September 2009
For What It's Worth

Don’t Do That

Last month’s article addressed trends and prices in the goat market and made mention of the Columbia Sale Barn in Tennessee and the prices they tend to pay. While that may have sounded really good, I hope everyone did not load up their goats and head off expecting to get rich.

I’ve heard too many stories about people taking the day off; loading up goats, spouse and kids; and driving hours to deliver a few goats with the expectations they will receive this HUGE check! Don’t do that without doing some reasonable thinking; put a value on your time, mileage and feeding the family while the wife shops at those nice malls up toward Nashville! If you take the time to reason things out, you may realize your local sale barn may be a better option.

After all, local sale barns are much closer to home taking less time and travel, and the short trip will allow you go get back home and fix that fence or whatever other farm chores need to be done. You may not receive that $1.50 per pound, but you did not spend a dollar per mile and several hours of travel. Do the math: 100 pounds of goat x $1.50/lb = $150, 100 miles x $1/mile = $100; $150-$100 = $50 in your pocket and that does not include the cost of production.

If you went local with the same goats and received a more modest price: 100 pounds of goat x $1/lb = $100, drove 40 miles x $1/mile = $40; $100-$40 = $60. And, you were able to get back home quickly, fix that hole in the fence, and fix your wife and family a nice steak dinner (that may be stretching things). Granted these are some crude examples but you get the idea.

Use common sense; don’t spend a dollar to earn a nickel. In this article you should see a sensitivity table or two, being the sensitive guy I am I have developed them just for you. It uses the example of comparing 100 pounds of goats and a range of possible prices received to a range of miles driven at a dollar per mile. Keep in mind the table does not include cost of production. The numbers in parentheses are negative, the empty boxes are break even and other numbers are positive. This should give a general idea of what is reasonable and what is not.

You can see from the second table once you drive more than 80 miles it becomes easy to lose money unless you are getting a dollar per pound. Keep in mind there are economies of scale, it takes a whole lot of goats to offset driving a long distance for a few extra dollars!

Do This

(1) Take some time to research marketing goats (research – fancy word for sitting, appearing to do nothing, but really thinking). Know that prices paid at markets in the fall tend to be better than summer, but prices paid at markets from January through Easter (generally speaking) are better than fall or summer prices.

(2) Spend some time at your local sale barn, observe the buyers (the ones sitting near the ring buying all the goats, not the ones in the audience buying a goat or two), notice what they buy and the prices paid you should expect to see a trend. Once you know who they are, prior to the next sale take the opportunity to introduce yourself and ask them questions about what they are looking for.

(3) Take some time to introduce yourself to the sale barn owner. If you get on his good side and have some good animals, he might help "promote" your goats during the sale.

(4) Make friends with the graders or those who unload your goats at the sale barns; they have a tough job and appreciate a good attitude. Whatever you do, don’t make derogatory remarks about their ability to judge or grade goats. This has the potential for your best goats to be grouped with the worst goats in the entire building. Phrase your questions in a friendly way!

Explore your options when determining which market outlet is best for your situation. While direct marketing from your farm is best in theory, it requires a lot of effort and time. The reality is, just like cattle, the majority of goats going through terminal channels go to sale barns.

So, for those out there who talk negatively about sale barns, the reality is sale barns serve an important role in the goat industry and provide a service to many producers with meat goats and possibly brood stock. Also, a goat at the sale barn is generally worth more than one buried.

Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.