by Randy Parks
While much of the high desert range is grazed by cattle, Scott and Sandy Campbell, owners of the Silvies Valley Ranch, have determined that the land is also an excellent environment to raise meat goats.
With that in mind, the Campbells are in the process of developing a goat that will thrive in Eastern Oregon, fill a void in the ever-increasing demand for goat meat in America and in the future, provide additional economic opportunities for other ranchers,
The goat-raising operation, located at the far northern end of Harney County, the south end of the ranch, currently houses about 320 bucks and does, and an ever-increasing number of kids.
The Campbell’s goal is to have 1,000 breeding does, in two years time, to supply the market with a consistent product, as well as provide breeding stock for someone who might want to begin their own operation.
Sandy said that a couple of years ago, she and Scott were looking for additional ways to increase ranch productivity, as well as improve riparian areas and control weeds and brush, and they found raising goats would meet those needs.
She explained that the goats have an appetite for the unwanted rabbit brush and juniper. They also have an aversion to mud, so using herders, goat browsing through riparian areas can be used to remove young conifers, thistles and weeds, while steering clear of the creek banks. Another plus in raising goats is that they can feed five or six on the same amount of land that would it would take to feed one cow.
The herd is expected to grow exponentially, as the does typically give birth to twins, sometimes triplets, and occasionally quadruplets. Sandy said they are working on cross-breeding Boer goats with the Kalahari Red breed to produce a larger carcass animal, as well as other preferred characteristics.
With a consistent product that is certified organic, the meat is sold to a variety of customers, including white-table-cloth restaurants and natural food stores. The desired result is a lean meat, high in vitamin E loaded with good cholesterol and low in the bad cholesterol.
Sandy noted that demand for goat meat is growing in the Unites States in many different population segments. Currently, 75 percent of the goat meat is imported from Australia, which could be from a number of sources, including wild feral goats. This means that the American consumer isn’t assured of the high quality meat they have become accustomed to.
To get the herd started, Sandy and her sister, Sheryl Miller of John Day, toured Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other Western states in search of Boer does and proven-sire bucks. They selected 200 breeding does with which to start, and their first kidding season rolled around in the spring of 2013.
The majority of the breeding is done by artificial insemination and the rest by live cover. Statistics are kept for every doe and kid, so the Campbells can track the progression and results of breeding.
The does are split into two groups and bred to give birth at two different intervals, about a week apart, in the spring, around the same time as the Campbell’s cattle herd.
“It’s easier to deal with it all at once,” said Sandy with a laugh. It also allows the goats to be put out on the range by the end of May.
When the kids are born, they, and the doe, are taken inside a barn, and put into “kidding jugs,” or pens, where the kids are identified, weighed and tagged (blue for boys, pink for girls), and vaccinated. A chart is also started on every kidding doe to track birthing information and animal health statistics, and information which will be used for future herd management decisions.
The kids also have access to heat lamps in the pen, and a close eye is kept on the doe to make sure she’s being a good mom.
Two days later, the doe and kids are transferred to a small family pen, along with four other does and kids, to begin the process of “mothering up”.
After two days in the small family pen, the does and kids are let out into a larger area, with 10 to 20 does total, to ensure that the kids can find their mother in a crowd, and learn to get along with others.
The kids are especially attracted to the “kid condos,” or wooden boxes with an open front. Sandy explained that the young goats like to stay in covered areas, which may be an inherent trait to avoid raptors or other attacks from predators.
Sandy added that the goats operate in a matriarchal manner, determined by the butting of heads to show dominance. Once the lead doe is established, they then battle for second-in-command, and on down the line.
After about a week’s time in the first barn, the families are then ushered into the “winter barn” and paddock area until it’s time to take them out to the open range.
After doing research on herders, the Campbells went through the Western Range Association, and hired a pair of herders that hail from Peru.
Jesus arrived in Harney County August 2012, and Cresencio joined the staff in January.
Along with the herders, the Campbells have three guard dogs, two Pyrenees and an Akbash cross, to keep the animals safe. Border collies are a herders best friend in keeping the large herds gathered and browsing across the landscape.
In the late spring or early summer, before the herd is taken out to range, just like a cattle operation, does and kids are weighed and vaccinated using “goat-sized” corrals and chutes.
Once turned out, the herd is tended to 24 hours a day by the two herders. Due to the increasing number of predators, like wolves, at night the goats are penned with the guardian dogs to keep them safer.
One benefit that the Campbells have discovered in having goats on the range is that they can come in to range areas after the cattle, and will clean up the weeds that have been left behind, helping prepare the pasture for the fall season.
Sandy said cattle and goats also don’t share the same parasites, so one species can inadvertently eat the other’s parasites, and not get sick.
Originally from South Africa, the Boer and Kalahir Red goats are desert animals, and adapt well to the high desert. They like the climate, rocks and brush, and have less health problems in the high desert climate rather than a wet environment.
Sandy said that in recent years, the Boer goats have been used more as show goats, and in the process, have lost some of their innate ability to fight disease and the “good feet” characteristic, so those are traits they are trying to re-establish with breeding techniques, and introduction of the Kalahir Red genes.
After 18 months, usually in October, the market goats are processed and sorted to go to market.
The does, and maybe a few bucks, are kept for breeding stock, and the reminder of the males are shipped out.
While there is a growing market for goat meat, Sandy said goat meat has gotten a bad rap because of the inconsistent quality of the meat available to consumers, but that can change with the Campbell herd. “Our livestock team has integrated the goats into the cattle operation, and are excited about the opportunities to use them for weed control and improving the riparian areas. They have also learned much about how to care for another class of livestock. Something that all livestock professionals love to do.
“We’re going to end up with our own breed, and Scott is in charge of the marketing” Sandy said,
“There is an unmet need in a growing market, and we can get in on the ground floor, and provide the product. Eastern Oregon could be the premier goat meat region of the West by breeding a bigger carcass animal in drought areas. You can have less animals, but more poundage, and it will be a consistent quality product.”
The lighter side
The two sisters, who act as the overseers of the goat operation, agreed that kidding season is a fun time.
The young kids often end up with names, which can make sending them off to market 18 months later an emotional time.
They are also grateful they can handle the kids and not have to worry about being run down by a protective mother.
“It’s also fun seeing the difference in the offspring from the selected breeding, pairing of the bucks and does,” Sandy said. To give the operation a bit of its own identity, Sandy pointed out that “Chevon” is the French word for goat meat, so the goat headquarters is named “Chevon Creek.”
With the current breeding program, building on successful processes, and good team work, the Campbell’s are developing an exciting range goat program that works for Harney County and all of Eastern Oregon. Goat meat from Chevon Creek will surely be one of the entree choices on your menu in the near future.