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Goats are ruminants and basically browsers, meaning they eat weeds, leaves and twigs but can flourish on many grasses and today many goats are raised on pasture.  Myth has it that they eat anything and, although certainly greedy little eaters, they're actually quite picky about their food.  They do mouth things to learn more about them and to see if they might be good to eat which is one of the reasons for the myth.  The greatest fallacy about goats eating habits is that they eat tin cans.  This is definitely not true.  They do like some of the paste which was used to glue labels on the cans and have been known to try to make a snack out of it by chewing the labels off to get to the paste.  

Although goats are famous for denuding the land, they only do this when there are more goats contained on a parcel of land than that land will support.  Goats will typically eat very little in one location and move through an area tasting only the most delectable goodies.  If they are contained within a defined perimeter, they will make several passes through the area, eating only the tastiest available plants each time until there is nothing left.  Goats today are used in third world countries as livestock that is hardy and adaptable, able to survive where cattle and sheep would have greater problems.  

Domesticated goats in the U.S. are both raised on pasture and in confinement.  Roughage, browse, hay or a hay substitute is a virtual necessity for ruminants and there are blends of feed for both dairy and meat goats available. Unfortunately, since goats do not lend themselves well to large scale agribusiness as do cattle, hogs and chickens, goat specific feeds, minerals, and medications are not universally available in the U.S.

Goats have been bred over the centuries into specialized breeds for specific purposes, generally divided into milk goats, fiber goats and meat goats.  Pygmy and Dwarf goats have become popular as pets and in some cases used for any of the three purposes.

Some of the more common (although by no means a complete listing) milk breeds are Saanen, Toggenburg, Alpine, La Mancha, and Nubian.  Goat milk is highly nutritious and healthier for humans than cows' milk because it is easier to digest.  As a personal note, we believe it tastes considerably better too and we raised our children on it in the '70s.

Fiber goats include Angora and Cashmere.  Although the Angora goat is a definite breed, Cashmere goats can be any breed that have the Cashmere hair and those who raise goats for cashmere do selectively breed for that trait.  

Meat goats include Spanish goats.  These are a non-specific breed covering a variety of characteristics from small goats used extensively for clearing rough land to large bodied goats used for meat production. These goats are thought to have come from Spanish imports during the time of conquest in the Western Hemisphere and there is no registry for Spanish goats. In fact, however, Spanish goats, although originating with the imports of the Conquistador era, have come to include any goat whose provenance is unknown and cannot be easily identified.  At this time, there are some breeders, most notably Jim Willingham in Texas, who have made a concerted and relatively successful effort to breed Spanish goats suitable for commercial meat production.

These were some of the Spanish does that we had.  We had no Spanish bucks. They were too slightly built for us to consider keeping.  These are not special goats but "Spanish does out of Texas".  We paid about $55 apiece for them.  Compare them to the Kiko and Boer does shown below.

Myotonic or, more popularly, Fainting goats are an American breed of indeterminate origin first seen in Tennessee. There is no central registry for them but there do seem to be several places you can register them. Although they are a meat breed, at this time they seem to be more a hobby breed rather than one used for serious meat production regardless of at least one effort to move them into the mainstream.


These are registered Kiko does purchased from two different reputable breeders on the strength of their reputations.  We  paid $700 for the white doe and $500 for the brown one.  We were finally able to sell them at about half of what we paid because we let people see them before buying.

Kiko goats were developed in New Zealand in the mid to late 20th century and imported into the U.S.  They are touted to be extremely hardy and are used for meat production. Their official registry is the American Kiko Goat Association.


The first picture is a Kiko buck that was imported from New Zealand and was too wild for the owners. They claimed to have paid $1000 for him.  We bought the goat for a $250 trade.  The second picture was our next attempt at getting a good Kiko buck.  He was bought from a reputable breeder and was very impressive from the front.  Notice the lack of buttocks and rear leg muscle which seems characteristic of Kikos.  Compare these bucks to our current Boer bucks, Sweetie and Lance, shown below and it becomes obvious why we selected Boer goats as our breed.

Boer goats are South African goats that were developed to provide meat to the workers on the large South African farms.  Boer Goats were virtually unknown in the United States because of the embargo on South Africa during Apartheid.  A few embryos were smuggled out of South Africa to New Zealand and some of those offspring made their way to the U.S. by the early 1990s but it wasn't until the end of Apartheid later in the 1990s that Boer goats virtually exploded into the U.S. meat production scene.  We believe that the Boer goat is the ultimate meat goat.  We selected the Boer for our farm after experimenting with Spanish and Kiko goats.  We have seen myotonic goats at a neighboring farm and on the net and did not choose to explore them beyond that experience.

Picture one is a Fullblood Boer doe who kidded  two days before the picture was taken.  Picture two is a young fullblood Boer doe about 8 months old.

The Boer breed is still finding its place in American agriculture.  Some detractors claim the Boer goat is like a "hothouse flower" and must be pampered to even survive.  There seems to be no doubt that some Boers, mainly show goats,  are indeed raised in close confinement and not even allowed on pasture.  Others, most notably Marvin Shurley, President of the American Meat Goat Association, understand that Boers are first and foremost goats, and will do well when treated like goats.  He runs several hundred head of fullblood Boers without supplemental feed on hundreds of acres of rangeland in South Texas.  Most breeders fall somewhere between these extremes.  We have housing, mainly shed type with an open side, for our goats but they survived nicely during the four years we were putting the shelters together.  Since we live on forty acres of woods, we do feed supplemental commercial feed to the goats because there is not enough forage to sustain them.  Our goats do, however, live in rough country pens and do well.

Unfortunately the American penchant for individualism has been carried to extremes on the registry side of the Boer breed and there are three separate registries in competition instead of working together and none seem too interested in promoting the Boer as America's Meat Goat or indeed to present the American public with a tasty alternative to more commonly accepted meats. We belong to the American Boer Goat Association and also to the American Meat Goat Association, a group working to promote goat meat of any breed. 

As more and more people emmigrate to the U.S. from places in the world where people have goat meat as a staple in their diet, the demand for goat meat in the U.S. keeps rising.  At this time, New Zealand and Australia export more goat meat to the U.S. than we produce here.  A random check of figures indicate from about 150 to 350 metric tons of goat meat a week is imported into this country.  Most of the demand is in the centers of population that contain the highest percentage of immigrants as goat meat has not been widely accepted by the Euro-centric population of the U.S. nor is it widely available in the large generic grocery stores.  This situation may or may not change in the near future but, in the meantime, not only are there large auction centers for slaughter meat goats but since there is little availability in the general grocery stores, off-the-farm sales do quite well in many areas.  This situation also leaves a huge area for the market to grow commercially and since goats do not lend themselves to industrial growing methods, the future of small goat farmers seems bright.


Dan & Paula Lane
Copyright 2002 [Bountiful Farm]. All rights reserved.

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