No way a boring day
Raising meat goats brings both challenges and rewards
Ask goat farmers about their day, and they’ll tell you there is never a dull moment. Goats are full of curiosity and personality. Fences are just a nuisance for some. And their reproduction cycle seems to be nonstop.
LeeAnn Martin, who raises Boer goats on her Red Head Acres farm near Rocheport, Mo., says that goats are one of the hardest animals she has raised, yet also one of the most rewarding.
“I really like the babies,” she said. “Watching them run around is pure joy.”
LeeAnn’s journey in goat farming is unusual. When she and her husband, Tony, MFA’s animal health manager and staff veterinarian, bought their 44-acre farm in the 1990s, LeeAnn loved the old horse barn on the property and wanted to restore it. Built with “good bones,” the barn still had most of its original beams. It would quickly become a haven for a new guest.
“Soon after we bought this place, a friend who volunteered at the Humane Society called and said, ‘Hey, you have that old barn now. Believe it or not, Animal Control caught a loose goat in Columbia. Would you consider adopting it?’” LeeAnn recalled. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ve never raised goats, but I have raised most everything else. So why not? It will give our four children some farm chores.’”
Little did she know that her newly adopted, single goat would be adding much more to the Martin farm.
“A goat’s gestational period is 150 days and, of course, 150 days after we adopted her, she had twin does,” LeeAnn said. “That’s how we got started. A loose goat in Columbia!”
The Martins’ son, Cooper, wanted to show the goat at the Boone County Fair.
“At that point in time, you could show a doe in the market class. We didn’t want to sell her, so I agreed,” LeeAnn said. “And don’t you know, he won grand champion with her.”
Their farm is now home to a herd of around 100 goats, which are ideal grazing companions to cattle. The goats assist in pasture management with their ability to graze broadleaf plants that other livestock leave behind. Goat manure is also a great organic fertilizer, which can be beneficial to next season’s crops or pastures.
Though they obviously didn’t know her history, the Martins’ first goat exhibited characteristics of Boer bloodlines. Purebred Boers are a handsome, almost mythical lot, with slightly curled horns and a regal, Roman-like nose. Their large, dangling ears can look like wings when the kids are hopping through the air.
The first full-blood Boer goats were imported to the United States in the early 1990s from Australia and New Zealand. Today, Missouri is ranked fifth in the nation for raising goats, with 76,000 meat goats and 11,200 milk goats.
The Boer is usually white-bodied with red head and neck, yet the American Boer Goat Association (ABGB) states that “no preference is given to any hair color.” There are many different color combinations—some are solid, some are marked with moon spots, while others are painted with black, brown, cream, tan or red.
Though large-framed and heavily muscled, Boers are docile and quite charming. Strutting around the show ring or paddock, a full-blooded Boer buck has a red, manly beard, showing off his muscular physique like a bodybuilder. Does are known to be excellent mothers, necessary skills because their fertility rate is high. They typically produce twins and even triplets.
Cover Photo: LeeAnn Martin’s Boer goat herd was blessed with an abundance of healthy kids in October. The babies spend the morning playing “King of the Mountain” then find their mothers to nurse. Photo by Jessica Ekern.
LeeAnn supplements these twins with extra milk because their mother’s supply is not enough for the growing kids.
At the Martins’ Red Head Acres farm in Rocheport, Mo., Pyrenees guard dogs protect the herd from predators and caringly watch after the newborn kids.
One of LeeAnn Martin’s 2-week old Boer kids takes a break from play to be bottle-fed. LeeAnn said she tries not to get too attached to the babies, but admits it is difficult not to.
Mornings at Red Head Acres are a busy time for LeeAnn Martin’s Boer goat herd. Her unusual journey into goat farming started with the adoption of a loose goat in Columbia.
Marjeanna Smith talks with one of her momma goats at 2MS Boer Goats in Milo, Mo. Marjeanna names every goat and keeps extensive records on each member of her herd.
Mike and Marjeanna Smith are proud of their Boer operation and often share advice and information on raising goats with other producers.
Popular for meat production, the Boer has a rapid growth rate, produces excellent carcass qualities and can thrive in different environments. Mature does can weigh between 190-230 pounds and a mature buck between 200-340 pounds.
LeeAnn said that goat meat can be used as you would use pork or beef. “It’s best if you cook it low and slow and keep it moist because there is so little fat. I make goat burgers and add some ground pork to the patties. I use goat meat in stews and chili, on pizzas and I make pulled goat just like pulled pork. To me, it tastes a lot like beef.”
The breed was developed by Dutch farmers in South Africa in the early 1900s for meat that was low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Some 70% of the world’s population consumes goat meat, and the Boer is now regarded as the premier choice.
The marketing opportunity for goat meat appealed to Marjeanna and Mike Smith when they began a Boer business 10 years ago on their farm in Milo, Mo. Originally thinking she wanted dairy goats, Marjeanna quickly realized milking would be too demanding, so they decided on meat goats instead.
“Goat meat produced in Missouri many times is shipped to the East Coast and cities like Chicago, where there are ethnic populations who have always cooked with goat,” Marjeanna said. “I cannot eat what we have raised; I’m just too close to these animals. But it is a very healthy red meat. It is a great source of protein that is low in fat, cholesterol and calories.”
The Smiths have about 40 head in their 2MS Boer Goats herd and are diligent when it comes to record-keeping, which is important for producers like them who are raising the animals for their genetics as well as their meat.
“It’s very unusual in this industry for anybody to keep the records we do,” explained Mike, who serves as MFA Incorporated’s crop insurance principal agent. “We record each birth weight and track the kid’s weight each week for the first four weeks.”
After that, the Smiths record the weight every two weeks until the kids are weaned. From that information, they can track the genetic characteristics to see which traits they are receiving from different buck and doe combinations.
“We not only look at the birth rates and rate of development, we also analyze if the buck is throwing too large a kid or too small a kid,” Mike said. “We see if the doe is milking well or not. We look back to the previous generation as well.”
The Smiths research genetics and buy goat semen from other parts of the country to obtain the characteristics they are trying to achieve. “One of the reasons we keep such detailed records is for our own herd genetics,” said Marjeanna, who is responsible for all the record-keeping.
“It’s also nice for our customers to know what type of goat they are purchasing,” Mike added. “We’re trying to encourage others in the industry to do the same so we can have verifiable information for all of our buyers.”
Like the Smiths, LeeAnn Martin keeps meticulous records, including birth and weaning weights, birthing details, color pattern, newborn and mothering characteristics, parasite resistance, breeding patterns and overall health. She is also known for raising quality, registered full-blood Boers.
“I try to market my goats to people who want to show registered breeding stock,” she said. “The full-blood Boer goats seem to draw the highest market value. You have to get a premium, or you just cannot pay the expenses.”
The Martins and the Smiths take pride in how they raise their Boer goats and what type of animal results from their efforts. They say having a knowledgeable mentor is also very important.
“We have made some mistakes along the way, but we have a few great people who have helped us,” Marjeanna said. “With our first set of goats, we had a man who’d been in the business for a while come out to look at our herd. He told us to sell them all, that we had nothing worth keeping. He told us how to make better choices with our selections.”
However, Marjeanna continued, “He told us that we were super good about seeing movement, and that’s something most people never see.” She credits growing up in the horse industry for helping her develop that skill.
The Smiths share some of what they’ve learned through their Facebook page, 2MS Boer Goats, where they post tips about raising goats and use it as a platform to educate others. When it comes to nutrition for their goats, the Smiths work with Greg Davis, MFA livestock specialist, to put together the right combination of feed and supplements.
“We use a number of different MFA products, including Full Throttle with Shield, MFA Dairy Goat and Liquid Shield for the baby goats,” Mike said. “I just put a little bit on my finger then place it on their tongue. It’s been great for those babies who are a little slow to come around.”
LeeAnn said she also makes it her mission to help others who are interested in buying or raising Boer goats. She uses her personal Facebook page as a platform for education and information on goat production.
“Farming is hard. It’s really, really hard some days, but I take pride in raising quality animals. I’m not into cutting corners,” she said. “There’s a lot you can teach your kids by being in last place. And then after a few years, you’re in the middle.
And then after another few years, you’re at the front. I want them to work their way into winning. I enjoy teaching and helping others and cheering them on through their journey.”
For more information on MFA’s complete line of goat feeds and other supplies, visit with the livestock experts at your local MFA Agri Services, AGChoice or MFA affiliate facility.
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