Written By Janice Spaulding , www.GoatSchool.com
My husband and I just returned from a whirl-wind Goat School® tour that took us from our home base in Saint Albans Maine all the way across Canada to Taylor British Columbia (approximately 30 kilometers north of Dawson Creek) then back to the United States for a weekend Goat School® in Hillsboro Ohio. The entire trip took 21 days and encompassed just under 8000 miles in our 2006 GMC.
For those who have attended Goat School® here at our Maine farm you know that our primary focus is on raising and breeding top quality disease, resistant animals, that will not only be easy keepers but also productive and profitable additions to any farm operation. At the special request of our British Columbia sponsors we changed our usual format and spent the entire first day on explaining the “why and wherefores” of the goat industry in 2013. The presentation was so well received in Canada that we incorporated it into the Hillsboro Ohio event as well. (First time Ken ever got a standing ovation for a presentation). While the information focused mainly on what is happening in Canada there are also implications as to what is taking place in the United States. Here is some of what we discussed:
There has been a longstanding joke in the goat business, “ How do you make a million dollars selling goats?” simple answer “ you start off with 2 million dollars!”
At first glance this might seem to be an off the shoulder remark but there is a certain amount of truth to it. In a real way it takes money to make money. It is very rare for someone to fall into a money making, get rich quick scheme. Most always it involves lots of blood, sweat and tears. That's where the 2 million dollars comes in. You must do your due diligence; you must determine your goals, you must (within reason) come up with a business plan. Business plans are not carved in stone they must have a real basis but must also be flexible enough to change as your situation changes. You must do your homework and you must research as fully as possible the market you plan to serve. It does you no good to spend all your time investigating the goat markets in Arizona if your operation is going to be located in Maryland.
The situation in British Columbia is ideal for an expanded goat presence. The infrastructure is already in place, due to a thriving beef cattle industry. So it is a simple matter of identifying potential markets and adding goats, in proper numbers, to the existing herds.
Why are goats and more importantly goat meat (Chevon) becoming so popular in both the United States and Canada. The answer is, changes in immigration policies in both countries.
Legal immigrants in the United States are at the highest number ever at 37,000,000. Since the year 2000 the number of immigrants to the US has averaged 1,000,000 per year. In 2006 the percentage of the US population consisting of foreign born was at 12.5% and the Canadian rate was 19.8%.
Who are these immigrants? They are described statistically as the “visible minority” and defined by the Employment Equity Act as “ persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in color.” The visible minority consists mainly of the following groups: Chinese, South Asian, Black, Arab, West Asian, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Latin American, Japanese, and Korean. While this may be a somewhat complex definition, for our purposes and in no way meant to be offensive, these are people whose primary dietary protein is goat meat.
One important fact to note is that the newer immigrants, unlike their predecessors, do not look upon the idea of assimilating into the culture of their new country. They no longer come to Canada to become Canadians or to the US to become Americans. They bring their religion and cultures along with them and are looking at the freedom to be who they are and not who someone wants them to be. For someone in the business of raising meat goats this is the perfect scenario! These folks are your potential and existing customers. Religious belief and cultural traditions are a fundamental and unchanging part of the daily lives of this visible minority.
What drives this desire for goat meat and why can't the new immigrants simply adjust their eating habits to a “beefier” diet?
Dietary preferences are part of our being and at the very core of our existence. Prior to the 1990's the majority of immigrants to the US and Canada were of European descent. Stop and ponder this; Europe, much like the Northern US and especially Canada, is a relatively cold climate. We have ice; and what does ice give us? Ice gives us the ability to preserve and keep large pieces of protein; beef! We can process a 1200 pound beef critter and preserve it for long periods of time. We have adjusted our diets accordingly. People defined as the “visible minority” typically come from fairly warm climates; that means no ice, no refrigeration, perhaps no electricity and no ability to preserve large portions of protein. It is for that primary reason goats have for millennium been the main protein source.
Now that we've identified our market how do we go about tapping into it you ask? Here are a few thoughts: Raising goats involves a great deal of common sense and surprisingly when it comes to livestock many folks particularly city dwellers don't have it. To successfully raise goats you need to develop a “gut instinct”. You need to pay attention to how they move, eat, rest, get from location to location and watch what they don't eat. You need to learn to think like a goat. If it's easy or cheap it's probably not going to work with goats. When you decide to become a goat herder you can forget about having days off. There are no holidays, sick days or paid vacations. Raising goats becomes your life and your lifestyle. Goats can not be successfully raised by an absentee landlord. While it may be possible to raise goats “just for the money” it likely will not be an enjoyable experience for you and probably not for the goats either.
Choose your mentors carefully. Don't blindly do what your friends or neighbors are doing. You must educate yourself with the best information possible. Don't get advice from someone raising show goats if you're not raising show goats. They may be experts in the “show ring” but have an entirely different regimen on diet and nutrition than what you need to keep commercial meat goats thriving and healthy.
You are not going to make much if any money for several years because of start-up costs like buying land, fencing and of course, goats. This is true in any business. If you don't have enough money to survive for up to three years without taking money out of the business you are not likely to be successful. There are no “quick fixes” in the goat business. The problems you may encounter are usually not a result of the particular breed of goat but rather your particular management style. Where you are located does make a difference. If your pastures can not support 100 goats you can not raise 100 goats. With proper management, land, facilities and nutrition you can raise any breed of goat to a healthy marketability.
If you are interested in learning more about owning and caring for goats visit our website www.goatschool.com!