Producer explores adding goats to cow/calf operation to increase revenue
In a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) BeefWatch podcast, Harold Johnson, a rancher near Hyannis, Neb., discussed adding goats to his cow/calf operation located in the Sandhills of Nebraska.
During the podcast, Johnson highlighted what he has learned and offers several recommendations to producers who are considering adding goats.
History of the
Johnson’s great-father-in-law homesteaded in the late 1800s and the ranch has seen several changes over the years. The family started raising Black Angus cows on one-third of the original property. After Harold’s wife took a town job and increased ranching costs were incurred, the family started looking for more ways to provide revenue without having to pay increased capital costs, explained Johnson.
“We raise a cow/calf herd and were raising our own replacements for quite a few years,” shared Johnson. “We then started to buy heifers and sell bred heifers.”
After changes in the bred heifer market, the Johnsons ended up keeping bred heifers they intended to sell and went back to raising a cow/calf herd to try to increase income without laying out more capital.
The Johnsons also started a late-calving herd and terminal system in which they would purchase replacements as bred heifers. The difficult part is finding bred cattle which fit into this calving program, he explained.
to the operation
“We got into goats by accident,” joked Johnson. “When you have a young daughter who wants a goat and works on dad for a year, I finally gave in.”
The family started with two goats, but the family now owns nearly 100 nannies and will be kidding in the coming months.
The family supports local youth in 4-H and started raising and showing Boer goats for the local fair. But Johnson found raising Boer goats didn’t work on a commercial basis.
“We started crossing the Boer goats with Spanish goats,” shared Johnson. “We have pure Spanish goats and a Spanish-Boer cross.”
Complement to cowherd and predator control
“We run the goats year-round,” Johnson said. “We bring them in to breed, because we like to breed goats to specific bucks.”
The goats are kept on a 30 to 40 acre night pasture and are fenced in with high-tensile electric fence, said Johnson. During the daytime hours, Johnson opens the gates and allows goats to roam through the cattle pastures. The goats are great at managing weeds, he explained.
“They like to selectively graze the weeds,” he added. “I’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t want them to go eating my grass.’ Well, they don’t eat very much of it.”
According to Johnson, goats will eat 20 percent grass and broadleaf plants make up the rest of the diet.
The family utilizes a Krakachan-cross dog for predator control.
“The dogs will stick with the goats,” shared Johnson. “If the dogs are up at the house and the goats start out towards the mountains, the dogs will start out after them.”
He encourages producers who want to raise goats to have predator control.
During the summer months, the livestock graze grass and consume mineral salt tubs. During the winter months, Johnson has goats on lick tubs in the corrals and feeds about a quarter-pound of whole corn to weaned kids and a third-pound of corn to nannies.
“It seems to be working out really well,” he explained. “I’m not a big fan of too much corn because it tends to make their feet grow.”
The Spanish goat breed has hardier feet and is better in parasite control, noted Johnson.
In addition to corn, the Johnsons feed hay during the winter months but livestock also have access to the pasture land to graze.
“This last year we brought them in from the pasture and tried to breed them,” he said. “We got a lot of singles during the first two weeks of kidding season, then we started getting twins and multiple births.”
Johnson noted many of the corn-fed goats birthed multiples. This year he plans to feed corn three weeks prior to the breeding season to increase their twin percentage.
Goat herd considerations
Johnson encourages producers to start small with 10 goats and the key is to find the right kind of fence.
“See if you’re going to like it and find out how you’re going to keep them in,” shared Johnson. “This can be pretty challenging so a high five or six high wire tensile and electric fence will be your friend.”
Many producers get started with 4-H but it’s a labor-intensive route, he notes.
Fence line feeders, tub systems for goats and a chute with a head catch can be helpful in raising goats but isn’t always necessary, especially when starting out.
“If you have 50 goats in a group, fence line feeders are a great recommendation because goats will try to knock you over for a little bit of feed,” Johnson concluded. “Buy goats that are raised in the area – if producers get goats from the South, get them in the spring so they have an opportunity to adjust and get acclimated to changing weather conditions.”
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.