Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, Texas Suzanne W. Gasparotto 300 Happy Ridge
Lohn, Texas
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A major factor in evaluating growth rates in most food animal species is Average Daily Gain. Why is ADG important? Faster growth means that the animals achieve market weights in the shortest amount of time using the least amount of feed so that the highest price can be received. In most livestock species, the most cost-efficient feed conversion and the highest average daily gain are the primary factors determining efficiency of production.

As a measure of production, Average Daily Gain is less important in meat goats at this point in the goat industry's development than it is in other livestock species. Several factors unique to goats have more impact on their ability to gain weight rapidly than they do on cattle or sheep.

Goats (like deer) are primarily foragers/browsers. When forage/browse is poor, weight gain is equally poor. Because goats cannot be successfully feedlotted in the same manner as cattle and sheep, one or all of the following events can and often do occur:

(1) Pushing goats to eat large amounts of grain products (sacked or bulk feed) in order to gain weight fast causes illnesses like ruminal acidosis, enterotoxemia, bloat, laminitis/founder, and urinary calculi which can lead to death.

(2) Goats cannot handle the stress created by crowding them into closely confined spaces. They are very susceptible to blood-sucking stomach worms, . Goats cannot tolerate the heavy wormload the comes from living in areas saturated with fecal material. The number of goats that can be run per acre is not based upon what is available to eat but instead on how to control the Haemonchus contortus stomach worm load. Goats instinctivly know that they need space between themselves, other goats, and feces loaded with stomach worm larvae. Overcrowding leads to sickness and death, resulting in economic loss to the goat rancher.

Goats are not efficient converters of processed grains to weight gain. It takes about seven pounds of grain to produce one pound of gain, presenting another drawback to feedlotting goats. It is easy to conclude that this species was created to be foragers/browsers.

Feedlotting as it presently exists was developed for cattle and sheep to provide uniform products year-round and focuses on most consumers' historical preference for grain-fed rather than grass-fed meat. To be successful, feedlot conditions for goats will have to different from that provided for other ruminants. Careful feedlot design and management is necessary to prevent the conditions and illnesses that can kill them.

I have been raising goats since January 1990. To my knowledge, no one has yet figured out how to feedlot meat goats and keep them healthy. Profitable goat operations currently must be run over large acreage. The nature of the species requires that goats, like deer, have space to live, range, move over, and eat above ground level to avoid blood-sucking stomach worms that kill them.

(3) Because goats, like deer, layer fat rather than marble it throughout their muscling, rapid weight gain (gain beyond that which goats can readily convert to muscle) produces fat that layers under the skin and around internal organs. You don't get paid for fat and other parts of the goats not used (offals). Markets for offals exist for other meat species (cattle, sheep, hogs, pigs, chickens, turkeys), but there are not enough goats in the USA to create a profitable after-market for the parts that consumers don't eat (bone, ears, hooves, internal organs). Fat deposits in cattle and sheep are desirable in those markets, but fatty goats are not what today's markets demand.

The seasonal demand for goat meat is another factor that works against the establishment of feedlot programs. A feedlot operation needs constant supply and demand year around. This isn't the case with goats today.

(4) The ability of goats to convert forage/browse efficiently to meat is important because most goats have not been genetically selected for efficient conversion of plant materials into muscle (meat) as have cattle and sheep. Feedlots suitable for goats must be designed and available for use to make it worthwhile for producers to pursue genetic selection of goats for efficient grain conversion to meat. Instead goats have been selected primarily on body appearance (phenotypic) traits.

Goats need to feed themselves on forage/browse as much as possible (but certainly not during bad weather conditions) in order to be profitable meat animals. This means lots of acreage with appropriate forage/browse and uncrowded population density. Raising goats is much like raising deer. If you want to implement a certain management or feeding regimen, ask yourself if it would work with an equal number of deer. If it won't work with deer, it won't work with goats.

(5) Goat meat is consumed largely by ethnic groups whose demand changes at different times of the year and is often based upon religious beliefs and traditions. . These are price-sensitive and culturally-based markets. Beef, pork, and poultry producers have successfully introduced value-added items such as prepared dishes, lunch meats, weiners, jerky, and sausage to create year-round demand for their products. Ethnics who eat goat meat prefer fresh but they will buy frozen if fresh is not available or is too expensive. They do not eat value-added products.

(6) The price received for goat meat is seasonal and dependent mostly on supply and demand throughout the year. Complicating this situation is the fact that seasonal demand for goat meat does not correlate positively with the time that live goats are most plentiful.

Most goat breeds cycle into heat when the days begin to shorten -- late June thru late December in the northern hemisphere. (The Myotonic breed, which normally breeds throughout the year, may experience cycling-into-heat limitations in some locations under unique conditions like excessive daylight or darkness or prolonged drought.) The highest prices for goats occur when demand is greatest between Thanksgiving and Christmas and prior to Easter (roughly November through April). You must get your does to cycle into heat no later than March to produce offspring to sell at the peak pricing of the Fall market (allowing five months' gestation and three months until weaning). This timeframe is completely counter to the months when most female goats normally cycle into heat. You can do this with chemicals that cycle females into heat, but this is both expensive and time consuming.

In the south, southeast, and southern Atlantic seaboard parts of the United States where many goats are currently being raised, the summers are too hot and too wet to permit pregnant and lactating does to remain healthy and newborn and young kids to grow well. Parasites are a life-threatening problem, the dams' milk production may be diminished, and kids have difficulty retaining their body temperatures to stay alive and thrive. You must select for genetically-adapted female goats that will cycle into heat in the spring and kid in the fall so you can sell at higher fall/winter prices. Winter forage/browse often is too poor in quality to allow does to produce enough milk for their kids to grow well and late summer forage often lacks enough nutrients to promote growth in the kids.

Many goat raisers breed to have their does give birth in the spring when forage/browse is plentiful to eat and winter is over. Weaning takes place in early summer when the supply of goats is highest and goat-meat prices are lowest. Kids with high average daily gain (ADG) who are born in this timeframe will be ready for market in the early part of the lowest price cycle (summer). You have to decide whether to hold them over until the beginning of peak pricing time in November in hopes that they have not gained too much weight because heavier goats bring less money per pound. Either scenario costs you extra money and lowers profit margins.

Kids are the market focus here because kid goats are the size desired by most people who eat goat meat. Historically the best prices for goats have been received for weaned kids weighing 45 to 60 pounds liveweight.

A kid with high average daily gain (ADG) is worth more than a low or moderate ADG kid only if it can be sold before it gets too heavy. If a high or moderate ADG kid reaches more than 60 pounds at an undesirable marketing time, that kid is worth less -- not more -- at meat sale. If you are going to make money, you have to breed the does at a time that allows the kids to grow for a shorter period of time between birthing and selling.

Knowledge of the average prices paid throughout the year is essential for calculating if, when, and how to alter normal breeding seasons. Example: If the maximum price paid for a 60-pound kid is $1.20/lb., then the gross income would be $72.00 per kid. If the kid is grown to 70 pounds and the price per pound drops to $1.05/lb., then the gross return is $73.50 per kid. While growing the heavier kid is not a loss of gross income, it will likely result in a net loss to you when you calculate how much additional forage/browse or supplemental grain was needed to add that extra ten pounds to the kid. Market timing is critical to making money.

Determining average daily gain on a diet of forage/browse is how most goat raisers measure the goat's ability to grow fast. This does not factor in the cost of that gain, so you must determine the amount of consumable digestible nutrients available on the land, compute the cost of producing these plant materials, figure out how to measure the amount of forage/browse consumed per goat, and calculate the cost of the average daily gain at the same time as calculating the ADG.

Forage/browse and land costs must be factored into cost of gain in a forage-based system. Any type of grain supplement, even creep feeding provided prior to weaning, skewers the results obtained when using average daily gain (ADG) to determine or predict growth in a goat and its ability to pass that trait to its offspring. Different breeds and crossbreeds will perform differently on different blends of forage/browse/grain supplements in different locations under differing environmental conditions. Refer to my article on Adaptability and its importance in successfully raising meat goats on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com. Results will be more favorable when market time coincides with historically highest market prices if you have been able to get the does to cycle off-season.

(7) Goats inherit the ability to gain weight from their dams and sires. From a genetic point of view, the heritability for weight gain, although high, is somewhat less in goats than in other food animal species. Even though growth rate is quite heritable (0.4) in goats, for Average Daily Gain to have any significant effect, both sire and dam must have very high ADG numbers or transmit a genetic tendency to gain weight to the offspring. Genetically speaking, the offspring will receive from its parents only the average of the sire's and the dam's ADG. The odds of inheriting the tendency to gain more than this average are the same as inheriting a tendency to gain less. Genetics can be very much a "crap shoot."

Commercial herd sires should always be top-quality producers so that maximum production traits are transferred to their offspring. Because many does are kept as replacement breeding stock and few bucks are retained, over time the sires contribute much more than one-half of the gene pool, making the males' genetic impact equal to three-quarters (3/4) of the herd.

Very little research has been done to discover and implement these practices in goats in the United States. Total goat numbers are less than two million, down from 12 million in 1990, so the numbers just aren't there to justify much money being invested. Among goat raisers, there is much misunderstanding about what a MEAT goat really is . Lots of folks are raising dairy genetics and calling them MEAT goats. And most goat raisers are actually hobbyists. I don't know of a single producer who raises goats as his primary source of income.

(8) Fertility, body conformation, muscling, sound body structure, tolerance of internal parasites, hooves that aren't prone to hoof rot/hoof scald, and an easy-going nature are arguably as or more important than Average Daily Gain in goats.

Although goat producers would like to distill down to a single trait the definition of a fast-growing quality meat goat, these complex and unique animals currently defy such categorization. Goats are not "little cattle" and their similarity to sheep ends with the word "ruminant." Goats behave more like deer in how they eat, live, and react to stress. Relying solely on Average Daily Gain doesn't work with meat goats at the present time.

Bottom line: Regardless of how your goats are being fed, the cost of gain per day is the more significant number for the producer in today's goat-raising world.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 10.1.19

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All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.

In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.

The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)

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