An answer to African poverty?

According to Johnny Morrison, chairperson of the SA Indigenous Veld Goat Club, a millenia-long migration through Africa has honed the breed into a superbly functional animal. Annelie Coleman reports.

An answer to African poverty?
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Mother Nature takes her time to get things right. In the case of the indigenous Southern African veld goat, it has been thousands of years. The result, though, is arguably one of the most finely adapted domestic animals there is, and one that has been viewed with renewed respect in recent years. “These goats are hardy, highly profitable animals,” explains Johnny Morrison, chairperson of the SA Indigenous Veld Goat Club. “We simply can’t afford to lose their genetics, selected by nature over thousands of years. I believe the indigenous goat is the best livestock option to alleviate poverty in Africa.”

Over the centuries, the Southern African indigenous veld goat has developed into four distinctive ecotypes: the Nguni type (Mbuzi) , the Eastern Cape Xhosa Lob Ear, the Northern Cape Speckled and the Kunene (Kaokaland area), which occurs mainly in north-western Namibia. Johnny believes that the four ecotypes, thanks to their fertility and their ability to adapt to the most extreme condtions, can contribute greatly to food security on the continent. “Early maturing and rapid reproduction mean that a small flock can expand relatively quickly into a profitable enterprise,” he explains.

A long history
The domestic goat is a subspecies of the wild goat species Capra aegagrus, and domestication started some 10 000 years ago in northern Iran. The veld goats’ ancestors originated in the Middle East and northern Africa, and migrated south along the eastern coast with nomadic pastoralists. There is evidence that they reached the Limpopo area and Botswana by about AD 570, the lower Tugela River by AD 650 and Cape St Francis by AD 800.

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Chairperson of the Veld Goat Club Johnny Morrison with his wife Helen, club secretary. Annelie Coleman

They are highly efficient veld animals, and cover considerable distances while browsing on a wide variety of shrubs and grasses. Antelope-like, with long legs and well-developed hooves, they move comfortably over virtually any terrain and are naturally tick- and parasite-resistant. Both sexes are horned.

“Veld goats are highly economical in a commercial operation,” says Johnny. “They are highly fertile, early maturing and have a long reproductive lifespan. The ewes are known for their remarkable maternal behaviour and protect their offspring fiercely.”
The meat, sometimes called chevron, is succulent, tender and tasty, and offers the bonus of being particularly low in cholesterol.

“We must at all costs preserve these invaluable genetics,” Johnny explains. “Dr Laurie Hammond, a former director of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, said 20 years ago that nearly 40% of the world’s 4 000 domestic livestock breeds were in danger of extinction. They are being replaced by improved ‘superbreeds’ that only perform well under ideal conditions, while the original ‘unimproved’ breeds perform under all conditions, even the harshest.”

Four ecotypes
The versatility and success of the SA veld goat is underlined by the fact that there are four separate ecotypes, each subtly adapted to its environs. The Nguni type (Mbuzi) is a small framed, multi-coloured goat with small to medium sized semi-drooping ears. It has a uniform phenotype with small geographic variations and occurs mainly in the higher rainfall areas from Ciskei to Swaziland, Botswana and the Caprivi in Namibia.

The head profile tends to be flat or slightly concave with a dark muzzle. The udders are normally well shaped and produce abundant milk for twins or even triplets. As with the other three ecotypes, the rams’ testes are equal in size and carried close to the body. The scrotum is usually compact without a split. Poorly attached or droopy udders, cluster teats and bottlenecked teats are rare among Mbuzis, as is the case in the other three ecotypes.

Johnny Morrison believes that indigenous goats can help to alleviate poverty in Africa, as they thrive under extensive conditions and produce quality meat. Courtesy of SA Indigenous Veld Goat Club

The Eastern Cape Xhosa Lob Ear is a large, multi-coloured goat with large lob ears. The original SA Boer goat breeders used Eastern Cape Xhosa goats in the development of the breed. “A big, robust, dappled ram formed the base of the well-known Buffelsfontein Boer goat stud,” says Johnny.

The Xhosa is a well-muscled goat with a strong bone structure. Even ewes are well-muscled on the inner and outer thighs with a sloping rump and erect tail. The ecotype was originally found in the medium to lower rainfall areas of the Eastern Cape, but is nowadays found all over South Africa and even in Botswana and Namibia. Dappled, marble and flowery patterns of various colour combinations occur within the breed, with solid single colours not uncommon.

The Northern Cape Speckled goat originated in the dry Northern Cape and Karoo from Sutherland to Upington. “The English statesman and traveller John Barrow wrote in 1801 that he encountered some ‘Namaqua Hottentots’ near the Hartbees River with a flock of goats ‘spotted like a leopard’. Those were Speckled goats, I believe,” muses Johnny. “Pioneer farmers who settled in Namibia during the time of the First World War took these goats with them. In time, SA farmers brought back some of these goats and re-established them locally.”

The Mbuzi (or Nguni) is a small-framed goat with pendulous ears. It is widespread in Southern Africa.

The Speckled goat is large-framed and well-muscled with large drooping ears. The body is white with red, red-brown or black spots and a dark dorsal strip on the back. The head is protected by a concentration of colour around the muzzle, eyes and ears. A white blaze on the forehead is common. The face is long with a flat or slightly convex profile, and the animals have short glossy hair.

The Kunene or Kaokoland type is found in mountainous north- western Namibia, an area characterised by very dry mopane savannah. A hardy, lanky, medium-framed goat with slender legs, it is an excellent forager and easily covers long distances between watering points with its nomadic Himba herders. The face is narrow with a flat to slightly convex profile and it has long, drooping ears. Rams are more muscled than ewes and both sexes have a sloping rump. It is a multi- coloured breed with a wide variety of hues.

The current status
Interest in the breed is growing and 80 stud breeders are presently registered with the SA Indigenous Veld Goat Club, which is affiliated to the SA Stud Book’s animal recording scheme. This number excludes commercial farmers and traditional farmers on communal land.

“Our greatest challenge is to dispel the notion that indigenous breeds are somehow inferior to the so-called ‘improved’ breeds,” Johnny concludes. “This is simply not true, as the growing demand for indigenous veld goat genetics shows. A Xhosa ram sold a while ago for R40 000. Although this was an exceptional price, it illustrates the industry’s high regard for the indigenous veld goat.”

Contact Johnny Morrison on 083 383 2737 or email
[email protected]