RENNER, S.D. — An eavesdropper might wonder if electrician Talis Johnson has some kind of slow, comic timing issue. “We will start kidding here in the middle of December,” he says.
Soon, however, it’s clear that Johnson really is kidding, and it’s no joke.
Johnson, 50, and his wife, Laura, live near Hartford, S.D. He is the owner of Builders Electric Inc. just west of Interstate 29, north of Sioux Falls, S.D. The company specializes in commercial and utility work in South Dakota surrounding states. He works with his sons, Derek, 28, Thad, 25, and Brady, 22,.
When they’re not off working, hunting or fishing somewhere, the Johnsonsn are home tending a 158-head head goat enterprise. Every day about 5 p.m., one of the guys can be found about a mile away, “graining” the goat herd.
“It’s just a hobby, just to get away from the work around here, the hustle and bustle,” Talis says.
“It’s nice to get over there and work with the goats.”
Talis grew up near Salem, S.D. His parents didn’t farm but he worked on a dairy farm through high school. He went to the Air Force and learned the electrical trade. In 2006, he started his own electrical business.
“When I was a kid, if you owned a goat, people thought you were crazy,” he says, grinning.
Talis went goatless until November 2017, when a 40-acre piece of land came on the market, about a half mile away, just east of the Interstate.
It came with a partially-heated horse barn riding arena, a couple out-buildings. The Johnsons put a few horses on the place, but didn’t have any interest in boarding horses for others. They eventually added a few chickens, geese and ducks. The pasture included a lot of cattails, and they worked to make that more productive with hay.
In late 2017, he heard about a herd of 13 goats for sale, about 130 miles to Correctionville, Iowa, and bought 13 bred females. They were Boer goats, a meat type breed.. “The first ones we bought, we named all of them,” he says. “My wife made it pretty clear we weren’t going to eat anything we had named.”)
Those first goats kidded out in mid-January 2018. The heated part of the barn was perfect for taking care of them. “The little kids got off to a good start,” Talis says. As he turned those kids out into the main part of the barn, he and his sons started to notice the markets.
Things looked “pretty favorable,” he says.
The Johnsons started following the meat goat market. They were up over $2 a pound for these meat goats, so the hobby took off.
They bought some more does and kept expanding our herd. They used several horse paddocks to separate the goats out — wethers (non-breeding males), bucks (breeding males), and does — both bred and unbred.
The first batch
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the U.S. goat inventory has been relatively constant for the past five years, with about 2.6 million animals on Jan. 1, 2019, although market goats were up 2% from the previous year. The majority are meat-type goats compared to milk and hair (Angora) goats.
The Johnsons fed their first batch of kids four months to 60 pounds. Then they took them to the regular, Wednesday goat sale at Sioux Falls Regional Livestock, a sale barn at Canton, S.D.
Several buyers attend the weekly market. Talis thinks some may be taken elsewhere to a feedlot. He knows some are harvested at 100- or 120-pound weights.
Talis isn’t sure where the meat is ultimately consumed, but assumes much of it will end up in cities in the East Coast, where newer immigrants are the main customer base.
Goats are ruminants and relatively feed efficient compared to beef cattle.
Since starting, the Johnsons acquired some other goats — the Kiko breed, which is known for its hardiness. “The worm issues, the kidding issues, there’s none of that with Kikos,” Talis says.
They’ve also added some animals from the Savanna breed (sometimes spelled, “Savannah”) — a bigger breed. When crossed with the Boers, the “kids grow very well,” he says.
Talis is considering whether to start feeding goats to heavier market weights. “We kind of ran out of room over there, but now we have built some more pens. I think I’ll raise up to 100 pounds,” he says.
It seems logical to grow the hobby, even if some of his friends tease him about becoming “a goat rancher,” but they’re certainly not getting his goat — or his goats.
“I just take it in stride,” he says.