The American Goat Industry

Goat ownership is enjoyed by a wide variety of people from all walks of life.  Goats produce meat products, dairy products, fiber products and can be used as environmentally friendly brush control as well as companion pack animals for hikers, hunters, and businesses.  It is said that the US goat industry got its start when  goats escaped from the Spanish explorers in the 1500’s. While isolated populations were scattered across the entire Southern U. S., Texas is where they thrived due to a dry climate and more suitable forage species. This led to a large population of feral goats in Texas which became commonly known as the Spanish goat. Prior to 1992, there was no organized effort to promote meat type goats, and yet the 2002 USDA census reported 591,000 head.

In the mid-1800’s Angora goats were imported into the U.S. from Turkey. Angoras did not do well in many states, but they did thrive in Texas, primarily in the 33 county area known as the Edwards Plateau where there were sufficient grasses and browse species to sustain them. In 1992 there were approximately 1.8 million Angoras in the U. S. out of a total population of 2.5 million goats.

The Dairy Goat industry experienced rapid growth in the early 1900's when several dairy breeds were brought to the US from Europe in large numbers, and the first dairy goat show in America was held at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Goat milk has long been a staple product for people who suffer from allergies, and in recent years the demand for additional goat products, including soaps, cheese and lotions has added to the market for dairy goat products. According to the USDA, as of January 1, 2017, the United States had 373,000 milk goats. The largest number of milk goats are found in Wisconsin (44,000 head) and California (41,000 head), followed by Iowa (30,000 head), Pennsylvania (15,000 head) and New York (13,700 head) (NASS).

Since 1992 several major events have occurred that have changed the focus of the U.S. goat industry. In 1992 the American Meat Goat Association (AMGA) was founded. This was the first organized effort to promote meat type goats and is a non-breed specific organization. In 1993 the Boer goat was introduced into the U.S. At the annual meeting of the AMGA in 1993, a group of producers met and established the American Boer Goat Association (ABGA). As often happens, two other Boer goat associations, the International Boer Goat Association and the U.S. Boer Goat Association, were later formed.

Another major event which impacted the goat industry was when the Wool Act of 1954 was repealed in 1993 and resulted in the loss of the wool and mohair incentive program by 1995. Angora goat numbers had decreased to approximately 300,000 head by 2002 while meat goat numbers had risen to 1.94 million head.

From 1987 to 2002, Angora goat numbers had declined by 82% while meat-type, dairy and total goats had increased by 362%, 123%, and 12%, respectively. Similarly, the number of Angora goat farms had declined by 5%, while meat-type, dairy, and total farm numbers had increased by 155%, 45%, and 104%, respectively. According to the 2002 Agricultural Census, both total goat numbers and number of farms had reached an all time high of 2,530,466 goats and 102,444 goat farms. Texas has consistently remained the number one goat producing state.

It is interesting to note that the settlements from the class action suit against the U. S. tobacco industry, has resulted in tremendous growth in goat numbers in several states. The tobacco growing states which have shown the greatest increase in goat numbers are Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

The two major factors that have lead to such a dramatic increase in U.S. meat goat numbers have been the increase in number of people consuming goat meat and the continuing increase in prices paid for goats. The major increase in goat meat consumer numbers is due to the immigration of people from countries where goat meat is regularly consumed. In 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 33.5 million foreign-born U.S. citizens. Nearly 50% of those immigrants were from countries where goat meat is regularly consumed. The top three ethnic groups in goat meat consumption are Muslims, people from the Caribbean, and Hispanics. The metropolitan areas which contain the greatest number of immigrants are New York, Washington/Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

While the goat industry holds much promise for new producers there are three factors that limit industry expansion and production. Seasonality of breeding which leads to an inconsistent year round supply of goat meat is probably the greatest problem. The other two problems are predation and parasitism, both of which vary according to the area of the country in which they are raised; however, these can be controlled to some extent.

This information is taken from the Amer
ican Goat Federation website and an article co-written several years ago by Marvin Shurley, a central figure in the meat goat industry and president of the American Meat Goat Association (which no longer exists) and Dr. Frank Craddock, an extension goat specialist.
U. S. Census Bureau · USDA/NASS · Meat and Livestock Australia
Goat Industry Council of Australia · American Meat Goat Association