Breed Profile: Boer Goats
Raising Boer Goats for Robustness and Productivity
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Breed: Boer goats (boer means farmer in Afrikaans)
Origin: Afrikaners first noted landrace goats kept by indigenous tribes of the Cape provinces in South Africa and in Namibia in 1661. These goats are thought to have traveled down from North Africa along the west and east coasts with possible provenance from India, Nubia, Egypt, and Europe. Some authors considered that Indian goats were crossed with local goats. Twentieth century imports of European milk breeds may also have contributed to the makeup of the breed.
A Precious Food Resource in a Harsh Environment
History: Afrikaner farmers in the Eastern Cape of South Africa were raising Boer goats for meat from local stock during the 1920s. They founded the Boer Goat Breeders’ Association in 1959. Through careful selective breeding, dedicated producers developed a fast-growing, hardy meat breed that thrives well on the sparse grazing of tough vegetation on the veld. This deliberate selection from a variety of local goat lines produced what is known as the improved Boer goat. The breed spread throughout the Western, Eastern and Northern Cape provinces, where they put to good use the mountainous and bushy terrain unsuitable for other livestock.
Since the 1990s they have become popular in many countries around the world in commercial goat meat farming, producing high quality, lean, and healthy red meat. Due to their adaptability and robust health, they are already a truly cross-boundary goat breed. In the late eighties, New Zealand and Australian breeders started raising Boer goat herds from frozen genetics. In 1993, frozen embryos were imported to Canada from New Zealand, and in 1994 direct from South Africa.
Boer Goats Imported to America
Initial imports to the United States originated from New Zealand embryos. In 1993, The American Boer Goat Association was formed. Exotic animal importer, Jurgen Schulz, set out to import the finest quality Boer goats direct from source. He gathered at least 400 of the finest animals according to breed standards from all over South Africa. From Tollie Jordaan’s ranch in the Eastern Cape the necessary transport was arranged by carrier CODI and paperwork by Pet Center International (PCI). Those goats that passed disease testing were flown to the United States and are referred to as CODI/PCI goats or CODIs.
Goats faced a grueling three months quarantine in crowded conditions in hot, humid Florida before they gained clearance to move to Jurgen Schulz’s Texas ranch for further quarantine. They first kidded in 1995. They and their offspring were sold to various breeders in 1996. Further imports from South Africa and other countries have been recorded.
These original imports and their descendants that are mated to other Boer goats are termed “full blood”. Boer goat sires are often crossbred with other breeds to improve existing meat herds. Offspring of crossbred does can then be bred back to Boer sires for several generations until they can be registered as “pure blood”: for females, from the fourth generation when they have fifteen sixteenths (93.75%) Boer parentage; for bucks, from the fifth generation when they have thirty-one thirty-seconds (96.88%) Boer parentage.
Boer Goat Characteristics
Standard Description: Stocky body, deep chest and long broad rump, straight back, strong legs, short glossy coat, loose skin, a slightly curved (Roman) nose, wide nostrils, large brown eyes, broad pendulous ears, and mid-length round dark horns that sweep gradually back and out.
Breeding is not seasonal but there is an estrus peak in fall and a trough midsummer in the Southern Hemisphere. This means it is possible to kid every 7–8 months. Females reach puberty by six months. However, pregnancy at this age disrupts growth and future performance. Females should reach two thirds of the herd’s average body mass before mating. After first freshening, they normally give birth to twins, for which they produce ample milk. One buck can cover forty does.
Coloring: Red-brown head and white body; Boer goat colors may sometimes be all white, all brown, or paint (color spotted). These colors were favored for a purpose: pigmented hairless areas (eyelids, mouth, and under tail) protect against sunburn; the white body makes goats conspicuous at range.
Weight: Does 154–176 pounds (70–80 kg); bucks 220–242 pounds (100–120 kg); kids (at 120 days) average 64 pounds (29 kg).
Temperament: Docile, good mothers, gentle pets.
Popular Use: Meat goats; also crossed with other breeds, such as Spanish, Angora goats, Kiko, Sirohi, and Nubian goats, for an economy meat herd, or to endow quick growth to the herd’s offspring. Leather is used for the uppers of shoes, gloves and book covers. In addition, their use as weed and brush eaters with low grass consumption promotes grass recovery and shrub control in pasture management.
Productivity: Kids are ready for market at six to fifteen months old at a weight averaging 52 pounds (23 kg). The meat is lean, tender, flavorsome, and nutritious. Older goats can produce good quality jerky and dried sausage. Healthy dams can remain productive until ten years old.
Conservation Status: Not endangered. Distributed worldwide as a commercial meat breed. Crosses with endangered breeds, such as the Malabari, which is close to extinction, have been controversial.
Biodiversity: Breeds originating in Africa generally have rich genetic diversity. However, improved Boer goats tested in a study in South Africa had less genetic variation than other commercial and indigenous herds in the region. Line breeding for fast growth and corpulence will have reduced variety in the gene pool. Crossbreeding with Spanish or Kiko goats will improve genetic variety and adaptation to conditions in southern United States.
Adaptability: One of the best goat breeds for hot, dry climates. Hardy and adapts well to different environments. However, goats do not thrive and reproduce as well in humid, subtropical environments or when raised in intensive conditions. Boer goats are excellent walkers over rugged ground and dense bush. They were bred to forage over great distances over dry terrain, metabolizing low-quality fibrous vegetation, without supplementary rations. In Namibia, studied goats consumed 75% leaves and the remainder in grass. When raising Boer goat kids, supplements benefit dams before kidding and kids approaching weaning. Kids are weaned at three to four months old. Gradually introducing rations from three weeks old helps to reduce weaning shock.
Quotes: “The Boer Goat has been bred to perform under extensive conditions with minimal inputs. Boer Goats are marketed as hardy, adaptable animals delivering high kidding percentages …
“The tendency among stud breeders to stall-feed animals in pursuit of non-sustainable sale prices and auction status, is a dangerous path to follow. The end result will be a proliferation of sub-standard Boer Goat genetics, to the detriment of the core value and health of the Boer Goat industry in South Africa. This will be a sad day for the breed indeed.” Mr Johan Steyn, Patriot Boer Goat Stud, South Africa.
Originally published in the January/February 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.
Browning Jr, R., Leite-Browning, M.L., and Byars Jr, M. 2011. Reproductive and health traits among Boer, Kiko, and Spanish meat goat does under humid, subtropical pasture conditions of the southeastern United States. Journal of Animal Science, 89(3), 648-660.
Malan, S.W. 2000. The improved Boer goat. Small Ruminant Research, 36(2), 165-170.
Mpoyo, R.K. 2004. Effects of different estrus synchronization and superovulation treatments on ovarian response and embryo collection in the South African Boer goat. Doctoral dissertation, Stellenbosch.
Visser, C., Hefer, C.A., van Marle-Koster, E., and Kotze, A. 2004. Genetic variation of three commercial and three indigenous goat populations in South Africa. South African Journal of Animal Science, 34(5), 24-27.
Photo Credit: Lead photo by Korona Lacasse/Flickr CC BY 2.0.