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Is there a Potential for Growth of the Goat Industry in Florida?

Basil Bactawar, UF/IFAS Duval County Extension Service

Several farms keep goats as a hobby or just to keep down the weeds!!! Some are commercial farms that produce milk and meat or meat alone. Florida holds good potential to increase its goat production. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Census (2002), the number of goat farms increased by nineteen (19) percent, the goat population by twelve (12) percent, the number of farms that sold goats by forty five (45) percent from 1997 to 2002. National sales were up by fifty-five (55) percent during the same period.

The growing demand for goats was noted over the years by several newspaper articles. For example in 2001, the Boston Globe reported on the “Growing Markets for Goats.” In 2003, Daily Oklahoma ran an article captioned “Goat Meat finds Support in Oklahoma.” The following year the Chicago Tribune published “A Growing demand for Meat Goats.” Even the Kentucky Living Magazine featured the “Growing Goat market during 2006.” The growing demand for goat meat appears to be a trend across North America. In 2007, The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper carried an article on “Goats are not for cheese anymore.” The increase in goat numbers is evident in Florida as goat production increased by 180 percent from 2002 to 2006 with a current population of 75,000 head.

The USA was a net exporter of goat meat before 1990. Export of this product stopped because of an increase in demand within the country.  Consequently the US became a goat meat importing country. For example, The USA imported approximately 750,000 goat carcasses in 2006. More than ninety (90) percent of this import came from Australia. Although the US Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Services reported approximately three million meat goats on farms, American producers were unable to meet the local demand for goat meat.  The increase in demand for meat goat is driven by a growing ethnic population with preference for goat meat. They are Hispanics, Asian, Africans and people from the Middle East.

What does this mean for goat producers or potential goat producers in Florida? The demand for goat meat is projected to remain strong because the ethnic population is expected to grow especially the Hispanics. This is a good opportunity for the goat business, but it is important that producers minimize their production costs without adversely affecting production so as to compete with the imported frozen product.  One of the advantages producers have is consumers’ preference for fresh goat meat instead of the frozen product.  Additionally, producers need to understand the market so as to add value to the goats they produced. Please see below a list of initiatives that can add value to the meat produced on your farm:

  1. Consider selling goats when there is an increase in demand e.g. during Easter and Ramadan (Muslim holidays).
  2. Use handling and harvesting procedures that meet the customers’ needs e.g. Muslims prefer Halal and Jews prefer kosher techniques.
  3. Organic raised goats and/or goats produced under an on-farm food safety program can attract consumers who prefer organic and certified safe food.
  4. Direct marketing by arranging to have animals slaughter, cut, wrapped and delivered in accordance with consumers’ request or preference.
  5. Build a list of clients who return to purchase your goats or goat meat  based on customers’ satisfaction and loyalty

Goat production presents a good opportunity for farms to diversify their products by adding value.  Do not forget to keep an eye on your production costs, as they determine your bottom line.