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Pasture vs. Feed Lot Rearing of Meat Goats

by Niki Whitley

University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Last year was a good year for goat internal parasites (worms) and thus a bad year for goats grazing pastures with little pasture rotation available. It was a year that grain-fed “feedlot” goats (not grazing pasture) not only grew faster but also were cheaper to raise.
At UMES, because we were conducting a sheep study last summer, we saved our rotation pastures to use for the lamb rotation, so we could not rotate the grazing kids. We de-wormed with Cydectin at weaning (2 months of age) and again about a month later. Starting at around 4 months of age, a graduate student wanted to start a study giving all natural probiotics in feedlot rations compared with no probiotics in the feed. All the kids were de-wormed with Cydectin at 4 months of age. Two-thirds of the kids were put into the study getting only grain with no pasture or hay (50-100% Boer) and the other third (mostly 75-100% Boer) were left on pasture. Only wethers and does were used in the feeding study and only does were housed together in pasture (no wethers to compare), so the results presented here are only for doe kids.
The goats on pasture were supplemented with 1-2 lb of grain (1 lb for a month and then 2 lb) and ½ lb of hay per goat per day starting at around 5 months of age and were de-wormed approximately every 4 weeks (Cydectin and Valbazen-for tapeworms) until removed from pasture (7 months of age) and were de-wormed when removed from pasture.

Overall, kids on the feedlot trial were de-wormed around 3 times with Cydectin and the ones on pasture were de-wormed 6 times (3 times with Cydectin and 3 times with Cydectin and Valbazen). The hay and grain/feed cost around $.09/lb for either one, and de-worming costing around $.50/goat for Cydectin and $.25/goat for Valbazen, the overall cost of raising the pasture goats just during the 3-month period was $13.55/goat and the cost of raising the feedlot goats was $16.70/goat (not counting labor, utilities, etc.).
Over the whole life of the goat, the pasture goats gained around .19 lb/day and the goats on the feeding study gained .25 lb/day. Over the 3 month period, that would be 17.1 lb/goat for pasture (or $.79/lb of gain) compared to 22.5 lb/goat or $.74/lb of gain). It would be even cheaper for the feedlot goats if only the average daily gain for the 3-month period could be calculated, but we only have that for the feeding study goats.
Neither one of these costs is really low and if we expect $1/lb return, we still would only have around $.21/lb “profit” for the pasture raised goats and $.26/lb “profit” for the feedlot type goats, not including labor and other expenses. However, in a slaughter market, we would expect a greater return on the larger, fatter grain-fed goats compared to those raised on pasture which would make the feedlot feeding even more profitable.
A couple of things about this little non-formal comparison is that most of the high percent Boer doe kids were raised on pasture. Thinking that Boer goats grow better than other breeds, one might say that the pasture goats had an advantage in that. But some studies say that Boer goats grow better with high nutrition but equal to other breeds with moderate to lower nutrition so they probably did not have an advantage.
Looking at the goats on the feeding study, they all look much fatter and sleeker than the pasture goats and weigh 10-15 lb heavier. They also seem to “play” more and are “friendlier” toward people. With all this information, I know I will seriously re-evaluate our feeding regimes when lack of pasture rotation and a wet summer come along at the same time again.


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