Some in Minnesota find profits in raising goats
DULUTH, Minn. - Danyel Filipovich couldn't quite believe it when she heard that Big Red had made the news.
That was him, all right - all 250 pounds of Boer goat, hanging around the Superior Wastewater Treatment plant. Danyel and Thomas Filipovich had sold Big Red a few days earlier, and he briefly escaped from his new owner before being captured again.
"It was a thrill to watch him on TV," said Danyel Filipovich, who lives near Eveleth. But she had no illusions about Big Red's next stop in life - the dinner table.
Some people in the area expressed dismay that the goat was going to be eaten. Debra McKercher, an employee at the Humane Society of Douglas County, said the shelter had gotten about a half-dozen calls from people wondering if the goat could be spared.
"They didn't think it was right for (the owner) to kill it," McKercher said. "They wanted to save it."
Goat meat is tasty, lean and healthy, enthusiasts say. But encouraging "Scandinavian Minnesotans" who are used to beef and pork to try goat meat can be hard, Filipovich said.
And those same Scandinavian Minnesotans who grew up viewing goats as friendly pets and 4-H projects may have a hard time seeing them as livestock intended for consumption, said Wayne Martin, who promotes integrated livestock production systems with the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Minnesota.
"In particular, for the
4-H'ers, it's tough to take that pet and go off to market," Martin said.
Minnesota farmers began taking a real interest in raising goats about five years ago, he said.
"We saw a lot of interest in small-scale goat production, and a desire to serve a market that was not being served," Martin said. In Minnesota, the market is primarily for Somali and other West African and Latino immigrant communities, where eating goat meat and milk is common, Martin said.
The Filipovich family, and others who raise goats for milk or meat, say the animals are useful additions to their farms.
"As far as any of our animals, we like our goats the best," Danyel Filipovich said. "But we're also a farm, and we know the cycle of life. Our kids know that some of our animals stay for a long time because of their usefulness, and others stay for a short while because of their usefulness."
Filipovich said she and her husband tried raising a small herd of beef, but after the herd got loose and one was hit by a car, they decided to stick with goats. They have more than a dozen meat goats in addition to their dairy herd. They occasionally sell live goats, which people use for food or enhancing their own herds.
They sold Big Red to Olawale Famule, a University of Wisconsin-Superior assistant professor who is from Nigeria, because the goat had been bred to all of their female goats and was no longer useful, Filipovich said.
Small Minnesota goat farmers usually sell the live animals directly to the consumer, who then takes the animal to a meat processer, Martin said. But larger-scale goat farmers have started sending large herds of goats to Chicago for processing and distribution, he said.
For the past five years, the Minnesota Meat Goat Producers organization has worked to connect meat goat farmers throughout the state with those looking to buy goats. The informal group also occasionally holds information sessions and other events.
Although there is growing demand for goat meat in some areas of the state, goat farmers compete with product shipped from Australia and New Zealand, where herds of nearly wild goats forage on their own and are occasionally rounded up, butchered and shipped frozen to the United States. These goats are often cheaper to buy than those raised on grain and hay in Minnesota, Martin said.
"We don't have a lot of good data yet on how many goat farms there are ... and I don't think we'll have a lot of Minnesota Scandinavians eating goats on a regular basis," Martin said. "The real audience is immigrant communities."
But that won't be the entire market. Patty Schramm of Embarrass grew up raising goats and eating their meat. Schramm and her husband raise goats primarily for milk, but also for eating.
"A lot of people aren't necessarily excited about (eating goat meat)," Filipovich said, "but once they taste it, they get excited about it."
Janna Goerdt is a writer for the Duluth News Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.