MITCHELLVILLE, Md. – In the diverse communities surrounding Washington, the latest newcomers may be goats.
Just 17 miles from the Capitol, Raquel Hill is combining high-tech husbandry and savvy practicality to breed a better meat goat and minimize work on her suburban farm.
Hill is one of 18 members of the fledgling Southern Maryland Meat Goat Association, a group of farmers who are betting that the Washington area can provide a market for goat meat.
Although few Americans of western European descent eat goat, many other groups, such as Muslims and Jamaicans, relish it.
Washington-area farmers find the goats appealing because they can be kept on a few acres, said James B. “Bubby” Norris, association treasurer. They also are easier to care for than most livestock, he said.
“And a goat makes a good lawn mower,” Norris added.
But before the producers can carve their market niche, they have to clear a few hurdles.
There is no system in place to market meat goats, as there is for beef cattle. And local producers do not have many goats to sell yet.
“We don’t have enough goats … to supply anybody on a regular basis,” said Norris, who estimated that the group’s members probably own no more than 400 goats among them.
There is at least one other meat goat group forming in Maryland. The Lower Shore Goat Producers Association held its second meeting Thursday in Wicomico County. About 10 of the 21 members plan to produce goats for meat, said Margaret Bunty of Parsonsburg.
In Northern Virginia, a new marketing cooperative in Loudoun County expects to offer about 150 meat goats in a sale April 25, said agricultural extension agent Gary Hornbaker.
The Southern Maryland Meat Goat Association, formed only six months ago, is working to increase area stock. Members are trying to develop a better pool through careful breeding.
There is no established meat breed in the United States. Local producers hope to create a hybrid tailored to U.S. markets by crossbreeding goats native to other lands.
Most goats in the United States are raised for their milk or mohair, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials say. Meat sold in the United States often comes from goats rejected for dairy use.
The 1992 U.S. Census of Agriculture shows about 2.5 million goats in the United States and about 5,000 in Maryland. The numbers did not specify how many were raised for meat.
Hill, who used to keep goats as companions for racehorses stabled at a track in Upper Marlboro, began her herd less than three years ago. She said they helped to keep her 50 acres of hilly land from being overgrown.
Goats are good for that because they are browsers, not grazers. They prefer leaves, twigs, tree shoots and shrubs to grass.
Last year, Hill bought a young Boer buck to improve her stock.
Boers, originally from South Africa, are coveted for the high volume of meat they produce – about 25 percent more than many other breeds. Hill’s herd of 65 also includes four Boer does.
This winter, two veterinarians transferred embryos from them to 11 Nubian does. It was a risky venture since the vets had performed the procedure on larger livestock but not on goats.
Five purebreds were recently born. Eight more and several crossbreds are due soon.
Goats can be successfully run on land unsuitable for growing crops or grazing cattle. But, they can be pastured with cattle because they prefer to eat what cattle do not. Pasturing goats and cattle together reduces parasite infestation and reduces the need to use herbicides.
This makes raising goats appealing to farmers already raising livestock farther outside the Capital Beltway.
The Emorys of Hughesville, Md., have found that their efforts to develop a hybrid meat goat have worked well with their business of raising Hereford cattle.
With the help of their son, a livestock judge who has a degree in animal science, Mary Ellen and Willett Emory are crossing hardy Spanish, tiny Pygmy and French Alpine goats to create a meat goat that is also good for milking.
Like Hill, the Emorys also hope to produce prime breeding stock. They plan to keep many of their goats – with names like Remington, Wyatt and Virgil – to offer a stud service to build area meat goat herds.
“We need to convince people that they can get some goats and make a little side money on their 10 acres,” said group president Patrick Lloyd of Park Hall, during a March meeting.
Some area grocers think their prospects are good.
Reza Faraji, manager of Halal Meat in Rockville, estimates he sells about 25 goats a week. “The market is vast,” said George Brown, owner of Continental Tropical Products, a Washington-based wholesaler of West Indian foods.
In Jamaica, goats cannot be reared in sufficient quantity to meet demand, said Brown, a native of the island.
Experts agree that demand appears to exceed supply, even in the United States.
“I would love to get the opportunity to export goat meat from here,” Brown said.
Goat meat is more finely textured than beef, Brown said. It also is lower in fat and calories and higher in protein and iron than beef, pork, lamb or chicken, according to USDA publications. – 30 –