Family operation finds diverse buyers for flock of goats
By LEE JUILLERAT
For the Capital Press
DAVIS CREEK, Calif. -- For Patrick and Paula Fields, raising goats is way of teaching their children the values of working on the family ranch. But it's also about making money.
"We're in it to make money and show a profit," explains Patrick, 41, of the family goat business.
With a background in banking -- he's the controller for the Modoc Medical Center in Alturas, Calif. -- he thrives on the financial aspects of raising and marketing goats. "The numbers side and the market side are what I enjoy."
"He's a banker through and through," Paula said.
The Fields have been raising goats at their Rock Jack Ranch, near the Oregon-California state line, since 2010. After originally experimenting with a half-dozen Nubian females, they've gradually expanded the herd, which grazes on 255 acres of orchard grass hay fields on their 503-acre ranch.
Of this year's 144 kids, more than a hundred were sold, including 54 to a buyer in Petaluma, Calif., and another 20 each to Sweet Home, Ore., and a goat study through the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. The remaining kids are being retained as replacement doelings to increase their herd.
While 2011 proved profitable, 2012 had mixed results. In 2011, Patrick said the cost per doe was $182, which includes feed, vaccinations, guard dogs and such capital improvements as fencing. He grossed $302 per doe, or a profit of $120 per doe, but notes that did not include labor -- "We have to include our time."
In 2012 the profit was only $37 profit per doe, but he said factors in the difference included management steps taken to improve the herd quality, reduce future labor and a drought that increased feed costs.
He's also planning a breeding schedule to move early kidding back to May and June to reduce labor, ensure more abundant feed and reduce the need for supplements. He's adding Savannah goats, a newer breed.
Because the goat market is specialized, he said timing is critical to meet seasonal demands. Peak periods include Christmas, Easter and Ramadan. Along with ethnic markets from people of Middle Eastern, Asian, African and Latin American heritage, Patrick said there are increased demands from high-end gourmet markets that tout the nutritional benefits of goats.
A third market is for 4-H and FFA projects. In addition, the Fields hope to retail some goats, some regionally and others in packages featuring goat cheese, goat sausage and other products.
Raising goats marks a major change for the Fields, who both had backgrounds in cattle ranching. Among their reasons for switching was a desire to involve their children, Jake, 8, and twins Josie and Addie, 5,
"It's something we can do with the family," Paula said, noting the goats are relatively gentle. "We're trying to be open-minded and as diverse as possible."