Steve Nordan has been raising Boer goats in Johnston County for better than a decade. His children showed the animals in 4-H competitions, and now his six grandchildren will continue the tradition.
For the Nordans, of Camp Branch Farms near McGee’s Crossroads, raising goats is a family affair, though not necessarily a family business.
“We’re thankful if we get enough to pay for our feed,” Nordan said, laughing.
The family affair began with a few goats the Nordans bought to clear some of their land. But groundskeeping soon turned to showmanship.
“We’ve traveled all over the country for shows,” Nordan said, reeling off a list of states: Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and New York, among others.
“We started with our small children, and we were buying good breeding stock,” he said.
Now that his three children are older, Nordan is working with his grandchildren, who have embraced competitive showing. “Our goats usually place well, and the kids want to win,” he said. “It’s not the No. 1 thing, but they’re learning values and how to work hard.”
The Nordans’ goat herd now numbers 35; that’s enough to allow the family to sell, usually for a good price, goats that they don’t think will show well.
In addition to winning ribbons at shows, Boer goats are making money for farmers in North Carolina, with the animals sometimes bringing eye-popping prices.
At a D and J Goat Farms auction held last month in Johnston County, buyers across the United States snapped up 89 goats. A Boer buck fetched the highest price, $4,000, paid by an online bidder in Washington State.
Despite a humid climate that can breed parasites dangerous to goats, North Carolina and Johnston County have become fertile and sought-after breeding grounds for the animals.
“We’re very competitive just here in Johnston County but also with the nation,” Nordan said.
Nine farms brought goats to the auction, with some buyers coming from out of state to the Johnston County Livestock Arena. Other buyers took to the Internet, their online bids projected onto a screen in the arena.
A goat’s genetics are so important that breeders are willing to travel across the country for good stock. Nordan said he once traveled to Kansas to breed six does to two males, one valued at $30,000, the other at $20,000.
“People will spend a lot of money bringing in new genetics to their herds,” Nordan said. “And we in Johnston County have spent a lot of money to get the best genetics here.”
Blake Thompson is on the other side of the industry from Nordan; he left showing in favor of commercial sales.
When he got out of showing, Thompson got rid of his goats, all of them.
But that was short-lived. “I guess I missed them,” he said, laughing. “I’ve had them all my life.”
Thompson said raising goats for sale is like any farming venture, filled with ups and downs. But more and more people in Johnston County are raising them, some to show, others to sell. Demand for goat meat and milk is rising across the country.
“There’s more demand, and we’re in a great location with North Carolina, right in the middle of the East Coast,” Thompson said. “I guess I just saw an opening.”
Derek Beane of D and J Goat Farms in Seagrove agreed that North Carolina is uniquely positioned to capitalize on East Coast demand for goats. Goat meat is the most consumed meat in the world, and cities with diverse populations demand the most.
Many people of Hispanic, African, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent are used to buying goat meat, especially around holidays.
“A lot of times we’ve been very competitive or had the best prices along the Eastern Seaboard,” Beane said of North Carolina goats. “Growing demand is driving our prices. The Muslim and Latin markets are willing to pay more and more for them.”
Beane said he’s seen the price of goat meat soar from about $1 per pound to more than $5 in the last few years. Some meat-processing plants are starting to raise their own goats to meet rising demands.
The Boer goat breed traces its origins to early 20th century South Africa, where farmers raised the animal for its meat rather than its milk. The breed has a high resistance to disease, grows quickly and adapts well to hot climates.
Not surprisingly then, Boer goat production in the United States is centered in western and central Texas. But North Carolina steadily is growing its goat industry, especially the Boer goat.
Boer goats most often have white bodies and brown or “red” heads, but some can be solid colors or “paint” or “dappled,” which means they have large splotches of different colors. Some goats have been specifically bred to have smaller spots and dapples in varying colors.
Those special coat patterns are becoming more and more popular in Johnston County, Nordan said. “At first you were looking at more full-blooded goats,” he said. “Now you’re seeing more of the dappled, which is becoming a trend.”
Although the Boer goat fairs well in hotter climates, Johnston County farmers say they face hurdles in raising them in humid North Carolina.
“Parasites are a huge problem,” Nordan said. “And it’s hard to get the right medication, the right de-wormer, to get them better. ... These animals need maintenance.”
Despite those challenges, Beane, Nordan, Thompson and others said they think North Carolina goats are here to stay.
“It’s just going to continue to grow,” Beane said. “It’s not going anywhere. We’ll just see more people all over start raising them. But we’ve got good stock in North Carolina, and Johnston County’s got great goats.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett