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WOOSTER, Ohio — Meat goat producers like Marty Overholt and Tom Brewer of Glenmont — and hundreds of other Ohio producers are enjoying a good demand for their product while supplies remain low.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service — U.S. meat goat production has been on a gradual decline since 2008, when a little more than 2.5 million meat goats were in production. Today, the number is closer to 2.25 million.
In Ohio, meat goat production actually increased the past year, going from 59,000 head up to 65,500 head. But growers and researchers say more goats are needed.
“Demand for goat meat has continued to increase and that has driven the high prices. It’s a simple case of supply and demand,” said Katherine Harrison, a goat farmer at Harrison Farm in Canal Winchester and an area leader in meat goat production.
Harrison and Ohio State University Extension Educator Tony Nye say a lot of the demand has to do with the increase in ethnic populations — including Muslims and Hispanics — who often eat goat for religious and cultural reasons.
“The overall demand from many different ethnic communities is really driving that whole market,” Nye said. “We’ve seen a downshift of overall production so we’re in a deficit for what is wanted.”
He said goat and sheep prices are both strong as a result, even for lesser quality animals (culls). A good cull doe can still bring $125-$150, he said, with select does bringing much more.
“That tells you we have a huge demand for product,” he said.
Kenny Smith, who helps manage the goat auction at United Producers in Hillsboro, said the sale sells more than 100 head every Monday, compared to roughly 35 head five or six years ago.
From there, many of the goats are trucked to processors and retail markets in Columbus and Dayton, and other cities with large populations of ethnic people.
Other influences. But it’s not just the ethnic population that’s boosting demand. Nye said more producers are eating goat themselves — because they enjoy the taste and the low fat content. Goat has less fat than chicken, beef, pork and lamb, and less cholesterol.
Worldwide, Nye said goat meat is the most abundantly consumed meat.
Smith said it tastes similar to other quality meats, adding “if you didn’t know what it was, you’d almost of thought it was beef.”
With such market potential, Nye and Harrison said it’s important to have a structure in place to not only produce the goats, but to ensure there’s a place for them to be sold and processed, and sold again in retail markets.
Harrison’s family operates its own butcher shop and retail store called Blystone Farm. But other farmers typically rely on public livestock auctions and retail food chains — which have grown over the years to better serve customers who want goat meat.
Building buyers. The buyers of goat meat have evolved, as well. They know more of the farmers, and the farmers are getting to know the buyers.
“The consumer is becoming more accustomed to what is available — they know who the producers are,” Nye said.
Retail markets still differ, however, because customers’ needs differ.
“We’ve got different contingencies of ethnic populations,” Nye said. Some of the current U.S. Hispanic population is now a generation or two removed from their country of origin, and their preferences are more similar to that of non-Hispanic Americans.
But, he said a new population of immigrants from South America “are still very traditional.”
“There are preferences within each cultural group,” he added.
While more goat is needed, Nye and Harrison said raising goats takes education, time and some determination. They have the advantage of being small and requiring very basic fencing and barn space, but they can be expensive if feed must be bought — especially grain.
Nye said pasture-raised goats are often more profitable because the grasses help cut down on the cost of buying feed. But it takes work to manage pastures and meet the goat’s nutritional needs.
For everyone who calls him and wants to get into the goat business, he said he probably talks half of them out of it. But the other half, if they’re serious about learning and putting in the work — can do very well.
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