Central NY Farm Feeds Growing Interest in Goat Meat

9/8/2012 7:00 AM
By Helen Margaret Griffiths New York Correspondent

SPENCER, N.Y. — Goat meat is the world’s most consumed meat and accounts for about 70 percent of red meat eaten globally.

In the past in the United States, the demand has come mainly from ethnic groups of Middle Eastern, Asian, African, Latin American and Caribbean heritage. However, this is changing as more Americans who wish to consume meat are becoming conscious about calorie and fat intake.

Goat meat is a healthy alternative to other meats as it has a third fewer calories than beef, a quarter fewer than chicken and up to two-thirds less fat than a similar portion of pork and lamb; and less than half as much as chicken.

Even though meat goats are relatively easy to produce in most parts of the United States, the majority of the goat meat consumed is imported from New Zealand and Australia (more than 1.5 million pounds per week).

Goat farming in New York state is often associated with dairy production, but there are goat meat farmers in the state, as well.

Luce Guanzini and Mark Baustian of Highwood Farm in Spencer have been producing goats for meat for about 15 years.

Neither Guanzini nor Baustian grew up on farms, but Guanzini said, “I’ve wanted to farm as long as I can remember. My aunt and uncle had a sheep farm in northeastern Pennsylvania and I spent all my summers there when growing up.”

Guanzini, who has a background in animal science and some experience with ruminants, purchased the 180-acre Highwood Farm with half woods and half pasture in 1994. Within a few years, she and Baustian started the meat goat farm initially with dairy goat breed crosses, since Boer goats were not available in the U.S. at that time.

Today they have about 80 breeding Boer x Nubian/Alpine animals and produce around 100 kids per season.

“We like to keep some dairy genetics in the herd, such as Nubian and Alpine, because we feel the increased milk production is good for the kids,” Baustian said. “We also allow the goats to practice self-weaning, as we believe this decreases the stress of the animals being separated from their mothers.”

The animals are pastured raised but are brought in at night to guard against predators. “This can be up to a quarter mile walk, but we have a very high coyote population so it is worth it,” said Baustian.

At Highwood Farm, Guanzini and Baustian raise all their own replacement goats, which allows them to select does who are good milk producers.

“We just don’t want to have to use milk replacer unless absolutely necessary, as it just is too expensive,” said Baustian.

Bucks are castrated at about 3 days old. “Having too many boys in the herd can be a problem for management,” Baustian said. “In addition, castrated goats produce a less gamey meat and the animals become taller.”

Goats do have health issues, with Coccidiosis and the barber pole worm caused by Haemonchus contortus being of particular concern. An integrated disease management approach is taken on the farm, where rotational grazing is implemented and supplemental feed provided at times of high metabolic need.

Chemical deworming is performed in the spring and at other times if needed, but Guanzini and Baustian keep the use of chemicals to a minimum. “It is just so expensive and we are also concerned about drug resistance,” said Baustian.

Until 2011, Highwood Farms sold most of the animals (wholesale) to a buyer in Batavia, N.Y., who has a custom slaughter plant with a large Halal clientele.

In 2011, Guanzini and Baustian signed up with “No Goat Left Behind,” a program developed by Heritage Foods USA (HFUSA), a meat distribution company dedicated to preserving endangered breeds.

“No Goat Left Behind’ was founded with the intention of introducing goat as a viable meat product to the American consumer, while providing an outlet for male goats from dairy farms which are often a drain on the dairy goat producer economy.

Contributing farmers raise their goats to HFUSA’s specifications, which guarantee that the animals are pasture raised without growth hormones or antibiotics. The animals are slaughtered in Animal Welfare Approved or Certified Humane slaughterhouses.

October is prime season for goat meat sales. During this time “No Goat Left Behind” runs Goatoberfest, which in 2011 worked with 10 New York state goat farmers along with a few in Vermont and one in Kansas to provide meat to 70 restaurants — 54 in New York City and most of the others in the California bay area.

A similar program is planned for October 2012. In addition to supplying restaurants, home consumers may purchase goat meat online from HeritageFoodsUSA.com.

As for working with “No Goat Left Behind,” Guanzini has only positive things to say.

“So far our experience has been very good. Heritage is willing to pay a good price for the animals and works with the nicest slaughter plant I’ve ever seen, so I feel like my animals are treated humanely. And they have been really nice an easy to work with.”

The program is a good way for the producer to get goat meat to restaurants, as meat served in restaurants must be slaughtered in a USDA-inspected plant and there aren’t many of those in some parts of the country, such as upstate New York.

In addition, restaurants typically are not willing to buy whole carcasses, thus the supplier is left with the difficult task of trying to market these less desirable meat cuts.

Even though “No Goat Left Behind” started to “rescue” male kids, the program will take both sexes and pays the same for each sex, with payment based on hanging weight. The producer is told the number of animals the program will take and the expected delivery date a couple of months ahead.

At this point, the program does not take adult goats, so alternative markets need to be established for these animals.

For more information on “No Goat Left Behind,” visit www.heritagefoodsusa.com/ventures/goat.html.

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