Popularity grows; 'lean, red meat, even leaner than chicken'
By TERRELL WILLIAMS
For the Capital Press
HAGERMAN, Idaho -- Evelyn Simon has turned her fondness for goats into a productive business.
Tapping into the demand for what some say is the fastest growing segment of the livestock industry, this Idaho ranch woman is raising specialty goats just for meat.
Goat meat, called chevon, is eaten by about 80 percent of the world population, she said, and is being "discovered" now in the United States.
In Idaho, the market is picking up as more people try it and word travels.
"It is lean, red meat, even leaner than chicken," she said. "It's a fast-growing industry. I get calls every day."
Simon said she fell in love with goats in California in the 1980s, when she had a few dairy goats. After moving to Idaho, she and her husband, Joe Bennett, started raising chevon goats about seven years ago. To learn the business, they read books, started going to shows, and asked a lot of questions.
Their herd, now numbering about 65 head, is purebred Boers, a breed that was first imported to this country from South Africa in 1993.
Goats are active, smart and fun to watch, said Simon, who is always entertained by her bucks, does and kids. They are browsers, so they can be a challenge to keep in their pens. And they love to eat leaves, so trees, shrubs and weeds are eaten before pasture grass.
"Our goats are on pasture all the time," she said, "but we give them lots of treats from the orchard and vegetable garden."
In September, Simon and Bennett held an open house at their ranch west of Hagerman, Idaho. About 150 people attended the event, which was funded in part by a Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant from USDA. Simon gave hourly tours of the barns, pens and pastures, while professional chef Lynn Sheehan prepared a selection of gourmet dishes made of chevon.
"Goats are different from other livestock in that they carry their body fat around their organs, not under the skin," Simon said as she led a tour group into a small kidding barn with heat lamps and straw bedding. "So they chill in wet weather. They can stand cold weather if they stay dry, so, to stay healthy, they need shelter from rain and wind."
As she showed the pens, grooming stocks and pasture lands, she explained the operations and answered questions.
"Simon Boers" is the name of their breeding business, while "Capra Chevon" is the meat business.
September and October are breeding months, followed by kidding time, starting about five months later in February. Twins are the norm, but several sets of triplets also arrive each year.
"It's really fun when there are four or five (does) kidding at the same minute," she said.
"When the kids are a few weeks old, they start sprinting, jumping and bouncing off the walls."
Simon and Bennett grow and feed organic hay that is a grass-alfalfa mix. They also buy locally grown alfalfa for the does in late gestation and early lactation, their time of greatest nutritional need.
Because goats developed as browsers, they have a high nutritional requirement for minerals. To stay healthy, they need free-choice loose minerals, including copper, zinc and selenium, in a formula made just for goats.
As their herd has grown, Simon and Bennett have worked to keep the demand growing as well. Their farm is Animal Welfare Approved and they are a member of Idaho Preferred, an Idaho Department of Agriculture marketing program for Idaho products.
Their packaged and frozen chevon is sold directly from the ranch, and online through Idaho's Bounty, a non-profit co-op of farmers and ranchers selling directly to the public. They also sell chevon to restaurants in Twin Falls, Nampa and in the Sun Valley area, and they sell many younger goats to local 4H clubs..
Evelyn said their main business problem is the lack of a USDA slaughterhouse in the Magic Valley area. Small producers like themselves have to haul their goats to Nampa, and return a few days later to pick up the packages.
"That's 220 miles per trip," Evelyn said. "We can only sell packaged meat or meat to restaurants if it is USDA-inspected. If someone wants a whole goat for themselves, it is less expensive because they can use a local butcher."
Sheehan, owner of Cucina Gemelli restaurant in Twin Falls, said she is impressed with the high quality of Boer meat. As she and her staff prepared chevon meatball shish kebabs, Afghani wraps, barbecue sandwiches and chevon roast, the chef praised the meat for its tenderness and versatility. She compared it to lamb, saying that chevon is leaner and has a taste that is more mild.
"We tried to keep our recipes light and fresh to let the flavor of the goat come through," she said as she served at the open house. "I think some people are afraid. They think it's going to be gamey, or like mutton. But it's really nice."
Simon Boers and Capra Chevon are member businesses of Snake River Meat Goat Association, a club with an annual production sale in September, and two goat shows, one in May in New Plymouth, Idaho, and one in June in Jerome, Idaho.
At the 2011 September sale, with Bennett as the auctioneer, total sales for more than 60 goats was $26,000. Average price per animal was $420. Highest buck sold for $1,550 while the top selling doe went for $1,150.
Visit the website at www.idahoboergoats.com or call (208) 837-6523, or at (208) 539-2261.