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What Direction is the Market Goat Industry Heading?
Dale Schlundt
AMGA Certified Judge

A few months ago I was asked to judge Hidalgo County’s Breeding and Market Goat Show. So we traveled down there and I had the opportunity to evaluate about 160 market goats and 40 breeding animals. I must say the quality of the goats and the work that the exhibitors put into their animals left me feeling impressed and privileged to judge their show. At the end of the show, a couple whose child had a goat in the show came up and asked me, “What direction did I think the goat industry was going?... Well, if you go out looking for a goat to buy, there are some differences in what you look for between a breeding animal and a future wether. But their question brings up good point. In every sector of the agricultural industry, either the quality, size, or form of the product is always evolving and changing over time. Not a bad thing, but that leaves the question, which direction are market goats heading?

We all know there are many different segments of the market goat industry. You have your commercial ranchers that are raising market goats in quantities to take to market, there are people whose sole focus is on breeding animals, and you also have the ranchers who sell market wethers to the 4-H and FFA exhibitors, not to forget those who do a combination of some or all of these. However, all three of these industry segments have a different focus or a variation on what their future goat kid’s characteristics are going to be.

My main focus is on the 4-H and FFA market wethers. What we have seen is that these animals have had some of the most drastic changes of all. I can remember when we started out showing Spanish Nubian crosses. The Spanish goat, at that time, gave the wether the muscle, while the Nubian contributed the overall size, length of body, and structural correctness. Just that statement in itself gives you a good picture of how much the industry has grown and evolved over the last ten or so years, the word drastic comes to mind. However, then we began to see these Spanish Nubian crosses as well as each individual breed start to produce quality kids with the Boer Goat influence. We saw everything from half bloods to three quarter percentage Boers. This phenomenon stuck around for some time. Many felt that the three quarter percentage was the best, simply because he did not gain too much condition, was fairly easy to keep the correct amount of condition on him, exhibited that muscle volume, and of course had the overall growth potential. At this time growth potential was the key because judges were selecting larger framed animals and were no where near as concerned about the over conditioning as we are today. However, the next step in the wether goat industry changed it forever, and of course this was a gradual move over time, not something that just started all at once, people started running their goats like lambs. What did this do? It made the higher percentages even heaver muscled and allowed people to start showing full blood Boer Goats.

So in the previous paragraph we talked about how we went from not having any Boer Goat influence in our wethers, because lets keep in mind the Boer Goat wasn’t even here until around 1993, to showing full bloods in the market goat classes, as many of us do today. But, how has the market wether evolved since then? Well for quite a while the focus continued to be on a large framed wether that had that size and scale along with the overall muscle volume. You could get away with a full blood that had just a bit too much condition. However, once the majority of exhibitors caught onto exercising or running their animals, the terms like "a firm handle" and "over conditioned" came into play. Not, that they weren’t used before, they were, but not to the extent that they are used today. What I see today, from my perspective when I am judging these shows, are animals that are wide structured, heavily muscled, and long bodied goats that are increasingly better quality when we are talking about their overall muscling. However, I believe we are seeing less of something, which could be a result of weight limits at the stock shows, pressures from the commercial goat market, as well as many other factors. We seem to have gotten away from the large framed animals in the market goat shows. We are seeing wethers with less size and scale and with less depth of body than before. These animals have tremendous qualities in terms of their muscle volume, but are lacking in growth when you compare them to their counterparts in many of the breeding goat shows.

So where does that leave us? I think we have to keep in mind that what ever your segment is in this industry, if you are raising market animals the question we must ask ourselves is simply put, “what kind of animal will produce the ideal amount of meat, while not overlooking the necessary breed standards, such depth of body, structural soundness, etc.” The problem is once an industry focuses or puts too much emphasis on one aspect, it can be easy to lose sight the many other important elements that may fall by the wayside, which is never good, regardless of what industry it may be. My advice to breeders is to focus on producing an animal with a good combination of all the essential breed characteristics, while always remembering; we are producing a market animal.

If you go into "Hall of Fame" at the San Antonio Stock Show, take a look at the cattle pictures, what you see is in the earliest pictures the cattle are heavily muscled, have a lot of width, but they are animals that do not exhibit a lot of growth. As you work your way up and the years go by you start to see cattle with different breed characteristics, featuring taller animals, and added dimension. You could tell, now the breeders focus was not just on muscle and width anymore, both important elements, but a renewed focus on structure and overall size and scale. Of course this transition to bigger animals developed its own challenges, which is why we continue to see that industry evolve as well. However, I believe when we look back twenty years from now at the market goat industry, we may not see the same progression as the cattle, but we will definitely see that the market goat industry has had its share of change. Thank you.

Dale Schlundt