Cindy Cassell, Steve Uible and their daughter Emma raise bison on their farm in southwest Ohio. They originally wanted to raise the animals to keep their land in agriculture, but they soon found customers for their meat.

Unique Meats

Beef. Chicken. Pork. When you think of meat choices in the Buckeye State, you might think of those traditional ‘big three’ and perhaps a rack or leg of lamb. However, Ohio Farm Bureau members offer a wide array of other meats that may surprise you.

The USDA Agricultural Census recorded the following animals raised on farms in Ohio in 2007:
Meat Goats – 59,000
Rabbits – 15,779
Alpacas – 10,677
Deer – 9,527

There are also a growing number of farms raising fish and shrimp.

While not every animal above was destined for a dinner plate, many were. So how did we get here?

Tony Nye, OSU extension educator for Clinton County, said raising local and buying local has helped fuel interest in alternative meats. “Over the past few years more people are raising backyard chickens, sheep and goats. These smaller animals make a nice fit for small acreage landowners who want to do more than till their land,” he said.

Goats are perhaps the biggest example of the small-scale grower phenomenon—and a success story in alternative meat production. “Some 70 percent of the world eats goat meat regularly, especially in the Hispanic and Muslim populations,” Nye said. “The increasing number of Somali, Pakistani and Indian immigrants in Ohio has opened up new markets for meat goat producers.”

Angela Ottman, who operates Middle E Meat Goats in Galloway, studied the market. After learning the size of the goat meat market in central Ohio, she began a meat goat herd in 2009.

“I’d compare it to how the U.S. views soccer,” she said. “The rest of the world loves soccer, and we’re just starting to understand it. The same thing with goat meat. It is the most widely consumed red meat in the world.”
Ottman said consumers are looking for fresh goat meat, and the United States imports much of its goat meat frozen. “The growing ethnic population in the U.S. means that the demand for it will only keep growing, so it’s a great opportunity.”

To be attractive to Muslim consumers, goat meat must be processed according to Halal dietary standards and processed by a Muslim butcher. “We sell our goats to Blystone Farm LLC, which has its own processing services and follows Halal requirements,” Ottman said.

Goat isn’t the only meat that is becoming popular around Ohio. Cindy Cassell and her husband Steve Uible began raising buffalo in 1997 at their Grand Vista Ranch in New Richmond.

“Initially we raised the meat for ourselves. Some of our friends asked if we would sell the meat. Once we realized that there was a demand, we got serious about it,” Cassell said. Taking advantage of the locally grown consumer movement, she and Uible concentrated on marketing ground meat to local meat shops and local grocery stores. Today their product is offered at eight grocery chains and six Cincinnati-area restaurants.

Keeping up with demand is one of the farm’s challenges. “We can’t do artificial insemination on buffalo, so nature has to take its course. We can’t say for sure how many bison we will raise, and you can’t promise to deliver what you don’t have,” she said.

The low cholesterol and high protein of rabbit meat is helping it gain attention as an alternative meat. “Society is looking for healthy alternatives, and rabbit is a healthier alternative. You can fix it in all the same ways as any other meat,” said Jim Conrad, who owns Flint Ridge Farm in Newark with his wife Ginny.

The Conrads marketed their rabbit meat door to door to meat sellers and restaurants, talking to chefs, providing samples and touting the benefits of the meat. One of their clients is Findlay’s Revolver Restaurant, which relies on locally grown ingredients. Rabbit meatballs and smoked leg of rabbit are among the items on the menu—and quickly sell out. They also work with farmers around the state to keep up with demand, but see many more opportunities for the expansion of rabbit meat.

“We’ve still got a lot of ground to cover to educate the consumer,” Jim said. “But the word is getting out and people are becoming more aware of the benefits of rabbit meat.”

The Conrads developed a Bratwurst with rabbit meat as well as jerky and also established a ground meat product fed to show dogs. After building a customized, climate-controlled rabbit barn, the Conrads can raise as many as 1,200 rabbits at a time.

Stephen Boyles, OSU beef Extension specialist, said what’s “edible” to you depends a lot on your culture. “If I go to a restaurant in northern Mexico, goat meat is all they serve—and it’s excellent,” he said. “In South America, alpaca and llama are as common as chicken or beef here in the U.S. Sometimes I think we live here in the U.S. with our blinders on to the rest of the world.”

Today’s “global village”—from satellite television to Internet connections with remote parts of the world—is beginning to open up other cultures to consumers. “We tend to forget that even though we face economic challenges in this country, we are incredibly affluent when compared to other parts of the world,” Boyles said.

“As a result, we have the income to experiment with these other types of meats. We like culinary adventure.”

Connie Lechleitner is a freelance writer from New Philadelphia.