Meat goat show focuses on teaching essentials

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JACOBSBURG, Ohio – Imagine the frustration of exhibiting at a livestock show where an animal one judge calls grand champion, another places last in its class. Until now, that exact practice has been the norm in the meat goat show ring.

When the Ohio Meat Goat Association was formed in 1999, the group’s main goal was to educate youth across the state about meat goats and the growing meat goat industry.

As part of the expanded mission that now includes adult education, the association will host a show and sale March 23 at the Fairfield County Fairgrounds in Lancaster, Ohio. Licensed meat goat judge Greg Patterson will evaluate each animal breeders enter in the show. After the show, each goat will be auctioned off to 4-H and youth who will raise and exhibit them as project animals.

Too much confusion. “There is so much inconsistency in the meat goat market, and all winners aren’t even remotely close,” said Pam Borsch of the Ohio Meat Goat Association. Borsch and her husband, Mike, raise Boer goats at their Ohio Valley Farm in Belmont County.

“The poor kids are confused, their parents are confused, and I think some of the judges are confused, too,” Borsch said of the main purpose of the show and sale.

Organizers hope by educating the exhibitors and audience on what to look for in selecting a project meat goat, shows will get better at all levels across the state.

The show is free and geared for 4-H’ers and their parents as well as extension agents, FFA members and youth advisers.

Production. Ohio is one of the largest producers of Boer and other meat goats nationwide, according to Mike Borsch.

Meat goat 4-H projects “overwhelmingly outnumber” dairy goat projects across the state, according to Borsch, and have grown since the Boer breed’s introduction to Ohio in 1995.

In the 2000 project year, Ohio had 4,259 members enrolled in goat projects, including dairy, meat, and harness. The state ranks second in the United States for goat project enrollment numbers behind Texas, which has 11,591, according to Amanda Hargett, state extension associate.

“Still, with all those kids out there showing goats, there was a huge selection and placing problem,” said Pam Borsch.

Show format. For the March show, breeders will bring their best wethers for competition. The breeders and the audience will hear reasons from Patterson about what a competition meat animal should look like. The judge will hold nothing back – his goal is to help teach the youth to make better choices when selecting their meat wether project.

“Of the show goats out there, around 1 of 30 should be a breeding or show animal, and the rest should be slaughtered,” Borsch said. When Boers came to the United States from South Africa, he added, Americans didn’t know enough about the breed to make accurate breeding decisions.

He also noted the trend of breeders in the southern United States to sell their less desirable animals – only for them to be bought and shipped to this part of the country, where unknowing northerners purchased them under the false premise they were high-quality breeding animals. Those animals, Borsch said, have helped perpetuate the less desirable genetics and weakened the breed.

“It’s time to start breeding up. Breeders and show kids all need to know that the price they pay for an animal doesn’t necessarily reflect its quality,” Borsch said.

“We’re going to have breeders in the show ring, not kids, and this judge is going to let these guys know exactly where they stack up,” he said.

The show will start at 9 a.m., and all goats consigned in the show will be offered for sale at 1 p.m.

Apples and oranges. As meat goat projects increase in popularity, the need for qualified judges swells.

“We really need to get out there and teach and learn. This is a food project,” Borsch said. In the past, meat goat exhibitions were a “contest to see who could get the biggest animal,” and a large portion of shows were using dairy goat or lamb judges.

“At a steer show, the judge probably really likes steak, so he knows what he’s dealing with. With goats, not too many people, including judges, eat chevon, so they don’t know what to look for,” Borsch said.

Dairy judges tended to overemphasize overall size and conformation, and “forget we’re looking for the meat,” Borsch said. Lamb judges, while looking for meat, tended to discount the front shoulder too much.

“In goats, the front shoulder roast rivals the loin in flavor and quality, and lamb judges too often judge from the 13th rib back across the loin and rump. They’re missing what we like,” Borsch said.

Judge training.

The judging inconsistencies prompted the OMGA to also sponsor a judge training session, scheduled for April 13. There are currently only two licensed meat goat judges in Ohio – Mike Borsch, and David Carter of Lancaster – and only 30 licensed judges nationwide.

Participants in the April session will earn Ohio judging certification for shows within the state, but will not be licensed. The certification will also include an ethics rule regarding selling goats to a county where a breeder might judge.

A proposed rule would require a breeder to report project animal sales to the county’s fair board after they were asked to judge; if a breeder was asked to judge before sales were made, he should refrain from entering his own stock in the judging.

“After all, judging is 90 percent ethics and 10 percent knowledge,” Borsch said.

Yield issues. The Borsches took it upon themselves to lead the training initiative by purchasing top-placing goats across the region. The animals were video-taped both on-the-hoof and on-the-rail so comparisons could be made, including finding where weight is carried on the animals.

A goat that placed third in one show yielded 43 pounds of usable meat from a 100-pound animal; the goat that was reserve champion in the same show weighed in at 124 pounds but yielded only 22 pounds of meat, according to Borsch.

“We can’t afford this. This is a meat project, and we’ve got to focus on the meat,” Borsch said. “Judges have got to know what to look for, and where to look for it.”

Borsch also hopes the training for breeders, judges, and exhibitors will help maintain the high reputation of chevon and the market goat project.

“I don’t want to end up going down the road of other breeds, where the champions end up being inedible. My payment for all of this will be going to fairs and seeing excellent goats win shows, and others standing in their classes where they should,” Borsch said.

Consigners for the show are limited to five animals; for each doe, a wether must also be exhibited. For more information on the show and sale contact Mike Borsch at 740-671-9754 or Karen Beamer at 419-293-3672.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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