Goats Don't Seem Suited To Feedlot

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I'll reach into the mailbag for this month's column and address a topic that several people have inquired about, feedlotting goats. The observations below apply primarily to operations that produce slaughter animals, show goat and breeding stock operations that are selling their animals for many times their value at the local sale barn can operate very differently and still produce a profit.

Feeding goats is something I normally try to avoid since it is kind of a dumb thing to do if you own land that could be feeding the goats for you, but recently I have gained a lot of experience at it because of the dry conditions in my area. In the hopes that last year was the last year of drought in West Texas I went ahead and penned my goats in August, 2000 and proceeded to do a large brush control and reseeding project. We had very good moisture from October, 2000 through April, 2001 which allowed us to grow an incredible stand of rye grass, but I was instructed to keep the goats off the pasture until the warm weather grasses got established this summer. Unfortunately it has rained exactly once since the first week of May and none of the warm weather plants have germinated. To make a long story short my goats are still in the pens now almost 10 months later. Bad for my feed bill, good for my column, and good for anybody looking for a small quantity of really nice percentage does since I am going to sell all of them as soon as they wean their kids about the time you are reading this column (I am keeping the fullbloods so we will continue to have a good supply of quality herd sires from performance tested lines in the future).

So what have I learned from the experience? Mainly that feeding goats is a stupid thing to do even if you don't have the land to support them. I'll get into the unfavorable economics in a minute, but the worst part about it is bigger than the economics. My experience is that goats, particularly meat goats, are not well suited to pen life. They do far better in a pasture environment.

An ongoing problem for me has been the herd pecking order. It is virtually impossible to successfully manage the feed intake for individual goats in a group environment because of their refusal to let everybody in the herd eat at the same time. Let's say you have 25 open, dry does in a pen that you only need to feed 2 lbs. per day of the ration you have formulated. That is one 50 lb. sack per day. What could be simpler? Carry the sack in there, kick the goats that are mobbing you out of the way, open it up, and dump it in the feeder. Feeding done, go on to the next pen. Yeah right, until you start watching the goats eat.

Initially everybody gets their head in the feeder, and gets a few bites until the boss nanny decides that that is unacceptable. She then butts everybody except her offspring away from the feeder, and keeps them away until she is finished. Her and her offspring may eat 5 lbs. or more each if they are all mature does. Assuming there are 3 of them, when they are done there is 35 lbs. of feed left for 22 does or 1.59 lbs. per head. Next the number two doe and her relatives get to eat. Then number three, and so on. By the time the last half of the herd gets to eat there is almost nothing left. After a few weeks you have a pen composed of a few big fat does and a bunch of does that look like they are starving to death. Mostly because they are.

The only way to fix the problem is to increase the amount of feed so everybody gets fed or increase the number of feeders. Instead of one sack you have to feed two or three sacks. That is two or three times the work and expense, and the does don't need all of that food so now they are all fat. To keep them from getting too fat you could change the ration to something a little less concentrated or switch to hay, but your expense will still rise considerably and you still have to make additional trips to get the feed and distribute it. Your best option is to increase the number of feeders, but that requires more space and a larger investment in equipment.

Then there is the challenge of providing an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals for every doe. That is harder than it sounds since some does may have a high requirement for a mineral and other does may need considerably less. If the minerals are in the ration they all get the same mixture. In the pasture the does seem to be able to regulate their mineral intake by eating more of the plants that are rich in the minerals they are deficient in. The result in a pen situation is some does exhibit symptoms of mineral deficiency if you don't provide supplemental minerals.

The most serious mineral deficiency problem that I have run across are difficulties at kidding time. In previous years when the does spent their pregnancies on pasture, kidding problems were nonexistent. This year they were in pens on feed throughout their pregnancies, and kidding season was a disaster. We had several does that "lost" their tail ligaments and dilated but then didn't deliver for several days. Ultimately I wound up inducing these does, and sure enough the next day they would give birth. In some cases the kids had died inside the doe, and had to be fished out. Then there was the ridiculous number of kids that I had to pull. Prior to this year I had to pull exactly one kid in 5 years. This year I lost track of the number I had to pull, and most of them were average size kids that should have come right out on their own. For some reason many of our does had very weak contractions this year. If the doe did manage to deliver the kid it was not unusual for her to retain all or part of the placenta. Many of these problems are a sign of selenium deficiency. Yet we also had many does that delivered with no problems at all. All of these does received the same feed, but for some that formulation did not contain an adequate amount of something they needed while for others it was more than satisfactory.

Finally, goats seem to find a pen environment much more stressful than a pasture environment. In normal years I typically lose 1-2% of my mature does every year in the pasture to disease. In the pens this year I lost 7.5% in 10 months or 9% per year. Not only that but we typically lose less than 10% of our kid crop in the pasture, this year we lost over 25% of our kid crop in the pens.

For those reasons alone I recommend against feedlotting goats, but the economics of it are also not very attractive. Assuming you maintain a herd of does in your feedlot and raise the kids for sale here is a breakdown of your costs (per breeding doe per year):

Feed For Does (910 lbs/doe/yr x $.075/lb.): $68.25 Vaccinations and Worming For Does: $1.39 Feed For 1.5 Kids Per Doe To Market Size (60 lbs.): $16.64 Labor: $33.46 Herd Sires (1 per 25 does): $7.34

From that doe that cost you $127.08 per year to keep you will on average get 1.5 kids per year to sell. Assuming the kids weigh on average 60 lbs. each when you sell them and they bring $1.20/lb. (which is generous) you will receive $108.00 in income. That is a loss of $19.08 per doe per year. How many does did you want?

The numbers will be different for every operation, especially the feed and labor costs, so you need to figure them for your own situation. I receive a pretty good deal on my feed, it would not be unusual for your feed costs to be double the $.075/lb. figure I used above. With a better setup you may be able to significantly reduce the labor costs involved, however. You may also have additional costs such as: interest if you don't own the land, goats and equipment free and clear; vet bills; cost for replacement does; etc. Depending on your location you may be able to raise three kid crops every two years, instead of the one crop per year that I assumed above. All of these things need to be taken into account.

Even if there will be a profit from the operation, that profit needs to be large enough to justify the investment in dollars and time by you the owner. After all if you can stick $100,000.00 in a CD and generate $6,000.00 in guaranteed income from it why bother investing it in a goat feedlot that might or might not generate $5,000.00 in income?

Occasionally, I get inquiries from people who want to purchase weaning age kids to put in a feedlot. With a low enough feed cost this might prove to be profitable. However, if the producer is using good sires from high performance testing lines and does that do a good job of raising their kids, then those kids should be market size at weaning age. That would tend to make the use of a feedlot unnecessary. Alternatively, the feedlot could buy the smaller weaning age market size goats (50-60 lbs.) and feedlot them until they were larger (80-100 lbs.). The main problem with that is that as the goats get larger the price per lb. decreases. Therefore, the feedlot may pay $72.00 for a 60 lb. goat, feed it $15.00 worth of feed to get it to 100 lbs. then wind up selling it for $85.00 or a $2.00 loss just on the feed expense ignoring the cost of labor, meds, etc.

Obviously, anybody who wishes to feedlot goats must be very careful and invest a lot of time into researching and planning their business. Goats are not very well suited to a feedlot environment to begin with, and the costs for such an operation could easily exceed the revenues generated by it. I personally wouldn't recommend it to most commercial producers.

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This page updated 07/27/01

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