Farmers stake their future on goat meat

January 04, 1998

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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Farmers stake their future on goat meat


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

NEEDMORE, Pa. - Both born and raised on Fulton County dairy farms, Lyle and Grace Mellott know all about the struggles of farming.

When they married, the Mellotts shared their rural road with more than 30 dairy farmers. Today there are just two left, and one of the farms is for sale.


But in a time when others are struggling to make ends meet, the couple believes it may have found the answer to making money as farmers by raising and selling the latest animal in demand - goats.

"They're buying all they can buy right now. There's more money in goats than there is in anything else," said Lyle Mellott, as he gently but firmly pushed away a billy goat that began nibbling on his pant leg.

Meat goat production and marketing is soaring in the country as demand among ethnic groups in big cities like New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., increases.

"As a meat industry, it's going crazy ... Goats are a hot ticket," said William Reagan, retired Franklin County, Pa., Cooperative Extension Agent.

Between 200 and 400 goats are auctioned every week at the Greencastle, Pa., Livestock Market, where a billy goat can bring $80 to $130, Mellott said.

Kid goats sell for $25 to $30 apiece compared to $10 for a heifer calf, he said.

Some skeptics might pass off goat meat - which Mellott said tastes a lot like venison - as the newest food fad along with emu, ostrich and buffalo meat, which became popular several years ago.

But according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, New York City residents alone could eat 1 million goats a year if the animals were available.

The demand reflects rising numbers of immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America, where goat meat is traditional fare.

It's estimated that there are only 850,000 goats in the country right now, but 5 million breeding goats are needed just to supply the demand, according to federal agriculture department figures.

The demand for goat meat increases around certain religious holidays.

"This year, goats went crazy at Christmastime," said Mellott, who's already planning to have about 150 goats ready for market by next Christmas.

Goat meat is also a big seller in Canada for Easter, he said.

The Mellotts got in on the goat action by accident four years ago when they bought a few of the animals - which are known to eat just about anything - to clear pastures and fence rows.

When they found out they could sell the kids for $80 apiece, the Mellotts expanded their goat herd, experimenting with several breeds.

A set of twin goats born early Sunday morning on the 95-acre farm brings the Mellotts' herd to more than 200, including 14 Boer flock billy goats, a breed that originated in South Africa and is worth more than $1,000 apiece.

The Mellotts raise the female kids for breeding and sell the billy kids at private sale to the ethnic market.

Having worked with dairy and beef cattle, Mellott said the one thing he likes most about goats is that they're easy to handle and are fairly low-maintenance, though they are subject to more diseases and are harder to keep healthy than the bovines.

"I suggest you get a book before you buy a goat," Grace Mellott said, because of the different ailments and conditions goats can suffer.

For example, three of their goats died after eating mountain laurel, a shrub they love but which is poisonous to them, Lyle Mellott said.

"It's been a learning experience," his wife added.

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