|For What It's Worth|
|New Meat Goat Demo Project Begins on Sand Mountain|
The Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center in Crossville has initiated a Meat Goat Demonstration Project for the benefit of producers throughout the region. The focus of this project will be sustainable meat goat production at a practical level. The concept was developed by Tony Dawkins (Director), Dr. Joyce Tredaway-Ducar (Associate Director) and Robert Spencer (Extension Specialist with the Urban Affairs and New Nontraditional Programs).
This project will be the first of its type within the Alabama Regional Research and Extension Centers. Dawkins and Spencer designed the project to show potential and novice meat goat producers some fundamental concepts regarding sustainable and practical meat goat production strategies, techniques and management. As they developed the concept for this project they maintained a focus on keeping the project at a fundamental level. They wanted this demonstration project to be something producers could easily relate to, afford for their own farms and adapt some of the same practices with the expectations they would become more effective and efficient producers.
The project is set up on a ten-acre plot within the property of the Sand Mountain Research and Extension Center (SMREC). It has perimeter fencing, cross-fencing (for rotational grazing), a 30x40 foot barn with minimal enclosure and water access at the various paddocks.
The original pasture has fescue grass, but with a contribution of seeds from Barenbrug Seed Company for demonstration purposes, there are an additional six varieties of forages to test and see which the goats prefer. The test plot forages include varieties of alfalfa, clover (crimson and white), sericea lespedeza, rape and chicory. As far as taste preference based upon which the goats choose to graze, Dawkins said, "So far they seem to prefer the alfalfa, then the red clover and then the chicory."
While some may wonder why the goats have not chosen the rape, Spencer explained, "Rape is a cool-season forage and while planted this past spring, the goats were not put on it until July, by then the palatability of the plant may be too bitter for the goats."
So far there are 14 goats in the project, 12 does and two bucks. There are seven Boer (anything from full-blood Boer to dairy/Boer-cross) type, five Kiko/Boer-cross does and one Boer and one Kiko buck. There are also several guardian dogs on site to deter coyotes and stray dogs. Spencer explained their reason for choosing Boers and Kiko is to evaluate certain aspects of each breed like vigor or hardiness, growth and development, and ability to thrive on a forage-based diet.
The current stocking rate for this project is 1.4 goats per acre; with expectations the stocking rate and population will increase with time.
The maximum stocking rate (on a continuous basis) this project intends to allow is five goats per acre. The ability to utilize rotational grazing is an important aspect of the project. Dawkins and Spencer designed the layout of the site and paddocks so animals could be easily moved from one location to another as they graze down existing areas to a minimum height of six to eight inches.
Spencer explained, "As animals graze forages below six inches, they tend to be grazing close to the ground where gastrointestinal parasites (worms and coccidia) are prevalent. The longer animals graze close to the ground, the more parasites they tend to ingest. This is a situation we are trying to avoid due to the fact it can lead to health complications. This is where goat farmers tend to run into problems, goats are vulnerable to parasite infestation when allowed to over-graze an area or forced to remain within one area all the time."
Parasites and their ability to compromise the health of goats is the reason for choosing some of the test forages for this project. Based on research from other universities, it has been established plants high in tannins tend to inhibit the impact of intestinal worms.
Alfalfa, lespedeza, rape and chicory are high in tannins, as well as offer a high nutritional value. The team organizing this project expects to see the benefits of these forages as a sustainable way to minimize the impact of gastrointestinal worms.
Spencer continued, "Worm overloads in goats tend to impact health and lead to related problems like anemia and mortality. This situation often necessitates major health care expenditures which impact producers. When this occurs it cuts into potential profit margins, which could have readily been avoided through proper management practices."
Proven sustainability is the primary goal of this project. For goat producers, the biggest cost factor in goat production is the cost associated with supplemental feed, hay and healthcare for the animals.
Realizing this, the organizers of the project expect to demonstrate the capability for the utilization of rotational grazing and proper varieties of forages to minimize the need for supplemental feeding, reduce unnecessary healthcare costs and increase profit margins. If this goal is attained, then meat goat producers will have a better strategy for effective and efficient management.
Supporting agencies and organizations for this project include the Alabama Regional Research and Extension Centers (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), Alabama Meat Goat and Sheep Producers (a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation), Alabama Mountains, Rivers, and Valleys RC&D Council and Barenbrug Seed Company.
Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence, Alabama.