rose in recent years.

“It is definitely not costing us to raise goats,” Brian says. Prices that last three years have been strong, he adds, providing them with a sizable check. When kidding up to 100 nannies that throw twins or triplets, the income potential is there, Richard adds.

The men sell their kids at nearby sale barns. “Goat sales used to be only once a month or a special sale,” Richard says. “But now with the demand, we have a sale barn that sells goats every week.”

Still, both men agree the main role of goats on their farm is weed control. “It is a huge cost savings for us more than anything,” Brian says. The men no longer expend time or money on spraying or mowing pastures.

“These guys will do it for free,” Richard says. “They are doing it for the feed. You should see what they do to ragweed, rose bushes, black locust and honey locust.”

Goats prefer to browse, grazing on twigs, shoots and leaves of trees, bushes and vines or bushy type plants such as weeds, briers, and brush, but they will also eat some grasses. Goats graze from the top down and do well with limited or no grain if adequate forages are available.

During the summer, brush and pasture is the only feed the goats will see at the Pennington farm. However, in winter, young goats are fed grain to keep them growing, while the older goats are kept on pasture and supplemented with hay and mineral.

Understanding how goats would work into their cattle operation took a lot of research. Every year, they search for new ways to improve an aspect of the operation or eliminate a problem. “It has definitely been a learning process,” Richard says.

“If we had to do it all over again,” Brian says, “we would have put the fence up first.”

Like most cattle farms, fencing was designed to keep large animals in, not smaller ones. “If they can fit their head through it,” Brian explains, “they can fit their whole body through it.”

A three-wire electric fence runs throughout the farm. Both cattle and goats are “trained” on the electric fence system and the men say it is working. They also use electric netting in some pastures. These are lessons they wished they learned years ago.

“They do have foot and parasite problems,” Richard adds. “We had to learn how to manage that.”

To help control the parasites, the Pembertons relied on their rotational grazing techniques. The men have 30 paddocks where they background heifers. While the cattle rotate every day, the goats will remain in a paddock for up to 20 days.

To alleviate the foot problems, the men cull. If a goat has constant foot problems, like hoof rot or scald, it is sold.

“Hoof problems are always an issue,” Richard says. He says the terrain of northern Missouri does not help. “We do not have the rocks or hills they do in southwest Missouri.”

The bacteria that causes hoof rot cannot survive as well in rocky, dry conditions. However, it thrives in wet, cool soils.

However, with every downside there seems to be an upside. “But we have abundant forage for them,” Richard adds, “feed we don’t have to pay for.”

While the goats do require a certain amount of time and care, the Pembertons say it is minimal to what they get in return —brush control, better pastures and an added source of income.—WLJ