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Livestock Marketing

Proposed Meat Goat Grade Standards

The USDA has established well defined and widely used grade standards for cattle, swine,and sheep. These grades provide a "common language" between producers, marketers and end users to facilitate the transition of ownership from the farm, to the market, to the consumer. The understanding of grade standards by all parties and the accurate application of these grades provide the foundation to livestock marketing in the United States.

Currently, the meat goat industry in United States does not have an established and understandable description to relate live goats to slaughter value. An important step in the process of establishing and maintaining a viable meat goat industry is the development and implementation of uniform standards that will accurately describe a live slaughter goat and correlate this description to a predictable type of carcass. The objective of this study is to develop live slaughter standards for meat goats with direct correlation to carcass merit that can be utilized as USDA Slaughter Grades of live goats.

Material & Methods
Male and female goats of varying ages were purchased from variety of sources including private producers and livestock auctions located in Southwestern Virginia. The majority of the animals were classified as "brush" goats, which can best be defined as crossbred animals resulting from uncontrolled mating and raised under extensive management.

Live Animal Measurements
Animals were received at the abattoir approximately 12 hours before slaughter and housed overnight with access to water but no feed. Before slaughter, individual animals were weighed,aged by dentition and assigned a grade.

Grade Standards
The grades assigned were defined as:

Slaughter kids having minimum requirements for the Prime grade will exhibit superior meat type conformation and possess a high degree of finish. Prime slaughter kids are smooth over the top and the backbone is well covered and smooth when the hand is pressed down on the back. Prime grade kids will have the appearance of being thickly muscled throughout the body and particularly well muscled in the rear legs and loin. Prime kids shall be at least moderately wide over the back, loin, and rump. Shoulders and hips should be smooth in appearance. The overall appearance of Prime slaughter kids shall be one of very good overall health and give indication of a very high level of nutrition.

Slaughter kids meeting the minimum requirements for the choice grade will exhibit at least average meat type conformation. Choice kids will possess a moderate amount of finish over the ribs, back and loin. Choice kids when handled will express at least average muscling in the leg and loin. They should also express at least some development of the brisket. When handled the backbone of choice kids will be only moderately prominent to the touch. The overall appearance of Choice slaughter kids shall be one of good overall health and give indication of an adequate level of nutrition. Choice slaughter kids will have a muscling score of at least slightly thick throughout their body. They will express average or better width through the loin, back and rump. The shoulder and hip will be moderately smooth.

Slaughter kids meeting the standards for the Good grade will have meat type conformation that will be less than average. The muscling present in Good grade kids will be typical of slightly thin muscling patterns. Good grade kids are relatively narrow in relation to body length and height and somewhat narrow over the back, loin, and rump. Good grade goats will have little or no detectable fat cover and very little or no development in the brisket. When handled Good grade kids have prominent ribs and backbone indicating little or no fat cover. The loin and back will be more angular and the leg will be less than average in conformation. Good grade kids will be healthy in appearance and have the potential to reach the choice grade before breaking yearling teeth.

Slaughter kids failing to meet them the minimum standards for the Good grade will be graded Utility. Utility kids will exhibit symptoms of poor management including lack of adequate nutrition, lack of parasite control or poor genetics. Utility kids are very thin fleshed with a hair coat that is rough and dull in appearance.

Slaughter Method
Animals were slaughtered at the Meat Science Laboratory at Virginia Polytechnic and State University, Blacksburg, VA or a commercial processing plant in Harrisburg, VA. After chilling at 0-2C for 24 h, carcasses were fabricated as follows. All kidney and pelvic fat was removed and weighed. After kidney and pelvic fat removal, carcasses were split longitudinally into two equal sides along the center of the vertebral column. At random, one side was selected for composition determination. The side was then separated into the primal cuts of leg, loin, rack shoulder and "thin cuts". The flank, breast, plate and foreshank was combined and designated as"thin cuts". The primal cuts were individually weighed. After weighing, each cut was trimmed of any fat in excess of 2.5 mm. After fat trimming, the soft tissues were separated from the bone,with any heavy connective tissue being designated as bone. The fat trim, edible product and bone was weighed for each primal cut and the combined thin cuts. From these weights, the edible product to bone ratio was calculated.

Results & Discussion
The number of animals, age and weight of each grade are presented in Table 1. There were more animals in the Choice and Good grades than in the Prime and Utility grades. This is similar to other livestock species where the majority of the animals are in the middle grades and fewer are found at the extremes. Prime animals were the youngest and Utility animals were the oldest. Body weight was similar for all four grades; however, it tended to increase with decreasing grade.

Table 1.
Live animal measurements* of age and body weight


Age (yr)
Body weight (kg)









*lsmeans with same superscript in same column not significantly different (p < .05)

The edible product to bone ratios are presented in Table 2. This ratio is important because a higher ratio signifies more meat for the processor and consumer. As the meat goat industry progress, a superior product, e.g. high edible product to bone ratio, should fetch a premium. Therefore, if a grade is associated with a higher ratio then that should translate into greater returns for the producer. Although bone is part of the carcass and sold to the consumer, it is not edible. The consumer wants more edible product, i.e. meat, for its consumer dollar. Overall,Prime animals had a edible product to bone ratio of 3.63, this means that for every pound of bone there was 3.63 pounds of meat produced. At the other end of the grading scale, Utility animals produced 2.33 pounds of meat for every pound of bone. That is a 1.3 pounds of meat difference between the Prime and Utility animals. Overall, Prime animals had a significantly(p<.05) higher ratio than did Choice animals, which was significantly higher than Good animals,which was significantly higher than Utility animals. For the leg and thin cuts, there was no significant differences across grades; however, the ratio tended to decrease with decreasing grade. For the loin, Prime animals had a significantly (p<.05) higher ratio than did Choice, which was significantly higher than either Good or Utility. For the rack, Prime and Choice animals had significantly (p<.05) higher ratios than did Good, which was significantly higher than Utility. For the shoulder, Prime and Choice animals had significantly (p<.05) higher ratios than did Good or Utility.

Table 2.
Edible product to bone ratio*


Loin Rack Shoulder Thin Cuts


1.6a 3.28a 4.20a 3.73a


1.8a 3.35a 3.92a 3.40a


2.7a 2.54b 3.27b 3.04a


4.9a 1.95c 2.76b 2.55a

*lsmeans with same superscript in same column not significantly different (p < .05)

Meat goat grade standards are feasible and have merit for the industry. These standards could insure a standardized product for every link of the marketing chain from producers to consumers. Producers would be able compare their animals with the grade standards, enabling them to modify their management system to meet market demands. Consumers would be able to purchase a product with less waste for their consumer dollar. Traders and packers would be able to process a product that is oriented towards efficient marketing.

This project supported by grant #12-25-G-0113 from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.

The author wishes to thank the project team members, Dr. Terry Gipson of Virginia State University, Dr. Dwain Johnson of University of Florida, Dr. Paul Graham of Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University and Mr. Bruce Shankle of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, for their participation.

Mr. William Drinkwater is a Livestock Marketing Specialist for the Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services. He can be reached at Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services, Box 1163, Richmond, VA 23209, Phone: 804.786.3935, FAX: 804.731.7758.

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