By Robert Spencer
The past two years of drought have been tough on most farms, but particularly goat farms. Cost of hay and feed has increased, while prices received for goats have significantly decreased. The number of goats showing up at sale barns has doubled during times of drought, thus driving down prices. As the market became saturated with terminal animals, goat prices dropped below their normal market prices. It’s a prime example of simple economics: an inverse relationship between supply and price.
During the drought of 2006, many goat producers felt they could hold out for another year and things would get better; however, the drought of 2007 was even worse! Hay yields were poor, hay inventories were depleted, grain prices rose, pasture conditions went from mediocre to bad and producers scrambled to deal with the situation. Some sold out, some reduced their herd and those remaining paid premium prices for hay and supplemental feed. Those who made it through the summer of 2007 will need a strategy to survive the winter of 2007-2008 and spring into 2008 (excuse the pun). Below are some recommendations.
: If you have not purchased sufficient quantities of hay to carry your goats through the winter, you had better secure it now; availability will not improve and prices will increase! If your situation is similar to mine, you have been feeding hay year-round since June of 2006. I have been able to get hay the entire time and stock up for winter of 2007-2008, but associated costs have almost doubled my hay budget. There are several options: accept the high cost of hay, fence in more pasture area or cull the size of your herd.
: In theory grain feed should only be fed as a supplement, goats were designed to perform best on browse and pastures.
In the real world, my recommendation is to use a commercial formulated feed specific to goats as a supplemental feed and to shop around for a quality product at a reasonable price. Feed products such as soybean hull pellets and meal, corn and corn gluten, cottonseed*, distillers’ grains, ethanol by-products*, peanut skins and other grains and grain by-products have satisfactory nutritional values. However, the aforementioned products may or may not be readily available and affordable in your area. Whatever you do, make sure to use a blend of products and provide a protein supplement/mineral block specific for goats. You might be able to substitute food products, but a diet deficient in minerals can diminish the health, immunities and reproductive capabilities of your goats!
: Evaluate your pastures and estimate forage availability for upcoming winter and spring. Does your farm offer the ability to rotate animals from one pasture to another; if not, what needs to be done to facilitate rotational grazing? If you have woodlands available consider fencing in those areas to accommodate browsing during fall, spring and summer. If you anticipate inadequate vegetation to get your animals through winter, plan to purchase supplemental hay and grains, and do so immediately. Fall is a good time to pre-purchase cottonseed and other grains that have been recently harvested. Consider putting your animals on harvested corn/soybean/cotton fields, this allows them to graze vegetation residue and clean up fields at the same time. Be creative when it comes to grazing resources.
: Consider planting grasses/grains/legumes for fall/winter/spring grazing. Plant grass seed in the fall to provide spring/summer grazing. Plant winter wheat, rye and other small grains for winter/spring grazing. And don’t forget those wonderful legumes (clover, sericea lespedeza, etc.) as a good source of proteins, tannins (parasite control) and they help fix nitrogen in the soil.
: Culling is a negative word among beginning goat producers; however, it is more practical to purchase quality replacement animals in the spring than carry faulty animals through the winter. Animals which have health issues are vulnerable to parasite overloads and are not easy keepers can be a financial drain on your finances and compromise the appearance of your herd. Try culling a few of your "problem" animals and you will be amazed at the reduction in health care expenditures and the improved appearance of your herd. Be selective, be practical and both you and your pocketbook will benefit.
Variable costs such as feed, healthcare and pasture management are the primary expenditures associated with goat production. Taking time to assess your farm situation and planning accordingly will minimize stress on you and your animals, and increase the likelihood your farm will survive tough times. Inadequate planning and post seasonal purchases result in production and cost inefficiencies. After all, strategic planning and sustainability are management issues.
*Be cautious using these items as sole/primary feed rations, they may be toxic with excessive use.
Robert Spencer is the Urban Regional Extension Specialist in the Urban Affairs and Nontraditional Programs Unit & The Urban Centers in North Alabama for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.