COLLEGE STATION -- The newest lean meat is probably as old as time itself, and a recent survey by Texas A&M University shows that retailers in the United States would put more into their meat cases if they had a steady supply.
Goat meat offers consumers a lowfat meat, according to Dr. Ernie Davis, agricultural economist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
"It's a very tasty item," said Davis, who helped conduct the survey of wholesale meat distributors, chain restaurants, independent restaurants, chain food stores and independent grocery stores.
These commercial retailers felt like they would be able to sell an estimated 4.8 million carcasses a year if supplied the meat.
Presently, there are about 800,000 meat goats in the United States and 700,000 of those are in Texas, according to Zane Willard of San Angelo, executive secretary of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association.
"Goat meat is the No. 1 consumed meat in the world," Willard said. It's also been consumed for centuries.
Federally-inspected plants processed 326,000 goats last year, about one-third of the total number of goats slaughtered in the nation. Most of the goat consumption in the United States is ethnic and the slaughter is done at the farm level, Davis said. Much of the traditional Texas consumption is of cabrito, a young tender goat.
The next step in promoting goat meat as the newest lean meat is a series of consumer taste panels that will be conducted soon by Texas A&M.
Also, in-store advertising, on-site cooking demonstrations and recipes and price specials in grocery stores would play an integral role in whether goat meat is widely accepted by consumers, Davis said. The main thrust of consumer acceptance would still entail working with chain restaurants, supplying them with recipes.
"We want to ensure that the goat-eating experience is very satisfactory to people. It wouldn't be something they would just take home and cook because it is low in fat. If it was cooked wrong, it wouldn't be a good experience for them."
Norman Kohls, a meat goat producer from Eldorado, thinks there is a future in that business.
"Everything you do in terms of marketing is supply and demand." Kohls said. "We don't meet demand here in the United States. If we can raise them, there is a market somewhere for them. And I think this thing is growing so fast it is the wave of the future."
There are many people who are either raising or poised to raise meat goats, Davis said.
"It's not a problem at all getting people interested in raising goats," he explained. "We've got a lot of goat producers out there right now. The problem is trying to coordinate those efforts where they're raising the right type of breed."
Goats are the oldest domesticated animal in the world, except for dogs. Every breed of goat -- even dairy -- has been used as a meat goat at one time or another.
Davis said the most common meat breed -- the Spanish goat -- is so active and playful that it would be hard to raise it to the 100- to 110-pound live weight that would be needed for the market.
"I think the problem is being able to increase the size to 110 pounds at one year of age and be able to furnish a plumper, fuller carcass to the industry. If you're going to case-ready cuts, you're going to have to furnish a larger, leaner cut."
One way to do this is to crossbreed goats, he said. Among those crosses being investigated are the crossing of traditional meat breeds with the large South African Boer goat.
Meat goats could be a lucrative option for West Texas sheep and goat producers who have lost governmental incentives, according to Dr. Frank Craddock, Extension sheep and goat specialist.
Additionally, Craddock feels goats may be a good option for East Texas landowners. Since goats are small animals, they can easily be raised on a little piece of land -- it takes only one to three acres for each goat, he said.
However, there are several considerations would-be producers need to keep in mind.
"Goats are a very active animal and they like to travel and go through fences. They can find holes that most animals can't. Producers have to have good fencing."
Additionally, internal and external parasites and predators such as coyotes and wild dogs could be a problem, especially in the eastern part of the state, he said.