0625FLfarmersraisinggoatkoP.cfm Got your goat? Some in Florida farming them
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Got your goat? Some in Florida farming them

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)--Not sure what to make for dinner tonight? How about a delicious, tender slice of goat meat?

Officials at the Lake County Extension Office have recently tossed around the idea of helping prospective farmers learn more about this increasingly popular alternative to beef and chicken.

This summer, a U.S. Department of Agriculture unit will conduct its first study on the U.S. goat industry, focusing on meat and dairy production. Florida is one of 21 states participating in the July and August study.

"It's a great escape from the real world,'' said Sorrento farmer John Van Horn, who raises about 20 goats. "It gives a chance to get back to nature.''

On their 7 1/2-acre farm, Van Horn and his wife, Caroline, raise the goats, ready to become your next pet or tomorrow's dinner special.

About 13 years ago, the couple decided they wanted to raise livestock, but they didn't want to take on too much at one time.

They settled on a smaller animal--goats--and turned their livestock venture into a hobby.

"I gained interest and got more and more involved in the whole thing,'' said Van Horn, 58, an accountant for Leesburg.

Goat meat has been popular among a range of ethnic cultures for centuries as part of religious and cultural holidays, said Martha Thomas, Lake County Agricultural Center's livestock and natural-resources agent.

Greek, Latino, Jewish, Caribbean and Arab communities are most likely to enjoy goat-meat cuisine, and many of those ethnic groups are growing in Central Florida, Thomas said.

Goat meat is probably the most consumed meat worldwide, said Helen Hill, president of the Florida Meat Goat Association.

"In this country a lot of the market we have is from people in the Caribbean (and) Hispanics, especially,'' said Hill, 71. "The market is spreading.''

The typical cost of the meat in Florida can range from $1.25 a pound if you purchase a live goat and go to a slaughterhouse to $14.95 at an upscale market where the meat is already packaged.

It's not common to find goat meat sold at supermarkets because sellers usually make their profits at farmers markets or high-end markets, said Hill, a resident of Lake Butler in Union County.

The most convenient way to find goat meat is to buy animals from someone who raises them and arrange to have the goats harvested at a slaughterhouse, Hill said. People can buy a goat and take it to a slaughterhouse approved by the USDA.

When goat meat is properly chopped and packaged, it's ready to go home. Then it's time to start planning some flavorful recipes.

Goat meat, which has a gamey flavor and should be kept moist while cooking, can be prepared to one's liking--from frying to baking to grilling.

An easy meal is a simple roast with ginger, garlic and wine, baked for about two hours, Hill said.

Or for the outdoor cook, a juicier way to prepare your next barbecue is to throw some goat chops, ribs and goat burgers onto a grill.

"It's pretty tasty,'' said Hill's husband, Tom.

But Peter Peebles, real-estate senior supervisor at the Lake County Property Appraiser's Office, said people interested in using their land to raise goats should seriously consider the time and effort it takes to care for goats.

Residents with a small amount of land--perhaps 5 acres--might consider raising goats because the agricultural use could lower the taxable value of their property, resulting in lower taxes.

But people need to understand what the care and feeding of goats will cost.

"A lot of times with the small farmer, it's not a financial benefit,'' Peebles said.

However, if a person can handle the costs and understands the commitment involved, raising goats can become a relaxing pastime.

Just ask Van Horn, who spends a great deal of his free time looking after the goats on his farm.

"You come back here, and it's your own base of tranquillity,'' he said. "They're nice little critters.''



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