Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Plan Ahead for Marketing your Sheep and Goats

Goats and, to a lesser degree, sheep have exhibited seasonal price and production patterns that trace back to data that is recorded since the 1940’s. Traditionally, seasonable prices during the year usually vary at least 25% price difference, with the highest price being in March-April and the lowest market price in October. However, in recent years, the shortage of goat meat has resulted in greater changes from this price pattern. For the last 2-3 years, the price may vary by 50% from the highs before Easter to the lowest prices of the year. Much of the price fluctuation relates to the holidays of the ethnic calendar where meat consumption increases.

Because goats (and also sheep) are seasonal breeders coming into heat primarily from September to December, goat production leads to most kids being born five months later in late winter to early spring. The kids then are weaned in late summer or fall. This creates a market kid (hence fresh goat meat) shortage during the late winter-early spring months, and gluts the market during late summer and fall. Coupled with that, Easter (the Western or traditional Easter) has the strongest goat meat demand in the U.S. Usually, market kid and goat meat prices tend to reach their peak just before the Western Easter (March-April), drop significantly during June, continue trending downward through October-November, then begin rising toward the Christmas season (December). Fresh goat meat shortages force the prices to continue upward until they peak again during the Easter season (March-April). Lambs follow a similar pattern but with less variation in prices.
Latinos tend to eat goat meat as their traditional meat. They are the nation’s largest minority group, also the fastest growing population, and provide a significant consumer base for goat meat products. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2013), the Latino population in 2012 was 53 million, making up 17% of the U.S. population. Latino population growth between 2000 and 2010 accounted for more than half of the nation’s population growth. Much of the goat meat is consumed around festivals around holidays and birthdays. Holidays celebrated include New Year’s Day, Easter, Cinco de Mayo (May 5), July 4, and Christmas. One concern with the Latino or Hispanic population is that they will grow accustomed to less expensive hamburger and decrease goat consumption.
The Muslim population makes up about 3-4 percent of the U.S. population, thus having a significant impact on goat and sheep meat consumption. Ramadan is a month-long holiday where Muslim/Islamic families celebrate the beginning and end of Ramadan. Festival meals take place each night since no food is consumed between sunrise and sunset. Male or female kids that are less than one year old and weigh 60 pounds are desired, but weaned kids between 60-120 pounds may be acceptable. Between the beginning and end of Ramadan, meat consumption is omitted from the diet, thus decreasing consumption of goat and lamb. Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. For the past few years, Ramadan has coincided with September - November, the months when most kids are weaned and sold (during the period when monthly prices fall or “bottom” due to seasonal weaning and sales production pressures); however, for the next few years, Ramadan will be earlier in the calendar year (beginning on June 28 in 2014 and moving earlier).
The movement of Ramadan toward summer and spring months (due to the lunar calendar) may improve the prices of kids sold during this period. Traditionally, Ramadan is a period of lower sheep and goat prices.
Since Ramadan will move earlier in the upcoming years, commercial producers may want to breed for fall-early winter kidding to take advantage of the improved late winter-early spring market. They may also want to breed to sell market kids at the beginning and end of the Ramadan season, particularly in the upcoming years as Ramadan moves to months that are earlier in the calendar year when market kid prices are historically higher. It is important to consider that the weather can be a major factor in determining baby kid survival during the winter months. Additional facilities may be needed to keep the does and kids protected from the weather.
How the changing dates of Ramadan and the increased demand for goat meat will affect the best times to market goats remains to be seen. Yet, producers should plan their marketing strategies around the traditional ethnic holidays—which means marketing 2-4 weeks before those holidays.
(by Jodie Pennington, Small Ruminant Specialist, Lincoln University)

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