The Boer goat is bred to thrive under extensive livestock farming conditions in hot, arid environments where the quality of grazing is poor. The breed has the ability to convert poor-quality forage into meat at a very low cost, enabling livestock farmers in these arid areas to farm commercially.
Cultural practices among black and Indian communities provide a steady market for live slaughter Boer goats, with KwaZulu-Natal being by far the largest market for Boer goats.
By law, animals imported into South Africa as slaughter animals have to be slaughtered within a specific number of days of crossing the border. When I enquired what this period was, the agriculture department declined to give an answer, insisting on a written query that its communication department would reply to.
GALLERY: Johan Steyn's Boer goats
The second problem is that there’s a current trend amongst commercial SA farmers to pamper their goats, providing stall feeding and entering them in shows and auctions. These animals require expensive inputs, negatively affecting profitability. The Boer goat was never bred for this; it was bred to be fertile, hardy and adaptable with good mothering abilities – requiring very low input costs to farm profitably.
To my mind, the latter has great potential, considering that Boer goat meat, after venison and ostrich, has the lowest cholesterol levels, is lean and contains high levels of iron and other nutrients. It’s also farmed extensively, so no growth stimulants or supplements containing animal protein are fed to the animals. I believe these are the new undeveloped markets awaiting the Boer goat farmer.
Most of these learners have paid their own way to attend the courses and buy training materials. The Free State agriculture department took the right approach some years ago when it insisted that more than 100 learners attend these courses prior to receiving start-up flocks of goats. Boer Goats SA will also soon have online courses and ebooks available to give all Boer goat farmers access to this knowledge base.
However, no amount of training or development can turn a non-viable venture into a viable one. This is an economic reality. The learners should have a passion for Boer goats and have gone through a selection process where potential farmers are identified before going for training.
The training should be followed up by farm visits and other mentorship programmes until the farmer can stand on his or her own feet. Rather than granting money to non-viable farming enterprises, the government should work with organisations such as Boer Goats SA to train new and existing farmers on sustainable and viable Boer goat farming.
These are the areas where the government could possibly become involved – but they should not try to establish 50 families on 250ha of land, as was attempted in North West some years ago. This dooms people to a life of poverty and misery.
The market already exists. New farmers should be provided with the basics upon which to build a business to supply that market. This consists of training, foundation stock and essential inputs, as well as meaningful mentorship until such stage as the farmer is independent and productive. The process should be aimed at a selected group of dedicated, proven farmers operating on economically viable farms. The current approach by government is too wide and applied for the wrong reasons.
These initiatives will improve the breed by developing a database and establishing performance benchmarks to support the current predominantly visual grading system that has led to the growth of stall-feeding Boer goats. Farmers need solid performance data on which to base their decisions when buying Boer goats. A visually pleasing animal is no longer enough to ensure success as a commercial farmer.
Locally, the industry could look to the burgeoning packaged meat and speciality restaurant markets. These are sectors woefully serviced despite their growth. The sustainability of supply will need to be addressed, as will the logistics and grading standards. Above all, the industry must return to the breed’s core strengths of hardiness, fertility, adaptability and good mothering abilities. These are the foundation stones of the Boer goat and diluting them will do long-term damage to the breed.
A Boer goat must thrive under extensive conditions, bucks should display a high libido, easily covering does in the veld on natural grazing with minimum inputs. They should walk long distances and convert poor-quality vegetation into healthy lean meat. Does should kid in the veld and raise the kids easily and with minimal intervention by the farmer.
The Boer goat’s low input costs are what drive the profitability of farming with the breed. This is what the commercial producer is looking for. The trend toward stall-feeding will result in substandard genetics becoming more prevalent in the breed, to its detriment.
The health food industry is an underexploited segment despite its growth worldwide. Goat meat is one of the healthiest red meats available and it can fill a gap in this market segment if marketed correctly and aggressively.
Much like the recent vigorous growth in the exotic game industry in the country, the Boer goat export market is maturing rapidly as participants looking for quick money are shaken out. There are already signs that the buyers are becoming more educated and less prone to scammers and gold diggers. The recent decline in the oil price has placed a significant damper on export to the Middle East but other markets seem to be less affected and demand remains good.