Farm Progress

Meat goats as 4-H project have meant lessons for whole family

On Animal Health: Keeping an eye out for health issues is part of the job when raising livestock, but meat goats have special issues.

Rhonda McCurry, Freelance

July 31, 2017

6 Min Read

When asked what kind of 4-H livestock she might want, my 8-year-old, Anna, asked to show meat goats. I panicked for a moment because I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about meat goats. I thought it could be like feeding and showing sheep, which I had never done, but I had been around plenty of people who raised lambs, and at least I knew how to lead one.

Goats, however, are a different story. Thank goodness for some family friends who introduced Anna and me to meat goats. We visited their farm, took notes, asked questions and had an introduction to one of their does and its kids. Once we locked in on showing these little creatures, the rest of our experience has consisted of many more questions, guidance and lessons.

We didn’t show goats when I was a kid. I don’t know how many times my children have heard this statement, but they are truly a foreign animal to me. Now that we’ve shown goats for a couple of years, we are hooked. I joke that we train them like dogs but feed them like steers, both of which are very doable.

Goats are more heavily concentrated in the eastern United States. Texas has about one-third of the goats in the U.S. (36.3%), probably because the Texas environment and climate are more suitable for goat production. The distribution of meat goats might be partially related to the demand for goat meat by local populations in these areas.

The past two years at the county fair Anna has sold her goat, and the floor buyer wound up being a friend of mine. He tells me the goats he buys are sent to Texas, and sometimes Pennsylvania, to be harvested. This is where the demand for goat meat is.

When it comes to feeding meat goats for future consumers, I want to be sure we’re doing it to also produce the best meat possible. We want them to have a little fat on them to ensure good taste. Goat meat is primarily consumed in Asian cultures, and I know markets in the northeastern Kansas and St. Louis areas that have a huge demand for goats harvested under certain religious exemptions.

It’s a not new thing.

Producing safe, wholesome meat means taking care of the live animal, with a good health and handling plan. The diseases that affect goats must be managed.

Here is a list of diseases that impact meat goats:

• Q fever. A zoonotic disease, it affects both animals and humans. The disease has been linked to abortion issues in sheep and goats, although many infected animals never show symptoms of disease. The Q fever bacteria are excreted in the milk, feces, placenta, amniotic fluid and other body fluids of cattle, sheep, and goats. The bacteria are hardy organisms that can survive in the environment for long periods. Humans are usually infected by inhaling barnyard dust contaminated by an infected herd of animals. An important part of preventing disease spread is to understand how widespread infection is in domestic farm animals and to encourage producers to implement management practices to prevent further spread.

• Toxoplasmosis. Another disease for small ruminants, toxoplasmosis can cause abortions, although many animals never show symptoms of infection. In fact I learned from my veterinarian father, Ron Nida, that cats are the only definitive hosts known to shed the parasite into the environment. In humans, this infection has been associated with miscarriage. Infection can cause serious illness in individuals with a compromised immune system. The Centers for Disease Control considers toxoplasmosis an important cause of death attributed to foodborne illness in the United States.

• Sore mouth. This is a common skin disease affecting sheep and goats. It is highly contagious and is caused by a virus in the pox family. It is not fatal, but it can cause significant production losses. Sore mouth is a zoonotic disease, and the virus can survive for months, even years, in the environment. Understanding the distribution of sore mouth in the United States can help target vaccination and other efforts, including management practices designed to help prevent further spread of the disease to uninfected herds.

• Brucellosis. This disease is caused by different species of the bacterium Brucella. It can impact goats and is considered a serious public health problem, especially in countries that do not have well developed public and animal health control programs. The U.S. is considered free of B. melitensis, the goat bacteria. Symptoms of brucellosis in goats are similar to those in cattle and include abortion at about the fourth month of pregnancy, mastitis, arthritis and sometimes orchitis (inflammation of the testes). The organism spreads among animals primarily through contact with an infected placenta, fetus, fetal fluids and other body fluids. The organism can also spread via equipment, clothing, etc. An infected goat can shed Brucella in its milk throughout its life. Brucella can spread to humans through consumption of unpasteurized goat milk and goat milk products from infected animals, by inhaling of the organism, or through lesions or open wounds.

• Pinkeye. This is also a problem with meat goats. The same as in cattle, it causes inflammation of the inside of the eyelids, is highly contagious and the infection spreads easily between eyes, from animal to animal, and to humans that come in contact with infected animals. To prevent spread, it is important that infected animals are isolated from the rest of the herd. Common symptoms include squinting, tearing, cloudiness of the cornea, and red and swollen eyes. The economic impact associated with production losses and treatment costs can be significant.

The one thing Anna knows how to treat her goats for is gastrointestinal parasites or worms. She keeps her goats on a regular worming routine, giving them Safeguard every 28 days. Unfortunately, many of the parasites have become resistant to commonly used dewormers, rendering this treatment somewhat ineffective.

The U.S. meat goat industry is growing rapidly, with inventories increasing from approximately 600,000 goats in 1992 to approximately 2.5 million goats in 2010 (NASS Census of Agriculture). The three main niche markets for goat meat in the U.S. are ethnic communities, health-conscious consumers and gourmet restaurants. In addition, more consumers are interested in supporting small operations and sustainable agricultural practices. Goats can be raised on smaller acreages and are easier to handle than most other livestock, making them attractive to small-scale producers.

Meat goats are attractive to my 4-H-age daughter as well. Showing livestock means learning how to keep them healthy, and this means a good relationship with our veterinarian and a watchful eye when we feed and care for her meat goat projects. A healthy goat eats well, gains better and puts more fat under its hide, which I believe makes the meat as good as we can make it.

Thank goodness Anna chose a new livestock species for her 4-H project. Her meat goats have taught us all kinds of lessons.

McCurry writes from Colwich.

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