The South African Boer goat quietly invaded the United States via Texas about 15 years ago – and has been nibbling its way north ever since.
Developed by Dutch farmers in South Africa in the early 1900s, the hardy Boer goats were bred for their rapid growth, ability to produce large amounts of meat and adaptability to different, even harsh, environments.
Boer (which means “farmer” in Dutch) goats were first exported to Australia and New Zealand, only landing in the United States, Texas specifically, from those two countries in 1993.
The explosion of the U.S. goat meat market is attributed to a growing base of ethnic customers and a desire for a leaner, healthier red meat alternative to beef and pork. Other products such as goat milk and goat cheese are also gaining in popularity.
According to Drew and Mike Earles of Thornridge, a Boer goat breeding operation just outside Mechanicsburg, show goats and meat goats are the fastest growing segments in the overall livestock industry. “The goat show at the Illinois State Fair has been growing in size every year and the competition in Illinois and surrounding states gets tougher every year,” said Drew.
Mike says Boer goat meat production is also picking up the pace. It’s the most frequently consumed meat in the world, and American producers are unable to meet domestic demand. According to USDA, meat goats totaled 3.15 million head in July 2008. Of that, 2.3 million were for breeding and 820,000 were for market.
Langston University Goat and Research Extension reported that the United States is importing the meat of more than 700,000 goats per year. Until 1991, the United States was a net exporter. In 2007, the United States imported a total of 10,166 metric tons of goat meat, most of which came from Australia. New Zealand also exports a small portion of goat meat to the United States.
The two brothers say they are typical of a new breed of livestock producer.
“This business is made up of a lot of people like us,” said Mike. “They have full-time jobs that are more than likely related to agriculture and they do this as a hobby or on the side. They grew up on a farm and now have smaller acreage, and they want to raise their kids that way. That seems to be the trend in livestock.”
He explained that it takes a little more than an acre to properly raise one cow. “If you had a bull and two cows, that’d be about it on five acres by the time you had a house and yard and other buildings. Goats you could run maybe 10 to 15, managed properly,” he continued. They are small, and they have a bit of a personality.
“With animals like goats, you can raise enough of them on four to 10 acres to do something profitable,” Mike said. “It takes a lot of money, acreage and time to compete with cattle at the big level, especially with the price of farmland in Illinois. With the goats, we can hold our own even at the national level.” —Rick Wade