|For What It's Worth|
|The Year in Review|
There has been a lot happening within Alabama’s goat and sheep industry this past year. To better understand this progress, one must have an awareness of this industry’s background. Too many people fail to realize the amount of effort necessary to make such progress; it takes vision, initiative, networking, communications, repeated efforts, willingness to maneuver around obstacles and a good sense of humor.
A strong interest in goats and sheep as meat animals began developing within the United States in the early 1990s. Federal subsidies for fiber animals (angora goats and wool sheep) had ended and farmers were searching for alternatives like dairy or meat animals. Due to a growing influx of ethnic and faith-based population who had a special preference for goat and lamb, goat and sheep production of those meat animals became the most viable option.
These two factors and others lead many people to consider goat and sheep production for meat as a "nontraditional" form of livestock production. Many failed to realize goat and lamb (the meat) are the two most commonly consumed forms of red meat throughout the world. Over the past 15 years, the industry has continued to grow despite certain challenges.
In a brief overview, until the new millennium (2000) there were two missing components needed to move the small ruminant industry forward: (1) adequate educational/outreach efforts to teach potential and novice producers how to best raise meat goats and sheep, and (2) a sufficient number of processing facilities offering USDA inspection for goat and sheep processing. Around 2000, USDA, Extension and Land Grant universities realized the need for programmatic efforts and the implementation of outreach/educational programs began.
Agencies and institutions within Alabama joined the initiative by looking at what its nationwide partners were doing and began replicating the efforts within the state. In 2006, Alabama Cooperative Extension System began ramping up its efforts and has continued to play a significant role in moving the statewide industry forward. 2009 was no different; Extension offered the 3rd Annual Small Ruminant Spring Symposium, which focused on sustainable goat and sheep production as a viable alternative to high-cost inputs; the Master Meat Goat Herdsman Program, a statewide comprehensive training program for potential and existing meat goat producers on various aspects of production, management and marketing; and the 3rd Annual Small Ruminant Conference which offered innovative ideas on marketing based on information shared by experts from across the Southeast. Tuskegee University, who has been a statewide leader in small ruminant educational programs for years, held their Annual Goat Day and, as always, did an outstanding job!
Prior to 2009, within Alabama, there were no USDA inspected processing facilities processing goats and sheep on a regular basis. Now there are two, one in the southeast and one in the northeast part of the state. The one in the southeast is D&W Processing, located in Newton, AL (between Dothan and Enterprise on US Hwy 84). It is owned and operated by Dan and Wade Hussey. You can contact the plant at (334) 692-9977. The one in the northeast is Cox Butcher Shop located west of Florence; owned by Adam and Renee Cox, their number is (256) 766-2051. Either facility is likely to require advance arrangements to have animals processed.
Now that goat and lamb producers have this opportunity handed to them, they must take responsibility and move their industry forward. They must unite, begin promoting and marketing goat and lamb to the general public, and create product-availability awareness among ethnic and faith-based populations who prefer goat and lamb.
The key to long-term consumption of goat and lamb is to promote their health values to mainstream American consumers. The future of the small ruminant industry is not in a few processing facilities but rather in promotion of a fresh, healthy food product that is locally raised, processed and readily-available.
Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.