Breed Profile: Savanna Goats

Savanna goats are white South African meat goats that have adapted to the harsh environment of the African veld. They are hardy, fecund, and resilient.

Breed Profile: Savanna Goats

Breed: Savanna goats or Savannah goats 

Origin: Archaeological evidence of goats in southern Africa dates from 2500 BCE. Bantu and Khoekhoe peoples migrating southward, during the fifth and six centuries CE, brought and traded varied multi-colored goats that became the indigenous landraces of South Africa. 

Savanna Goats Are Developed from Hardy South African Landraces

History: The DSU Cilliers and Sons stud farm was started in 1957 in the Northern Cape. Lubbe Cilliers bred mixed-colored indigenous does with a large white buck. From these he developed hardy, efficient meat animals by allowing natural selection to work on wild-ranging herds in the unfavorable conditions of the veld. In 1993 the Savanna Goat Society was set up by South African breeders. 

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Live Savanna goats were imported from Cilliers’ farm into the United States by Jurgen Schultz in 1994 with the PCI/CODI Boer goats. They were quarantined in Florida and then moved to Schultz’s Texas ranch in 1995. The surviving herd and their offspring, 32 head, were sold in 1998 mainly to Boer ranchers interested in their novelty or crossbreeding value. 

Two embryo exports from South African pioneer breeders to Canada between 1999 and 2001 enabled further imports of live offspring to North Carolina and California. Leading breeders Koenie Kotzé and Amie Scholtz exported embryos from eight does inseminated by three bucks to Australia, and resultant offspring were imported to Georgia in 2010. American pioneers continue to develop herds by adapting them to the local environment. 

Conservation Status: Not at risk in South Africa, although rare abroad, according to the FAO. Selection, inbreeding, and crossbreeding inevitably lead to loss of genetic resources. Conservationists in Pretoria recommend keeping conservation herds to preserve diversity and develop useful new traits. Goats are an important resource for poverty alleviation in South Africa. 

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Savanna goat newborns are fast on their feet. Photo by Trevor Ballif.

Savanna Goats Need Careful Breeding Management

Biodiversity: An important locally-adapted livestock resource, but genetic variation is limited by inbreeding and artificial selection. Local expert Quentin Campbell noted that despite a relatively high level of inbreeding, no inbreeding degeneration had been observed. Genetic analysis revealed unique characteristics, reasonable variation, and a close relationship to Boer goats. Imports run a higher risk of inbreeding due to low numbers of ancestors. Dale Coody and Trevor Ballif are instrumental in collecting animals and semen from original imports, including distinct lines from the four imports, in an effort to improve genetic diversity and keep inbreeding coefficients low. Semen is also preserved for future use. Genuine breeding can be verified through genetic analysis. 

Description: A strongly-built and well-muscled animal, with a short white coat. The tough mobile black hide provides UV protection and resists parasites. In winter, a cashmere undercoat provides protection when kidding in the open veld. The long neck, strong black hooves, strong jaws, and long-lasting teeth confer good browsing ability. The head bears black horns, oval pendulous ears, and a Roman nose. 

Coloring: The white coat is produced by a dominant gene. This means that purebred parents may still give rise to offspring with colored markings. These can be registered as American Royal if they otherwise meet breed standards. 

Height to Withers: 19–25 inches (48–62 cm). 

Weight: Does 132 pounds (60 kg). Kids at 100 days 55–66 pounds (25–30 kg). 

Temperament: Amenable and lively. 

Savanna Goats

Savanna Goats Are Adapted to Open Range

Popular Use: In South Africa, meat goats are an important resource to smallholders, as there is less financial risk invested in each individual. They are also valued for leather and as liquid capital in case of financial need. White animals are popular for religious or celebratory events. Sires are used for crossbreeding in meat herds. 

Adaptability: Savanna goats are naturally adapted to the South African veld where temperatures and rainfall vary widely. They are excellent weed-eating goats and browsers on poor scrubland, feeding on thorn bushes and shrubs. They are fecund, mature early, breed all year round, and have long productive lives. Does kid at range without assistance. They are good mothers and very protective of their young, proficient at raising baby goats in cold weather and in the heat. Many dams have more than two teats, some of which are blind, but often with no impediment to nursing. Kids stand up and nurse quickly after birth. Savannas are resistant to tick-borne diseases and tolerant of goat worms and other parasites, drought, and heat. Very little healthcare intervention is required in their native veld. Campbell recommends selection for adaptation to the local environment to maintain hardiness. 

Quote: “Many years ago, one of our mentors told us of South African Savanna goat’s beauty and utility; its proliferation has proven this true.” Trevor Ballif, Sleepy Hollow Farm. 

Sources: Ballif, T., Sleepy Hollow FarmPedigree International. 

Campbell, Q. P. 2003. The origin and description of southern Africa’s indigenous goats. S. Afr. J. Anim. Sci, 33, 18-22. 

Extension. 

Pieters, A., van Marle-Köster, E., Visser, C., and Kotze, A. 2009. South African developed meat type goats: A forgotten animal genetic resource? AGRI, 44, 33-43. 

Snyman, M.A., 2014. South African goat breeds: Savannah. Info-pack ref. 2014/011. Grootfontein Agricultural Development Institute. 

Visser, C., and van Marle‐Köster, E. 2017. The Development and Genetic Improvement of South African Goats. In Goat ScienceIntechOpen. 

savanna-goats
Savanna goat bucks. Photo by Allison Rosauer.

Originally published in the May/June 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy. 

One thought on “Breed Profile: Savanna Goats”
  1. Trevor Bailiff as an expert is quite laughable! Dale Coody, Carl Langle and other Pedigree International breeders deny history and the truth. Do your research! Fake news and manufactured experts are the death of the truth! Did president Trump point out this problem?

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