Goat production is a growing enterprise for small and limited resource farmers. Goats can be adapted to different production systems and can be raised with relatively few inputs, but they can present production and marketing challenges.
Susan and Tom Barnes live on 120 acres along Pleasant Valley southwest of Custer, South Dakota. Susan’s family homesteaded much of Pleasant Valley, and made a living raising cattle and horses for more than one hundred years. Today, Susan and Tom continue that tradition by raising goats. They maintain Savannah, Spanish, and Boer herds for their cross breeding program. In 2012, the Barneses received a SARE Farmer Rancher grant to work on the development of a chevon (goat meat) market in the Black Hills region and educate consumers and producers about meat goats. During the project, they conducted a feeding study and carcass evaluation, visited meat markets, restaurants, and meat processors, conducted taste tests, and developed marketing materials to expand consumer and producer awareness about goat meat.
“This project was extremely interesting because of all its moving parts,” said Tom Barnes. “We live in an area where cattle are the main protein source, so to get people to eat and then buy goat is a challenge. We knew that goats are browsers/grazers, which fits well with the Black Hills. There are many small acreages that will not support cattle, but where small ruminants are well suited. We also know that goat meat is very healthy compared to many of the mainstream meats. We emphasized these points.”
When the feeding study potion of the grant was completed, they took eight selected goats to a USDA federally inspected facility and had the carcasses evaluated by an experienced meat specialist. They used full blood bucks from each breed to track genetics, and they implemented a cross breeding program in order to improve kid mortality, improve herd health, and maintain high quality meat.
In order to connect with consumers, they served samples at several public meetings and events, as well as 8 private dinners. They served between 500 and 600 people during the grant period and received back 219 feedback surveys. They learned that most people had not cooked goat meat before, most people did not know that about the nutritional value of goat meat, most said that if goat meat were available they would prepare it on occasion, and most would benefit from a cook/spice book.
The Barneses also ran ten small ads in the regional newspaper. Five ads focused on the use of goat as a food source and five ads focused on raising goats as a profitable livestock animal. As a result of the ads, they received more than 40 phone calls wanting more information. The ads also led to a front-page local newspaper article about their SARE grant and Pleasant Valley Farm.
Pleasant Valley Farm has customers that order small amounts on a weekly basis or whole goats annually, and they also sell to a high-end restaurant in Rapid City. In addition to exceeding their project goal to sell or distribute 1400 lbs. of goat meat, the Barneses have expanded their market; Tom Barnes says they will sell all of their production directly in the Black Hills and will not need to use auctions.
“The exposure of goats to the general public through the grant has made a difference to all goat producers in our area,” said Tom Barnes. “The SARE grant gave us the opportunity to build a customer base slowly, remain sustainable, and still produce a quality meat. Our meat demand far outpaces our supply by at least 3 times. We have more than 30 regular private sale customers and we could be supplying 5 restaurants if we had the goats.”
Because they are interested in helping new goat producers get started, the Barneses organized a seminar this winter to promote goat production for the larger rancher. They had 31 attendees from 4 states, and it generated some new producers. They will also continue performance testing to ensure good bloodlines for sales to other breeders.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant: