Goats: Market Conditions Favorable;
Future Looks Promising

July 2003
By Michael Shirley, TFBF Intern

Few agricultural commodities have enjoyed strong market growth in the past few years in Tennessee. One market that has continued to expand and at the same time maintain a favorable price is the goat industry. The goat population in Tennessee is estimated to be around fifty thousand, second only to Texas, based on the USDA's 1997 census of agriculture. There are several reasons behind the boom in the Tennessee goat industry. The higher number of small farms, increase in ethnic populations, and the need for alternative crops for traditonal farmers have all played key roles in the goat numbers.

As more of Tennessee's rural landscape shifts from large family farms to houses with acreage plots, the type and quantity of livestock the land can sustain has changed as well. Goats can thrive on all of Tennessee's different landscapes. Charles Lawson, board member for the Tennessee Goat Producers Association, says that you can run about six to eight goats per acre on average depending on type of terrain and quality of forages. Goats are an easy animal for small landowners to care for, and they offer a chance to make a profit on a small set-up.

The most popular breeds of goat in Tennessee are the meat type breeds such as Boer, Kiko, and crosses of these varieties. The popularity of these breeds is due in large part to demand for goat meat continuing to rise as more ethnic populations move to the area. But not all of the goats sold in Tennessee are consumed in Tennessee. Many of the goats purchased at stockbarns all around Tennessee are shipped to the New England area where demand for goat meat is the strongest.

Margie Baker, a livestock marketing specialist for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA), says that several programs have been started to help the goat industry. One of the things that the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is doing to assist the goat industry is by having graded sales. This is where one of our livestock graders will attend the sale and grade the goats. Goats are graded either choice, prime, or utility. Goat prices at these graded sales have tended to be considerably higher than other area sales where the goats are not graded. Baker explains this trend, when [the goats] go through the auction, the buyers know what type of goat they're getting. They know whether it's going to be something to take home and feed to fatten up for a better sale or if it's going to be ready to go to slaughter now and what type quality they are getting. Currently, there are two regular graded sales in Tennessee. The Tennessee Livestock Producers have a graded sale at Thompson Station the second and fourth Friday of every month, and at Sommerville on the first Friday of each month.

Many tobacco farmers are also beginning to raise goats as an alternative crop. Many areas where tobacco is grown make ideal locations for goat farms. Baker suggests using existing tobacco barns as shelters for goats. You can very easily take an old tobacco barn and economically put some pens in it and turn it into a goat barn.

The future of the Tennessee goat industry appears bright. With the continuing demand for goat meat from the ethnic populations and the increasing acceptance of goat meat from other consumers, the market should continue to expand. Wayne Barnes, manager of the Thompson Station Sheep and Goat Sale, echoes this sentiment and adds another thought. More people are eating goats now and one thing I¹ve found is that in Texas, a lot of the big ranches are being sold off and split up. That means less goats in that area. That will open the market up for more goats in the Southeast to be produced and a bigger, better market. If it stays like it is, it¹s a good thing to be into.