Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Boer goats have been standing at the back of the line for many years when it comes to prices, but over the last 60 years or so breeders have consistently improved the breed and, today, they are reaping the rewards. The modern South African Boer goat has no equal in the world and has become known as the best meat goat worldwide, shortly after breed improvement began.
Yet says Kobus Lötter, an expert on the breed and chairperson of the South African Boer Goat Breeders’ Association’s Eastern Cape club, the biggest frustration is that the SA Boer goat, which is in demand globally, cannot be exported to destinations such as Europe and Australia due to South Africa’s current animal health status.
“In spite of this, the demand for SA Boer goats from countries in Africa and the East, and the slump in the game industry, has seen goat prices skyrocketing. This led to many new producers entering the industry, especially game and smallholder farmers,” he says.
Prospective buyers looking to enter the market, he advises, should purchase animals that meet breed standards. The standards have been compiled in such a way that compliant animals have the potential to produce the best progeny and thus increase their own economic value.
Kobus says first impressions are lasting, and this is no different when it comes to goats. Rams should have a masculine appearance. Ewes must look feminine, with a wedge towards the front that is characteristic of fertility.
“Ewes must have a slender neck that is well-joined at the shoulders and in proportion with the rest of the body. Rams, on the other hand, should be heavier in the neck and skin folds – this is a sign of their masculinity. Most people shop with their eyes, but it is also essential to be familiar with the breed standards and to know what to buy,” he says.
For Kobus, there are a few aspects of the Boer goat’s conformation that a buyer should pay attention to.
It’s all in the head
The head of the goat conveys a lot about the animal, he explains. A top-quality Boer goat has a strong head and soft brown eyes. If the eyes have a wild look, just walk past – this is an indication that the animal’s temperament will not be an asset.
“Furthermore, the goat must have a slightly curved nose, wide nostrils and a well-formed mouth with well-fitted jaws. Up to six-tooth the jaws must show a perfect bite, but from eight-tooth and older, the teeth can have a 6mm protrusion.”
Horns have to be as round and solid as possible and have a dark colour, he says. It should be of moderate length with a gradual backward curve.
The neck and forequarters
A neck that is well-joined to the forequarters is essential. This allows the goat to lift its head without any discomfort to feed on leaves, as well as to reflect its proud demeaner. In addition, the shoulders should be well-fitted to the forequarters as well as the withers, says Kobus. The breastbone should be broad, with a deep, broad brisket. This ensures that the front legs are firmly attached and the goat can cover long distances under difficult veld conditions.
“The front legs should be strong and well placed, with strong pastern joints and well-formed hooves that are as dark as possible,” he explains, adding that the front legs should be of medium length and in proportion to the depth of the body.
The barrel of the Boer goat needs to be long, deep and broad. The animal must have good spring of rib and the loins should be well filled. A superior goat should have a fairly straight back and must not be pinched behind the shoulders. However, guard against a back that is too straight, as this can contribute to goats being too cylindrical.
The hindquarter of the goat also requires assessing, as it is the site of the reproductive organs. In the case of commercial animals, the buttocks are a good indicator of meat distribution.
The rump is also vital. “The rump needs to be long and in proportion to the barrel, and it must be slightly sloped. “A rump that is too straight may cause lambing problems, because a straight rump constricts the birth canal,” he explains.
The buttocks must be well fleshed on both the inside and outside, and the tail must be straight where it grows out of the dock and be able to swing to either side.
Legs that can carry the animal
In most of the areas in which Boer goats are farmed, the animals have to travel long distances in search of feed and water. Therefore, the legs should be strong and well placed, but not too thick and fleshy. “The front legs,” Kobus continues, “should be as straight as possible and fairly far apart, with open hind legs. Legs that are cow-hocked, sickle-hocked or post-legged are undesirable.”
Skin and skin coverage
The skin of a Boer goat should be loose and supple with ample chest and neck folds, especially in rams. It has been proven time and again that animals with loose skin and short hair are better adapted to South Africa’s warm climate. Loose skin also offers better resistance to external parasites.
“It is essential that the eyelids and hairless parts are well pigmented to protect the animals from the sun. Pigmentation of 100% is ideal, but 75% is allowed in stud animals,” says Kobus.
“Good pigmentation offers resistance to sunburn. The parts under the tail and around the reproductive organs in particular should be well pigmented. Areas that are overly exposed to the sun may result in cancer. Pigmented skin is also more resistant to skin diseases,” he explains.
He adds that the hair should be short, smooth and glossy, but a limited amount of fur is permissible in winter.
The reproductive organs are the most important part of the animal. In ewes, the udder is critical as she must be able to suckle her kids effectively. “A ewe must have a moderately large, not too low hanging udder that is well placed, with one or two separate teats on either side of the udder.”
In rams, the reproductive organs have to produce superior offspring for the owner. “A ram must have two equal-sized testicles that are not too low hanging. During the two-tooth stage the testes must have a circumference of at least 25cm. This is a good indication of the ram’s fertility.”
For more information, phone Kobus Lötter on 082 432 2393.