Just Kidding Farm strives to meet growing demand while beef prices rise
Some of over 200 Kiko goats at the Just Kidding Farm on McKinney Road. Owner Leoni Mundelius said that goats are a tasty, economical and healthful alternative to beef which has seen a steep rise in price over the last year with higher prices expected to come. (Photo by Katelynn Griffin)
Soon, beef might not be what’s for dinner for everyone, due to a steady increase in price. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, last December, steak and ground chuck prices increased 11 percent. More price increases are expected this year; In 2011, the US cattle herd declined two percent, totaling 90.8 million head as of this January making it the smallest herd since 1952. And, major cattle producing states, like Texas and Oklahoma, had to cull their herds due to an ongoing drought last year. Couple that with the increased cost of raising cattle, such as feed and fuel expenses, and the high demand for the product, consumers will be forced to fork out more and more of their hard earned cash. Fortunately, there is a local alternative and people across the state are trying to market their product, albeit to a leery customer.
Leoni Mundelius, owner and operator of Leoni’s Just Kidding Kiko Farm has been raising goats for eight years, and the project started innocently enough. When she moved to Lincoln County in 2003 with her husband and two daughters, the Mundelius property was covered with weeds. “I fell in love with the land because it was so beautiful,” Mundelius said. She suggested that they get some goats, but it was a joke. “We had never farmed before.”
That joke turned into a serious operation and she now raises 200 Kiko goats. The Kiko breed originated in New Zealand and was brought to the US in the 1980s. “Kiko are the best suited for our climate and if you want to go commercial, go Kiko. They are hardy, easy, and less maintenance.” She said that they kid, or have their babies, in harsh winters, even withstanding the snow. Mundelius said, many people in Kentucky make the mistake of purchasing Boer goats, mainly because of their beautiful red and white coloring. They are an African species and are better suited for places like Texas, rather than Kentucky. “You need something you can market; not just a goat for decoration,” she said.
Mundelius said the market is currently in the larger cities and that the local area does not have an abundance of retail, or restaurants buying the product. “We’re not yet able to cover the need for goat in America. We still buy imports from places like Australia.” Raising goats became popular in Kentucky after the tobacco buyout several years ago and it is a very popular alternative to raising cattle; the USDA ranked Kentucky seventh in the nation for meat goats last year.
However, in order to increase the popularity of goat meat locally, there needs to be a change in public perception of these animals. “There is a high demand for goat,” Mundelius said. “You just have to convince Lincoln County that they’re not pets.”
Goats, according to Mundelius are surprisingly easy. She takes care of her goats by herself, feeding them hay every day during the winter and on extremely cold days, she will feed them some corn. Other than that, she gives them minerals to keep them healthy and during the warmer months they graze on the grass. Goats are smaller than cattle and women find that they can handle them with relative ease; that is one reason why raising goats has appealed to women. “A lot of my buyers are women,” she said.
Mundelius assures people that there is money in goats, but you have to be smart about your operation. New owners will quickly learn that these animals can be mischievous and that a proper fence is of the utmost importance. “That’s the first thing we learned. Neighbors would call and we would have 200 goats in the middle of the road.” She and Eric, her only farm hand- a red border collie- would round up the goats; she compares it to scenes from the English countryside.
“They are smart, so you have to be smarter. They can open barn doors and get under fences. They have that look in their eye that they’re up to something.” With large goat herds, collies are a must. Collies are a premier herding dog and have an innate instinct to do the work. Mundelius trained Eric and through simple commands he is able to move her herd around with relative ease.
It is important to do your research and she recommends before starting an operation that you take a tour of a goat farm and ask questions, especially regarding the fence and barn design.
Lamb, unlike goat, has been established in the restaurant business, with a demand for lamb chop. President and General Manager of Bluegrass Lamb and Goat, Gil Myers also agrees that raising these animals is easier than most people might think.
“There is not a lot of capital or land required,” Myers said. “If you raise livestock then you can raise goat or lamb.” Local producers, from Lincoln and surrounding counties, provide the meat processed at his facility.
Myers has been able to find specific markets for the meats he processes. He said that the ethnic populations have shown a strong demand for goat. Masala, an Indian restaurant in Richmond, purchases their goat meat from Myers. Mermaids Bar and Bistro, located in Danville, serves lamb chops also bought from Myers. He has also seen an increase in the popularity of mutton and restaurants have shown an interest.
He too has come across people that are unfamiliar with these foods. “People are surprised when they try these meats.” Myers describes it as a “tender and tasty product.” Both goat and lamb producers argue that these meats are a healthy alternative to beef and other meats. Mundelius said that goat meat is lower in cholesterol and fat, even better than chicken.
Whether or not people decide to turn to goat and lamb as an alternative to the rising beef costs is yet to be determined. There is an increased interest in these meats and a commercial market does exist, just waiting to be exploited.
Mundelius enjoys her Kikos for several reasons. “They’re fun. They make money. And you can eat them.” If you’re trying goat meat for the first time, she offers some helpful tips. A good place to start is goat chili; the meat tends to blend in with all the spices. Goat tacos are another alternative, but the popular food item in the area is goat burger. Still, Mundelius finds no shortage in skeptics. “I have full grown men that eat deer, but won’t eat goat.”