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Raising Meat Goats - Obstacles to Success
Three Challenges for Meat Goat Producers
The main challenges for meat goat producers are fencing, predator control, and controlling internal parasites (stomach worms.) Each of these challenges is unique to raising goats. Goats are harder to fence and more susceptible to internal parasites than any other species of livestock. Both sheep and goats are vulnerable to predators.
New meat goat producers need to make sure they have good fences before they start buying goats. Goats are ruminants. They are built to utilize forages to produce meat and milk. To do this economically, goats needs plenty of well fenced pasture so they can harvest the forages themselves. To harvest it for them or to purchase it at a feed store is not economically feasible. Fences also play an important role in both predator and internal parasite control. It is good to have small areas with predator proof fences for goats to bed down in at night and for kidding (birthing.) Goats are most vulnerable to predators at night and during kidding. If one does not have enough pasture fenced for the goats, internal parasite problems increase.
Fencing for Meat Goats
There are many different types of fences that work well for goats. The ones we use are described and pictured here. We also show some that have worked well for other meat goat producers in our area.
It is more expensive to fence goats than it is to fence cattle. Many cattle producers would like to use meat goats to control sprouts and weeds in their cattle pastures. They can supplement their income while doing so. Cattle and goats prefer to eat different forages. One can usually add several goats per acre to a cattle pasture without decreasing the number of cows per acre, but most cattle ranchers don't have adequate fences for goats.
Some of our friends are successful holding goats with ten strands of barb wire. For this type of fence to work, the fence has to be straight, high tensile barb wire has to be stretched very tight, and the corners have to be well anchored and braced. This is difficult to do in rough terrain with shallow soil. The posts should be about ten feet apart with two, twist-on, fence stays between each post. Pictured to the right, is such a fence.
Cattle fences can easily be made goat proof by adding more strands of barb wire, but only if the original fence is straight, well built, and in good condition. Such cattle fences are rare in northern Arkansas. Forty seven inch high field wire with openings twelve inches wide and six inches high will work on cattle fences that aren't straight or in good condition. One may want to raise some of the original barb wire so there are two or three barb wires above the field wire. This is the type of fence we use. It is pictured above.
The fences, mentioned so far, will not hold small kids, but small kids will not go far from their mothers. These fences will also not keep out predators.
We use an area with predator proof fences to keep the goats in at night and during kidding season. Three acres works good for up to 30 head of goats. Years ago, before we had guardian animals to protect our herd, we would close the gate on the predator proof pen overnight letting the goats out in the mornings. Sometimes we didn't get home until late at night to close the gate. On several such occasions, after we had gotten guardian dogs, we noticed that one of our dogs would always be positioned in the gate. So we no longer close the gate at night. We have two gates between our small predator proof pasture and our larger main pasture. One is a small, walk-through gate, about three feet wide, which is easy to guard. It is left open all the time (except during kidding season.) The other is an eleven-foot, drive-through gate which we open only when we take a vehicle into the back pasture.
For predator proof fencing we use forty eight inch high, sheep and goat web wire with four inch by four inch mesh. Above this we put three strands of barb wire spaced three to four inches apart. This type of fencing is very expensive. For gates we use five foot high, utility, corral panels with four inch by four inch mesh. We fasten them with harness snaps on each end. We also use this type of fencing for pastures for weaning kids and pastures for bucks that are not being used for breeding. Pictured at the right are predator proof fences and gates.
Don't keep grown bucks on both sides of a fence. They will fight through the fence and destroy it. It is OK to keep several grown bucks together in the same pasture. When first put together they will fight for a short time to determine a pecking order. Then they will get along fine. Does, that haven’t been together before, will do the same when first put together.
Avoid using web wire with a six inch by six inch mesh for goats with horns. They will get their heads caught in this type of fence and get strangled or eaten by predators. A six by twelve inch mesh works fine for goats with horns. They can put their heads through this type of fenced and pull them back out again.
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Electric Fencing for Meat Goats
We know many meat goat producers who are successfully using electric fences for retaining goats. We have very little experience with electric fences and currently have no need to use them. Most of our fences were built many years ago when conventional fencing was much less expensive than it is today and electric fencing was less reliable than it is today. Today electric fences are less expensive and easier to install then regular fences.
Electric fences can be made predator proof. It is also easy to make conventional fences predator proof by adding one or two electric wires. The same can be done to make cattle fences goat proof. Portable electric fences, powered with solar energy, can easily be moved from one location to another for rotational grazing or for brush control.
There are many different electric fencing systems that work well for goats. Pictured below are systems that have worked well for many of our friends who raise goats in northern Arkansas. On rocky soils it is better to use a fencing system in which the posts are placed into the ground before the wire is attached to them. In systems in which the posts are attached to the wire before the posts are placed into the ground, some of the posts will be located on rocks and be unable to get into the ground. Some of these systems have posts with removable steel spikes that can be left off the posts that are located on rocks. An unattached post can then be placed into the ground and attached to the fence, a short distance up or down the fence from the rock.
Predator control is essential if one wants to raise goats in this area. The most common predators in our area are coyotes and domestic dogs. Coy-dogs, wild dogs, bob cats, cougars, and black bears can also be a problem, but only rarely. Black necked buzzards and bald eagles will kill newborn kids, but we have never had a problem with them. Bald Eagles winter in our area but they usually leave before our goats start kidding in spring. It is best to use two approaches to predator control, fencing and guardian animals.
Lamas, donkeys, and guardian dogs are used for predator control. We have used all three and they all worked well for us. Donkeys and lamas eat pasture. Thus they are cheaper to feed than dogs. Guardian dogs are very large and expensive to feed. Donkeys prefer grass to sprouts. They are reluctant to follow goats into brushy areas to eat sprouts. Lamas like to eat brush, just like goats. When using lamas or donkeys do not use more than one of each for each herd of goats, otherwise they will bond with each other and not with the goats. Male lamas need to be castrated at about 10 months of age. If they are castrated at a younger age, they will get arthritis and die from it. If they are not castrated they will kill does by trying to breed them. They will do this even if the does are not in heat. Female lamas do not come in heat until after they are bred.
Unlike donkeys and lamas, guardian dogs work best in teams. This is especially true for large herds of goats (over 40 head.) Large herds tend to split up into smaller groups when grazing. A team of dogs will split up and make sure each group is protected. The alpha female will supervise the others and assign tasks. They will position themselves on opposite sides of the herd. One will stay with the babies when the mothers are grazing. They will take turns sleeping. If you think your guardian dogs are lazy and always sleeping that is because they have to sleep sometime and they do their work at night when the goats are most vulnerable to predators. They also need to bark at night. Get used to it. When you hear your dogs barking at night, you can sleep in peace knowing your goats are protected.
Guardian dogs are especially alert during kidding season. One dog will stay with the next doe that is going to freshen. I don't know how they can tell, but they can. Often when a doe has triplets the mother will neglect the last kid to be born. When this happens the dog will step in and clean up the kid and make sure it gets up to nurse
There are many breeds of guardian dogs. The Great Pyrenees is the most common. The Anatolian Shepherd is the next most common, and then comes the Commodore. There are no overall differences in guarding ability between the Pyrenees and Anatolian breeds, but there are great differences between individual dogs within these breeds. We prefer the Anatolian Shepherds because we like the short hair and the color. Both the Pyrenees and the Anatolian Shepherds are very people friendly, and we like this trait. If you need a dog that will protect your goats from people we recommend the Commodore. Many Commodores need to be locked up out of sight and hearing while their owners are vaccinating, worming, or trimming hooves. We know very little about the other breeds of guardian dogs because they are rare, and we have not had contact with goat producers who have used them.
We allow our does to take their kids out with the herd when the kids are about a week old. At this age the kids can travel fast enough to keep up with the herd if something is chasing them. All of the kids will usually stay together in one place while the does are grazing. One or two does and a guardian dog will usually stay with the kids while the others graze.
Controlling Internal Parasites
There are many things that a meat goat producer needs to know about internal parasites and how to control them. Good parasite control includes four basics: under stocking, good sanitation, adequate nutrition, and selecting animals with a genetic resistance to parasites. Internal parasites are a greater problem in warm, wet climates. If you wish to raise goats in such an area, we highly recommend you learn as much as possible about management practices for reducing internal parasite problems.
There are four excellent publications available free of charge on the internet:
The first one is published by Langston University at http://www.luresext.edu/goats/training/parasites.html.
The second, by the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, is available at http://www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/parasitesheep.html.
The third, by Dr. Joan Burk, USDA Dale Bumpers Small Farm Research Center, Booneville, Arkansas, is available at http://www.attra.org/downloads/goat_barber_pole.pdf.
The fourth, by Ann Wells, DVM, Springpond Holistic Animal Health, is available at http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/livestockipm.html.
The information, we give here, is based on a few things we have learned from our 47 years of experience raising goats in northern Arkansas. It is not intended to be complete for your situation. That is why we strongly urge you to read and study the above four publications.
Forages that Help Control Internal Parasites in Goats
Research at Langston University in Oklahoma, at the Dale Bumpers USDA Research Station in Arkansas, and at Heifer Project international in Arkansas has shown that Serecia Lespedeza and Chicory help control Internal parasites in goats. Based on our experience, we believe that Hop Clover, Korean Lespedeza, Green Pine Needles, and Acorns also help to control worms in goats, but scientific data is not yet available on these plants. We are sure that there are many other plants out there, which we do not know about, that help with parasite control. Goats will eat these plants readily but only Hop Clover, and Acorns will survive in heavily stocked goat pastures. Since cattle do not eat many of these plants, running both cattle and goats together is a good way to insure their survival and to reduce parasite problems in both the cattle and the goats. Internal parasites that infect cattle will not infect goats, and those which infect goats will not infect cattle.
Research showing that sericea lespedeza hay is an effective wormer for goats has been done at Fort Valley State University in Texas, Louisiana State University, the Dale Bumpers USDA Research Station in Arkansas, and Auburn University. Back in the 1960’s, when we first moved to northern Arkansas, some of our neighbors who had milked goats in the 1940’s and 1950’s claimed that one could not keep goats healthy without sericea lespedeza hay. Back then little was known about internal parasites in goats, and no effective worm medications were available. In the late 1960’s we found that our dairy goats milked better on sericea lespedeza hay and hop clover hay than they did on alfalfa hay.
Common sericea lespedeza will not survive when grazed intensively. Auburn University and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station have released a new variety of sericea lespedeza called AU Grazer. AU Grazer can tolerate heavy grazing or frequent clipping and has thinner and more pliable stems. This variety provides more nutritious forage for goats, with less likelihood of losing the stand from over grazing. While we have a newly established stand of AU Grazer lespedeza, we have not had an opportunity to try grazing it yet. Sericea lespedeza has also been found to reduce methane emission in goats 30% to 57%, depending on how it is measured.
Worming Meat Goats
It is recommended, by most parasitologists, to change wormers periodically to keep worms from building up a resistance to the medications. Worming only those goats which show symptoms of worms at any one time and not worming the entire herd, will also help prevent the building up of resistance to medications. We found that worming our entire herd just once per year does not cause a buildup of immunity in worms when using Moxidectin wormer (also sold as Cydectin and Quest.) It is the only wormer we have used for the last twelve years, and it still gets good results. We use it because it is the only wormer that does not kill dung beetles. They are important for removing goat droppings and reducing pasture contamination. We worm all of our does in late February, just before they start kidding in March. Does are more susceptible to worms at kidding time. Also at this time of the year the weather is cold enough to kill eggs which are passed from the goats in their feces. Worming all the goats at the same time makes it easier to select for parasite resistance.
Selecting for Parasite Resistance
One can greatly improve the parasite resistance of meat goats by selecting and breeding for this trait. Our twelve years of experience in breeding full blood Boers has shown us that the heritability of resistance to internal parasites in Boer goats is much greater than we originally thought it would be. We have made great progress in improving our herd for this trait. When we first started breeding Boer goats for parasite resistance, we had to worm our goats three times per year. Over a ten year period, we have achieved enough genetic improvement for parasite resistance to be able to worm only once per year. Individual goats which required more frequent worming were culled. If one worms too often, one is breeding superior worms, not better goats.
Fertility and mothering ability are also very important. Meat goats will not be profitable if they do not have kids, if they do not care for and protect their kids, or if they do not produce enough milk for their kids to grow rapidly. We have found that goats that are parasite resistant are also more fertile and better mothers.
Because the Kiko breed of goat originated in New Zealand which has a warm, wet climate many Kiko breeders insist that Kikos are more resistant to internal parasites than Boers. This might possibly be true when looking at averages, but some of the research done trying to prove this is flawed. No person, who has a basic understanding of population genetics, biometrics, and the history of these two breeds, would even try to prove such a thing. Both of these breeds were developed very recently by crossing very diverse types of goats. Very little line breeding has been done within either breed to fix certain traits. Thus, the differences between individual goats within each of these breeds, for resistance to parasites, are much greater than the differences between the breeds. Most of the Kiko breeders in our area were worming their Kikos more often than we wormed our full blood Boer goats. We do believe that Kikos are great meat goats, and the breed is playing a very important role in our meat goat industry.
Parasite resistance is very difficult to measure accurately. Selection for this trait is equally difficult. Nutrition, sanitation, and climate have an impact on parasite resistance in goats. These environmental factors vary greatly from herd to herd and from year to year within a herd. It is almost impossible to select for this trait when buying goats, especially if one has little information on how the goats were managed or on when and how often they were wormed. This is one reason for not buying breeding stock at sale barns. A second reason is that sale barns are where we and others sell our culls. Every producer has culls to sell. Even when breeding the best to the best, some of the offspring will be culls. One often has to buy goats and try them out before using them in a breeding program. This can be very expensive and can slow down progress in achieving ones goals. The two most expensive goats we ever bought were culls and were never used in our breeding program.
For those who wish to select and breed meat goats for parasite resistance, the future looks brighter because of very important research currently in progress at Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma. They are trying to develop tools for performance testing bucks and rams for parasite resistance. If successful they will implement a new central sire performance testing program for goats and sheep. They are also looking for genetic markers that can be used to select goats and sheep for parasite resistance, and they have set up experiments to determine the rate of improvement likely when breeding goats or sheep for parasite resistance. They are working with Boer, Kiko, and Spanish meat goats and with Dorper, Katahdin, and St. Croix hair sheep.
To do this research, Langston University is collaborating with the USDA-ARS Dale Bumpers Small Farms Research Center in Arkansas, the Oklahoma State University Department of Animal Science, the Oklahoma State University Department of Agricultural Economics, three goat producers, and three sheep producers. The collaborating producers must have one hundred twenty females in their herd, and must have facilities for pen breeding six groups of animals. The producers must practice good management and must keep good records for progeny ID.