A few years ago, I had the crazy idea to leave my career, start a homestead, and become a Goat Farmer. Well, now we had enough of the crazy little lovable creatures that we could start selling some of the extras and live off the Goat Interest. “It would be so simple!” I thought, naively.
We packed up the kids and off to the local small-animal auction we went. We were eager, green goat salesmen entering the modern vestiges of the Roman Colosseum: the local livestock auction. Another goat-farming friend of mine calls it Disneyland for farmers. We spent the day watching the rowdy animals enter the ring while the audience shouted out to bid their hard-earned dollars.
Every time we went to the auction to sell goats, we were somewhat happy with how we performed in the ring—until we saw the auction commission afterward. Depending on where we went, we gave up about 12-15% to the auction house for its cut.
Now don’t get me wrong, the ability to walk into an auction with your livestock and walk out a short while later with a fat check is attractive. You don’t have to deal with the end buyer at all, and that human cost is worth a hefty price, I’m sure. At the time, I figured that this was the main way we would sell goats because we had few other options, and it was easy. But then we pieced together another path to meat-goat financial glory.
On the rare occasion I would go online, I always saw the little ads: “Buy all-natural pasture-raised meats from our website, frozen and shipped directly to your door!” I reckoned that there was surely a lot involved in order for the goat farmer to do this, but maybe there was a way I could do it, too.
I researched the heck out of it, I even fired off some emails to people in authority who would know such things. I didn’t really get much response but did gather some small nuggets of truth, like that sheep and goats (and probably most other meat animals) have to be slaughtered and processed at a USDA facility in order for the meat to be legally sold to the public.
The USDA has a website where you can look up all the USDA processors near you, so I began contacting some of them. Many of them would only slaughter the livestock down to the carcass, or process into cuts, not both. Often, these tasks required two completely separate entities, and that really complicated things. The reason for this is that the largest buyers of goat meat are Halal meat markets.
As long as the goat is USDA slaughtered, the end retailer is covered under their local retail license to further process the carcass into smaller pieces at their small Halal meat markets in towns all across America. They are able to skirt certain regulations by operating under a local retail license to serve a strictly local retail market.
Meanwhile, I just wanted to sell goat meat online. Juicy, tender, goat sirloins and steaks sold to the public on a website; was this really so difficult?
Of course, I had to learn the hard way.
Early on, I did find one USDA slaughter place that was a short distance—maybe 20 minutes away—from a USDA processor. I thought I could take a few goats to be USDA slaughtered, then put the carcasses in a nice, large ice chest and bring them to the USDA processor. Well, after some failed attempts at this roundabout way of accomplishing what I wanted, I concluded that one should have a refrigerated truck to move around animal carcasses, and I was not about to spring for that expense.
Eventually, I pieced together that what I really needed to find was a USDA slaughter and USDA process facility that operated together. Thankfully, after many phone calls and emails, I found a slaughter and processing facility that was about three hours away. They also happened to be one of the largest sheep processors in North America and seemed like a professional USDA outfit.
To simplify the process, initially, I wanted to focus on one product but I had no idea what type of cuts people wanted to buy. I came up with an idea to pre-sell quarter goats; I would take all the various cuts of meat from each processed goat and divide them up into four quarters.
I tried a few different websites to help in getting the whole e-commerce sales part figured out. At first, I created a quarter-goat ClickFunnels website but eventually came to the conclusion that Shopify offered me the most bang for my buck because I could expand and offer multiple products later on.
Some of the customers did not want the whole quarter-goat, so, today, we sell various cuts of meat, quarter-goats, and goat hides. We also added a book we wrote, and soon, my wife says, goat milk soap, goat candles, and bath salts.
A friend told me about a few Facebook ad strategies, as well as countless other excellent ideas for marketing online. Along with his expertly sage advice, we also decided to collect people’s emails and give away free goat-meat information in exchange for their email. This helped us build our own goat-meat mailing list.
It was always an easy sell because goat meat is a lean, healthy red meat with less fat than most red meats, and it has more protein and nutritional value than most other red meats.
Once we got a sizable email list, we could send out an email occasionally and sell some goat meat to a smaller number of people at a time, without running ads. When we first bought some quarter-goat ads on Facebook to run in the seven states nearby, we quickly sold out. However, our advertising budget was huge, so our profit margins were small. Now we focus on satisfying our existing customers and e-mail list better, without running more ads on Facebook.
Now that we’ve got the whole process down, we simply schedule our date with the USDA inspected processor and drop off at least ten goats with a check for butchering. A few days later we come back to pick up the packaged meat with a giant, generator-powered, chest freezer loaded into our truck to keep it frozen on the way home. When we get home, we have another chest freezer that we load all the meat into while we sell it online through our website and to our email list.
Now, let’s talk about another early debacle: shipping frozen meats. The online meat-selling professionals make it look so easy! We bought a few orders from some of our competitors to get ideas.
Some used ice packs, some used dry ice. For tests, I was able to get a large supply of ice packs from a friend who receives a lot of livestock drugs and gets a lot of free ice packs with them. I did some overnight and multi-day frozen-to-thawed tests with the ice packs. I even tested in the hot sun to get some ideas of what worked and what did not.
Yet, despite all of this research and testing, we still had a few failed hot-summer shipments early on. But once we started using 1″ foam boxes, with equal amounts of ice packs per pound of meat, we have had nothing but success! We also had some poor results trying to use some cheaper delivery options early on, but then got a decent discount with Fed-Ex 2-day shipping and have been happy with them. We almost use them exclusively for shipments now, unless the purchaser specifies otherwise. You can also give your customers a discount coupon in exchange for returning the shipping boxes, a few at a time, to help bring down shipping costs overall.
With some perseverance, vision, and a whole lot of hard work, it is possible for everyone to live the small goat-farm dream. In our next article, we will break down exactly how much money we make with these goats—we’ll cover feed costs to butchering costs, and everything in between.