McMINNVILLE, Ore. — The popularity of goat meat among West Coast consumers has been recovering after several rough years, the president of the state’s goat meat producer organization says.
“We’re doing a lot better than we were two years ago,” said Harless Marcom, owner of Cozine Springs Ranch near McMinnville, Ore., and president of the Oregon Meat Goat Producers.
In 2009, the recession hit the U.S. goat meat industry hard, due to the fact that it is a niche market, he said. Domestic and export markets both shrank. The commercial slaughter of goats for meat decreased from 839,000 head in 2009 to 600,840 in 2012 and rebounded to 689,200 last year, according to the USDA. By 2012, the value of exported goat meat was $194,000, a 49 percent decrease from 2009.
“It hit us fast, it was something that no one could have expected,” Marcom said.
The Oregon Meat Goat Producers was started in 2003 in Oakland, Ore., as a way for industry members to connect with each other.
“What we were trying to do was to create a way for goat producers to come together, put sales and markets together and create a friendly network,” Marcom said.
The industry has recently begun to regain momentum. Despite starting in a small town in Douglas County, the OMGP has been gaining more popularity and members in Oregon and beyond.
“It’s now statewide and in Northern California and Washington,” Marcom said.
Marcom has been the president of the OMGP for two years, and since then he has seen a resurgence in membership.
Marcom and his wife, Barbara, own a herd of Heritage Spanish Goats, a rare breed. They usually have 60-80 head that roam their 280 acres, protected by their two bounding, paper-white Great Pyrenees dogs. In January the goats produced 42 kids, most of which were quickly sold.
“We retain most of the females, but the rest are sold primarily as breeders and brush goats,” Marcom said.
Heritage Spanish goats were the first goats cultivated in the United States, and according to Marcom, there were more than 3 million of the breed in the U.S. at one time.
The Heritage Spanish goat has good genes and is sought after almost exclusively for cross breeding. Boer, Kiko and La Mancha goats have all been crossbred with Heritage Spanish goats.
Now there are only 8,000 head of pure Heritage Spanish goats in the U.S., and they are on the Livestock Conservancy’s priority list for at-risk breeds. The Livestock Conservancy labels them as “a global genetic resource unique to the United States.”
Heritage Spanish goats are often crossbred for several specific traits. They have relatively easy births. According to Marcom, in the seven years he has been raising these goats, he’s only had two goats with problem births.
Also, unlike many other goat breeds, Heritage Spanish goats do not need to be de-horned, and hoof care is not a problem.
Because of this, Marcom believes it is imperative for them to maintain a pure bloodline in their herd. This is the reason they got into goat ranching, both out of desire to preserve this ancient breed and out of recognition of a potential market.
“It’s difficult to take 280 acres and farm and ranch it to be highly profitable and financially successful,” Marcom said. “You really have to find your niche.”
Marcom’s niche is the useful, rare and highly sought-after genes inside his wandering herd. The herd was imported originally from Smoke Ridge in north-central Montana, and since Marcom purchased them, he has been able to maintain their pure genes and export breeder goats across the U.S.