"Meat goat” is a term new to the southeastern part of the United States. In this context, the term is used as a breed, even though meat goats do not qualify as a breed in any technical sense. Other terms referring to meat goats to distinguish them from Angora and dairy goats include “brush goat,” “Spanish goat,” and “common goat.” Recently, the South African Boer Goat has provided a new source of genetics for meat goat producers; therefore, the term “meat goat” can incorporate any combination of all goats.
The lack of a well-defined, distinct, and perhaps superior meat goat breed in the United States has adversely affected meat goat production. However, genetic improvement through selection and breeding programs can produce a more desirable animal with a quality carcass that would improve the demand for the product. This publication discusses several points for the selection and care of meat goats. A sample production budget that can be adapted to a particular operation is included and is designed for producers interested in raising meat-type goats.
Figure 1. Parts of a meat goat
Selecting meat goats for growth rate and meat qualities has not been widespread in the industry, primarily because meat goats usually are not a major livestock enterprise. In selecting goats for meat production, consider (1) adaptability to environmental and production conditions, (2) reproductive rate, and (3) growth rate.
The best way to increase adaptability is to select for the desired traits under your actual production conditions. Select your breeding stock from animals maintained under the same natural conditions in which their progenies will be raised.
Reproductive efficiency is a major factor contributing to efficient meat production, but it is difficult to select for under range conditions. To increase reproductive efficiency, improved management of the breeding herd—including selection for twinning rate and culling nonproducing nannies—is necessary and will yield good results.
Selecting goats for growth rate should be relatively easy because of the fairly high heritability of the trait. Base growth rate selection on higher postweaning gains of yearling weights.
Selecting for growth rate, reproductive efficiency, and environmental adaptability will greatly improve production efficiency (pounds of production per doe bred) and the likelihood of making a profit.
Goats do well on good pasture or browse; however, the mature goat will require 3–4 pounds of hay daily if she is not getting adequate pasture or browse. In addition, a grain-based supplement might be required during periods of high production, as in flushing, late gestation, and early lactation. The amount of supplement needed varies with pasture and/or hay quality and the quantity fed. The crude protein (CP) content of the supplement also varies with the forage quality. Two simple grain supplements include the following:
The first ration provides approximately 14 percent CP and the second about 16 percent CP. Goats dislike finely ground, dusty feeds, so grains should be coarsely ground, rolled, crimped, or pelleted. It is recommended you add a trace mineralized salt and a balanced, 12 percent calcium12 percent phosphorus supplement to any ration. You can add molasses to the supplement (5–7 percent usually is recommended) to reduce dust and to enhance palatability. Also, always have salt available for the goats.
Most goats are seasonal breeders, with the breeding season initiated by decreasing daylight hours. The season varies, with some goats breeding during any season of the year, but reproductive activity is highest from August through January. Does come in heat (estrus) at intervals of 20–21 days and usually remain in heat 1–2 days.
Signs of estrus are easily detected and include uneasiness, an unusual amount of tail wagging, frequent urination, an abnormal amount of bleating, reddish and swollen vulva, and mucus under the tail. Riding other animals or standing for riding is not seen as often in goats near estrus as in cows.
Conception is highest from the middle to the latter part of the heat period, 24–36 hours after onset of estrus. The gestation period in goats is 148–150 days. Maintaining good records of all heat periods and breeding dates is important to maximize reproductive efficiency.
Young does tend to reach puberty or sexual maturity at 5–9 months of age, provided they have been grown adequately and are in good condition. Keep bucks separated from does (except during the breeding season) in order to breed during the desired time interval. Prepare the bucks for the breeding season by daily feeding them 1–2 pounds of grain plus 3–4 pounds of hay or forage.
If does are thin at breeding time, kidding percent can be increased by flushing, or increasing nutrition during breeding. This puts the animal in weight-gaining condition and causes an increase in the ovulation rate. Flushing can be done by turning goats on a fresh, lush pasture if it is available or by feeding grain. For flushing, corn is most often fed at the rate of one-half to three-fourths of a pound per head per day. Begin feeding 2–3 weeks before the bucks are turned in with the does and continue for 2–3 weeks after the introduction of the bucks (for a total feeding period of 4–6 weeks). Flushing generally results in a 10to 20percent increase in kid crop, but does in good condition generally will not benefit from flushing.
It is important that the kid goat receive colostrum (the first milk) as soon as possible after birth and for at least 2 days. Colostrum provides antibodies for resistance to disease and is high in nutrients, including energy, vitamin A, the B vitamins, protein, and minerals. Overfeeding colostrum or other milk can cause scours.
Extra colostrum can be frozen and fed at body temperature at some later date. Orphan kids may be left on goat’s milk or changed to cow’s milk or a commercial milk replacer after the first days on colostrum.
Kids must have a warm, dry place to sleep if they are taken from their mothers. A deep wooden box with a slanted floor that is raised off the ground to provide drainage makes a good bed for new kids. The box should be well-bedded and draft-free.
For the first 3–4 days after birth, a kid should receive 2–3 pints of milk in three to four feedings per day. Kids can be fed twice per day thereafter. A creep feed containing approximately 20 percent CP and high-quality hay should be made available to kids at about 2 weeks of age. Keep clean, fresh water and salt available at all times, especially when the kids are weaned from milk at 8–12 weeks of age.
As soon as the kid begins eating a little grain and hay, the rumen will begin to develop, allowing the kid to use roughage materials. The kid will begin chewing its cud at this time. When the kid is eating hay and grain well, usually at about 4–6 weeks of age, you can discontinue milk feeding. The rumen will be fully developed at approximately 8 weeks of age.
The kid should have plenty of exercise and as much sunshine as possible. Provide boxes or barrels for older kids to have something on which to climb and jump. Separate the buck kids from the does at about 2–4 months of age to avoid premature breeding.
Horn development is a recessive trait of goats and is found in most breeds. For safety purposes, remove the horns while the animals are young, between 3 and 14 days of age. There are several ways to dehorn goats, including dehorning pastes or similar caustic compounds, burning irons, or physically removing the horns.
Bucks develop musk glands when they reach puberty. These glands emit a telltale odor that often taints the taste and odor of the meat. Once an animal reaches puberty, it is more active and harder to feed to an acceptable level of eating quality. Male goats not to be used for breeding must be castrated as soon as possible. Like dehorning, this can be done in several ways. Consult your veterinarian for best results.
Figure 2. Body conformation of a meat goat.
Roundworms, stomach worms, and coccidiosis are the most significant internal parasites that affect goats. Animals become infested by grazing on pastures contaminated with droppings from other infested goats. Use several pastures in rotation because parasite carryover can be markedly reduced by resting pastures for 30–60 days between grazing. Treat newly purchased animals for internal parasites; isolating animals because of internal parasites is of no value.
Coccidiosis can cause severe problems in goats, especially those managed in confined or drylot conditions. Goats managed under these conditions should receive a coccidostat regularly in their feed. Treatment of coccidiosis with anthelmintics is not effective. If you suspect coccidiosis, consult your veterinarian.
Symptoms of parasite infestation include general unthriftiness, a rundown condition, rough hair coat, loss of weight, poor appetite, diarrhea, and anemia. If you suspect your goats are infested with internal parasites, collect fecal samples and take the samples to your veterinarian. Examination will determine the type and degree of infestation and recommended treatment.
External parasites, including lice, ticks, mites, horn flies, stable flies, horse flies, deer flies, and mosquitoes, might present serious problems. These pests are most prevalent in the spring, summer, and fall but can be a problem throughout the year.
A number of diseases occur in goats. When a problem occurs in your herd, consult your veterinarian. Information is readily available concerning these diseases and their diagnosis and treatments. The most significant diseases are soremouth, tetanus, overeating disease, foot rot, and bloat.
Few drugs are approved for use on goats. Nonapproved over-the-counter drugs become prescription drugs. Every goat producer should have a valid client-patient relationship with a veterinarian. Goats that are kept on adequate browse and grazing have few disease problems if not overcrowded. Carefully buying new breeding stock and isolation can help prevent bringing in new diseases.
Remember: Most goats will be sold for meat; therefore, after treating goats with any drug, be sure you allow adequate withdrawal time before slaughter.
Table 1. Estimated annual expenses for a meat-type goat operation in Mississippi, 1996.
Adapted from Texas Sheep and Goat Production Calendar.
Alford, Calvin F., Georgia Extension Animal Scientist. “Meat Goat Production,” Georgia Meat Goat Association, Vol. 1, No. 1, March-April 1996.
Martinez, Edmundo E., Paschal, Joe C., Craddock, Frank, & Hanselka, C. Wayne. Sept. 1991. Selection, Management and Judging of Meat-Type Spanish Goats. B-5018. Texas Agricultural Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas.
Martinez, Edmundo E., Paschal, Joe C., Craddock, Frank, & Rollins, Dale. Spanish Goat Management. B-5021. Texas Agricultural Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas.
Strickland, James, Georgia Extension Veterinarian. “Goat Health,” Georgia Meat Goat Association, Vol. 1, No. 1, March-April 1996.
By R. Kipp Brown, Area Extension Agent III, Carroll County Extension Service, and Director of International Livestock Program, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences; and Charlie Forrest, former Extension Agricultural Economist. Adapted from publications by the Texas A&M Extension System.
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Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. JOE E. STREET, Interim Director