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Versatile Goats

Whether they are raised for meat, fibre or dairy, goats are a viable option for small farms /9c4/wp/wp-content/uploads/2006/08/goats.jpg

The people with goats in Canada are just about as diverse a group as the animals they raise. From farmers born-and-bred to transplanted city folk, all are part of the growing goat industry.

Little wonder.

Goats can be raised for milk, meat, fibre or a combination of all three. Housing need not be expensive. The Canadian industry is also structured so that people can succeed, whether they have a handful of animals on a small acreage for their own pleasure, or a large commercial endeavour with hundreds. “I think, we’re going to continue to see producers of all sizes, whether they’re hobbyists, small farmers or large farmers,” says Guenette Bautz, the promotion coordinator of the Canadian National Goat Federation. “The industry has so many options for people . . . and it can still be a relatively small investment.”

Dawn Stead and her husband and their two children live on a rocky little farm just outside Huntsville, Ont. They raise Boer goats, a popular meat type (other popular meat breeds are Kiko and Spanish). Boer goats offered a way to earn a profit from the farm but it wasn’t until Stead, together with fellow producer Susanne Neil, began direct marketing the meat that profitability was within reach on a consistent basis.

“We’ve found that by selling at the farmer’s market, you can get a lot more profit by selling meat by the piece rather than the whole animal,” she says. “It’s less work (than selling live animals) and if you hit the right time of year, the prices can be wonderful but it’s also a gamble.”

So Stead and Neil began having their kids processed by a local butcher and established a summer market at the nearby resort town of Rosseau. They had no idea of how their prospective clientele, including a large contingent of cottagers from the Greater Toronto area, would respond.

The reaction was positive. Typically, people new to chevon (the fancy word for goat meat), might try a pepperette out of curiosity and, after learning about the lean nutrition and mild taste, move on to chops, roasts or sausage.

Today, Stead looks to gross about $10,000 from the market over two months, selling close to half the kids, from her 75 does. The rest are sold at a live auction, as breeding stock or are raised as replacement does. There’s a good deal of commitment required for the enterprise to succeed but Stead says it allows her to be at home for her two children and the profits are a welcome part of her family’s income.

Unlike Stead, Francois and Maryse Clemenx have built full-time jobs for themselves and one employee at their farm near Drummondville, Que. They milk about 160 does, twice a day, and have also launched a small production facility in 2006 to make goat cheese and yoghurt.

Maryse Clemenx says she and her husband began milking goats in 1999, to diversify their farm and spread the risk. The ambitious Swiss immigrants have been milking cows in Canada since coming here in 1989.

Producing an average of 800 litres of milk over a 305-day lactation, their herd of Saanen does produces well above the Quebec average. Overall, about 120,000 litres are produced annually of which four per cent is used for to their own cheese and yoghurt. The remainder is sold to a larger processor for which the family is paid 88.46 cents per litre, a price set through negotiation between farmers and processors.

With the milking parlour and processing equipment, the couple have made a substantial investment in the goat industry. They’re not small farmers but the processing component of their farm may represent a way for a family to maximize earnings from a small holding.

Cheese and yoghurt produced by the family is marketed at a weekend flea market near Trois Rivieres, from their plant, and at stores carrying specialty food items. Clemenx says less income is derived from cheese and yoghurt sales as compared to cow and goat milk sales but feels profitability will improve with time.

According to Henk VanSchaik, one of the founders of the Ontario Dairy Goat Co-Operative, it takes at least 200 milking does to provide a family with a modest income. VanSchaik, who runs a 400-doe operation of mixed breed Saanens, says each doe can be counted on to produce 850 lites of milk per year. Net milk revenue (the price paid by the co-operative) is approximately 75 cents per litre. At those rates a 200 doe operation would generate revenues of about $127,000, from which farm expenses (feed, fuel etc) have to be deducted. While most farms require 400 does to provide a living, VanSchaik says there are some members of the cooperative milking as few as 50 or 60 does, including members of Ontario’s Amish and Mennonite communities. Some farmers run a 100-doe operation and work full time off the farm, which is a recipe for exhaustion.

Turning a profit hasn’t been as much a concern for Helen Gladson who’s been raising Angora goats for their fibre near Westlock, Alta. She and her husband purchased her first three animals in 1989. “We just thought they were so cute with their long locks—like little hippies. We never had goats before. This was just a lark,” Gladson says. “I was a knitter back then and had visions of spinning, weaving and knitting my own fibre”

It has not turned out as Gladson first envisioned, but she’s transformed her hobby into an often profitable, part-time business. She plans to retire from her full-time, position as a school guidance counsellor and so will have more time for business. Gladson now has a herd of 20 wethers (castrated males), enough to supply her fibre needs.

A good-yielding older animal will typically produce seven to nine pounds twice a year with prices ranging from $2 to $4 a pound. There’s far less fibre yield when kids are shorn the first two times in their lives but it’s worth $12 to $15 a pound.
While there are Angora goat producers selling raw wool, Gladson’s strategy for the past several years has been to add value to the fibre and develop both retail and wholesale markets. She’s done this in a variety of ways, including: paying to have the fibre processed into yarn and selling the yarn; wholesaling and retailing 15-gram packets of washed and naturally-dried mohair; and marketing the mohair as westing—combed and sown strips of mohair that are often used for doll wigs.

Most recently, Gladson has developed a passion for fibre sculpting—a hand-matting technique that involves the repeated use of a felting needle. She creates “one-of-a-kind” animal and people sculptures, typically the size of her hand, and sells her creations for anywhere from $80 to $125.

Sold in the form of sculptures, the fibre is worth anywhere from $300 to $400 a pound. Of course, there is a lot of time and handwork involved and Gladson has invested 17 years to reach this point.

Sources: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Canadian National Goat Federation; Manitoba Agriculture and Food; Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development; Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs.

Jeffrey Carter is a freelance journalist based in Dresden, Ontario with stories appearing regularly in several Canadian farming publications. He was raised on a mixed farm in Oxford County.

GOAT BASICS

  • According to the latest census figures, there are more than 180,000 goats in Canada on nearly 8,000 farms, with the Canadian goat population increasing by 45 per cent between 1996 and 2001. That’s nearly 24 goats per farm, on average.
  • Adult female goats are called does, adult males are bucks, young males and females are kids, castrated males are wethers and first-time bred females are doelings.
  • Goat breeds suited to milk production are the Alpine, Saanen, Nubian, Toggenburg, La Mancha and Oberhasli. More than 80 per cent of goat milk is produced in Ontario and Quebec and much of that is processed into cheese.
  • Breeds raised primarily for their fibre are the Angora and Cashmere.
  • Boer, Kiko and Spanish goats are the most popular breeds in Canada for the production of Chevon (goat meat), although goats primarily raised for their milk and fibre are also important to meat production.
  • Canadian goat producers compete against imported goat milk, meat and fibre, which has an effect of putting a ceiling on prices.
  • Goat milk is similar in terms of taste and nutrient profile to cow milk but has 13 per cent less lactose, smaller fat molecules and is naturally homogenized. In many instances, people allergic to cow milk can consume goat milk with no ill effects.
  • Goat meat is the most-widely consumed red meat in the world, is 50 to 65 per cent lower in fat content than similarly prepared beef and contains 40 per cent less saturated fat than chicken prepared without the skin.
  • There are two main meat markets. Milk-fed kids with a live weight of 25 to 45 pounds are often sold for the Christmas and Easter seasons. Older goats weighing anywhere from 50 to 100 pounds are sold year round. There are also niche markets for both younger and older animals.
  • Goats are hardy animals that can be housed in a variety of inexpensive structures. They can be bred around the year using a variety of techniques but are naturally-inclined toward fall breeding.
  • While goats will eat a wide variety of plant material, they have a refined palate in terms of quality. Feed bunks should be designed to keep the feed in and the goats out since goats will avoid feed tainted with urine or faeces.
  • Forage or pasture is the main feed component for goats, making up about 72 per cent of dry feed intake. Rolled cereals or nutrient-rich pelletized feeds, along with mineral supplements, should also be fed.
  • It is essential that new-born goats receive their mother’s colostrum—a source of protein, minerals and antibodies—for the first three to five days. Kids will begin nibbling at hay when they’re two or three days old but require surplus goat milk or a milk replacer for several weeks before weaning.
  • Does should not be bred until they are seven to nine months of age. The average gestation period is 153 days with twins often being produced.
  • To learn more about goats, there are government fact sheets available on-line and producer connections can be established through several provincial and national associations.