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By: "Frank Pinkerton"
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As a goat extension specialist in Texas and Oklahoma for 15 years preceding my recent retirement, I have watched with much interest and occasional alarm as owners and prospective owners buy replacement and foundation goats. I have seen good deals and bad deals and some deals not easily categorized. I know any number of sellers who wouldn't think of cheating their neighbors but who don't mind cutting a painfully sharp deal on goat buyers from adjacent counties. And, they positively delight in taking pecuniary advantage of the ignorance and inexperience of novice buyers from out-of-state. Contrarily, I have seen some goat owners treat all buyers "right", selling a decent set of animals, exactly as represented, and at equitable prices.

Goat transactions are little if any different from cattle sales; i.e., buyers usually complain only well after the fact and are typically more exercised over presumed or real animal deficiencies than over prices paid. In point of fact, there is no correct and reasonable price for goats. The price of a goat is whatever two parties agree to, then and there; nothing else counts. Those thinking otherwise are both gullible and vulnerable; accordingly, they are certain to suffer the consequences of their shortcomings, usually sooner than later.

To help you manage the stress certain to be associated with your purchase of goats and to head off allegations of mental impairment and, not least, to reduce unchristian thoughts, words, and possibly even regrettable deeds, I offer the following observations, but no guarantees. Neither your banker nor your minister can do more for you. So...caveat emptor, friend, and it just so happens I do have a few good goats for sale, myself -- priced very reasonably, too, if I may say so.

WHY are you buying goats?
First, be clear as to why you are looking for goats. Are you intending only to hobby, i.e., want goats for recreational purposes or need goats to keep your children off the street or provide your underemployed spouse yet another meaningful relationship? Or, are you a profit-seeker and prospective player in the nation's next big marketing bonanza?

I've known only a few dairy goat owners to turn an actual profit, but quite a number of Angora owners admit to making a decent return. With the recent serial demise of the Wool and Mohair Act incentive (subsidy) payments, their number will surely decline until supply and demand comes to a new and profitable equilibrium.

On the other hand, commercial scale meat goat production seems a rather promising endeavor--at least under currently discernible circumstances. In the recent past, prices for slaughter goats have shown a sustained rise--so much so that meat goats are now perceived as a viable enterprise per se, not just as an adjunct to brush clearing or to be use on land thought too miserable for mohair or sheep production. Goats can, of course, be used for both pasture improvement and kid production--such a combination enterprise is described in a later chapter.

Some of you may wish to engage in production of meat goat breeding stock. The prices you hear about (but can seldom confirm) are currently quite attractive. So much so that they are attracting abnormal interest within the industry. This is especially true for the newly arrived exotic Boer goat, but also for other and less costly breed types. Opportunities for you to gain new knowledge and to simultaneously encounter considerable financial pain are greater than you might imagine. One should proceed very cautiously indeed. Relatively deep pockets are required to get in; an understanding and well-employed spouse is required to stay in. To turn a profit might well require divine intervention, should you buy in at overly inflated prices.

Now, having decided WHY you want to buy goats, it's time to focus on what sort of animals are right for you (and your spouse--this is no time for unilateral decisions; the average marriage is just not strong enough to withstand a goat controversy).

WHAT sort of goat do you buy?
Assuming you are aiming for profitable commercial meat goat production, I suggest you purchase 50-100 Spanish does (nannies) and one buck (billy) per 25 females to start with (and learn on). Note: Spanish goats are also called by other names; "brush, hill, briar, woods, scrub". Note, too, that great variations exist in productive, reproductive, and carcass traits within and between such herds, regardless of name or provenance or color or other extraneous physical appearances. While such genetic variation lends itself to fairly rapid progress through intensive selection over the long-run, it also lends itself to going rapidly broke in the short run--if you happen to draw a uniform set of underachievers.

The half million or so Spanish goats are your only realistic source of seed stock. Theoretically, there are alternatives--Tennessee Woodenlegs, meat-type Nubians and/or their crosses and, eventually, Boer and Boer crosses. However, inadequate numbers and high prices (relative to meat kid prices) preclude any but small, localized purchases of these animals, for now anyway.

The Spanish females you select should range in age from, say 10 to 36 months, have apparently sound udders and small, well-shaped teats, be of adequate size/age and in good condition and be free of deformities. Pay little attention to color, but do look for a "healthy" hair coat and tolerate only minor blemishes. Unfortunately, assessing desirability of a particular goat is somewhat akin to evaluating pornography--it's relatively easy to recognize but it's pure hell to describe.

Unless you are previously experienced or have a semi-death wish, I cannot recommend you buy a start of only "virgin" kids, not even those of "known breeding" age (9-14 months). Some may be prematurely pregnant, some may have blind quarters and dysfunctional teats in the making; some will be late breeders and some will never breed, and most will produce only single kids. When you buy a 2 tooth yearling or a 4 or 6 tooth doe with a well developed udder, at least you know she has kidded. You don't know, of course, whether she was a regular breeder, a good milker, or a good mother. You learn that only after you have owned her for a while. Education in goat management can sometimes be costly; it is always instructive, with the slowest learners going broke the quickest.

WHEN should you buy goats?
The crucial consideration is, are you ready, really ready to receive this load? Are your pens, chutes, and fences goat proof? Is your predator controller in place? Is your grazing adequate and, if not, do you have supplemental feed on hand? Do you have dewormers, pinkeye, and other medicines in your cabinet, or a veterinarian on standby who has some minimum goat competency or who is willing to learn (at your expense, of course)? Have you alerted your neighbors to the imminent arrival of goats at their boundaries and allayed their fears of transmissible diseases, fence-crawling, overgrazing, water pollution, excessive noise, exotic odors, and overt sex? If so, you are indeed ready; if not, life will be less than it could be.

Other considerations are also germane, e.g., most Texas and other Spanish does experiencing decreasing daylight hours in the presence of macho bucks, sufficient feed, and reasonably free of worms will kid in mid-winter with a second, smaller wave in late spring. This biological pattern dictates your choice concerning age of available goats and also their probable reproductive status. Moreover, your own game plan for breeding/kidding schedules must be considered in deciding optimum time of purchase.

WHERE do you buy goats?
The leading states in meat goat numbers are Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Mississippi with Texas having 10 times as many as Tennessee. Prospective buyers in the Carolinas and Virginia could, with diligent effort, probably find small numbers of acceptable stock within a 200 mile radius of home. For larger purchases, particularly of lots or more uniform age, condition, and "quality", it would likely be necessary to go further afield.

With some 350,000 meat goats on over 3,000 farms and ranches, Texas is an obvious source of seed stock. Most are located in the 22 county Hill Country west of IS 35 and mostly north of IS 10. Junction, 90 miles northwest of San Antonio, is home to the world's largest goat auction. Texas A&M University county extension personnel are located at Junction, Kerrville, Rock Springs, Del Rio, Brady, Llano, San Saba, Goldthwaite, Brownwood, Uvalde, Bandera, Blanco, Eldorado, and San Angelo; all know goat producers.

For leads on producer whereabouts in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, you could contact extension specialists at Ft. Valley, Tuskegee, and FAMU-Tallahassee, respectively. For North Carolina information, contact Dr. Jim Green, North Carolina State University or the State Department of Agriculture-Raleigh. In Virginia, contact Dr. Terry Gipson, VSU-Petersburg or Mr. William Drinkwater, State Department of Agriculture-Richmond. For South Carolina contact Dr. Bruce Pinkerton at Clemson University and for Tennessee contact UT-Knoxville, Department of Animal Science. None of these sources will have a complete listing of meat goat owners, but they can direct your initial inquiries. However, they cannot, by law, recommend owner A over owner B. On the other hand, retired extension specialists such as Lynn Harwell at Clemson, SC, Jack Groff at Kerrville, TX, Bob Herr at Narvon, PA, and myself at Grapeland, TX can do so; but be extra careful--we all own goats and have many goat-owning friends.

WHO do you buy goats from?
This is a question even more difficult than: What is a fair price? Goats may be purchased from public (occasionally private) auctions, or from traders and brokers (aka order buyers) and from ranchers and farmers. Buying directly from goat owners has, over the years, proven to be the least painful for most purchasers. Livestock owners know from first-hand, sometimes evil experience, that auctions are places to sell, not to buy. The probability of getting decent quality, healthy goats at auction is not great; similarly with many traders, unfortunately. One can occasionally get good farm-fresh goats from a particular trader.

My first choice is to go to ranchers from whom I have bought goats previously or, secondly, to go to ranchers of reputable standing in the industry, or, thirdly, use an order buyer of good repute. In any case, I normally select my own purchases on-site from an excess of offerings. This way I can cull those that don't suit me. I'm certain I don't always select correctly, but that way I have no one to blame except myself. For those of you lacking in goat buying experience, I strongly urge you to obtain an advisor, by whatever name: consultant, order buyer, a successful goat producer, etc.

It is, of course, possible that you could drive to Texas or wherever, locate a decent set of goats at an equitable price. It is not, however, very probable--i.e., the odds are distinctly not in your favor. You simply cannot logically expect that most sellers of goats would have your interest foremost in their mind during the negotiations. Goat owners are not more (nor less) notable for their charitable treatment of unsuspecting buyers than other livestock owners. Indeed, their tendencies toward eleemosynary endeavors in general are strongly resisted, except perhaps at Christmas or on the Sabbath. (Even then, the IRS is extremely suspicious that the reported deductions exceed actual contributions by an astonishing multiple). So...cuidado hombre and vaya con Dios (be careful man, and go with God, whom you may come to sorely need as also a sympathetic and patient banker, should you elect to sally forth without benefit of worldly counsel).

And, a final word about goat pricing, which in a perfect world would be closely related to the average prices to be realized from sale of off-spring; such is frequently not the case, unfortunately. But as a rough estimate, if you expect to average 1.5 kids sold/doe/yr from single annual kiddings and expect to sell them for, say $40/hd, I suggest you could pay $70-80/hd (plus hauling) for average or better open, 2-3 yr old commercial does. Doelings 6-10 months old would be "reasonable" at $60 or so plus hauling. Does of lesser quality shouldn't be bought, but if they are, a $5-10/hd premium over slaughter price is all you could possibly justify.

High quality, young foundation does are usually a fair buy if they are priced at 2-2.5 times the price of a good 40 lb slaughter kid--say $80-120 at the point of purchase. Bucks of poor quality are never cheap at any price, but paying more than 5-6 times the price of a good 40 lb kid could be hazardous to your economic health. Be reminded that slaughter bucks typically bring only $90-120 at 100-150 lbs.

Purchase prices for purebred dairy stock or Tennessee Woodenlegs or other exotic goats are even less related to prevailing prices for market meat goats; you should proceed very carefully. The imminent arrival of purebred Boer and Boer crosses should be viewed with interest and with extreme caution. They may well revolutionize the industry, but neither you nor I or anyone else now knows their precise effects on market acceptance, on production and productivity, and on investment returns. Currently, Boer goats are not a game for the faint of heart or for those who can't afford to lose some, or a lot, of green. I myself am gambling some life savings and my son's inheritance, and, worse yet, my wife's go-to-hell money--we all still speak civilly, but an early and high dollar sale of a Boer kid or two would do much to ensure long-term communication and sustained rapport.

HOW do you get your goats home?
Loading goats, particularly from rather rustic facilities, can be more thrilling than you might like; strong language, stout backs, and perseverance are usually required. Contrarily, hauling goats is not a particular problem if your unit will hold convicts or water. More precisely, side boards need to be not less than 54" high on open trailers and pickups. Concerning floor spacings, we have successfully used 1.5 square feet/goat for 50-60 pounders, 1.75 square feet for 70-80 lb and 2.0 square feet for larger goats. Commercial haulers commonly pack them tighter, saying that they haul better this way. It also reduces cost per goat, but only if the goat is alive and in reasonable shape upon arrival; this may not happen.

Hauling costs vary widely depending on distance, truck/trailer size, who is driving, etc. Commercial "pots" can move 400-600 goats at about $1.80/loaded mile; double-deck gooseneck rigs (150-200 hd) may be had for $1.20 or so. If you drive your own pickup and 16-24 ft trailer, you can operate the rig for about $0.35-$0.45/mile (actual trip expenses will be less, of course, can't ignore depreciation, repairs, etc. for long).

How far or long can you haul a goat without off-loading? Slaughter goats are frequently hauled from Junction, TX to PA, NJ, CA, FL, and lately, NC "non-stop". Truckers may average 50 miles/hr elapsed time, say, 36-40 hrs TX/NY area. The stress on such goats is fierce and arrival condition is ordinarily quite poor. More often than not, most were not properly handled prior to loading.

You can reduce hauling stress on your keeper goats by reducing floor density, by watering and feeding the goats 2-3 hours before loading, by driving carefully, and by staying on freeways in so far as possible. If you are taking more than 24 hours, an 8 hr rest stop would be beneficial; it might or might not be physically possible or economically feasible. Lengthy rest stops without off-loading are negative.

In any case, when you get the goats home, put them in a sheltered pen, 8-10 square feet/hd or more, with access to water and hay, but no grain. Observe closely for the next few days; isolate any suspicious animals at once. Note that it may take 7-10 days for respiratory ailments to show up. I don't believe antibiotic injections before loading or post-arrival will help the goat; it might however, make you feel some better, particularly, if one or two die anyway. Sometimes hauled goats show scours on or after arrival. This is more frequently stress a reaction than a bug problem--clean water, good hay, and time will see a return to proper goat pills in due course. On the other hand, a vet is sometimes needed--and seemingly always needy, in my experience.

Decide WHY, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHO, and HOW. Gather your money and just do it. Once you've made and lost some money on meat goats, you can bill yourself as an expert and advise others on their prospects and shortcomings. I ruefully admit to having consistently made a good deal more money taking about goats than owning them. But, if you can net $30-35 per nanny per year you are, in fact, qualified to talk as loud as you like.

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