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A goat is a goat…? WRONG!
by Robert Spencer

The old notion "a goat is a goat" does not apply any more. There are two primary categories, meat goats and dairy goats. While a few breeds of goats are raised for their fiber, their numbers are very few.

Meat goats are generally not dairy goats, but many dairy goats end up as meat goats. People with extended backgrounds (old people) will tell about "back in the day" a goat was a goat and all they were good for is cleaning brush. Yes, a farm family might have owned a dairy goat, but those families were very few and were probably considered "different;" times have not changed much.

dairy goat

Dairy goats have been domesticated for thousands of years, throughout the world.

Dairy goats and dairy goat farms are sparsely scattered across the United States yet are probably more common today than they ever have been. These days, many "cottage farms" raise dairy goats to provide their own milk and make their own cheeses. Fresh goat milk makes the best tasting fudge and ice cream. People who are lactose intolerant can generally drink goat milk without any problem. A good dairy goat will produce approximately a gallon of milk a day.

Some of the more common breeds of dairy goats include: Alpines, Nubians, La Manchas, and Saanens. On our farm, the goat milk my wife gathers from spring through fall is used in making soap. What she now makes is basically the old fashioned lard and lye soap except goat milk and other fixed and essential oils are mixed in. Rumor has it Egyptian royalty bathed in goat milk to keep their skin soft and young looking. After four years of using the soap, my wife thinks I have begun to feel a little bit royal.

Boer goat

While goat meat has been consumed for as long as goats have existed, there is a breed of goat that originated in South Africa which has become very popular in the United States, the Boer Goat. Yes, brush goats, myotonic (Tennessee Fainting) goats, miniature goats, and dairy goats are used for their meat; but Boer Goats are to the goat industry what Angus Cattle are to the beef industry. They are visible through much of the countryside, with their distinct white bodies and dark brown heads. Boer Goats were brought into the United States in the early 1990s; thanks to their meaty carcass, rapid growth, and distinctive appearance their popularity has skyrocketed.

In recent years, other less easily recognizable "meat breeds" of goats such as the Kiko and Savannah Goat have caught the attention of a few goat producers, but the Boer Goat dominates the goat industry. Buyers seeking meat goats and ethnic groups that prefer goat meat generally choose Boer Goats over other breeds of goats.

In the United States, many people of non-Caucasian backgrounds given the opportunity will choose goat meat over any form of meat. Goat meat is popular in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, S. E. Asia, Mexico and South America. Goat meat is the most consumed red meat in the World. Consuming goat meat is healthier for us than beef or chicken. Processed correctly, the taste of goat meat falls between beef and venison.

Now that you have a better understanding about the goat industry, I hope those of you unfamiliar with goats will have a new found appreciation for why we goat producers enjoy raising goats. For goat lovers there are goats and there are breeds of goats. When looking out over my pastures and seeing those stocky white goat bodies with their dark brown heads and knowing the history of goats gives me great satisfaction. Despite that all of them may look alike to the novice, each of my breeding stock have names and as much personality as a human.

Robert Spencer is Agribition Center Facilities Manager at Alabama A&M University.

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Date Last Updated January, 2006