Hybrid Vigor on Hoof
Want to see a cute face? Or just pick up a baby goat and scratch its soft coat for a while? Then a visit to Don Grayham’s Bayou Ranch is just what the doctor ordered.
Located on 40 acres, just a few miles from Buffalo City in north central Arkansas is Don’s thriving meat goat farm. He and his wife, Beverly, have lived on the property since the early ‘70s. Don is an Arkansas native, born not 30 miles from where he now lives.
An illness several years ago forced Grayham to convert his cattle operation to goats. He didn’t want to stop farming, but needed something that wasn’t as physically demanding as the cattle. When he discovered goats in the early ‘90s, it was a perfect fit. The smaller animals were easier to manage and more gentle, and fit his needs perfectly. Don has maintained his goat herd since 1991 and says “it’s therapy for me.” There is nothing like a baby goat jumping straight up in the air to raise your spirits.
When Don first converted to goats, he went to pure-bred Boers, but as the years have passed, he has gradually bred to a four-way mix. Don said, “I have brush goats, Kiko, Savanna and Boer goats. When you have dissimilar genetics, then cross those animals, you get a faster growth (hybrid vigor) than you do a full blood.” He feels that he has gotten a stronger, more disease-resistant, better producing goat by crossbreeding.
Don currently runs approximately 150 does on 440 acres, his own 40-acre home place and 400 adjoining acres that he leases. The only problem with the extra acreage is the fencing required because better-than-average fencing is necessary with goats. There’s a saying among goat breeders, “If water can go through it, a goat can go through it.” The extra acreage allows him to run the larger herd. There’s plenty to eat, so the goats forage most of the year.
Don said, “In the summertime I don’t supplement anything, except for mineral and salt. In the wintertime, I usually supplement some type of energy source with protein through the salt mix on the lesser animals that are not in production at the time, and a small amount of grain if they are in production and have a kid on them.”
Because he can’t monitor the herd all the time, some predator protection was needed. This job is accomplished by two Great Pyrenees and an Anatolia as herd dogs. The dogs do a tremendous job warding off coyotes and other predators. The does are moved to the home placewhen they are kidding and are themost vulnerable.
Don runs three bucks with the herd and breeds naturally. Even though goats have a five-month gestation period, he tries to breed each doe only once a year. He said, “It’s easier on the does and I feel I have a healthier herd.”
Meat goat production has become the fastest-growing animal enterprise in the United States. Every couple of months Don takes eight to 10 animals to the auction in Salem, Ark. He says they are normally bought by commercial buyers, who take them as far away as Pennsylvania, Chicago and Memphis. He takes them to market when they are 60 to 70 pounds and about seven months old.
In addition to selling meat goats at auction, Don also sells does to people who want to freshen up their herd, or who want to start a breeding program. He keeps females for replacement breeding stock for himself, and tries to sell the young bucks before they “start causing trouble.”
Don is pleased with his life as a meat goat breeder. Not only do they supply him with a source of income, but, like he said, “They’re my therapy.”