Lately I have seen a lot of goat herds going up for sale. It interests me because I don’t want to end up in the same boat. There are just a handful of long-time breeders out there, especially in the nigerian dwarf category. A lot of the newer farms, 5-10 years old, have begun selling out as the economy has declined. Some of it has been due to illness in the family, or just plain ready to change, but most are due to feed costs, especially hay.
Another trend is a decrease in show participation. Organizations are trying valiantly to get more people to show, but the cost and time is prohibitive. I notice the same farm names coming up over and over. Many breeders are not even showing anymore. One breeder told me the market has been rapidly moving away from showing and more into backyard milk and meat production, or plain old weed control. This doesn’t mean people are looking for lower quality goats, but rather they just don’t have to have goats proven in a show ring.
One thing I get told a lot is that a person wants a good milk goat, not a show goat. In the nigerian dwarf category, that often means a goat that is bordering on exceeding height limits but can produce a lot of sweet milk for a family without a lot of space. This market is increasing, but you have to watch this. One thing I have noticed is that, while you may not be showing a goat, the things looked for by a judge in conformation, capacity, and make-up of the milk is still important. There are an alarming number of small-time breeders trying to fill this market with poor-producing goats. The goats cost less to purchase, but the trade-off seems to be lower production for the same amount of feed. On the other end are the breeders looking to breed the smallest possible goats, who, unless their udder is too large for them, just can’t make as much milk as the larger ones more capable of handling larger udders (at least in the nigerian dwarf category). This hurts the breeds reputation with people who thought that the little goats would produce their families milk needs in very little space, but found their tiny little goat just couldn’t do all that, where if they had gotten a larger goat of the same breed it might have been just right.
Taking these issues into consideration, how can you make a success of your animals? First, I would stress that you stay small, making sure each of your animals is paying for itself in production. A goat that is sub-par or males not sold in a timely fashion should be used as meat so as not to drain your resources. Milking stock needs to be kept in milk as much as possible, and all should be milked and the milk sold or used. If you have too many does producing and cannot find a use or buyer for the milk, you have too many does. This is simple farm economics; everything must be productive or gotten rid of. A farmer of 50-100 years ago couldn’t afford pets, and with the economy taking a nose-dive, that is the case again, both for the urban or large farmer.
Second, I would focus on keeping animals that meet market demands, unless you can afford a hobby. Animals are a business, and as such you have to watch and respond to market trends. If you are too slow in recognizing developing markets you miss the boat, so-to-speak. Since today’s market is changing to backyard performance and production of usable goods where owners can control feed and medications, we need to be focusing on that unless you happen to be in a local that is heavily into the shows.
Personally, I am trying to shape my herd to be acceptable in both markets, but have to face the fact that I will not be able to afford to show my animals. I have to have extremely good production, which may hinder me from meeting registration requirements in the future if my animals tend toward being over-height. On the other hand, if my goats produce well, and I can do milk testing to prove it, they will still become more valuable as more and more people resort to backyard gardens and livestock in an effort to improve family health and save money. It is an interesting dilemma as we stand in the middle of these changes and try to plan for the future, but if one studies the market, especially local ones, and uses financial common sense, raising goats can be very economical and even potentially profitable. The key is to turn back time and look at even backyard stock as livestock, not hobbies or pets. Think like an early 1900’s farmer, and you will be much happier!