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“When it comes to breeding, we should avoid changing what nature gives us, whether we think it will improve an animal’s appearance or to prove a scientific point. It is easy for a specific breed to lose all its natural characteristics over time.”
This is according to Schalk van der Walt, first chairperson of the Indigenous Veld Goat Club. Schalk is referring to the importance of keeping animals in their original form and preserving the characteristics of that breed. Schalk, a well-known stud breeder in the Venterstad district of the Karoo, has come a long way in terms of producing indigenous veld goats on his farm, Gelykfontein.
He says he started farming Boer goats at the age of 14. It was important for him to farm goats that could adapt to his environment. Practical traits such as longer legs allowing them to walk long distances, good horns allowing them to protect their lambs and pull pods from thorn trees, and a head and jaw shape that allows them to feed with ease – these were all important to Schalk.
However, it began to look as though the Boer goats he was farming no longer possessed these traits as they were increasingly being bred for other reasons.
Breeding for looks or ability?
“The Boer goat was bred from these indigenous goats, but as a young man I found it strange that selectors often rejected some of my best goats simply because their appearance was not as appealing. Yet these were the goats that yielded the most profit,” he says. He initially accepted the state of affairs, but ultimately struggled to come to terms with the fact that the breed had moved further and further away from what their ancestors looked like.
“In those years, shows were the platform at which to showcase your farming business. However, it bothered me that my animals had to spend weeks in the feedlot to ‘finish’ them while my conscience told me this wasn’t the right way of doing it. My animals shouldn’t have to be fattened to look more appealing – they should be able to work on any farm and walk long distances, given the vastness of South African farms.
“When I started farming the goats,” he continues, “my goal was to let them graze the farm’s bushy mountain veld as well as the river veld, which had lots of thorn trees.” He finally decided in 1995 to sell the goats.
A breed of their own
Because of his fondness for goats, Schalk kept searching for a new breed to acquire. On the banks of the Kei river he came across the type of goats he wanted, and in the North West province, near Morokweng, he encountered the same type of goats once more – here he found an exceptional ram and a few ewes.
This was the start of Schalk’s interest in indigenous veld goats – he brought his first veld goats to the farm in 1998. A few years later, in 2006, he founded a club for breeders of indigenous goats, with the aim of establishing a breed society and registering these goats as a breed.
“These indigenous goats are a unique breed, and I wanted to preserve them for posterity. The breed’s fertility and ability to adapt to any environment meant that people started to cross-breed it with all manner of other breeds. So much so that the original breed was difficult to spot at all. I wanted to retain that original breed and keep it as nature intended,” he explains.
Today there are around 70 breeders who are members of the Indigenous Veld Goat Society of South Africa and who share in Schalk’s passion to preserve the breed’s authenticity, as well as its original appearance and characteristics.
The breed is divided into four variations. Schalk decided on the Cape lob-ear type and using this line has built up a pure breed that fits perfectly into his environment. The other types are the Nguni (Mbuzis), the Cape speckled and the Kunene. Each has its own distinctive traits and adapts well in any environment. All four groups are highly fertile, hardy and functionally efficient.
A breed that makes a difference
Schalk says that African veld goats have excellent qualities, but the secret lies in the fact that you should not try to mould them into something other than what they were created for.
Indigenous veld goat’s traits include the following:
- They are resistant to diseases such as pasteurella, as they possess the ability to keep themselves warm in winter, when they grow down or cashmere.
- They have very good foraging methods and can pull feed from high bushes. Their horns enable them to pull pods from trees and bushes, and to protect themselves from predators.
- They have longer legs and can walk long distances and climb mountains.
- They are not season bound and lamb every six to seven months. Their fertility is excellent, and they often lamb before two-tooth age.
- They are known for their longevity.
- Their head has retained its original shape and the lower jaw rarely protrudes past the upper jaw. Hence, they can graze very efficiently.
- They are highly adaptable and can be farmed on a large or small scale.
- One of the biggest advantages is that these goats do not only produce meat. Their beautifully coloured hide is also a sought-after by-product and serves as camouflage to protect them from predators in the veld and bush.
- Their stomach allows them to either graze or snack. Tests carried out at Fort Hare show that these goats’ digestive system is very close to that of an impala and that lambs can start digesting leaves and grass a mere few days after birth.
“In all the years I’ve been farming, I have come to know that the only animal you can farm efficiently is a well-adapted one. The African breeds, and that includes my Nguni cattle, provide me with more profit per hectare than any of the other animals I have farmed,” he concludes. – Koos du Pisanie, Stockfarm
For more information, contact Schalk van der Walt on 082 927 1806 or 051 654 0150.