Is it possible to make money with goats?
Fairly regularly I get a phone call or an email from someone who is considering raising Boer goats, and of course one of their questions is whether or not they can make money at it. I tell them 'it depends' and then run through some of the many factors to consider.
I'll put some of the factors below, but it's not an exhaustive list and you would be well advised to consult with other breeders, tax advisors, etc. before making any business decisions! After going through some of the factors, I'll give a scenario to show how the answer to that question can evolve over time as their farm goes from a couple of goats to a bigger operation.
It Depends on:
Do you already own land suitable for raising goats or are you expecting your goat operation to pay the mortgage on a new property? If you already own land that's just sitting there, and you don't expect the goat business to pay the mortgage, it's obviously going to be easier to make some money.
Is your land fenced? If you have land that isn't fenced or is fenced with barbed wire or broken-down field fence that couldn't hold a goat, then you will have the expense of fencing. If you pay to have it done, that will seriously take away from your potential profits. Even if you're going to do the fencing, the supplies still add up, plus you need to consider the value of your time.
Are there goat shelters on the land? If there aren't you have to at least come up with a rain and wind break for the animals. A three-sided shed can work fine, but that will add to your start-up costs. A fancier barn, kidding pens, etc. can all add a great deal of cost.
Do you have enough land for your stocking rate of goats so that you don't have to supplement your goats much? If your animals only need a small amount of supplemental hay in spring and while feeding kids, your feed costs will be much lower than if you have a heavy stocking rate or poor land and are feeding a great deal of hay and grain or pelleted feed.
Do you already have a way to transport goats? If you have a truck and canopy, that will work for a small goat operation. Larger operations will clearly need a way to haul more than a couple goats at a time. The other issue is that the large Boer goats get very heavy to half-lift into the back of a truck (yes, I'm speaking from experience!)...even two strong people can have a hard time lifting a long heavy doe into the truck...nevermind a full grown buck!
Do you have a ready market for the goats or are you willing to do some marketing? Your assessment of profitability will be different if you end up selling kids at age 9-12 mo for $50-75 than it will be if you sell those same kids at 3mo for $75 or more. In the first case you've fed the kids for 6-9mo after weaning and in the other, you're selling at weaning without feeding for months extra. You don't have to have a website, but you will have to work much harder to sell the kids for the same amount of money unless you already have contacts in the meat, breeding or show circles for which you'll be raising kids. Kids that eat your feed and take up your space past their weaning age are a drain on profit. Can you move the kids early and at a good price? If you're going to raise registered stock at higher prices it becomes even more necessary to have some willingness to market your animals (how many people that read your local Thrifty Nickel are going to even know what a Boer goat is, much less be prepared to spend $400-$2000 on one? Even if there are a few, you can't make much of a profit on one or two sales per year).
Case 1: When more are better
If your set up costs would be relatively the same for 20 goats or 100 goats (similar vehicle, fencing and barn needs), then having more may be an economic advantage. If the 20 goats net you approximately $200 each per year in kid-sales, for an income of $4000, then it's pretty easy to see why 100 would increase your income. Again, it's important to assess if the costs would really be similar for the two stocking rates. If you have the land, barn, and vehicles for the larger number of goats, the larger number of goats may be the approach to improve your profitability.
Case 2: When less are better
On the other hand, there is the situation where the breeder starts with the set up for a small number of goats -- small barn, small acreage, small pickup with shell and no trailer. With this set-up they can probably handle 10 goats comfortably and if they didn't have to pay expenses for the set-up, they may have a small income from the goat breeding. However. picture the scenario below and how the decision to get 'bigger' can lead to loss of profitability:
Year 1: A typical new northwest breeder, 'Bob', has a five acre property, and has heard that Boer goats are a good way to make some money off the property. He's lucky in that the place is already fenced with decent field fence and has a small barn. Bob buys three does from various sources. The does get a little grain once a day to keep them friendly and a little hay in the spring for fiber, but otherwise aren't needing much money put into feed. Bob has a little truck with a canopy so he doesn't need to buy anything to haul the goats.
Bob is able to ask the neighbor for a favor and borrows their buck at a reasonable price. That buck isn't registered, but beggars can't be choosers, so Bob's okay with that. The kids are born...all normal healthy births and five kids for the three does. Bob is feeling good about this Boer business. He is able to sell the two wethers for $50 to local folks he meets around town for brush goats. The does he decides to keep as he's beginning to see some potential in this business. So at the end of year 1 Bob has spent very little -- just a little feed, plus the purchase price of his three original does. He has gained $100 plus the three doe kids he's keeping to grow his herd. He's not ahead of the game, but he's not drastically in the red either at this point.
Year 2: In addition to Bob's original three does and the three doe kids he kept, he's also gone out and bought four registered percentage Boer does because he has learned that the registered animals sell for more money. That breeding season he figures out that it is a better buy to purchase a registered buck than to lease one, and so Bob now owns 10 does and a buck. He decides to get a website to market the kids, and is able to sell them for more money. With the purchase of four new does plus a reasonable quality buck, Bob is starting to add up the expenses. In this second year he may have a few kids for sale from his older does at around $150 each plus some wethers at around $75. Bob's still in the red, but hasn't had any huge expenses other than stock purchases yet.
Year 3: Some of the kids Bob has raised look pretty good and so Bob takes them to a local Boer show. He realizes that not all of them are great but a few are pretty nice and one even gets reserve champion! Bob is now hooked on showing. He buys some show animals at a higher initial cost. Then because he has more animals to haul, he purchases a new, powerful truck. Then a trailer. And the does last year didn't have enough room to kid in the barn, and so he builds a new barn.
Summary: I think you can see where this is going! I've given you the best case scenario -- Bob starts out with everything paid for except for animals and everything goes well for him -- he buys healthy animals, they stay healthy, have no kidding problems and do well even at their first show. Even with all those 'gimmies' for Bob, he still ends up spending a phenomenal amount of money by the time he has bought the truck, trailer, barn, and breeding stock. That is why there's no easy answer to the question of making money with Boers. As a breeder you will make choices along the way that will drastically affect your profitability.
So, am I saying that Bob should have stayed with a non-registered herd and sold for meat only? Not at all! Just that Bob needs to understand his goals, resources, and costs. One could make the case that a commercial doe takes up the same space and eats the same amount as the fullblood registered show-quality doe, and the difference in their purchase price is more than made up when you sell the fullblood kids for many times what the meat kids will bring. That argument only works, though, if you have the ability to sell the fullblood kids for $400 and up.
Know what your interests are and your costs. You have to like what you do or it won't work for you. Some folks don't want to deal with marketing and so raising meat goats is perfect for them, especially if they have a low stocking rate so they aren't feeding much extra and they have a source for healthy low-cost does (you can imagine the high cost of an unhealthy 'low-cost' doe).
For those with higher stocking rates who need to cover higher feed costs per doe, or who enjoy the show world, being involved with raising breeding and show stock may be for you. You will still have cull animals that will sell for meat...just because an animal can be papered doesn't mean it should be! You will have significantly higher costs related to showing, feeding, and marketing, but those should be compensated for by higher selling prices. Again, figure out what you enjoy and then you'll be able to figure out how to make some money at it (not get rich, but at least be in the black!).
Additional suggestions: Really assess your assets, goals, and means to acheive them. Talk with local breeders to assess stocking rates for land similar to your own. Find out how much feed they are using per animal and get some figures from the feed store to assess costs of keeping a doe for a year. If she costs $20/month and has one kid that sells for $75, you sure are going to be hard put to make a profit. If she costs $2/mo then you're doing okay as long as you can keep costs down for parasite control, vaccinations, unexpected illnesses, etc.
UPDATED: January 22, 2006