The Demand for Savanna Goats
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Despite COVID-19, both North and South Dakota farmers are busily raising and caring for Savanna goats, a breed imported from Africa into the United States in the 1990s.
Farmers were enthusiastic about a new breed of meat and range goat, its background developed from indigenous goats of South Africa in the 1950s. Many were bred with Boer goats and a local landrace goat, an indigenous goat adapted to its environment over many years with minimal selective breeding.
Farm communities are nestled among extensive grass pastures in the northeast region of South Dakota, known for its fresh glacial lakes and sprawling prairies. Within this open rangeland, near the town of Estelline, sits the farm of Jason and Karlia Dahl, owners of Heartland Savanna Farm.
“Agriculture is a way of life out here,” states Jason Dahl, a fifth-generation farmer. “This part of South Dakota is known as cattle country,” said Dahl, who owns a herd of Angus. Dahl purchased the farm in 2006 and not only gave his registered Angus grazing pasture but added Savanna goats across a vast 150-acre range.
When asked about the Savanna breed, Dahl replied, “We used to raise Boers. But they became a lot of work, so when we heard how easy it was to raise Savannas, we decided to change breeds.” Dahl paused. “Savanna body characteristics resemble that of a Boer, but they are quite different, and they are well-suited as a range and meat goat. They are hardy and demonstrate mothering skills, unlike Boers, who just didn’t know how to mother their babies. Boers often walked away and stood somewhere else with the rest of the herd, ignoring the kid.”
Dahl is happy with his choice of Savannas. “They are ideal for maintenance input operations, are parasite resistant, and offer an easy type of breed for us.”
Dahl currently has six bucks and 100 does. “We buy Savannas from other breeders. The goats are very stable and require little care; they offer great milk and are quite adaptable and successful on extensive grazing as well as on intensive pastures, traveling up to three miles a day for forage.”
Dahl spoke about the care of Savannas. “They kid on the range, and the only time we need a veterinarian is about every five months, at which time the veterinarian performs an ultrasound to check pregnancy.”
Dahl prides himself on superior pasture management along with the type of fencing. “We have electric wires around the perimeter and an electric fence.” To further protect their Savannas, the Dahls have two guard dogs and a donkey.
Another state away in the badlands of North Dakota, Jodi Lundberg of West Edge Goats owns 200 acres of highly erodible and rough terrain near the Killdeer Mountains. She needed an adaptable, hardy animal to go out on the range and clear the landscape of thorn bushes, junipers, berries, and other ground-hugging weeds. So, she purchased Savannas. “For Savannas, there’s nothing better than greens,” she stated. “They are excellent weed-eating goats and browsers.” Lundberg laughed. “They love when you scratch their heads. They’re very people-oriented, like puppies, sometimes.”
Lundberg agrees that Savannas are very adaptable, hardy, and offer better maternal traits than Boers. They are a fertile breed and have excellent reproductive qualities.
“In this part of the world, most people eat beef,” she offered. “But Savannas are meat goats, providing some of the best-tasting food you can find.”
Although Savanna goats will eat grass, they are browsers and prefer to eat small trees and shrubs with no parasitic larvae.
When asked about feeding times, the owner said, “They keep to their own schedule. They graze, walk, and eat and come home. They are very feed efficient. They’re always moving — a bite and a step, a bite and a step. They do rest, and before dusk, they bed down.”
Lundberg has a lot to say about Savannas. “They require very little handling and care. They have good bones, strong legs, and limited hoof problems, requiring very little healthcare. The rainfall and temperatures in the area suit Savanna goats remarkably well.” Lundberg voiced a happy and excited tone. “They kid at range in hot and dry landscapes without assistance, often having two to four kids. They are wonderful mothers and are very protective of their young in cold weather and heat. The kids stand up and nurse quickly after birth.”
Lundberg has 20 full-blood does and four full-blood bucks. The rest of her goats are Savanna crossbred. She has close to 100 does in this category.
Lundberg has a Pyrenees dog to protect her goats. She also has an electric fence, four to six inches off the ground. “But when they are out on the range, we have an issue,” she explains. “Mountain lions lie in the tall shrubs, waiting to attack. Every now and then, we lose one.”
Additionally, Savanna goats mature early, breed all year round, have long productive lives, and are resistant to tick-borne disease and tolerant of drought and heat.
According to Dahl and Lundberg, raising a range and meat goat, such as a Savanna, has many rewarding benefits. In the Dakotas, Savanna meat is delicious and is mild-flavored meat similar to venison and lamb. Moreover, since you raised and fed the Savanna goats, you will know exactly what’s in the meat. Like Boers, they originated in Africa but are slightly smaller than Boers. They have the hardiness of a Spanish goat and the high meat yield of the Boer.
“There is a big demand for white Savannah goat meat,” Dahl states.
In North and South Dakota, rainfall, temperature, and the history of natural selection play a role in Dahl and Lundberg’s lives with their goats. Savanna goats are an independent breed and follow their instincts, regardless of climate or terrain. Given the proper care, Savanna goats will survive and multiply on the range, yielding quality meat that will prove to please everyone’s taste buds.
Originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.