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Sustainable Agriculture

Testing Profitable Forage Systems for Goats

Multicultural residents seeking familiar diets in the United States have driven the growth of goat farms by 20 percent between 1997 and 2002. Southern farmers who want to cash in on the niche market are learning more about efficient and cost-effective goat production, thanks to SARE-funded research at Tuskegee University.

The Southeast's warm, humid climate is ideal for raising the forages and browses on which goats thrive. To identify the top performers, Tuskegee University researcher Sandra Solaiman collaborated with Auburn University to test Marshall ryegrass, bahiagrass, and mimosa. Often considered a weed, mimosa is a prime choice for goats, which like to browse on plants at least 5 inches high. Browsing helps goats avoid internal parasites by keeping their heads above ground-dwelling wormsand other pests.

Ryegrass proved best in experiment station tests, with a net profit of $58.50per goat. Mimosa posted a profit of $32.60 per goat. Bahiagrass was not profitable, and was the only forage that did not beat a concentrated grain diet, which yielded $26.70 net profit per goat.

Solaiman, an unabashed goat meat booster, is filling an information need for farmers, many of whom have limited resources and want to add a supplemental enterprise. “Producers are thirsty for information,” said Solaiman. “We can only compete with other production systems like beef and poultry if we're unique and efficient.”

Carla Shoemaker of Notasulga, AL, has raised goats for 3 years and tested her flock on ryegrass in the winter and a naturally seeded mimosa field later in the season. She supplemented the herd's diet with hay, grains, oats and soybeans. “My main income is from goats,” said Shoemaker, who participated in a video promoting the project. “We're up to $1.25 a pound on prime goat meat.”

The next step for researchers is to fine-tune a year-round goat grazing system that might run like this: ryegrass in winter, followed by a small grain, a drought-tolerant summer grass, then mimosa with a hay or grain supplement. Once they perfect the system, Solaiman hopes to provide solutions to Southern farmers seeking a market edge. With the healthy attributes of goat meat, with considerably less saturated fat and cholesterol than beef and pork, Solaiman is confident that goat meat will gain in popularity.

Another option for farmers with woodlands is to integrate goats to thin unwanted brush and produce another marketable product. “People have done it,” she said. “It works.”

 

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