Raising goats a profitable, learning experience

Steven Mejia with one of his many goats.

SAUK CENTRE — All across Minnesota, farmers are learning how to sell directly to a growing immigrant population. In some places the market may be Hmong, while others could include Somali or Latino.

Steven Mejia, along with his father and grandmother, has a unique insight into the ethnic market — because they are the market.

Being part of the market they want to sell to gives them an inside perspective when they direct market goats, cattle, eggs, chickens and even a few vegetables to area Latinos.

The Mejia family owns Mexican grocery stores in Melrose and Long Prairie. Both towns have populations of around 3,000 people, and both towns are between 20 and 25 percent Mexican.

The two stores, known as La Michoacana I and La Michoacana II, have supported the family well for the last five or six years. A few years ago when Juan Carlos, Steven’s father, was looking to purchase a home between the two stores, he settled on 15 acres with some good outbuildings near Sauk Centre. With that purchase, the Mejia family realized a dream of many families — they had a place in the country. Friends now call the place Rancho Mejia.

In addition to the Mejia family, Rancho Mejia is now home to in excess of 400 chickens, 30 head of cattle and 25 to 30 cross-bred goats. There are also two rabbits and a playful German Shepherd.

“We all have our jobs,” said Steven, a Melrose eighth grader. “My grandma takes care of the chickens, my dad takes care of the cattle and my job is the goats. My mom is in charge of the house and my little sister takes care of the rabbits.”

Although Steven is young he’s used to being given responsibility. He often runs the cash register in the grocery store, for instance. So when his father offered him a business opportunity he gladly accepted; and he became a goat farmer.

“The goats are mine,” Steven said. “My dad loaned me the money to buy them.”

The initial purchase was not small. Steven and Juan Carlos purchased an entire herd of 80 goatlings from a farmer who wanted to get rid of the business. The two Mejias are not disclosing the purchase price; they will gladly tell you their selling price, however.

“We had three different sizes and we sold them for $35, $40 and $45, depending on their size,” Steven said.

In less then a month they sold 70 of the goatlings. It wasn’t hard. They put hand-lettered signs on the doors of their stores. They put an announcement in the local Spanish language paper, and they talked about the goats as customers passed through the stores. Somehow, even four Somali customers found their way to Rancho Mejia to purchase a goat.

“There are only 10 goats left,” Juan Carlos said. “They are the large size. Steven made a profit of $5 per goat.”

The Mejias also have a small herd of bred does that will freshen this winter. There won’t be as many kids as they initially had so they are on the lookout for more goat bargains. Both Steven and his father enjoy going to auctions; perhaps there they will find what they are looking for.

While the family waits to increase its goat herd, they aren’t relaxing. Mexican families enjoy visiting the farm to purchase a steer. They are purchased for wedding receptions, 15th birthday parties for girls and other special occasions. The cattle business is going well enough that Juan Carlos recently increased his herd from 15 to 30 head.

The chicken business is still an unknown. This spring Juan Carlos purchased 300 laying hens and 100 broilers. Since there already were about 30 laying hens, some of which were broody, and a few roosters there, are now a few dozen chicks as well.

“My dad gave all the chickens to my grandma,” Steven said.

“My wife thinks I’m crazy,” Juan Carlos said. “The chickens dug up all of her flowers and the goats ate the apple trees. I guess I need to get better fences.”

Like on most farms there are tensions like that, and there are the expensive, time-consuming gambles that may or may not pay off. When the 300 layers come online in October or November, Juan Carlos and his mother aren’t quite sure where or how they will sell hundreds of brown eggs.

The Mejias take pleasure in the day-to-day work with their animals and, in the end, their ingenuity will likely provide a resolution to their marketing challenge. There are plenty of opportunities to sell to the ethnic market if you understand it well.

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