Goat meat is becoming more popular nationwide.

ST. ALBANS (AP) – Goat meat, which used to get a bad rap in the beef-loving United States, is becoming a bigger business as demographics change in Maine and across the nation.

About 900 goats are slaughtered for consumption each year in Maine and that number is expected to increase to 10,000 within a few years, said Ken Spaulding, who raises Boer goats in St. Albans.

Spaulding said there is a growing market for his product, especially with the large Somali population in Lewiston.

The small number of goat farmers in Maine can’t fulfill the current demand. But by careful breeding and cooperative marketing, Maine farmers can get a toehold on the market, Spaulding said.

“We’re not on the ground floor of this market. We’re in the sub-basement,” Spaulding joked.

Nationwide, goats slaughtered for food have leapt from 40,000 metric tons to 550,000 metric tons from 1997 in 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The growth of goat meat consumption outpaced beef 15 percent to 4 percent, the department said.

In large ethnic markets, such as New York and Hartford, goat meat, called chevon, can garner $8.50 a pound.

Maine has the perfect environment for goats, said Spaulding. If properly marketed, goats can be about twice as profitable as cattle and they thrive in pastureland too poor to support cattle.

The Spauldings raise the most popular of the meat goats, the South African Boer. With their traditional white body and red head, Boer goats are compact, muscular and have high growth and fertility rates.

At the Maine Department of Agriculture’s annual trade show earlier this year, 180 goat producers attended a workshop on the chevon industry. Organizers had expected only a handful.

Participants learned that with a customer base of more than 5,000 people – Somalis, Jamaicans, Pakistanis and others – the Maine market can handle from 500 to 900 goats a month, a quota now being filled at five markets in Lewiston and Portland by farmers from New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

The Maine Goat Meat Project was initiated at that meeting, aimed at linking producers with consumers.

Breeders will need to provide consistent, quality animals to meet the demand, Spaulding said.

“There are only about 2 million goats – fiber, dairy and meat – in the whole country,” said Spaulding. “Now the market is not so much for table consumption as for special occasions.”

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