Buying and Raising Meat Goats

I am not from this website, but am a goat rancher up north of Napa (2 hours north of the Bay Area). You can visit our YouTube channel at http://www.YouTube.com/SnowRanchCA.

Just doing some rainy day web research on goats and updating our plans for the next year today when I stumbled upon your website.

We’ve been in the goating business about 6 years now — producing strictly organic, grass-fed, pasture grazed animals very suitable to Kosher, Halal, and gourmet markets. No vaccination EVER and we don’t call them “immunizations” when they compromise immunity. No deworming or drugs. Only natural remedies as needed, but mostly a focus on extremely little grain feed.

Where any cheating with conventional medicine was required, we keep records of that per animal. For example, each year I usually pull a couple winter newborns out of hypothermic/hypoglycemic coma with a shot of about 5 to 10 cc’s Dextrose (Glucose/ water) into the belly or subdermal. Usually that kid has to be brought inside and nursed or it will die. By morning, the kid we try to put right back on the mother because natural milk is best.

Sometimes you have no other choice but to use frozen milk and colostrum from previous seasons or to use commercial milk replacer and colostrum in powder form, but always do we find fresh mother’s milk the best medicine and food. If you don’t use it, a frail kid that could have been back on the mom and doing well in a day or two will drag out to over a month of nursing and likely die anyhow or encounter long-term, chronic conditions. What you want to see is a newborn kid hopping, skipping, and running around with the others in about 48 hours. When they’re slow, frail, elderly-seeming, skinny (as is the case with twins, triplets, or kids born to first-time mothers impregnated early)..the mother’s milk is all the more critical. If even an adult is sick, you’re best to administer it not vet drugs but the fresh milk from a healthy doe on the field. The milk is medicine, too.

The artificial things, artificial nutrition, and vet medicine just can’t bridge that gap. We find that the quality of food, natural mothering, and less tampering they get in the first hours of life makes a huge difference near and long term. We don’t castrate. We don’t even snip off umbilical cords. Vet bills are near zero. Bleeding goats (from injury) I’ll usually just leave be or apply some topical Cayenne pepper. Hoof trimming and assisting with kidding are the primary maintenance chores. We have no problems with lice. On many ranches or at auction, you will see goats with boils, open pustules, or poor skin and coat conditions. Not one of our goats raised on this ranch by our methods has ever had such a problem to date. Only the imported ones and the goats we’re presently culling!

Too much grain also makes basically diabetic and sickly animals. They are ruminants. Protein content on grains like corn is too low while energy is high. It spikes their blood glucose up and down too severely. Oats are a little better, but these things are like feeding nothing but candy to livestock. Grain is fine mixed in a little as treats or where hay goes too costly, but it’s just not worth it for a rancher unless you’re running a feed lot.

You can add weight rapidly and fatten them up for market on corn or oats to about 1 lb. grain per 2 lbs. hay (maximum), but the grain actually costs more per pound, costs more in labor separating market animals from keepers (You don’t want your keepers going grain sickly; Grain is also a problem with buck urinary tracts), and it costs you more in declined herd health in the end.

Our view is that, if you want to add more weight to them for market, it’s best to just feed them more hay and confine a little into a section of pasture (not pens) so they graze & exercise less. We do not pen animals here, as that only adds disease by turning their stomping grounds into a quagmire. Our smallest “pen” is 1/4 acre. The other is 1/2. The other “pen” is 4 1/4 acres of pasture. All rotationally grazed. No dusty pens. All walked upon & upkept grass pasture.

If the livestock area is not rotated well or is over-packed, you’ll wind up with does and newborns lying around in their filth — does developing mastitis, more infections, eating from filthy ground, more parasites, etc. Then, the rancher medicates, vaccinates, and repeats the unhealthy conditions when the simple (and cheaper) fix is to just lessen the packing density, rotate pastures, sprinkle more pasture seed, irrigate pastures, clean out the mess for composting, acquire new pasture as needed, and you offset the weather or overgrazing with imported hay.

Outside of mother’s milk, clean areas, clean water, and suitable shelter conditions are far more important than any medical touch. Wet and cold goats are sickly goats. Does wallowing in poop and bacteria like pigs become mastitis-ridden mothers and problematic maternity. Keeping basic sanitary conditions is so important but often neglected by ranchers. Near impossible when penned. You’ll find a lot of modern rancher egos based in complex recipes, mothering, drugging, show goating, high producing, extensive “care” provided, etc…but often a neglect of just the basics the old-timers knew.

Grain we use sparingly mixed in for a little winter energy added. About a cup of grain per adult every few days. Used as treats to keep them occupied when milking, or when trimming hooves, and especially to pull them to you eagerly rather than herding them by pushing (which is like herding cats!). When they bust through our fences, it’s no big deal. We just clap and shake a bag of grain, and they all come running for the candy. But, that’s what it is: like candy to children. You can’t feed them a diet of all candy or lots of candy and think they’ll come out strong and healthy. The commercial goat chows are a mix of candy, nutrition, and other commercial junk — maybe “recycled” animal protein taken from dead dogs, horses, sick cull cattle, or who knows what. You’re better with corn & oats around 50/50 mix — preferably with other mixed grains — used very sparingly compared to that toxic muck and only for a little winter energy boost to offset the energy tax of the cold (Not for trying to add weight or “finish” prior to market).

With the short life of meat stock, you don’t see that difference as a buyer and it does work well in delivering a fattened up animal to market but my breeding stock would be much less robust, less lean as meat, and more labor if we did it the other way.

It makes such a difference in herd quality that we prefer to hold over all our own does for herd expansion rather than buy any new does or kids from outside ranches. Outsider does do better once here, but still they are less robust by winter and produce less robust children — ultimately costing you more in labor, graves dug, all that feed wasted on a dead animal, etc. If we know the kids were raised on only mother’s milk from day one, had a healthy start with no need for assistance, were never vaccinated or drugged, were fed hay or mother’s milk the whole time, and appear active & strong…that’s an outsider doe we consider for purchase. It takes some shopping around, though. Over 90% of the goats out there produced by other ranchers are not welcome here.

A little about animal health care: The less you mess with them, the better! We’ve raised goats taken from other ranches where vaccine and deworming drugs were used side by side with my own organic generations and the difference is very clear. In 6 years with some pretty harsh winter and rain up here, I have so far not lost even one of our kids or adult goats where raised organic and strictly off the mother’s milk from the start with zero medical tampering.

The goats we have lost? Some old milkers taken from other farms. Other than the old ones we should have culled sooner, or the usual newborn loss rates and problematic pregnancies, the winter has culled our weakest ones. Never our strongest. Never a goat we raised from the start which survived at least 2 months as a kid. We haven’t even had a sickness in need of treatment among those generations. The winters so far have culled not our bred generations, but the other animals taken in from other ranches! It’s a little pride we keep there. That’s the single most thing I can tell you about the quality of the meat we output on those newer or isolated generations.

Our animals do have shelter, but, at the moment, it is raining and cold, and some are grazing. We get snow up here at times. Hail. Cold winds. We’re essentially at the same elevation as the Bay Area’s hills — located in a mountain valley. Some goats are resting inside now. Others prefer to graze still. They’re moody. When the wind chill picks up or the rain really pours heavy, then they go back inside. These soggy, rainy, cold days by winter are what really taxes them and makes upkeep critical. Winter sorts the frail ones from the healthy which ultimately gives us a more robust herd with each year. We could just forcibly pen and barn them, but this would raise the labor and costs while just up-breeding a more robust and healthy herd is the best course. The animals tolerate weather as their mood dictates. It’s best to let them roam or find shelter as they choose, not as man tells them or thinks best. Goats know what’s best for them. They avoid even the dirty areas of pasture if you let them just roam free. They eat the choicest feed first if given the choice.

Goats raised naturally we see hopping & skipping about far sooner, less frail from the start, and more robust all through their lives. Goats medicated, messed with by know-it-alls, or bleeding hearts, or women looking to mother them as pets, etc…they’re weak from the start and that impacts market weights per age, too.

The 4H kids, especially, will often sell you a really great-looking, well-fed, well cared for, drugged up, vaccinated, grain-fed, hormone-loaded animal but, when you put it into pasture reality, that goat would be dead in a year or two out here. 4H has them all nicely brainwashed regarding conventional drugs and commercial feed, etc. Even if that well cared for goat did live long out here, it will certainly be among the first to drop dead some winter where the others go far longer. It’ll give you some health problem — usually minor — that at least delays their going to market until passed. They’re more prone to parasites, gain weight poorly, eat more to put on the same pound of meat, and their kids aren’t as survivable, either.

Our Boer Full-Blood and Boer-Alpine cross goats (Boer-Toggenburg / Boer-Saanens) up here are not as plump and juicy as the hormone & grain loaded ones you often see at auction or going to the slaughterhouses. They’re not skinny. Not fat. Not spectacularly meaty and plump, but with ample meat. Our Boer breeder buck is 90% Boer and 10% Saanens — making for a very large framed buck compared to many Boers you’ll see at auction. He breeds with pure Boers, crossed Boers, and some Toggenburgs — which makes for a nice mixed breed which grows well, grows fast, grows big, does well in California mild summers, and is very robust by winter compared to the Boer goat.

In time, you’ll learn to eyeball them and just know their weight within a few pounds. Carcass weight is generally about 45% of live weight, depending on breed. Some ranchers load their goats up on grain and water to put on weight prior to market but we don’t. Not worth the effort there, really.

Another issue is that, in the use of the term “organic”, I can’t honestly tell you at this time that our own feed has always been organic. For example, we are only now finding our sources of local organic hay. Most commercial hay is very chemically sprayed against weeds. Chemical fertilizer is also used extensively. They do this to produce a good crop of alfalfa to impress the horse folks who deathly fear the slightest fox tails, noxious weeds, etc. But, our goats don’t care. They’ll eat near everything — thorny weeds, brush, fox tails. No problems. So, the horse folks demand “top quality hay” and poison it to get there, and that leaves the livestock rancher with chemically laced hay. Grain is usually produced in the same manner.

You really have to go through some trouble — contract baling or procuring bales from known ranches where they don’t spray — in order to get chemically free hay. We have that on our pasture. We are always securing that kind of actually “low quality” hay. Just good orchard grasses and weeds, too. The kind of hay cut from a fallow farm field that a contract hay baler laughs at baling for you is actually the kind we prefer. Its protein, vitamin, and energy content is perfect for goats.

Truly 100% natural and organic is a tough thing to upkeep, so we just keep records. If a goat has been tampered with in any way to just a glucose injection as a kid, we can tell the buyer that. We can also tell them exactly what feed was given over an animal’s lifetime here — whether that hay was certified organic, organically cultivated, commercial chemical hay, or to what degree commercial chemically & poisoned grain or chow was used. There are some large ranches which produce “organic” goats on hundreds of acres pasture, but they probably vaccinate, medicate, and supplement with grain at some point. So, the question to ask is not if something is “organic” trendy but rather how truly natural the conditions were.

Truth is our present market for meat goats really doesn’t care about any of these things, but we always make that animal quality information available to chefs or health conscious folks. If the market desired it from small degree to larger quantity, we could quickly produce truly pure organic animals and meats fed on 100% purely natural feed.

Truth is you’ll be hard pressed to find any such thing even among the certified organic, so we just document and certify our own history per animal for the interested buyer. On this present generation, we can tell you the animals have been fed with over 75% organic hay (pasture grazed) for this year with 25% imported commercial bales probably chemically sprayed (but to lesser degree since only cow alfalfa rather than premium horse grade). Over 99.9% of all feeding was grass(No more than 1 total day’s feed in 365 feed days was grain for the herd in general). For this next year, we are hoping to put the animals all at 100% organic hay even on the supplemental hay with over 99.9% as grass.

Water quality going into the animals we can report has been from fresh daily well water with good quality.

I can also tell you that any animal we send to auction or slaughterhouse is often not our best stock. The best we keep for breeding & herd expansion, or as premium goat meat, or for top quality breeding stock. The goats that do not clear that standard do have to be culled. And cull goats are generally what you’ll find at auction or slaughter. The finest we keep as “Rancher’s Choice” grade livestock.

One can find “organic” out there, but good luck finding any who report to you as honestly as I have in regard to True Organic Quality! :-) Remember, organic does not always mean un-vaccinated and un-drugged. Here it means that. We consider it also to include the quality of hay input, but, for this year,we were stuck with the commercial hay to 25% degree.

When they tell you they’re “organic” meat goats, ask if they have documentation on that! Not just “certified organic”, but to what degree on the feed. Was the feed organic certified or was it sprayed? Did they use commercial goat chow? Are they feeding you meat produced on recycled pound puppies, stray cats, and cull cattle protein? If all grass, what kind of grass? Bought where? Sprayed with weed killer? If they tell you 100% organic feed, most are lying. Ask for the records and proof. If they’re honest, they’ll be able to prove either 100% clean feed or, like us, tell you the degree of that.

As far as weight goes, for kids….if you can handle them prior to purchase, take a small foot scale, weigh yourself, then weigh yourself with the kid picked up. Subtract and that’s the kid weight. For larger animals, without a scale you never really know unless eyeballed with experience. Generally, an adult Boer doe yearling will weigh between 80 to 100 lbs. About 100 to 200 lbs. with a few years of age and feeding, but it varies. Boer bucks range from 200 to 300 lbs. Newborn kids are anywhere from 4 to 6 lbs.

When inspecting a goat, look at its eyes and overall condition. If you can see gaps between the lid and eyes, you’re dealing with a sick and dehydrated goat. Inspect the hooves. A rancher delivering a goat to auction or anywhere with poor hooves probably didn’t take care of them back home and doesn’t care about their presentation to you or whomever. It’s a little courtesy. If going to slaughter, you don’t care. If going to auction for potentially resale to a picky buyer or rancher with your ranch name on it, you want to present a good looking and groomed goat. Overgrown hooves lead to foot rot if anyone is going to buy and keep the goat. Look at the coat condition, its sheen, study the animal’s skin — looking especially for boils. A healthy goat has none. Infections they all try to push out through the skin. Feel the frame. Can you feel ribs or fat? A fat goat is an overfed and likely grain-fattened or drugged up goat. They’ll weigh more on the scale, but your meat buyer will have an animal with fat content closer to lamb. Especially on bucks, you should feel only meat and bone. See no ribs. No beer bellies!

Should you find one of our meat goats or hear the Snow Ranch name at auction, if I’m not there someone representing me is. You need only obtain the animal number and give the ranch a call or ask for records on-site, and the entire feeding and medical history per animal is available prior to purchase. I can tell you exactly what went on with that animal during its life here from the time birthed to loaded in the trailer and penned at auction. At this point, because we are still growing the herd and culling the lesser stock, our finest goats do not reach auction or slaughter markets. At least not our finest does.

We do have some very nice excess bucks this year. Two very lovely breeder Boer bucks. One that is 98% Boer. He is too handsome to be used as a meat goat. He’s the kind of goat a start-up Boer rancher wants. The other is a 50% Boer / 50% Toggenburg cross which has come out looking more Boer. He’s one you send to meat market. Each are excellent quality. The other bucklings are not yet at weights where we sell them. In the Fall, Winter, and Spring we usually have our kids. Anywhere from 30% to 60% of those are bucks which we sell and the girls we keep. All bucks are uncastrated. They leave here disease free and without blemish. If there is a quality issue, we note that in the records available to the buyer.

If you have any questions, just ask. We’re always open to selling meat goats direct to butchers and individuals. We can even have our central valley slaughterhouse deliver meat to the Bay Area, but it logistically makes no sense to transport one goat at a time off the ranch at the request of one buyer. If you are interested in any of our goats, we are planning on a delivery of a couple culls to Petaluma’s auction market in April to May or to slaughter. We have not yet put any goats through the Petaluma auction yard and I would like to see how their system works.

Our goat meat quality is always high, but the animals in birthing come out mixed. Mixed breeding takes them away from an exact Boer look, and so we cull some — such as the Boer-Toggenburg buck — which would only lead to a shift away from our breeding targets. He’s being culled, but is most certainly not a cull goat. He’s a premium quality meat goat any rabbi would be impressed to see. Organic raised, grass-fed but truly only 75% organic on the grass hay there to date. We can go to 100% organic on the hay and even certify that for subsequent generations…if we have sufficient market demand that justifies those certification costs. Truth is most the market we serve does not care about that degree of perfection. If you know any customers, butchers, chefs, or restaurants who do….we do produce animals to that stated degree and are continually improving them. It’s hard to know what you’re buying at auction, though.

8 Comments to "Buying and Raising Meat Goats"

  1. robert lee phillips jr's Gravatar robert lee phillips jr
    December 17, 2010 - 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Interested in starting to raise goats in south eastern Ohio for an income.

    • Karen Evanczuk's Gravatar Karen Evanczuk
      March 13, 2013 - 10:28 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for this greatly informative and helpful article . It confirms a lot of what I will aspire to as I begin my meat goat enterprise. It is inspiring to know that there are goat ranchers out there like you who are dedicated to producing such quality goats.

  2. Jerusha Dahm's Gravatar Jerusha Dahm
    January 15, 2011 - 9:36 pm | Permalink

    I know this is not strictly on topic about your article, but I am looking for a stock tank de-icer and am wondering what the pros/cons of floating vs submersible units are.

  3. Jerusha Dahm's Gravatar Jerusha Dahm
    January 15, 2011 - 11:36 pm | Permalink

    I have different stock tanks. Mostly ones I’m considering a de-icer for are about bathtub sized. Not sure how many gallons that is. They’re for goats and later, sheep.
    I’m also planning to make an automatic waterer for my rabbits that will need to be heated so that the 3/16″ tubing with individual valves for each rabbit doesn’t freeze. I’m planning a 5 gallon bucket with water continuously circulating.
    But really, mostly I’m confused about the pros & cons of floating vs submersible units. The makers brag about which kind they sell, and if they are convertible from one to the other, but I don’t understand why one might be better than the other in different situations. The only thing I can think why one might be better is if the critters like to chew on objects, submerging the heater might be better, but then why aren’t all heaters submersible?

  4. Amelia Miller's Gravatar Amelia Miller
    January 25, 2011 - 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Hello, I will be moving to a 10 acre ranch in the next few months and eventually want to buy some milk/meat goats. Once the property is compleatly open there will be about 3 acres of open grassy pasture. I only want 3 or 4 goats. Would this be enough room for that many? And whould you be willing to sell a goat or 2 of your breeders? And if so, How much? :)

  5. Mac's Gravatar Mac
    February 15, 2012 - 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Do you have any problems breeding your does back to their daddy?

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