Do you know what the fastest-growing segment of the livestock industry in America is? It's a somewhat unusual one for a nation raised on beef and pork and chicken.
The answer is...goats.
As many as 80,000 U.S. farmers have goat herds - not counting milk goats and goats raised as pets. It's expected they'll bring about 700,000 of the horned, long-eared mammals to market this year. That's double the number slaughtered a decade ago.
Why are people driving all the way from New York City to the Pennsylvania countryside, 300 kilometers away, to bid on lots of 50 goats at an Amish auction? And why are hundreds of thousands of goats being fattened for the kill in, of all places, Texas, which is world-famous for its beef cattle and COW-boys, not rams and ewes and shepherds?
It's because goat meat - for stews, curries, even tacos and meatloaf - is a hot commodity in America's booming immigrant communities. Now that American farmers are breeding plump, tasty South African Boer goats, in particular, Muslim markets can't get enough goat meat. Hindus and Sikhs, who generally don't eat beef, are gobbling it up, too. So are Catholic Hispanics, African immigrants, and Chinese-Americans.
Earlier this year, VOA-TV's Mohamad Elshinnawi visited a farm where Mukit Hossain, his wife and two daughters are raising goats for the customer base of 300,000 Muslims in Northern Virginia who are looking for organic halal meat, free of hormones and chemicals.
Like animals raised and slaughtered according to Jewish kosher traditions, halal meat is prepared under Muslim religious guidelines. "I have more demand right now than I can keep up with," Hossain told VOA. "My big problem is not finding the customers; my big problem is building up my capacity."
So perhaps it is time to update the old children's song: Old MacDonald had a farm. And on his farm, he had some . . . goats. Probably lots of them.