Why We Raise Goats

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Photo by Nicolette Hahn Niman

Although they're the most widely raised livestock in the world, goats are still a relatively uncommon sight on U.S. farms and ranches. An even rarer sight is a herd of goats raised for their meat. So a lot of people have asked us how and why we got into goat-tending.

For us, it started in earnest a few years back when Bill became intrigued with the notion. He'd had some limited experience raising goats for milk in the early days, when he was homesteading on his first 11-acre farm. He enjoyed having goats because they're interesting, engaging animals, and they provided something tremendously valuable: homogenized milk. Bill used the milk for his own consumption, making fresh day-cheese and yogurt. And he used it to nurse some orphan calves given to him by a neighbor in exchange for some labor. But Bill had not had any goats on the farm since the mid-1970s.

Good goat meat is not only tasty, it is highly nutritious. While as tender as lamb, it's low in cholesterol, has less fat than chicken, and is high in Omega-3s compared to other meats.

More recently, he started thinking about goats for other purposes. They make an excellent complement to cattle, we'd learned. That's because goats prefer and thrive on coarse, brushy vegetation cattle won't eat. If you've ever seen a herd of goats being used to clear land, that's why. In fact, researchers have found that there's only about an 18 percent overlap between what cattle and goats will eat in a typical pasture. They've even found that you can improve the quality of vegetation available for cattle grazing by keeping goats on your land.

On top of that, Bill had tried goat meat at Gabriel's, a restaurant in Manhattan's Upper West Side and liked the way it ate. A lot. With a little investigation, we found that good goat meat was not only tasty, it was highly nutritious. While as tender as lamb, it's low in cholesterol, has less fat than chicken, and is high in Omega-3s compared to other meats.

Shortly after that experience, we began looking into starting up a goat herd. Within about a year, we had hundreds of goats roaming our pastures. Stay tuned for more of our goat experiences. Also, see this New York Times story by Kim Severson.

If you want to try goat meat for yourself, the following restaurants regularly feature it on their menus: Oliveto, Pizzaioli, Frantoio,Terzo, Osteria Stellina, and Chez Panisse in the Bay Area; Tap Tap in Miami; and Blue Hill and Stone Barns in the New York City area.

If you want to make it in your own kitchen, it's best to wait for the fall, which is prime season for good goat meat. A variety of cuts are available starting in September at BiRite Market in San Francisco or online at Preferred Meats.

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Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman are ranchers in Northern California. Nicolette is also an attorney and writer, and Bill is the founder of the natural meat company Niman Ranch, Inc. More

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman are owners and operators of BN RANCH, a seaside ranch in Bolinas, California, where they raise their son Miles, grass-fed cattle, heritage turkeys, and goats. They were featured in an August 2009 cover story in TIME about the crisis in America's food system.

Nicolette is a rancher, attorney, and writer. Much of her time is spent speaking and writing about the problems of industrialized livestock production, including the book Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (HarperCollins, 2009) and four essays she has written on the subject for the New York Times. She has written for Huffington Post, CHOW, and Earth Island Journal. Previously, she was the senior attorney for the environmental organization Waterkeeper Alliance, where she was in charge of the organization's campaign to reform the concentrated livestock and poultry industry, and, before that, an attorney for National Wildlife Federation. Nicolette served two terms on the city council for the City of Kalamazoo, Michigan. She received her Juris Doctorate, cum laude, from the University of Michigan and her B.A. in Biology and French from Kalamazoo College.

Bill is a cattle rancher and founder of the natural meat company Niman Ranch, Inc. He was a member of Pew's National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which released recommendations for reform of the nation's livestock industry in April 2008. Niman has been named "Food Artisan of the Year" by Bon Appetit and has been called the "Master of Meat" by Wine Spectator, the "Guru of Happy Cows" by the Los Angeles Times, "a pioneer of the good meat movement" by the New York Times, "the Steve Jobs of Meat" by Men's Journal, and a "Pork Pioneer" by Food & Wine. The Southern Foodways Alliance named him its Scholar in Residence for 2009, stating that he was "this country's most provocative and persistent champion of sustainably and humanely raised livestock." Vanity Fair magazine has featured him in its "Green Issue," and Plenty magazine selected him as among the nation's five leading "green entrepreneurs." He has been honored with the Glynwood Harvest Good Neighbor Award. Bill co-authored The Niman Ranch Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2005), which was selected as one of the year's best cookbooks by the New York Times, Newsweek, and the San Jose Mercury News.

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