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GLENMONT, Ohio — They have different backgrounds and their farms are set up for different markets, but two Ohio goat producers within two miles of each other are seeing the same benefits that come with goats.
Marty Overholt and his family manage Royal Livestock — a goat, sheep and beef farm just outside the Holmes County community of Glenmont. He and his four adult children have become synonymous with show goats — showing and selling some of the best in the state.
They’ve won the county show so many times they have a hard time counting — at least a half-dozen champions — and in 2010 they had the reserve champion at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky.
Marty and his wife, Sue, a school teacher at Clark Elementary School, got into goats in 1999 when son, Martin, wanted them for a 4-H project. Today, they have about 75 head of goats on the farm and travel across the state to sales, while also making sales over the Internet and on the farm.
The growing demand for meat goats has also increased the demand for show goats, Marty said, and more people are taking interest in them as a fair project.
“I won’t say it’s a low-cost investment, but a family that wants to raise goats — they don’t need a lot of expensive equipment; goats don’t eat a whole lot compared to other 4-H projects,” he said, adding on the commodity side, “there’s such a demand for the meat market.”
To Marty’s east is Tom Brewer — a school teacher and part-time goat farmer who produces goats directly for the meat market.
Brewer is fairly new to goats. He started raising them a few years ago when his wife, Julia, bought a single fainting goat. Since then, the Brewers gradually increased their numbers and in 2010 had 15 kids — the name given to newborn goats. Last year, they doubled that number and expect about 30 kids this year.
The increased herd is mostly because of favorable market conditions, and some pasture and facility improvements based on funds from an EQIP program.
“(The market) really kind of turned over back in 2010,” Tom said. Before then, he was getting $60-$70 a head, and today, it’s about double.
Brewer sells his goats at the Danville Auction in December, usually at about 60-70 pounds. He hauls them himself, and from the auction they’re usually trucked to Columbus where they’re processed.
Columbus has become a destination for meat goats because of a growing ethnic and Somali population, which drives the meat goat demand in Ohio.
Brewer and Overholt are both part-time goat producers, although certain times of the year, like when the goats are kidding — they’d probably admit it becomes a full-time job.
Both men have experience raising beef cattle and Overholt is a federal meat inspector. One of the things they prefer about goats is their size.
“I like the goats because you can handle them,” Brewer said. “We can go in and (work with them) without it being a rodeo.”
The goats don’t eat as much as cattle, they take up less space and the pens are more manageable. Last year, Brewer constructed several new pens under his barn, and bought more than 6,500 feet in new fencing and pasture supplies to improve his operation.
Overholt said meat goats “are basically little beef cows,” with the goal being to raise good, high-yielding meat on an animal that is much smaller.
The goats are a family project for Tom and Marty — when their families are available and on the farm. Tom’s oldest daughter, Grace, is an FFA teacher in Kansas. His son, Luke, is finishing his law degree in Michigan, his daughter, Emma, is studying to be a vocational agriculture instructor, and his youngest daughter, Madelyn, is a sophomore in high school.
Marty’s oldest daughter, Margo, is a 4-H Extension Educator in DeKalb County, Ind. His son Martin is studying food science at Ohio State University, his son Marshall just graduated high school, and his daughter, Elizabeth, is a high school senior.
Another selling point of goat meat is its nutritional value. Goat is a healthier meat almost in every category, having less fat, and more protein content, than leading meats, according to the USDA Nutrient Database.
“It tastes like beef,” Sue Overholt said, kind of a “sweet beef taste.”
Tom, who built his pens under an old bank barn, feeds his goats almost all grass and hay — providing a lean diet in return for lean goat meat. He admits to still being in the “learning” phase of goat production, noting that he’s learned quite a lot from the Overholts.
He expects to retire from his teaching job in about another year, giving him more time to grow the goat herd. Most of the year, he can balance the goats and his day job fairly easily with just two trips to the barn.
But when the goats are kidding, he and his family are busy around the clock.
“These last two weeks (of kidding) I get up every couple hours to see what’s going on. It’s best if I can catch them right after they’ve kidded,” he said.
Marty works in the Columbus metro area, and when he’s gone, Sue and his kids keep an eye on the barn.
Neither Tom nor Marty is making a living off the goats, but because of the increased market demand, they are seeing better returns.
Tom and his family own about 360 acres of land and rent out about 90 tillable acres. Neighbors help him make hay in the summer from the farm and he’s able to keep his input costs to a minimum.
Tom has kept track of his costs and while costly upfront, he hopes the new pens and pastures will serve for many years. He wants to be profitable with the venture, but he also enjoys just working with the animals.
In the summer, when the goats are done kidding, he makes only about two trips a day to the barn. He said he likes to spend the evening just sitting outdoors and watching the goats, with their different behaviors and personalities.
Sometimes, he gets pretty attached to them.
“They know me and I know them, so to speak, which is good and bad,” he said.
Marty was raising about 200 head of sheep when he started goats, and now that the market is doing well and the family has an established name in the business, “most of our interest is in the goats now,” he said.
Marty’s family sells goats at sales across Ohio and out of state. He serves on his county’s fair board, which is in the process of building a new fairgrounds and exposition center. When it’s finished, he’s hopeful they will be able to hold some goat events at the new grounds and help grow the industry in his region.