The US Meat Goat Industry

By Mr. Marvin Shurley
President, American Meat Goat Association
Sonora, Texas


Dr. Frank Craddock
Extension Sheep and Goat Specialist
Texas Cooperative Extension, San Angelo, Texas

As presented at The Gathering of Goat Producers IV, Seguin, TX

In today’s agricultural industry there are more farmers and ranchers each year walking up to the looking glass (mirror) and wondering why they are still trying to make a go of it. Then there are those who have taken another step forward and gone through the glass and down the rabbit hole much like Alice in the Lewis Carroll novel, Alice in Wonderland. The great part of this is that the hole, representing the goat industry, they have just stepped into goes up instead of down.

The downside is they are going to encounter upon their entry into the goat industry as wide a variety of characters as did Alice during her journey. During their journey through their "rabbit hole" goat producers need not fear, as the goat industry is the one segment of American Agriculture which has proven it’s viability through consistently higher live goat process each year despite the increasing number of imports and increased domestic production.

As a young developing industry though, we still have a way to go before we reach the point to where the goat industry gains its due respect. The fact is that as an industry we get about as much respect as did Rodney Dangerfield. This leaves many new producers wondering as to why they took that initial step. They even many times may well think, "Why even try, it’s impossible to gain the attention and respect we are due?" Especially in light of the fact that it often seems we face impassible or, if you will, impossible hurdles to overcome.

It is at this time we need to look at a quote from Lewis Carroll’s novel, since as an industry, we are but a child, much as was Alice in the novel mentioned. During a low point in her journey Alice ran into the Queen of Hearts, just one of the many characters she encountered on her trip down the rabbit hole. During their conversation, Alice commented, "There is no use in trying, one can’t believe impossible things." The queen replied, "I dare say you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

This is the mind-set we as an industry have to adopt. We have to believe that impossible things are possible, then make them happen. Since you are here today we know you believe the possible, that you can make money raising goats. This leaves us with only the things some here may think are not possible, i.e., improved goat handling related products, acceptance and wider availability of goat meat in the grocery stores, approval of more pharmaceuticals for use in goats, greater bureaucratic acceptance of the goat industry as a REAL agricultural enterprise instead of a novelty, a continued strong market despite increasing numbers of imported goat meat, and then there is the biggest challenge we all face, building a goat proof fence!

If your goats do get away don’t feel alone as goats which escaped from the Spanish explorers in the 1500’s is where the U. S. goat industry got its start. While isolated populations were scattered across the entire Southern U. S., Texas is where they thrived due to a dry climate and more suitable forage species. This led to a large population of feral goats in Texas which became commonly known as the Spanish goat. Prior to 1992, there was no organized effort to promote meat type goats, and yet the 2002 USDA census reported 591,000 head.

In the mid-1800’s Angora goats were imported into the U.S. from Turkey. Angoras did not do well in many states, but they did thrive in Texas, primarily in the 33 county area known as the Edwards Plateau where there were sufficient grasses and browse species to sustain them. In 1992 there were approximately 1.8 million Angoras in the U. S. out of a total population of 2.5 million goats. There were approximately 125,000 dairy goats in the U. S. in 2002.

Since 1992 several major events have occurred that have changed the focus of the U.S. goat industry. In 1992 the American Meat Goat Association (AMGA) was founded. This was the first organized effort to promote meat type goats and is a non-breed specific organization. In 1993 the Boer goat was introduced into the U.S. At the annual meeting of the AMGA in 1993, a group of producers met and established the American Boer Goat Association (ABGA). As often happens, two other Boer goat associations, the International Boer Goat Association and the U.S. Boer Goat Association, were later formed.

Another major event which impacted the goat industry was when the Wool Act of 1954 was repealed in 1993 and resulted in the loss of the wool and mohair incentive program by 1995. Angora goat numbers had decreased to approximately 300,000 head by 2002 while meat goat numbers had risen to 1.94 million head.

From 1987 to 2002, Angora goat numbers had declined by 82% while meat-type, dairy and total goats had increased by 362%, 123%, and 12%, respectively. Similarly, the number of Angora goat farms had declined by 5%, while meat-type, dairy, and total farm numbers had increased by 155%, 45%, and 104%, respectively. According to the 2002 Agricultural Census, both total goat numbers and number of farms had reached an all time high of 2,530,466 goats and 102,444 goat farms. Texas has consistently remained the number one goat producing state.

It is interesting to note that the settlements from the class action suit against the U. S. tobacco industry, has resulted in tremendous growth in goat numbers in several states. The tobacco growing states which have shown the greatest increase in goat numbers are Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

The two major factors that have lead to such a dramatic increase in U.S. meat goat numbers have been the increase in number of people consuming goat meat and the continuing increase in prices paid for goats. The major increase in goat meat consumer numbers is due to the immigration of persons from countries where goat meat is regularly consumed. In 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 33.5 million foreign-born U.S. citizens. Nearly 50% of those immigrants were from countries where goat meat is regularly consumed.

The top three ethnic groups in goat meat consumption are Muslims, people from the Caribbean, and Hispanics. The metropolitan areas which contain the greatest number of immigrants are New York, Washington/Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Due to the growing demand for goat meat, live animal prices have been increasing consistently over the past decade. Prices for slaughter kids have risen from $0.75 per pound in 1996 to approximately $1.36 per pound in 2005, resulting in a 81% increase. From 1996 through 2003 domestic production of goat meat increased 81%, imported goat meat by 139%, and total consumption of goat meat by 97%. Australia is the origin of most goat meat imported into the U.S., representing 92.5% of all imports in 2003, with New Zealand accounting for nearly all of the rest. Other factors which have resulted in increased profits for goat producers is production and sale of registered Boer goats for breeding and show stock and the sale of show stock for our youth programs.

While the goat industry holds much promise for new producers there are three factors that limit industry expansion and production. Seasonality of breeding which leads to an inconsistent year round supply of goat meat is probably the greatest problem. The other two problems are predation and parasitism, both of which vary according to the area of the country in which they are raised; however, these can be controlled to some extent.

Looking at all census data, both human and goat, along with projected imports, one can get an outlook as to where our industry is heading. U. S. consumption of goat meat is predicted to increase 42% from 2003 (50.9 million pounds) to 2007 (72.2 million pounds). According to U. S. Census Bureau projected consumer growth trends, we can see a potential increase to 22,972,266 goat consumers by 2009. If we use only the number of goats counted in the USDA/NASS Agricultural Census and our current 10% growth rate, we would have 3,654,750 head of goats in the U. S. by 2009. This would provide a ratio of one goat for every 6.28 persons. This leads us to wonder where our consumers going to “get their goat.” It certainly doesn’t appear that U. S. producers are poised to meet this increase in demand. This being the case, we must look at what our friends in other goat producing countries have in their plans in terms of increased imports for the U. S. and how it will impact our domestic goat industry.

By 2009, imports from Australia are projected to be 835,039 head and when you consider an average carcass weight of 3 5 pounds this results in 29,226,382 pounds of goat meat.. When we add in the projected USDA/NASS data for the U. S. goat herd, we are looking at having 4,489,789 head of goats available on the U. S. market to meet the demands of 22,972,266 consumers. This would provide a ratio of one goat for every 5.12 persons. Even with the projected increases in imported goat meat, it appears that the demand will not be met in the foreseeable future.

As goat producers we are standing in one of the most enviable positions of any agricultural industry in the United States of America, high demand for our products and livestock prices unmatched within the history of our industry. You may have noticed the scales used in the background throughout this presentation never tipped the other direction. The nice part is, our position is on the left side of the scales and should they tip any it is projected to be even further in our favor.

U. S. Census Bureau · USDA/NASS · Meat and Livestock Australia
Goat Industry Council of Australia · American Meat Goat Association
Texas A&M University System for hosting this Gathering of Goat Producers IV

US Goat Consumption and Origin

average price per pound