By Alexandria Becker
Return on investment. Profits. Two terms that a college student in the Business field learns practically right off the bat. The thing is, both these terms mean things that the farmer or rancher uses every day. When a rancher or breeder buys a new cow, doe, mare, or sow he often asks himself if the female will be able to produce enough to cover the cost of buying her and taking care of her.
For goats, an example would be buying a $300 doe that will take about $100 worth of care for the year (numbers may not be accurate, just an example). That means prior to kidding, the breeder has invested $400 in the doe. If the doe has two doelings that can be sold at $300 a piece after registration (ADGA/ AGS registrations for a doeling may be estimated as $25 total), so the two doelings are registered and haven’t cost any vet bills, maybe estimate the feed cost of the two at $100 total. That means $150 invested in the two doelings, if a buyer purchases them at $600 for the pair, leaving $450. That $450 isn’t profit yet; $400 of it is simply covering the cost of the upkeep of the dam and buying her the previous year. Now for the first year, with twin doelings, the return on the $300 investment of that doe is $50, which part of that can also be picked off to cover housing the buck or the breeding fee. That is the first year, if she has twin does the next year assuming the all the numbers remain the same and the doe costs $100 a year to keep, the remaining from the $600 in sales would be $600-$150 (feed and registration for kids)-$100, which would leave the breeder with $350. So in the first two years (which were remarkably perfect for the breeder), the breeder has had almost $400 return on his original investment.
This can be changed to fit practically any scenario. Often times I find myself during breeding season looking at a vet bill and not necessarily looking at it in dollars but how many kids I will need to sell in order to recoup the loss. For example, I may average $250-$300 per doeling (taking cross breeds, unregistered, and deals struck into account) and $50 for a wether. If my first doe to kid ends up with a vet bill of $400 right off the bat, in order to recoup that I hope she has two very marketable doelings or another doe has the two doelings and no vet bills. If there weren’t the doelings it would mean getting at least 8 wethers sold at $50 a head to cover just the vet bill, not to mention feed and other care. Return on investment or Profit are things practically all breeders end up looking at. Even if one doesn’t intend to make a large sum, or a living off goats, and gets them for any purpose other than pets he or she desires to see some sort of return. That return may be in milk, it may be in meat, it may be that the return is simply watching their children learn to be responsible. If the owner isn’t seeing the desired return he/she won’t likely be continuing in the endeavor very long. Everyone has a limited income to some extent and therefore doesn’t have unlimited resources to maintain goats.
One of the easiest ways to improve return on investment is to minimize the input, or investment. If the price of purchasing an animal is set you can’t change it. Registration is, at least in my experience a wise investment since $25 invested allows the animal to be worth at least $100 more since its bloodline is proven. Vet bills will arise. But there are ways to reduce the costs associated with raising goats. One of the easiest is to find quality feed; this doesn’t necessarily mean the highest priced grain, in fact quite the opposite. Quality feed can be rather inexpensive for goats since this can simply be finding a good area for the goats to access browse. A wide variety of plants allows the goats to pick and choose their diets and often they will seemingly self-regulate on vitamins and nutrients. Outside of having good browse for the goats where they stay, the owner can also focus more resources to roughages such as hay and alfalfa versus grains if they are willing and interested in finding other forms that work for their goats. This is very much a farm-by-farm decision though, and the personal preference can often times be a result of non-monetary results versus just saving money. For example, the owner may just prefer how their animals act on a certain feed over another, or experience less of a certain health issue while using a certain feed.
Learning to give vaccines and wormers, trim feet, pull kids, and doing basic medical care can help save money also. Along with that having basic medical understanding for the goats can also allow the breeder to possibly do just enough to stabilize the goat for the trip to the vet when accidents do happen. Veterinarians typically ask when the call comes in the basic questions of what’s going on, what’s the animal’s temperature, and so on. If the owner can already state clearly what is happening and what has been done it speeds up the process a little.
On the other hand, sometimes instead of cutting cost, another way of increasing return is to invest a little to gain a higher return. This is where registrations come in. As breeders, most are willing to pay a bit more for a goat with proven bloodlines over a goat someone is offering with no proof of even who her parents are. $25 for a dual registration can take (especially a Nigerian which is difficult or impossible to prove breeding otherwise) a goat that may only get $100 as an unregistered and double or triple it (also assuming the goat is worth the price to start with). This is not to say all animals should be registered or that all registered animals are better than unregistered. This is under the assumption that the doe is a quality doe and her registration helps her, the breed, and the buyer. Another investment is simply setting up to milk or doing other things with the goats, a way to let them “earn their keep” in a way. If a doe can produce enough milk to sell soap or something with it then she may be able to cover her feed cost for the year, covering another cost. An owner can also invest in ways to save them labor time on the farm or caring for animals. For example, when milking over three animals twice a day it may be worth starting to look into a milk machine to save the hands and lessen milking time.
The good news for goat owners is the fact that the market for goats in the United Staes is increasing, along with goats are small and hardy creatures. We, as owners, can rig up things to help us with the goats to save money until it’s worthwhile to invest in something better. For example, you can easily make a small sling or use a bucket and buy a $10 hanging fish scale to weigh kids instead of buying a fancy scale when you only have a few small kids. This doesn’t work so well if you are raising to market weight for butchering and needing to know the weight to sell by the pound. A small stall can be made out of scraps or wood and metal fencing if the owner doesn’t mind taking a little time, and can save up to hundreds of dollars (depending on how fancy the dream stall is). Goats can also live on smaller properties and on poorer pastures along with the owner doesn’t have to buy any fancy handling equipment to care for them. Overall, it is easy to sink thousands of dollars into raising goats, which is without doubt. But with a little ingenuity and drive an owner can also save money, or even make money given enough time and creativity.
Originally published in the May/June 2017 issue of Dairy Goat Journal. Subscribe for more great stories!