The Journal of Extension -

August 2018 // Volume 56 // Number 4 // Research In Brief // v56-4rb3

What Extension Personnel Should Know About Midwestern Goat Producers

The growth of the goat industry has created opportunities for producers looking for a profitable alternative enterprise. Little is known about goat production or educational needs of producers in Missouri and Arkansas. A survey of goat producers in Missouri and Arkansas addressed farm characteristics, product marketing characteristics, preferred information sources, and educational topics of interest for goat producers. A better understanding of goat production and producer needs can support Extension's development of education programs to further develop the emerging goat industry.

Kelsey F. Cole
Graduate Student
Missouri State University
Springfield, Missouri

Catherine Hoegeman
Assistant Professor
Missouri State University
Springfield, Missouri

Benjamin M. Onyango
Associate Professor
Missouri State University
Springfield, Missouri

Jodie A. Pennington
Small Ruminant Specialist
Lincoln University
Jefferson City, Missouri

Charlotte A. Clifford-Rathert
Associate Professor
Lincoln University
Jefferson City, Missouri

Elizabeth L. Walker
Associate Professor
Missouri State University
Springfield, Missouri


The demand for goat meat has increased over the past 30 years, with a subsequent increase in meat goat production in the United States (Gillespie, Nyaupane, & McMillin, 2013; Gipson, 2000). From 1990 to 2010, the number of goats slaughtered in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)–inspected plants tripled from approximately 200,000 to over 600,000 head per year (USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service [NASS], 2011). This growth has created opportunities for both small- and large-scale producers looking for a profitable enterprise. As of 2012, meat goat sales totaled $152 million, and milk from sheep and goats resulted in approximately $92 million in sales. The U.S. meat goat industry is new, compared to other livestock industries, becoming a source of income only in the 1990s (Glimp, 1995). Unlike other livestock enterprises, the meat goat industry does not have a functioning production structure or marketing support (Fisher, Nye, & Mangione, 2004; Glimp, 1995).

The expanding market for goat meat has increased opportunities for meat goat production (Gillespie et al., 2013). The primary goat meat consumers in the United States are immigrants from the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, who are accustomed to eating goat meat in accordance with their religious beliefs (Spencer, 2008). Goat meat is also served in upscale restaurants and is offered to a diverse customer base. Producers are taking advantage of this newly emerging gourmet market (Luginbuhl, 2015). However, goat meat imports and domestic production have failed to supply the increased demand (Gipson, 2000; Pinkerton & McMillin, 2013). This differential indicates a need to further Extension professionals' understanding of goat production so that they can help producers better meet the demand.

Fewer people in the United States raise dairy goats than meat goats (USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service [APHIS], 2010). However, the number of dairy farmstead artisans has increased, which is a favorable index for opportunities in the dairy goat market (Pinkerton & McMillin, 2013). Responding to the increase in demand, dairy goat numbers rose 19% between 2007 and 2012 to 314,500 (USDA NASS, 2012).

About one third (35%) of meat goat producers in the United States have less than 5 years of experience, compared to about one quarter (23%) of dairy goat producers (USDA APHIS, 2012a). State data, however, can differ from national data with regard to producers' experience levels. For example, in New York, a majority of dairy goat producers have owned goats for up to 13 years (New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services [NYS DAM], 2005).

Goat producers raise goats for a variety of reasons, often influenced by the number of goats owned (USDA APHIS, 2010, 2012a, 2012b). Smaller scale producers with fewer than 100 goats reported fun or hobby as an important reason for raising goats. Those with 100 or more goats identified income as an important reason. For dairy goat producers, home consumption is very important, whereas brush control is very important for meat goat producers (USDA APHIS, 2012a, 2012b).

Madden (2010) proposed several questions to address when developing educational material to support the emerging goat industry and help producers prepare products for market and learn sustainable production methods. These questions cover topics such as why and when producers should purchase animals and whether they have knowledge to care for sick or injured animals. Extension personnel should attempt to answer such questions before assisting those interested in raising goats. Trained Extension personnel can help producers make sound decisions related to purchasing healthy animals, benefiting their long-term enterprises.

Prior research has provided insight into the challenges of goat production and producers' understanding of management practices and information resources (Gillespie et al., 2013; Jackson, 2007; NYS DAM, 2005). The USDA reported that producers considered the three most important sources of goat health information to be other goat producers (33.3%), veterinarians (29.7%), and the Internet (26.8%) (USDA APHIS, 2010). Additionally, a nationwide survey of people involved in all aspects of production agriculture revealed that Internet access among producers increased from less than 50% in 2003 to 67% in 2013, and 40% of those producers used computers for farm business (USDA NASS, 2013). A poll of Iowa farmers indicated that 60% had high-speed Internet access and over 70% used the Internet to obtain information on general agricultural and farming-related information (Arbuckle, Lasley, & Ferrell, 2012). Diem, Hino, Martin, and Meisenbach (2011) studied rural areas and found an increasing need for the Cooperative Extension System to deliver information using technology.

Across the country, university and Extension personnel have begun developing training materials for goat producers (Fisher et al., 2004; Solaiman, 2010). Sahlu et al. (2009) suggested that further research in goat nutrition, health, parasite management, and reproduction is needed, as well as efficient methods for disseminating knowledge. Overall, Extension educators need to gain greater knowledge of the goat industry and become more familiar with producers of small ruminants.

Missouri and Arkansas have 6,405 goat farms with over 145,000 goats, and both rank in the top 20 of meat goat–producing states (USDA NASS, 2012). Research about the goat industry in these states was lacking. To fill the gap, we conducted a study focused on providing a profile of Missouri and Arkansas goat producers and farms. We explored two particular areas of interest: information sources and topics for additional training. These areas of study could facilitate the work of Extension educators as they develop programs for goat producers. Knowing producer preferences for information sources is important for agricultural educators, and understanding areas of interest for additional training may increase producer participation in educational programs (Franz, Piercy, Donaldson, Richard, & Westbrook, 2010).


Existing survey instruments did not adequately address our research questions. Therefore, our team, which comprised principal investigators at Missouri State University and collaborating researchers at Lincoln University, created a new survey after reviewing survey instruments from previous studies (Arbuckle et al., 2012; Gillespie et al., 2013; Jackson, 2007; NYS DAM, 2005). Questions on our instrument addressed personal demographics, farm characteristics, information sources, and training topics of interest. A panel of 23 goat industry experts outside the Missouri and Arkansas sample region previewed the survey for validity. This group included Extension personnel, veterinarians, experienced goat producers, and university faculty (Missouri State University, 2014).

We obtained postal and email addresses from goat producer registry and association websites and from university Extension mailing lists. From the resulting list of 1,087 producers, 98 had undeliverable email addresses and 15 indicated they no longer had goats. The final list included 974 producers. We sent producers an email introducing the study, followed 2 weeks later by an email inviting them to participate in the web-based survey through a link to Survey Monkey. We sent a reminder email 2 weeks later. Printed copies of the survey were sent, upon request, to 37 producers. We received 206 viable surveys, those for which respondents had answered most of the questions, resulting in a final response rate of 21% (Missouri State University, 2014). Responses represented 99 counties (65 counties in Missouri, 33 in Arkansas), suggesting that the sample was reasonably representative.

We analyzed descriptive statistics using SPSS Version 21.0. We conducted all research in accordance with the rules established by the Missouri State University Institutional Review Board.


Not all respondents answered all questions. The tables indicate the number of responses to each question.

Personal Demographics

Table 1 presents the responding goat owners' demographic characteristics. A majority were women. The most common age groups were 41–50 and 51–60. Fewer than half had a bachelor's degree. A majority had owned goats for 10 years or less. The most frequently reported incentives for raising goats were source of income (58.9%) and personal consumption of products (54.3%).

Table 1.
Personal Demographics for Goat Producers in Missouri and Arkansas

Personal characteristic
(no. of participants providing a response)
No. %
Gender (203)
Female 125 61.6
Male 78 38.4
Age (204)
18–30 17 8.3
31–40 29 14.2
41–50 55 27.0
51–60 61 29.9
61–70 31 15.2
71–80 10 4.9
80 or older 1 0.5
Education (203)
Less than high school 13 6.4
High school or GED 39 19.2
Vocational/technical certificate 31 15.3
Associate's degree 19 9.4
Some college, no bachelor's degree 27 13.3
Bachelor's degree 45 22.2
Graduate degree 29 14.3
Years involved in raising goats (188)
Less than 1 8 4.3
1–5 67 35.6
6–10 56 29.8
11–20 34 18.1
More than 20 23 12.2
Reasons for raising goatsa (197)
Source of income 116 58.9
Personal consumption 107 54.3
Showing, competition, 4-H 96 48.7
Fun/hobby 91 46.2
Brush control 63 32.0
Pet/companion 41 20.8
Tax deduction purposes 38 19.3
Family tradition 11 5.6
Other 1 0.5
aRespondents could chose more than one response. Total does not equal 100%.

Farm Characteristics

Table 2 shows that of the 206 responding producers, about 70% were from Missouri and 30% were from Arkansas. Most producers (70%) had a farm gross income of less than $15,000. About 40% raised only dairy goats, one third raised only meat goats, and one quarter raised both. Almost half reported owning fewer than 20 goats, and two thirds owned fewer than 50 ac.

Table 2.
Farm Characteristics of Goat Producers in Missouri and Arkansas

Farm characteristic
(no. of participants providing a response)
No. %
State (206)
Missouri 143 69.4
Arkansas 63 30.6
Farm gross income (200)
Less than $15,000 140 70.0
$15,000$32,499 31 15.5
$32,500$59,999 17 8.5
$60,000$99,999 9 4.5
$100,000 or more 3 1.5
Farm type (194)
Both dairy and meat 48 24.7
Dairy only 81 41.8
Meat only 65 33.5
Size of farm (ac) (200)
Less than 10 42 20.9
1049 90 44.8
50179 46 22.9
180 or more 23 11.4
Number of goats owned (188)
19 38 20.2
1019 54 28.7
2099 76 40.4
100 or more 20 10.6

Product Marketing

Table 3 indicates that a majority of producers sold goats that were 8 months of age or less and weighed 75 lb or less.

Table 3.
Age and Weight of Goats Sold in Missouri and Arkansas

Goat characteristic
(no. of participants providing a response = 102a)
No. %
Average age (months) sold for meat
Under 3 5 4.9
35 40 39.2
68 34 33.3
911 20 19.6
12 or older 3 2.9
Average weight (lb) sold for meat production
045 6 5.9
4660 29 28.4
6175 37 36.3
7690 22 21.6
91105 7 6.7
106 or greater 1 1.0
a113 respondents reported owning meat goats.

Information Sources

Responding via a Likert-type scale, producers indicated how often they used different informational resources. Our goal was to determine how producers gained usable and trusted information for their farms. Table 4 displays the results. The most frequently used sources of general information were the Internet and other producers, with both being used sometimes or often by approximately 90% of respondents. Approximately two thirds of respondents cited using family and friends and magazines/newsletters for information sometimes or often. Less than half of respondents sometimes or often used information from university and Extension personnel, veterinarians or paid consultants, and industry and association meetings. The Internet was also a popular source of information on new practices in the goat industry. In contrast, over 60% of respondents rarely or never used university or Extension staff, farm visits, computer programs, or on-farm demonstrations for information regarding new practices.

Table 4.
Sources of Information Used by Goat Producers from Missouri and Arkansas

Sources No. %
Never Rarely Sometimes Often
General information
Internet 178 5.1 5.1 43.3 46.6
Other producers 177 1.1 9.6 49.2 40.1
Family and friends 168 19.6 16.7 43.5 20.2
Magazine/newsletter 174 5.7 25.3 51.7 17.2
University/Extension service 174 29.3 28.2 31.0 11.5
Veterinarian, nutritionist, or paid consultant 173 23.1 28.3 37.6 11.0
Industry/association meetings 170 31.2 21.2 39.4 8.2
New practices information
Internet 175 6.3 5.1 44.6 44.0
Farm magazines 175 14.3 21.1 49.7 14.9
Printed fact sheets 173 26.0 20.2 45.7 8.1
Group meetings 176 30.1 25.0 38.6 6.3
Extension/university staff 171 38.0 27.5 29.2 5.3
Farm visits 169 31.4 31.4 32.5 4.7
Computer programs 169 49.1 23.7 23.1 4.1
On-farm demonstrations 171 42.1 29.8 24.6 3.5
Farm field days 169 47.3 29.6 21.3 1.8
Videos/DVDs 167 53.9 31.7 13.2 1.2

Topics for More Training

The most frequently mentioned topics for which more training was desired (shown in Table 5) were vaccination and herd health (64.4%), reproduction management (57.7%), and basic nutrition (54.0%).

Table 5.
Topics of Interest to Goat Producers from Missouri and Arkansas

no. of participants providing a response = 163)
No. %
Vaccination, herd health 105 64.4
Reproduction management 94 57.7
Basic nutrition 88 54.0
Herd record keeping 79 48.5
Udder health 74 45.4
Financial record keeping and analysis 73 44.8
Kid management 68 41.7
Hoof care 65 39.9
Housing 44 27.0
Other 28 17.2
aRespondents could chose more than one response. Total does not equal 100%.

Discussion and Conclusion

Comparisons to National Studies

Our results show that in Missouri and Arkansas, the number of dairy goat producers, as compared to meat goat producers, is higher than that for the nation as a whole (USDA APHIS, 2012a). Our sampling frame may have overrepresented dairy goat producers, or perhaps more producers in Missouri and Arkansas raise both types of goats. Goat producers in our study had less than 10 years of experience with goats, a finding similar to results of previous studies (NYS DAM, 2005; USDA APHIS, 2012b). By contrast, over two thirds of producers of beef cattle, hog, and poultry have more than 11 years of experience (USDA NASS, 2012).

In national surveys, researchers have identified brush control as a primary reason for raising meat goats and personal consumption as the major reason for raising dairy goats. In our study, source of income was the most commonly reported motivation, followed by personal consumption. About 45% of the producers in our study cited showing (competition) or fun/hobby as a reason for raising goats, a higher proportion than what has been found in the national surveys (USDA APHIS, 2012a, 2012b).

According to a national survey, the three most important categories of information sources for goat producers are other producers; veterinarians, nutritionists, and other paid consultants; and the Internet (USDA APHIS, 2010). Perhaps goat producers in Missouri and Arkansas have less access to small-ruminant veterinarians and more access to the Internet.

Recommendations for Extension Personnel

Knowing an audience is crucial for successfully presenting information to that audience. Goat producers lack experience in goat production and perhaps need more information than typical livestock producers. In addition, women may have a stronger role in goat production than in other livestock enterprises. Our results confirm that goat producers find the Internet to be a viable source of information and that Extension can be confident about using current technology to reach out to the underserved community of goat producers. Information sources such as computer programs, farm field days, and videos/DVDs may not be as helpful due to the low number of producers who use these sources of information.

Awareness of topics of interest, such as herd health, reproduction, nutrition, record keeping, and financial analysis, coupled with up-to-date research could assist educators, Extension, and industry collaborators in conducting appropriate educational programming.

Because other producers and the Internet are major sources of information for goat producers, educators should develop and maintain websites and Facebook pages to provide training opportunities and facilitate the exchange of information between goat producers and Extension and research communities. Using social media tools in this way will enhance communication between beginning and experienced producers. This approach would be effective for reaching audiences in Missouri and Arkansas as well as in other states.

We generated a profile of goat producers, determined how they prefer to receive information, and identified topics they want more information on. This information provides support to educators and other Extension personnel for planning relevant short-term and long-term educational programs.


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