Covid 19: On-farm goat purchases increase as buyers fear retail markets

As Goat Rancher readers know, I have been puzzled for some months that the historical ‘June-swoon’ in slaughter goat prices did not occur in 2020. Auction prices did NOT fall post-Easter as they had for many years; moreover, they remained around $3/lb liveweight for grade #1 animals throughout the summer and into early fall. Auc- tion numbers did not fall appreciably nor did slaughter goat numbers going through state and federally-inspected packing plants. Accord- ingly, supply of goats was not a price driver. I am indebted to Dr. Tatiana Stanton, sheep/goats extension spe- cialist at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, for clarifying this mystery. She explains that many urban consumers of goat meat have been ‘turned-off’ to buying goat meat in retail markets because the car- casses originate from packing plants that could have been invaded by the Corona virus. As a result, there has been a serious increase in numbers of slaughter goats being purchased on-farm — an instance of ‘direct-marketing’ (as discussed in earlier Goat Rancher articles). These on-farm buyers then slaughter the goat themselves or have it done elsewhere (custom processors, locker plants, individ- uals). Remember, some states prohibit an on-farm buyer from slaugh- tering his goat on the seller’s farm, but other states do allow it. The paper by my colleague, Dr. Ken McMillin, in this issue concerning on-farm slaughter facilities is spot-on. (See facing page). Readers who are contemplating such direct-marketing and as- sociated humane slaughter activities will find it most valuable. It is comprehensive, yet precise, and it provides readers sufficient infor- mation to make accurate, rational decisions.

I suggest that producers electing this option also take a copy to their County Health Office and get from them a written authorization for this local on-farm activity. Both papers should be prominently posted on your slaughter facility so that all buyers/users/on-lookers can be adequately informed and/or warned-off. There is admittedly an element of cover-your-ass thinking in

this display. But, your neighbors and townsmen do need to be made aware of this legal activity as a sort of preventive-measure. Some of them may object, loudly/ignorantly/even vindictively, on various grounds; careful as you go, friends.

Note that this increase in goat slaughter by individuals is not reported to state or federal agencies who collect kill numbers from commercial packing plants. Accordingly, these unreported numbers are ‘under the radar’, i.e., ‘not officially known’. American Sheep Industry officials speculate that some 40% of slaughter lambs are unreported annually. We speculate that the annual unreported goat kill may well be similar via ‘off-truck’ sales to indi- vidual buyers/consumers in the metro areas of Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston and elsewhere. (Veteran readers will recall my observations regarding a federal-forested area northeast of Houston called ‘buzzardville’ because of informal slaughter/unburied offal being done by off-truck buyers who were legally prevented from slaughter in metro back yards).

Our experience is that urbanites wanting goat meat will drive 50-60 miles (one-way) to buy on-farm, and we speculate many

10 Goat Rancher | November 2020


buyers would appreciate/use an on-farm slaughter facility. Readers are urged to consider this marketing strategy, which has proven prof- itable to those producers ‘near’ urban centers. Contrarily, there may be some site-specific issues and personal traits that militate against such undertaking.

Observations on meat goat industry demand As I conclude my goat brokerage business in the early fall, I re- port that demand for, and prices of, breeding females were about 10% higher in 2020 than in 2019. Savanna-cross females sold for about 10% more than Boer-crosses and full Spanish. Many of my sales sent to Amish and other dairymen who had lost milk contracts in the con- tinuing decline of dairy farm numbers due to mega-operation com- petition. I speculate that CY 2021 will see a further rise of 10%+ for all breeding commercial breeding stock. I already have preliminary inquiries for 1,200-1,500 doelings/does for next year. I have a recent Australian meat goat update that suggests their goat carcass export numbers will likely be similar to 2019 figures as they continue to recover from drought and other environmental dis- asters. In any case, American domestic goat meat will likely continue to sell at retail prices approximately twice that for imported frozen product. Some agricultural industries are effectively supported by federal government expenditures. USDA has industry support pro- grams for both domestic and international agricultural marketing ef- forts, and on a much grander scale. Australia and New Zealand’s federal ag assistance programs, though smaller in scale, are perhaps more sharply — and effectively — focused on targeted opportunities in the USA, Western Europe and the Middle East. America continues to import well over 40% of its need for goat meat and our meat goat producers and prospective producers are seemingly uninterested in increasing output. They stubbornly refuse to rise to the challenge/opportunity. One can only assume this non- participation is predicated primarily on a negative view of prospec- tive acceptable returns to labor, management and capital. I surmise that cost of land, lack of operational scale and avail- ability/cost of labor are the primary antagonists to increased production. However, I speculate that there may be historical facets of the agricul- ture industry still in play that militate against goat industry expansion. For instance, my hero, John K. Galbraith, Canadian-born Distinguished Professor, Harvard agricultural economist, offered this perceptive ob- servation in his 1992 Culture of Contentment book, to wit:

“Agriculture works well only under a widely accepted and much celebrated form of exploitation, that by the farmer of himself, his family and his immediate and loyal hired hands.”

(Dr. Frank Pinkerton, PhD, is a retired extension goat specialist

living in San Marcos, Texas. He can be contacted at 512-392-4123 or by e-mail at His book, A Compila- tion of the Wit and Wisdom of the Goat Man, is available for purchase at

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