Meat Goat Production in North Carolina
Jean-Marie Luginbuhl

Industry Size, Value and Expansion

Interest in meat goat production in North Carolina has increased during the past six years because of the increased demand for goat meat. This increase in demand is linked to a growing segment of the population of North Carolina and the Eastern USA which represents ethnic groups who prefer goat meat in their diet. US census data indicate that more than 700,000 immigrants who prefer goat meat to other meats enter the USA each year. In North Carolina, the Hispanic population is estimated at 300,000 to 500,000, out of a countrywide population of 45 million. Significant number of people of African, Asian, Middle-Eastern and Caribbean origin also reside in North Carolina. Although the current market picture is disjointed and confusing, there is an unfilled demand for goat meat in the major cities of the United States, and especially in the population centers of the Eastern seaboard. North Carolina's geographical proximity to these large urban markets is a real advantage. Since 1991 the United States is a net importer of goat meat. It is estimated that 1,969 metric tons of goat meat were imported in 1994, for a total value of $4.2 million. That same year, 25,040 goats were sold for meat in North Carolina weekly auction markets (see graph below).

Goats Sold at NC Auction Markets

This number increased to 27,874 heads in 1995, an upward trend of 11.3%, and to 31,503 in 1996, a further 13% increase. By the end of 1997 and 1998, 34,160 and 35,116 goats had been sold through NC weekly auction markets, respectively, additional increases of 8.4 and 3%. Many more goats are sold through other marketing channels not controlled by the NC Department of Agriculture, as indicated by the declining rate of goats sold through weekly auction markets between 1998 and 1999. One marketing channel through which the sale of meat goats is increasing rapidly is private treaty; however, no statistic exists concerning goats sold through that or other channels.

About 10 years ago, Powell Livestock in Smithfield sold 15 to 50 goats a week. Now, that number ranges from 200 to 400. To handle this increase, Powell has started a weekly auction exclusively for goats and sheep. The increased interest in meat goat production and goat meat consumption is also represented by the number of goats slaughtered in NC plants inspected by the NCDA. That number increased from 534 in 1994, 812 in 1996 and 1,724 in 1998 (see graph below).

Goats Slaughtered in NC Plants

According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture marketing specialist, a total of over 150,000 goats were sold for meat in NC in 1998, representing receipts of over 6 million dollars. In addition, it is estimated that the NC meat goat breeding stock inventory totals 101,000 animals for a total of 3,000 farms, or an average of 34 goats per farm. It is anticipated that the meat goat inventory will grow by an average of 10% in 1999. The above breeding stock inventory represents a capital of over 10 million dollars.

Another indicator of the expansion of the meat goat industry is the fact that goat shows were successfully implemented at the Mountain and North Carolina State Fairs in 1996. Interest is growing rapidly: 52 goats were entered in the Goat Show at the NC State Fair in 1996 versus 121 in 1997, a 133% increase, 196 in 1998, an additional 62% increase, and finally 330 in 1999, a 68% increase from the previous year (see graph below).

Goats Entered at NC State Fair

The number of goats entered in the Junior Market Goat Show totaled 46 animals in 1997 Vs 117 in 1998, a 154% increase, and 170 in 1999, a 45% increase from the previous year. In addition, the number of exhibitors in the Junior Market Goat Show jumped from 31 in 1997 to 53 in 1998 and finally to 60 in 1999. These statistics clearly indicate the increased interest in meat goats by young people.

As mentioned, the demand for goat meat is ethnic based. However, there is an emerging demand for goat meat as a gourmet item. In addition, health concerns regarding red meat does not apply to goat meat, which compares favorably with chicken in terms of calories and protein, but is lower in total and saturated fat (see table below).


Comparison of Goat Meat to Other Meats (3 oz roasted)


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suggesting that beef pastures could support between a half and one million goats. The complementary effects of grazing cattle and goats on the same farm provide an opportunity to enhance and augment North Carolina existing beef cattle industry by improving pasture condition and feed quality. North Carolina farmers are searching for new sources of farm income and for ways to diversify their operations, and develop sound and cost effective environmental practices to stay competitive in a global economy. Goat farming seems to be independent of scale. Small, part-time farmers with only a few acres can raise enough animals to provide an income supplement. On the other hand very large farms can efficiently integrate a meat goat enterprise to aid in diversification of the farm.

Historic Development

The South African Boer goat has provided great incentive to the development of the NC meat goat industry, resulting in the founding of the North Carolina Meat Goat Association in November 1993. Since then, membership has been steadily increasing to approximately 350 members. The Boer goat represents the only goat breed in the world that is routinely involved in performance and progeny tests for meat production. As such, Boer goat genetics are playing a significant role in improving the quality of the NC goat flock. In April of 1993 Boer genetics were released from quarantine in New Zealand and were offered for sale in North America (mainly as frozen embryos). Fortunately, NC State University and a few key producers were able to obtain some of these embryos to form the core for a research flock and to provide a sound genetic base for the improvement of meat goat genetics in the state. Following several years of speculative prices, Boer goat breeding stock prices are now affordable to smaller producers. Crossbred animals having Boer genetics are now being sold for meat at auction markets or under private sales and buyers and consumers already have recognized the superior carcasses of those animals.

The NCSU Meat Goat Educational and Research Program

North Carolina State University, following an appropriation from the North Carolina General Assembly, established in 1995 a faculty position with technical support staff and an operating budget in support of this fledgling industry. Since then, North Carolina State University has become a leader in the development of meat goat educational and research programs in the southeastern United States. To support this emerging industry, work began to evaluate the potential of cool-season and warm-season perennial and annual forages to meet the nutritional requirements of productive does throughout the different stages of their production cycle and of growing kids and replacement does. The potential of woody trees and shrub species adapted to our environmental conditions and suitable for meat goats as protein and/or energy banks during the summer are also being evaluated. Byproduct feeds, such as cottonseed, wheat-middling and corn-gluten feed are being tested with goats fed forage-based diets. The effect of gossypol, a yellow pigment found in whole cottonseed that may affect male reproductive function, is being examined in collaboration with Virginia State University. Additional research conducted in collaboration with scientists from the NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Virginia Tech is exploring non-pharmaceutical approaches to treating goats against gastrointestinal parasites.

The role of goats as biological control agents is becoming increasingly important due to environmental concerns and elevated costs of other control methods such as mechanical cutting and herbicide application. Research conducted at the NCDA Mountain Research Station in Waynesville has demonstrated that goats have significant economic value in biological control of weeds and brush in land reclamation projects. Therefore, the foraging habits of goats has important environmental implications by ultimately increasing the sustainability of production systems.

In cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture marketing specialist, graded goat sales have been implemented in certain areas of the state to supplement weekly auction market sales, and meat goat shows are now an integral part of the North Carolina State Fair in Raleigh and the Mountain State Fair in Asheville. In addition, educational programs targeting cooperative extension service agents, commodity associations and other agricultural professionals have been implemented with the objective that meat goat producers will select, adopt and successfully implement best management practices that will achieve business, individual, and family goals related to profitability and quality of life.

Presently, the NCSU meat goat educational, research and breeding herd is comprised of 220 animals, 26% being purebred Boer females, 56% crossbred Boer females, 2% purebred Boer males, and 16% yearling wethers. It is anticipated that over 220 kids will be born at NCSU during the year 2000 spring kidding season. Another research herd of about 100 Boer cross animals, of which 42 are pregnant females due to kid next April, is located at the NCDA Mountain Research Station in Waynesville.

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Last modified February 28, 2000
Linda E Kern, Extension Animal Husbandry, Department of Animal Science, NCSU