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Farmers Are Getting More Goats (article)

Amber Waves Pygmy Goats Colostrum

Posted by GoatWorld on June 05, 2002 at 18:07:09:

This is kind of ironic because just last week, I got a call early in the morning from the Governors office of the State of Kentucky - they were interested in doing an RMP (request for management proposal) on the feasibility of goats as an alternative farm commodity to replace tobacco. Why they called me kind of baffles me - I guess they think I'm a top scholar on goats or something... I tried to help them however I could and gave them my opinions and references. Here's the article:

Farmers are getting more goats

Immigrant tastes spur trend as tobacco profits wither

By Queena Sook Kim

LEITCHFIELD, Ky., June 4 — Jo Escue and her husband, Nolan, have grown tobacco most of their lives. But with demand declining and costs rising in the tobacco patch, the Escues instead are doing what few self-respecting farmers in these parts have done before: They are raising goats.

AND, AS AN ADDED BONUS, the Escues are finding a ready-made market for their meat right in their own backyard.
Some small farmers are raising goats as a way to make extra money and feed U.S. demand.

Once stigmatized as feral, stinky animals kept by poor hillbillies, meat goats are all the rage here in central Kentucky. In fact, they are suddenly among the fastest growing U.S. agricultural product categories nationally. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t keep figures on how many people are raising meat goats, state agencies from New York to Texas are pushing goat breeding as a way to revive the fortunes of troubled small farmers.

It’s not the first time the farm patch has wagered on “exotics.” In the mid-1990s, dreams of ostrich and emu meat selling alongside beef at grocery stores created a big-bird investment boom; but both products were duds. This time, though, there’s a built-in market: immigrants across the nation hungry for the other red meat. And, it’s by selling to that market, that the Escues have learned a thing or two about the cultures of their immigrant neighbors.
Jamaican migrants favor the tough meat of big, older goats for curry. Arabs prefer lean, male kids for shish kabobs. And northern Mexicans splay kids on a crossed spit over a fire before tearing up the meat for tacos. Fueled by immigrant appetites, vibrant live-goat markets are cropping up in such urban locales as Ozone Park, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens.

“That’s the beauty of this,” said Robert Melchior, a marketing coordinator with the sheep-and-goat marketing program at Cornell University. “You have farmers raising goat to meet the demand of domestic consumers. With ostriches, there was never a consumer market, it was investor driven.”

Indeed, the amount of goat meat imported into the U.S. has more than quadrupled during the past decade, to 12.6 million in 2001 from three million pounds in 1990, according to the agriculture department’s Foreign Agricultural Service. During the same period, the goat-slaughter rate at USDA-inspected facilities had more than doubled to nearly 560,000 goats annually. The actual number of goats being killed for meat in the U.S. probably is far higher as the figure doesn’t include kills at farms and state-inspected facilities.

The move into goats has brought some Kentucky farmers into contact with a new world only a few miles from their hometown. On a recent Friday, Gil Meyer sold nine goats to members of the Islamic Center in nearby Elizabethtown and delivered the animals to a local slaughterhouse the following Monday. There, a leader of a mosque said a prayer over each animal before slitting its jugular. “They’re not all nuts and terrorists,” Mr. Meyer says of Muslims. “They have a rich cultural tradition.”

Kentucky has been particularly aggressive about pushing goats as a farm alternative. Last year, the state began awarding farmers matching grants of as much as $4,500 to buy goats and the equipment to raise them. Kentucky has more family farms than any other state east of the Mississippi River and traditionally, 85% of them produced tobacco, said Dr. Marion Simon, an agricultural economist at Kentucky State University in Frankfort.

But the amount of tobacco farmers are permitted to grow, under a federally subsidized program, has been cut in half over the past five years, and the tobacco crop is shriveling away. Nowadays, about 60% of Kentucky farmers take second jobs off the farm to make ends meet. So, Kentucky is using $110 million of its settlement money from the states’ class-action lawsuit against cigarette makers to fund diversification projects such as the goat grants to keep smaller properties alive.

Nobody is saying goats will generate the profit that golden leaf did in its heyday. Then, farmers made such handsome profit on their crop they commonly arranged to pay their mortgages once a year, just after the annual tobacco sale. But the Escues believe that when their operation hits full speed in 2004, they could earn about $6,000 annually from the goats on their 25-acre farm. That’s not a huge amount, but it can make a crucial difference in a state where the average farm generates between $25,000 and $50,000 in annual revenue.

It takes about $4,000 to get into goats, about a third the cost of starting up a cattle operation. Goats, smaller than steer, are easily housed in old tobacco barns. On the East Coast, goats are fetching more than $1 a pound at wholesale auction while prime beef is bringing in about 70 cents a pound.

Farmers say transport eventually will be a problem as they widen their markets to cities such as New York and Atlanta, which have fast-growing immigrant populations. For now, they say, local markets are vibrant enough to support their cottage goat industry.

In Elizabethtown, for example, farmers recently discovered an untapped market: the 55 immigrant families, many of whom eat goat, who worship at the city’s 15-year-old Islamic Center.

Though many of the center’s members are medical doctors, from such regions as the Middle East or South Asia, who have been there for decades, farmers knew little about them, said goat farmer James H. Ragland, whose family has been in Larue County for six generations. “The doctors are recognized for their good care but seen as being rather exclusive,” said Mr. Ragland, 62. “You seldom see them at the Wal-Mart or Cracker Barrel” restaurant.

Many farmers didn’t fully understand the restrictions of Islamic dietary laws, or Halal. Pork, which is popular in the South, is strictly prohibited and Muslims aren’t allowed to eat foods that have come in contact with it. Also, the law requires that the name of God, or Allah, be invoked over an animal before it is slaughtered by knife for consumption.

Though the farmers knew some of the Muslims ate goat, they felt awkward about approaching the members of the center. That changed in December, when Ople Duke invited Dr. Ghazi H. Qaisi to speak at the Twin Lakes Meat Goat Association’s monthly meeting. Mrs. Duke is Dr. Qaisi’s office manager and also raises goats.

Dr. Qaisi told the 50 farmers gathered in an auditorium about Eid Al-Adha, a Muslim holiday celebrated in February. Dr. Qaisi explained that the holiday celebrated a story from scripture, in which Allah tested Abraham’s obedience by asking him to sacrifice his son. As Abraham is about to obey, Allah intercedes and tells him he can kill a lamb instead.

Mr. Escue said until that meeting he hadn’t met a Muslim and didn’t know they shared many Biblical stories with Christians. More surprising was when Dr. Qaisi told them the Muslim families in Elizabethtown eat up to three goats a month. A goat yields about 30 pounds of meat.
“We couldn’t have even fathomed that there was such a demand,” said Mr. Escue, who also learned there were more than 600 Muslim families in Louisville and about 6,000 Bosnians, also largely Muslim, in nearby Bowling Green. “It was unreal.” Not too unreal, though. In February, for Eid Al-Adha, the Escues and their group made their first big sale of 36 goats.

Copyright © 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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