Alternative Marketing, an Opinion Piece

Agriculture is a very cyclical beast. Everything comes in seasons: breeding, lambing, harvest (planting, spraying, harvest; repeat). Markets cycle as well. Last year was an unfortunate example of how crazy times can be as the promising outlook for lamb and wool ended with a depressed lamb market and a non existent wool market. Luckily, the goat side didn’t experience the low felt by sheep side of the small ruminant industry. The trend in recent years has been more positive for sheep and goat producers, yet times like these have highlighted the need for more flexibility.

In traditional American cattle and sheep systems, we finish animals out to a heavier finish weight. American consumers ate only 1 pound of lamb per person in the last year, which is down from 5 pounds in the 1960’s. Sheep numbers in the US have continued to decline. In fact, more than half of the US supply is imported from Australia (75% of imports) and New Zealand (24% of imports). The cost of production isn’t getting any cheaper either, so what can we do on the sheep and goat side to keep the industry rolling?

I was listening to a recent episode of a podcast that really got my wheels turn-ing. The finishing weight for market goats has traditionally been 40-60 pounds. The same holds true for lambs especially close to certain holidays (Easter, Christmas, etc.). Otherwise, lambs have been grown out to heavier finishes. Goats generally appeal more to ethnic markets, yet recently we have seen some interest in goat meat among the average American, resulting in some goats finished out at heavier weights. The goat industry is significantly less organized than any of the other livestock industries in the United States. Goats are also not the most feed efficient animals, which is why it can be quite expensive to get them to a finished weight.

During the podcast referenced earlier, the point was made that this particular operation did not follow a rigid and traditional marketing plan with their lambs. If the price is high for light lambs, they sell light lambs. If the price is higher for finished lambs, they sell finished lambs. Flexibility is not always an easy thing though as space and resources can be finite. Having a contract is appealing, yet having flexibility can be equally as important.

The University of Minnesota Extension department released some great meat infographics that producers should review if they have not already examined them. Yields will be influenced by genetics, feeding, shorn vs. unshorn, trim loss, etc. From that info, it is safe to assume a 50% dressing percentage, with yield from that being about 70-75%.

How much meat should a finished lamb produce?                                                                                     According to the University of Minnesota, a 140 lb. lamb should provide 47 lbs. of cuts.

How much meat should a finished goat produce?
According to the University of Minnesota, an 80 pound live goat yields around 33-38lbs of bone in cuts, or 20-22 lbs. of boneless meat. The expected yield is 41-47%, and while there are some producers realizing better yields, the goat industry is not currently very organized.

Are there other ways to make your operation profitable outside the standard traditional methods? Is the answer breeding for ethnic holidays? Selling directly to consumers? Joining organizations like Dakota Lamb Growers or other cooperatives to get the most bang for your buck? What could you change about how you market your animals that could increase profit for your operation?