About a century ago, Northwest Colorado was cattle country and that was it. Early attempts at grazing sheep in the area ended with the deaths of sheepmen, shot by unknown assailants that were never caught and brought to justice.
The latest animal attempting a breakthrough in the West is the goat -- a horned weed-eater that gets along well with cattle, and is even replacing sheep on some ranges.
"It's amazing how fast it happened," said Dwaine Kinnett from his ranch near Maybell. "There were no goats ... And then it really took off."
Dwaine and his wife, Margaret, started using goats to help raise "bum" lambs, the motherless or abandon offspring of ewes that are born each year. It wasn't long before they realized that the goats themselves were more valuable than the lambs they were saving.
"For 10 years the highest-priced meat on the market has been goat meat," Margaret said. "We were one of the first to have Boer goats in the area."
The Boer goat came to America from South Africa, where it was developed for its meat value for generations.
The Kinnetts run about 150 head of Boers, crosses and Nubians on the ranch they have operated in Maybell since the early 1990s.
Since they started raising goats, the demand for the animals has only gone up. Currently they are selling for about $1.05 a pound live weight.
Demand has especially risen in the cities, where a celebration of the Muslim holy day of Ramadan has increased requests for goat meat.
Goats have made inroads in other areas as well. Their ability to eat noxious weeds has made them a favorite among communities trying to remain herbicide free when dealing with weeds.
"We have had government contracts on the front range, and from Boulder to Phoenix," Margaret said. "A goats natural diet is about 10 to 15 percent grass. The rest is rough. They love leafy spurge and knapweed."
The goats will run from where they are consuming weeds to the next patch of weeds, she said. They will eat that, and nothing else.
In Vail, goats were used to control the noxious weeds on the city bike-paths, and in Arizona, it was found to be one-half the price for the Kinnetts to remove weeds by goat, rather than by chemical spraying.
"We operate as much as we can without chemicals," Margaret said. "We sell natural beef, lamb and goats."
Using government statistics, the Kinnetts figure that they provide meat to about 1,000 people each year.
It's not all easy work raising goats Margaret said. The old timers have a saying that if a fence won't hold water, it won't hold a goat.
Goats also need shelter to escape the elements, and they like to be on the go, she said. They are always grazing, moving and climbing. And getting into trouble.
The Kinnetts raise a lot of breeding stock. People will purchase starter herds from the couple, and enter the goat business with one buck and a handful of does.
Jackie Goodnow is happy with her decision five years ago to raise meat goats. Her family raises Boer full bloods and crossbreds. Currently they have 25 does and three bucks at their home on the outskirts of Craig.
"It started as a 4-H project for my girls," Goodnow said. "The goats originated in South Africa, and there's quite a market for them."
The daughters she is referring to are 12-year-old Makayla and 8-year-old Alexi.
The girls pick a kid in January for their market projects, and raise them until the Moffat County Fair in August.
The goats can gain up to a half-pound a day during the summer feeding, Goodnow said. They are fed a pellet feed twice a day, and their diet requires high amounts of copper.
"People think goats will eat anything, but that's not true," Goodnow said. "They are pretty picky eaters."
While many fair goats are run on a track to develop muscle, Goodnow has another approach.
"We live on a hill, so we run them up the hill," she said. "We also have the feed on the bottom, and the water on the top, so they make the climb several times a day themselves."
Goodnow said that goats are a good choice for her daughters, because they are more maintenance free than many fair entry animals.
"They get up early and help with the chores. They each have a role, including taking care of the guard dogs," she said. "They go right into the pens, no problem."
The Boers raised by the Goodnows are not milk goats. They are raised for their meat.
"They're very lean and the meat is good for you," Goodnow said. "The demand for the goats is way outweighing the supply."
She credits the demand for goat meat on an increased awareness of the product, especially in California.
Karen and Nick Maneotis are driving to Salt Lake City today, where their daughter is showing goats at the Utah State Fair.
They run 140 goats in Moffat County, mostly Boer cross-meat goats.
Karen said they run goats to eat the weeds before the cattle are turned out in the fields.
"There are getting to be a lot of goats here, and they are really big in Texas now," Karen Maneotis said. "Denver and Florida are especially big markets for goats. It's comparable to lambs."
The Maneotises have a contract with Mountain Meat Goat Association at $1.40 a pound to supply a semi-load to a California buyer each year, Karen said. She also knows of a front-range meat packer that is processing 100 goats a week.
She said that many people have a bad connotation of goats just because they don't know about the animals.
"It takes less to feed a goat than a lamb," She said. "They adapt well to the weather here. There's a lot to this. There are a lot of cattle and sheep ranchers that have goats."
The Kinnetts are preparing today for a trip to Centennial Livestock Auction in Fort Collins. Last year's weekly auction saw 305 goats sold on this week in September.
Tuesday's auction will not only supply meat for the Sept. 24 celebration of Ramadon, but also the Sept. 23 beginning of a Hindu holiday week called Navratri.
Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or firstname.lastname@example.org.