by Dr. Frank Pinkerton
Observations on Meat Goat Carcass Evaluation
Preface (by Annette Maze, USBGA Office)
As a long-time participant in dairy goat and meat goat enterprises and in the American Dairy Goat Association and various Boer Goat Associations, I have known Dr. Frank Pinkerton, aka The Goat Man, for many years. He was instrumental in establishing and executing goat research and extension programs at Prairie View A&MU in TX and Langston University in OK, 1978/1993. He retired to ancestral acres in East TX and used Boer sires on Spanish/Myotonic females to create a crossbred herd, primarily for producing 4-H Project kids. In 2004, he sold out and relocated to San Marcos TX to look after his wife as her physical and, later, mental health declined. She passed in 2011, and we both lost a friend. He began his Question & Answer Column in the Goat Rancher in early 2005; it continues today.
During this time, he also teamed with Dr. Ken McMillin, LSU meat scientist, to conduct a series of research projects on goat and goat meat marketing, carcass quality and consumer acceptance, and the development of live and carcass grades for the Agricultural Marketing Service/USDA. This latter program is used to train AMS Market Reporters who then monitor/report auction prices, nation-wide, for weights and grades of goats. The Reports are archived in WDC and may be accessed by producers and interested others. Current Reports are available to producers via media outlets or by email requests to area Market Reporters (contact Becky Sauder in San Angelo TX, at 325-653-1778, to identify Market Reporters in your area).
Goat Rancher readers may value information about how Ken and I generate live and carcass figures from our research projects which are reported in scientific Journals and via ‘popular articles’ in Goat Rancher magazine and elsewhere. To this end, see the attached protocols for taking live-goat measurements and carcass measurements. The protocols were designed to collect precise data, repeatable across projects, to enable findings and conclusions. Corollary lab work was often done on chemical composition to ascertain nutritional values of the meat. We also conducted consumer acceptance studies in certain of the projects.
We are currently involved in our largest-ever project, a long-term USDA-funded investigation into: 1) goat producer constraints and production information needed; 2) consumer preferences for goat meat; and 3) carcass quality characteristics and yields. You can help us help you by returning the producer questionnaires coming to you in the next month or two from Dr. Jeff Gillespie, LSU Farm Management Specialist. Consumer data has been gathered and is now being analyzed by Dr. Wes HarrisonaHHHH, LSU Marketing Specialist. At 84, my role is limited mostly to procurement of slaughter goats for Dr. McMillin and to extending the findings to producers (as they become available from the three LSU professionals, probably mid 2013).
Findings and comments
Our first research project sought to develop a marketing program for meat goats and, in particular, for fabricated goat meat that could be ‘produced-and-merchandised’ in a manner similar to the successful branded product, Certified Angus Beef. We failed miserably, but it was not our ‘fault’.
To explain… I gathered many classes of goats (breeds, crossbreeds, including dairy goats, young and old, of three sexes, in good to bad body condition, and with variable slaughter weights. After hauling (8-10 hours to Baton Rouge), water-only overnight, they were graded and measured as shown in the protocol; pictures were also taken—a hellish chore. Thereafter, they were harvested, and the carcasses chilled overnight, graded, pictures taken (easier), and fabricated, again as described in the protocol.
Earlier on, I and other inexperienced participants were astounded to learn that our estimations of live-grades and carcass-grades and their inter-relationships were way the hell off. Scientist Ken spoke more knowingly of mathematical correlations between the two grades that, over time, became closer as all concerned gained experience. Practice may not make perfect, but I had a long way to go, as do most current producers, purebred or grade (don’t believe differently until you have tried it).
In any case, as the project continued, we could distinguish readily both live and carcass differences due to variations among goats received. However, correlations between live and carcass grades, though visually apparent, were usually not statistically significant (because of too wide variation within groups).
We then chose to do organoleptic comparisons of hind legs cooked to 170 F and eaten without any seasonings by 120 or so representatives of various ethnic groups. Horrors! When the results were analyzed, the participants could not distinguish between the classes of goats (with one exception—they identified yearling Spanish goats, males or females, in very low body condition as being less desirable than all other goats—still acceptable, but at a lower price).
Accordingly, we had no recourse but to tell USDA that we could not create a Certified Goat Meat protocol because consumers could not identify differences between goats of different types (classes). Years later, I still see no data, academic or anecdotal, to the contrary. To sum, there may well be differences in productive efficiency of various goats (individuals and perhaps breeds), and goats do hang somewhat different carcasses at similar ages, sexes, and weights, but they all ‘eat’ the same; bummer, but true.
Our second project sought to establish grades of live goats and carcasses for USDA. In this we were more successful. The results of this project are available to producers, most conveniently via copies of our publication, Meat Goat Selection, Carcass Evaluation & Fabrication Guide, available from LSU or from Ken or me. Do understand that this Guide is ‘not official’ in the sense that its’ USDA status is not equal to similar guides for beef, pork, and lamb. Our effort is regarded, bureaucratically, as being ‘preliminary’. Accordingly, its’ status can be modified by USDA if, and when, subsequent findings so dictate (I should live so long).
Thirdly, noting the fact that we were importing ever-increasing amounts of goat meat (currently over 50%) from Australia, we undertook a comparison these frozen carcasses to our typical domestic, fresh-chilled carcasses and to grain-fed, ‘better quality’ meat goat carcasses. Thus, Dr. Louis Nuti of PVAMU and I hit the road and bought representative samples of imported and domestic goat carcasses in TX and GA from packers and brokers. I also provided 3/4Boer-1/8 Span-1/8 Myotonic wethers, raised on mama, creep-fed to weaning at 4 months, and thereafter fed concentrate ad lib while on good pasture, to 70 lb or so. All went to LSU for grading, fabrication, and determination of boneless yields. Selected cuts went to the TAMU Meats Laboratory for organoleptic evaluation by Anglo and Latino consumers.
Our findings were somewhat contrary to producer (and our) expectations. Imported carcasses from range-raised feral goats (of indeterminate breed, age, and sex) graded equal to domestic, off-pasture goats (thought to be Spanish and Boer/Spanish crosses); they also yielded about the same percentages of lean meat. Contrarily, my ‘fed’ goats hung carcasses with a noticeably better grade and yield; I was understandably proud.
But not for long, because when the taste panels at TAMU evaluated the three sources for organoleptic qualities, they found no statistical differences in flavor, tenderness, juiciness, and overall satisfaction as between imported and domestic goat meat. However, my grain-fed BoerX kids came in dead last… they were criticized for being ‘greasy’ and too fat… juicy, of course, but not as acceptable as the other two. Latinos especially pore-mouthed my offerings. I remained proud, but humbled—moderately pissed, actually.
Early in our investigations in metro NYC, New Jersey, Connecticut, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas and Houston to identify marketing channels, pricing levels, and demand for domestic or imported goat meat, we informally questioned meat market proprietors and their customers as to their preferences among carcasses on offer, then and there.
We found as follows: ethnic customers neither knew nor cared about breeds of goats. They saw only whole or half carcasses, and they selected the one deemed most desirable for a given usage. When choices/prices permitted, they selected on the basis of weight, degree of meatiness, tissue color, and ‘appearance’ of the carcass. There was, and is, a pervasive tendency to select carcasses based on the expectation of tenderness. They thought it to be age-related, that is, the younger the better, with a lighter color—a notion supported by research in goats and other meat species.
Their deciding factor, however, seemed to be ‘meatiness’, as judged by thickness of muscle mass, particularly the hind and fore quarters. We heard minimum concern about carcass length or depth, and we rarely heard anything about loin width or length; ribeye size was little known or considered relevant, and neither was marbling. On the other hand, packing plant personnel, wholesalers, and retailers spoke approvingly of balanced, thickly muscled carcasses exhibiting symmetrical shape (back to front) and being free from surface defects (excessive moisture or dry, crinkled appearance, dark color, clots—and it needed to smell good, too). Ethnics know what they want in the way of goat carcasses; you should know it too. (I define as ‘ethnic’ anybody whose ancestors got to Texas after mind did).
Caveat: the most negative carcass trait identified by packers and consumers was excessive fat. Overly fat goats are deemed undesirable; as a result, price discrimination is routinely practiced (see Market Reports consistently reporting the lowest prices for overly fat 4-H project goats whose carcasses are also ‘too big’). Packers can’t profit from these lower prices because they must discount the carcass prices heavily to retailers. (Mr. and Mrs. Mohammed just don’t want no fat goat; live with it).
When is a slaughter goat too fat? When it has back fat and other external fatty deposits around the tail-set and the brisket and elbow. While consumers don’t like ‘back fat cover’, small patchy fat deposits along the rib sides are acceptable. Oddly, consumers do like to see some minimum of fat around the in-carcass kidneys (thought to indicate decent goat care and feeding), but they are reluctant to take other internal fatty deposits (repro and intestinal tracts) and certainly without a price discount.
To sum, packers seem to prefer Boer and Boer-influenced carcasses, particularly their ‘thickness and muscularity’, which translates to meatiness at the retail level. Hardly anything else matters in the goat trade; don’t think it otherwise.
It would also behoove you to remember this real-life merchandizing fact as you overly condition your goats for the Show Ring or Sale. Fat is pretty and sometimes it can partially mask minor conformation faults. In point of fact, it mostly shows the viewing public that you have ‘thoughtful concern’ for your goats and, moreover, that you have the money to put on the extra, but useless weight. (It takes 2.25 lb as much feed energy to put on a lb of fat as does to put on a lb of muscle; it is good to be rich).
Over-fat is also known to be detrimental to reproductive performance of your goats; just don’t go there. But, perhaps this relationship should be considered somewhat questionable for homo sapiens… just observe the parade of obese papas and mommas and their multiple, obese children in the cue at Wal-Mart. Low-fat yoghurt, anyone?
Protocol for Measurements for the USDA NIFA Live Goat, Carcass Evaluation, and Fabrication Project
- Live goats will be weighed before transport, if possible, to the meat laboratory.
- Weights of live goats will be taken after overnight removal from feed, but with access to water.
- Linear measurements will be taken on goats before slaughter for chine length, loin length, rump length, heart girth, barrel circumference, height at withers, height at hip, and shoulder width (between blade bones) using a tape measure and for chest depth and chest width using livestock calipers to nearest 0.1 inch or nearest mm. A live conformation score using the criteria in the Meat Goat Selection, Carcass Evaluation & Fabrication Guide will be assigned by an experienced individual.
- Chine length – distance from posterior edge of scapula (blade bone) to last rib
- Loin length – distance from last rib to hip bone
- Rump length – distance from hip bone to pin bone
- Heart girth – circumference of body right behind front legs
- Barrel circumference – circumference of body at largest section of the body
- Height at withers – distance from ground to top of withers
- Height at hip – distance from ground to hip bone
- Shoulder width – distance between top of left blade bone and top of right blade bone (hard to measure and probably not really accurate or useful as a measurement)
- Chest depth – distance from top of body to lowest part of body directly behind the front legs measured with calipers from the side of the animal
- Chest width - outside left shoulder to outside right shoulder at widest point measured with calipers from the front of the animal
- Front, rear, and side pictures of each individual goat will be taken against a neutral background and each goat clearly identified, if possible.
- Slaughter will be accomplished using humane, Halal, and/or Kosher procedures approved by state or federal inspection personnel. Kidneys and kidney fat will remain in the carcass. Heads must be skinned if left on the carcass. It should be noted if other organs such as the liver are left in the carcass or if other parts such as trotters are removed during the slaughter operation. Hot carcass weight will be recorded before chilling.
- Carcass data will be collected on all carcasses. Rear and side pictures will be taken on each carcasses, if possible, with identification of each carcass clearly noted. Cold carcass weights will be taken before evaluation or before carcass fabrication. Carcass conformation scores, flank lean color, estimated % kph, and external fat score will be assigned by an experienced goat carcass evaluator using the criteria and descriptions in the Meat Goat Selection, Carcass Evaluation & Fabrication Guide. Circumference at the center of the leg, circumference of the leg directly above the tail, circumference at the ribs, circumference at the chest, and length from the first rib to the aitch bone will be measured with a tape measure. Loineye area at the 13th rib, fat thickness at the last rib, and body wall thickness 5 inches from the midline at the last rib will be measured using a lamb/pork grid, tape measure, and calipers.
- Carcasses will be fabricated into primal cuts after removal and weighing of the kidney fat and kidneys. Carcasses may be split into sides and one side used for weighing of cuts rather than both sides. The forearm will be removed by cutting though the deep pectoral and trapezius muscles. Forearm will be weighed with and without the trotter and shank and after deboning to remove the scapula and humerus bones. Fat will be removed only from the deboned forearm. The neck will be removed by a cut parallel and meeting the backbone. Carcasses will be then cut between the 4th and 5th ribs to obtain the shoulder, in front of the aitch bone to separate the loin/back and leg. Ribs will be separated from the back with a cut parallel to the widest section of the backbone. Shoulders will be weighed with the neck on and off and after deboning to remove the breast bone and ribs. Ribs will be weighed with and without the breast plate. Hind legs will be weighed with and without the trotters, hind shanks, and after deboning to remove the femur and pelvic bone. Backs will be weighed before and after removal of the Psoas major (tenderloin), Longissimus dorsi (backstrip) and adhering muscle and fat (backstrip lip). The Semimembranosus muscle will be removed from the boneless leg, vacuum packaged, and frozen for sensory and proximate analyses.
Made available by the American Goat Federation with the permission of Dr. Frank Pinkerton, aka The Goat Man.
Contact Dr. Pinkerton [Email]