It’s a good time to be a goat farmer, and it would be even better if there were more goat farmers to supply the growing demand, says the vice-president of the Alberta Goat Breeders Association (AGBA).
“The Canadian palate is changing. We have a lot more ethnic diversity and people coming into Canada,” said Laurie Fries, who runs SLF Ranch near Edgerton along with her husband Shay.
“It’s an up-and-coming industry that is growing from year to year. Many of these new immigrants are used to consuming goat products and want to keep their traditional eating habits when they settle in Canada. All of these new people are really driving the interest in goats,” said Fries.
Central Canada has the highest numbers of goats, but demand continues to grow strongly in the western provinces, said Fries, who has a herd of 100 Boer goats.
In 2012, the Alberta Goat Breeders Association had about 200 members. Membership in the organization has grown dramatically over the past few years.
Fries said there is a huge need in the industry for new producers.
“It’s just hard to get producers to take notice and come into the industry,” she said.
Still, the influx of people into the industry has created a shortage of available breeding stock to cope with the demand. In order to offer quality breeding stock to new producers, the AGBA decided to hold a goat sale at the same time as its annual general meeting last fall.
Fries said many young people who want to come back to the farm are seeing the goat industry as a viable option. The business is also attractive to farm families, especially young mothers who want to involve their children in their operation. Goats are also winning favour with 4-H clubs and older people who want to downsize or retire from the cattle industry.
Some producers are choosing to add goats to their operations because of their interest in multi-species grazing. Goats are browsers and can eat noxious weeds, so some municipalities and community pastures are turning to goats as an option for natural weed control.
Goats need less space, which makes them an attractive option for the small acreage owner. Seven goats can live on the space needed by one cow, said Fries. Goats can live on a less profitable land base, as they prefer to eat weeds and trees.
“You can get a piece of land that you couldn’t raise a cow on and raise a goat on it,” she said. “That’s one of the benefits of multi-species grazing, because you can get more value off your land by running multiple species that eat different things.”
In order to manage goats, producers need good fencing and good predator control. Fries advises new goat producers to talk to more experienced producers about best management practices, and to attend AGBA workshops and conferences. Fries said the industry was affected by restrictions put upon the industry after BSE, and the number of goats in the country dropped for a few years after 2003.
Sixty per cent of the goat meat consumed in Canada is imported from New Zealand and Australia. Many producers are marketing off farm, but feedlots are buying through local auction markets or by contacting producers directly, said Fries. The Sungold plant in Innisfail and some local provincial abattoirs are slaughtering goats. Many of the ethnic communities need their goats to be halal, and only some of the abattoirs are able to fulfil this requirement. “Basically, if you’ve got a goat for sale, it’s sold,” she said. “It’s not an issue of marketing; it’s an issue of getting enough product.”