When Nashville foodies think about goats, they probably don’t imagine a succulent steak. But Tennessee State University says the number of people who see goat meat as a staple in their diet is growing, and their research can help local farmers step in to fill the demand.
Since 2002, TSU's Richard Browning has run one of the most comprehensive goat meat research studies in the nation. Browning's herd consists of about 250 goats. He's focusing his studies on five breeds: Boers, Spanish, Kiko, Savannah and Tennessee's renowned "fainting goats."
Goat is one of the most consumed animal meat in world, though its popularity in the U.S. is just now rising. Browning says that's changing — and quickly.
"We have a lot of immigration from different parts of the world. In a lot of regions, the goat meat is a primary staple of their diet," he says. "When those individuals immigrate to the U.S., they bring their dietary habits with them."
As people look to eat healthier, other Americans are also starting to add goat to their diet, Browning says. It is a much leaner, low-cholesterol type of red meat.
With the growth of goat popularity in the U.S., farmers have not been able to keep up with the demand. Browning says the nation imports the equivalent of a million goats every year from places like Australia and New Zealand. As a result, there’s been a renewed interest from local producers and small farmers to get into the goat game.
But there are many different types of goats, each requiring different climates, feeding and care — though little research has been done in the United States.
When Boer goats became popular in the mid-'90s, Browning says, some farmers made a hefty investment. "People were spending $5, 10, 20, 50 thousand to raise them."
So far, TSU has identified the breeds that are best for production in the Southeast, helping local farmers make better decisions.
Earlier this year, Browning’s team won a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue their studies. The money will be split 60/40 — the larger portion to learn more about the South African Savannah goat and the rest to learn more about parasites and other illnesses that may affect their ability to produce.