Goat meat isn’t the most popular choice, in Marshall County, West Virginia. But after the Marshall County Fair canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Marshall County 4-H and FFA Goat and Rabbit Club are learning how to market and sell their own goats and rabbits.
“This is a real-life lesson in farming and raising livestock,” the club said in a July 19 press release.
Club members found out about this last-minute change after a July 13 order from Gov. Jim Justice shut down fairs and festivals, including the Marshall County Fair. Until Justice’s announcement, club members were expecting to show and sell their projects the week of July 20.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” said Shelby Ullom, 17, of Marshall County. “I was just upset that it was that close to fair, because we should have been canceled months ago, but they kept us going … and then they canceled us last minute.”
Ullom was planning to take a market goat and a pen of three rabbits to the fair this year. She also had a backup market goat.
To sell her projects, she’s been posting about her animals on her personal Facebook account, and in rabbit and goat groups. She’s gotten interest in the rabbits and expects to have them sold soon as breeding stock, but the goats have been a little more challenging. As market wethers, they can only be sold for meat or as pets, and goat meat isn’t popular in the area.
“I tried to list some of the benefits of both goat and rabbit meat, because goat meat … is one of the healthiest red meats,” she said. “You gotta learn how to put them out there, and find the right people … because some people just think they’re cute, cuddly pets, and they’re livestock.”
But she does have a backup option — if she can’t find a buyer, her family can always use the meat themselves.
Shelby Berardi, 19, of Marshall County, has already lined up a buyer for her market goat. She’s been in 4-H for 10 years, and has connections through the club and previous buyers. She started by contacting those connections and posting on some livestock sale sites. Soon, someone she knew through the club contacted her and bought her goat for meat.
“For some of the new kids, I’m sure it would have been hard to find people,” Berardi said. “This year was kind of an experiment to learn the marketing side of things.”
Berardi has raised goats for several years, usually breeding four does each year and selling the goat kids as breeding animals or market projects for other 4-H’ers.
“I have to sell animals anyway, but … for the kids that didn’t have any experience, I think it’s good to learn,” she said. “Every year, you learn how to raise the animal, but it’s good to learn how to get rid of them.”
The club members are also learning how to price their animals.
At a fair auction, a pen of three market rabbits could sell for $300-400. This year, Ullom priced her rabbits at $20 each, based partly on her experience with the other rabbits she’s raised and sold outside of the fair.
“Some people just want pets, others want breeding stock,” she said. “That’s, in my mind, a decent price. Not too much, not too little.”
It’s also a price that would still allow her to make a little bit of a profit. She followed the same idea with her goats, asking $300 for one and $250 for the other. She expects to make less than she would at the fair, since at the fair, bidders often make sure that they bring everybody’s projects up to a higher price.
But even without the fair auction, buyers are still making an effort to help club members out. Berardi said many of the people buying projects from the club paid more than the typical market value. She sold her goat for $300 to a former member who aged out of the club. When they were discussing the sale, he suggested that price, and she agreed.
“From past experience, I kind of knew what you can expect by taking them to the sale barn,” she explained.
It’s a lower than the typical $400-450 she would get at the fair sale, but still a good price.
She said the club leaders pointed members towards some auction sites to post on, if they had trouble selling their projects on their own.
“I don’t think anyone’s gonna get stuck with an animal,” Berardi said.
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