When agricultural experts first began suggesting in the 1980s that raising goats could be a viable source of farm income to help offset the decline in tobacco income, most area farmers snickered.
Come on now, farmers thought, raising goats for meat? Who eats goat meat? If anything, you raised goats for their milk, not their meat.
Well, no one is snickering today. In fact, goats are now a hot commodity, said Glen Woolum, co-host of the recent Tri-State Goat Producers Association at the Boyd County Fairgrounds.
Woolum admits that goats were not an immediate hit with area farmers. “Ten years ago you couldn’t even give a goat a goat away. Some of the goats at this show sell for thousands of dollars,” Woolum said.
Goat breeders from nine states as far away as Illinois, North Carolina, New York and Indiana brought their prize goats to the show, which was one of five at the fairgrounds this week, Woolum said.
The animals were all Boer goats, bred for their meat, and exhibitors took them to the show ring just like 4-H competitors do at fair time. An judge examined them and chose winners.
A champion-quality Boer goat has broad shoulders, strongly muscled loins and wide hips, all qualities that maximize meat production, Woolum said.
While you still may not be able to find goat in the meat sections of most local supermarket, the meat is in high demand in the northwest, said Sherman Berry of Grayson, who has been producing goats for two years and hopes to expand his herd.
“Goat meat is the number one meat worldwide,” he said. However, the United States currently relies on imports — only 20 percent of the goat meat eaten here is produced here. Berry believes the market is out there for local goat producers and will continue to grow.
The hills and hollows of eastern Kentucky are ideal for goats, Berry said. The animals thrive on the rocky terrain and, with their hearty appetites, are useful in clearing brush-choked hillsides. “That’s how we got started, to clean up property,” he said.
Buying top-quality stock to get into the breeding business is expensive, but there is money to be made once the goats are there, said Joe Bentley of Garrison. “It’s tough to get into showing because it’s expensive and it takes a while to build a reputation,” he said.
Getting the goats to market is still a bit of a challenge, but the number of stockyards that will buy goats is increasing, greatly reducing the cost of transporting to market goats grown in this region.
We confess that we were among those who were skeptical when goats were first suggested as a good source of income of area farmers. While we still may not be true believers, we can see that the potential is there. Just ask Sherman Berry and Joe Bentley.