It’s likely that the folks reading this post don’t regularly eat goat meat. In fact, it’s likely that the reader very rarely eats it, if ever.
But for much of the world, goat is the primary meat source, rather than swine or cattle. There are good reasons for this. Some cultures disapprove of eating pork (or have never made it part of their customary diet). Goats thrive on terrain that would be inhospitable to cattle. In places that don’t have freezers and refrigeration the meat of slaughtered animals must be eaten right away and it’s a lot easier for a family or village to consume a goat than a cow. And some folks just prefer the taste of goat.
Believe it or not, the United States imports more goat meat than any other country. Even though much of our country does not traditionally eat goat, the supply of goats raised in the U.S. can’t meet demand. The demand is driven principally by the so-called “ethnic market”, primarily Latin Americans and Muslims. Almost half of the goat meat sold in the U.S. is sold in the major cities of the Northeast.
Most of the goat meat eaten in the U.S. comes from Australia and New Zealand, the world’s largest exporters of goat meat. Large feral herds supply most of the goats slaughtered there, making their cost of production very low. Thus inexpensive frozen goat meat in New York City, for example, originates two hemispheres away.
We raise Boer goats, which are regarded by most as the premier meat goat. We have Mexican-American customers who buy off the farm. It is traditional to barbecue a goat as part of birthday celebrations, and they want a good-looking healthy animal for the party, not frozen meat from feral Australian goats. The kids we can’t sell off the farm go to the livestock market. A few end up as breeding stock or 4-H projects, but most end up in “ethnic” markets in the Northeast.
We’ve never offered cuts of goat meat, but I’m thinking of doing that next year. I’m sure there are folks who’d like goat, but don’t want a whole one (and don’t want to slaughter it themselves).
I have to admit to being a little uncomfortable with selling our goats that way. Goats are wonderful creatures, with individual personalities. While I realize that keeping all the billy goats born here would create chaos in the pasture, it’s a lot easier mentally to send them off alive than it would be to slaughter them (even though I’m well aware of their destiny). We try not to become attached to the young males, but nevertheless market day is always a bit unsettling to me. I’m sure taking them to the processor (a modern euphemism for “butcher”), will be even more so.
No doubt some folks who are reading this are aghast at the thought that we would slaughter our goats. All I can say to that is that I greatly admire people (like my wife and daughter) who have chosen to be vegetarian. May their tribe increase. But for the rest of us, it’s good to have a source of meat from animals raised humanely and ethically. And as a farmer who takes animal husbandry very seriously, I know that we cannot keep the male kids without having perpetual war in the pasture.
Many times folks who have asked about our goats have seemed horrified to learn that they are meat goats. “Why don’t you raise dairy goats,” they’ll often ask. Implicit in the question is an accusation that by raising meat goats we are showing ourselves to be less compassionate than farmers who raise dairy goats. When they ask that question, I respond by asking them if they know what happens to the male kids on dairy goat farms. Of course they never do. While our male kids live happy lives romping about our farm for three months or more, male dairy goat kids are killed at birth. A farm manual I have recommends bashing them in the head with a hammer. When I tell folks that, it usually puts to rest the idea that raising dairy goats is more humane than raising meat goats (it also should raise some issues for milk-drinking vegetarians, but I’ll save that discussion for another day).
I love our goats, but I’ve never eaten one. Plenty of people have, however, and I know that when they did they were nourished by goats that lived healthy, happy lives.
So if there’s anyone out there in internetland who eats goat meat, I recommend you find a local goat farm and source your meat from there. You’ll be helping a local farmer and helping break a system that sends goat meat over 10,000 miles to the consumer.