University of Maryland Extension

Get Your Goat

Image Credit: 
Susan Schoenian

At the edge of a field at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center (WMREC) in Keedysville sits a penned-in area known as the “Goat Hilton.” Fifteen goats spend most of their time in the large enclosure eating a regulated diet consisting of hay and grain.

One warm evening in late July, the goats barely looked up from their dinner as two wagons full of interested onlookers parked in front of their home and stared as they chewed.

“The goat is the most interesting animal there is,” said Susan Schoenian, sheep and goat specialist for University of Maryland Extension (UME). Schoenian and the other members of UME’s “goat team” hosted a tour of the WMREC facility for the public to, quite literally, get a taste of their ongoing research.

“Tonight is a celebration of goat,” Schoenian said.

While most people associate goats with milk and cheese, the animals involved in two research programs at WMREC are being raised for meat. Goat meat, called chevon, is in increasingly higher demand in the United States, according to the Agricultural Marketing Research Center, due in large part to growth in ethnic populations including Muslims, Hispanics and West Indians who consider goat a dietary staple. According to Schoenian, who says she eats chevon several times a month, everyone should give goat a try.

“More Americans should eat goat meat because it is one of the healthiest meats – low in fat, but high in nutrients,” said Schoenian. “Goats also aren’t very often intensively farmed, which will appeal to certain consumers.

However, goat meat is still very difficult to find in traditional supermarkets. While some is available at ethnic markets around the country, most people purchase directly from producers. UME’s goat team is gathering data on a group of bucks of the Kiko breed native to New Zealand. The team is particularly interested in how well and how quickly the goats put on weight as well as how resistant and resilient they are to parasites, to which goats are more susceptible than other animals. Additionally, the Extension specialists are conducting a study comparing how well the goats in the “Hilton” gain weight compared to a group grazing in open pasture. Top performing bucks from the pasture test are eligible to go to a national sale and some are made available for private purchase.

Participants of the goat tour at WMREC on July 31st were treated to a chevon tasting. Washington County chef Todd Morren prepared the meat in a variety of dishes including Sri Lankan goat curry, roasted goat tacos, a Mexican goat and chili stew and a citrus-cured goat salad. 

UME’s goat team consists of Schoenian, agriculture and natural resource specialist Jeff Semler from Washington County, youth development and agricultural specialist Dave Gordon from Montgomery County and administrative assistant Pam Thomas. Some members of the group spend an average of seven hours a day with the goats and along the way have learned a lot about their behavior. “Goats are curious and independent. They are very agile animals. They like to climb. They can be very entertaining to watch,” said Schoenian. “They are also interesting – and challenging – because they are harder to predict and manage, not totally “domesticated” like other farm animals.”

Schoenian has taken to social media to share information on both goats and sheep and to help gain exposure for the research programs. A Facebook page she created currently has more than 2,200 likes.

For more information on UME’s involvement with goats (and sheep), visit https://extension.umd.edu/sheep-goats.

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