By: "Dr. Rick Machen"
(Goat World) Boer goats are being released from a New Zealand quarantine station. After consuming their airline tickets, some have boarded a jet bound for the United States of America...and the meat goat industry hasn't been the same since! Never before in the history of domestic meat goat production has an event created so much excitement and enthusiasm. People which, heretofore would have never been associated with goats, now consider meat goats a viable enterprise. Longtime goat breeders are excited about this new genetic material and its potential to radically change the meatgoat industry. Who are these new kids on the block, where did they originate and what role(s) can they play in the U.S. meat goat production industry?
The Boer Goat
Boer goats were developed in South Africa and can be classified into five different types: Ordinary, Long-haired, Polled, Indigenous and Improved or Ennobled. The first four types are of little or no interest to American goat breeders. South African breeders organized the Improved Boer Goat registry in July, 1959 and have concentrated on improving this goat which is of great interest to U.S. producers.
Trade sanctions and the fear of such diseases as hoof and mouth, scrapie and heartwater have prohibited importation of goats directly from South Africa. Goats were taken from South Africa to Zimbabwe and subsequently placed in quarantine in New Zealand in the mid-1980's. Many of the goats in the U.S. have come from the New Zealand quarantine. A small group of South African origin has been imported into Texas. A protocol is now in place to bring embryos from South Africa into Canada, place them in reciepient females and then bring the recipient females into the U.S. Relative to the diversity of our domestic goats, the Boer genetic base currently in the U.S. is narrow yet rapidly broadening.
Once confined to South Africa, Boer goats are now also found in Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom and the Middle East.
Boer goats range in color from solid red to almost completely white. The most preferred and widely recognized color pattern is a white body with dark cherry red neck and head with a blaze face. The ears are long and pendulous. Both sexes are horned. Horn size and mass exhibited by the males are much less than traditionally found on Angora or Spanish goats.
South African breeders have emphasized muscling and structural correctness in their selection programs. As a result, the Boer goat is a thicker, meatier animal than our domestic goats. Frame size is moderate; not as large as many of the dairy breeds (i.e. Nubian, Saanen). Mature bucks can weigh in excess of 300 pounds while the largest does will exceed 200 pounds. Birth weights range from 6-15 pounds and preweaning average daily gain can exceed 0.5 pounds. Does are recognized for excellent udder conformation.
It should be mentioned here that all goats (Angora, Spanish, cashmere and the dairy breeds) qualify as meat goats. The Boer goat can contribute several pieces to the development of an improved meatgoat. Possible contributions include: Muscle/Body mass - This may be the single most significant contribution. As previously mentioned, the Boer is moderate in frame size but heavier muscled, wider through the chest, deeper sided and more correct on its feet and legs compared to most domestic goats. An increase in muscling will be reflected in higher dressing percentages, higher lean to bone ratios and a more attractive product in the meat case. Improvements in muscling and carcass conformation could result in additional fabrication and retail marketing strategies for goat meat. Growth rate can also be increased with Boer genetics. Data collected on Boer-sired kids born in early 1994 include preweaning growth rates in excess of 0.5 pound per day and 100 day weaning weights as high as 80 pounds. This potential for rapid growth will be an important consideration in an accelerated kidding program. Milking/Mothering Ability - Does are recognized for their excellent udder conformation. The females have strong mothering instincts and, when provided adequate nutrition, easily produce enough milk to raise twins or triplets. Browsers - Results of South African research indicates that Boers preferred a diet that consisted of 85% browse and 15% grass. Apparently, they will function well as a biological method of brush management. Long breeding season - Estrus activity appears to be much the same as Spanish goats or the dairy breeds; a broader window of opportunity than offered by the Angora female. If an accelerated kidding program (three crops in two years) is desirable, this attribute will certainly prove beneficial. Prolific - Data from South Africa and New Zealand indicates that, provided adequate nutrition, Boer females are capable of weaning 180-200% kid crops. Males and females can be sexually competent at 6 and 8 months of age, respectively. Good temperament - Boer goats appear to be very comfortable with human interaction. This could be due to their management in South Africa but also appears to have a genetic component. Embryo transfer kids born in this country to Angora or Spanish recipient dams are very docile and often seek out human attention. If goat production occurs under more intensive conditions, this temperament will prove advantageous.
Feeding and Management
Little scientific information is available concerning the nutrient requirements or digestive physiology of the Boer goat. However, several observations warrant inclusion in this discussion.
Boer goats like to eat and they are good at it. Unlike most Spanish and Angora goats, Boers seem to be much less "picky" in their eating habits. Halfblood kids also seem to exhibit similar eating behavior. If these habits are real and heritable, the Boer could make a feedlot phase in goat production more feasible. Previous feedlot efforts have been largely unsuccessful because of unsettled dispositions and poor feed consumption. The feedlot phase mentioned here is aimed at growth and weight gain more than fattening. Including a feedlot option in goat production could assist in managing the seasonality of goat marketings.