Micromanaging a heritage breed

OK, South African Boer goats are not all that ‘heritage’.

They are, however, a true landrace breed. The name “Boer” roughly translates into “farm” or “farmer” in Dutch, the primary settlers of South Africa in the late 19th century.

In 1992 – 1993, Boer goats were imported to North America from New Zealand, Australia and Zimbabwe, and the breeding emphasis was on increasing musculature for carcass weights. Now, the original herds were not phenotypical, and serious breeders were constantly assessing body conformation and structure, and introducing individuals with  singular traits to further refine the overall animal. The average auction price for a Boer buck – any Boer buck – was about $46,000.

Demand for goat meat in America had been relatively flat. We are, after all, a population of beef-eaters. So Boer goats were a hobby, a diversion, an animal to wash and brush and show and tinker with to get deeper reds, whiter whites and, in the last few years dapples!

In the pursuit of champions have Boer goats been subjected to exacting nutritional formulas, exercise programs and tweezer-perfect show clips. But at the end of the day, if a goat gets loose (and you know they will), they will throw all those expensive feed rations out the window and go straight for your roses, azaleas, raspberry and maple trees. Despite decades of selective breeding, they remain browsers.

I reduced the number of breeding animals in my herd to concentrate on developing black paints and black dapples. Not as a result of consumer demand, for a black-headed goat sells like a red-headed goat when they are on the menu, but for my own pleasure. I love the surprise of the patterns and colors of new kids, and researching genetics to see if my hunches will prove true in terms of natural conformation. I don’t show, but I sell to show folks. I don’t eat goat meat (though I do like it), but I sell to meat customers. I don’t see the two customers as competing against each other; you can have a delicious black dappled buck win int he show ring, or win on the dinner table.

For the past two summers, I have been able to open up the neighboring pasture after it has been unoccupied by animals or people all winter. There is a wide variety of grasses, herbs, woody shrubs, wildflowers, trees and ferns. I know some of them are allegedly toxic to goats (I do try to pull out the foxgloves when they bloom), but for the most part I let them all browse whatever they want. I don’t supplement them at all, except as a treat now and then.

The Gotland sheep are out there with them.

The goats are well-rounded, glossy, clear-eyed and active. They have to go to one side of the 5 acres to get their water, and to the other to find shade and shelter. They make their own decisions and are the mistresses of their destiny except when it is time to trim hooves. I believe allowing livestock to live as their breed was developed to live enhances to their overall health, physical and mental. Drylot, commercial feeds and preventative medications and supplements can most likely result in a show champion, but at what cost to the individual animal? I do not want to raise or sell animals so fragile that they need frequent intervention in order to survive.

A great many dog breeds are facing the same dilemma.

I have located some exceptional Boer bucks that I believe will compliment the three does I currently have; in conformation, coloring and carcass weights. The two adult does, Emi and Cami will be bred by AI this fall for spring 2019 kids. Dark Charm, the newest black dappled Dark Mark daughter, will have to wait until next year to be bred as she isn’t quite a year old yet.

And until the hole in the fence closes, all three of them will be living the natural Boer goat life.

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