The Nieuwoudt family farms on Kromrivier near Clanwilliam in the Western Cape. Their history with Boer goat farming began in 1959 when Pip Nieuwoudt’s father, Rens, introduced the breed to the farm.
Unfortunately, predation by the Cape mountain leopard made it almost impossible to continue farming with goats on Kromrivier.
“The Cederberg is a conservation area. We tried farming ‘green’, but the leopards caused tremendous damage,” explains Pip, who is the sixth-generation Nieuwoudt to farm on Kromrivier.
To continue farming Boer goats, he bought the 4 000ha Hantamsdrift farm outside Nieuwoudtville in the Hantam Karoo in 2007. Today, he runs a flock of 350 Boer goats, as well as Mutton Merino and Saddle Horse studs.
The Hantam Karoo is an arid region that makes farming extremely difficult, especially in the summer months and under drought conditions, when forage becomes scarce.
Fortunately, goats are relatively hardy and can optimally utilise available vegetation; Pip’s Boer goat flock forages on trees, shrubs and Karoo bushes.
Due to the current ongoing drought in this region, farming conditions have become even more challenging than usual: the farm received less than 25mm of rain during the past year. Under these circumstances, toxic plants are often the only green matter that survive, and the kids tend to feed on these.
Despite the current poor state of veld forage, Pip does not feed his goats any additional fodder. Instead, he moves them to the floodplain next to the river running though the farm, where they graze on the pods of the Prosopis tree, an alien invasive species.
“These are high in protein and serve as a good supplementary feed.”
The animals also graze on Acacia karroo and Ganna bush. Pip says he is aware that the Prosopis tree is an alien invasive species, but he manages the trees by clearing them from the river beds.
In the flood-plains, where the trees are densely populated, he selectively removes some of the trees to create the illusion of Prosopis orchards. He then fences these off so that the goats can roam the camps to forage pods or young saplings.
Breeding and kidding
Due to the Karoo’s low winter temperatures, Pip tries to schedule breeding from November until December, enabling does to kid from April until mid-May. His breeding programme focuses on breeding for phenotypically sound animals.
“I want my does to be feminine with lots of meat,” he says.
Pip follows a controlled breeding programme, in which the buck and doe are brought together and breed under supervision.
“In this manner, exact breeding and kidding dates are known. It also requires fewer bucks and simplifies management,” he explains.
Does that fail to conceive are put to a buck for a second time. If the group of does is too large, or if there are bucks with exceptional genetic material, does are artificially inseminated with fresh semen. Pip has about 10 bucks that he uses exclusively for breeding purposes.
Kidding is managed intensively and takes place in small lucerne camps, with 30 does per camp. “This management system makes handling and kidding very easy,” he says.
The kids are weaned at 90 days, at a weight of between 25kg and 35kg. They are then fattened for 62 days in an on-farm feedlot, where they are fed lucerne with barley, oats and sheep-fattening concentrates before being put onto the veld.
“I don’t pamper my goats. If they don’t fatten up in the feedlots, they are sold.”
Although goats have a strong herding instinct, predator control is still necessary, and an Anatolian Shepherd dog is used to protect the goats from predators, especially during kidding season.
According to Pip, good management is equally necessary to prevent diseases.
“Goats are quite susceptible to infection from pasteurella bacteria, as well as pulpy kidney disease. I vaccinate my does against these diseases just before and after kidding,” he says.
Pip also dips his flock twice a year to prevent ticks and blue lice (Solenopotes capillatus). Once a week, he inspects the flock for foot rot, ticks and scabby mouth.
According to Pip, the South African goat’s meat classification system presents a major difficulty for the Boer goat industry, as the local market is not as familiar with goat’s meat as it is with other red meat varieties.
“Many consumers think goat’s meat is tough, because they don’t know what they’re buying. Currently, all goat carcasses, young and old, are roller-marked in orange. This lack of distinction between the different ages of the carcasses creates a negative perception,” he explains.
As chairperson of the Western Cape Boer Goat Club and member of the Boer Goat Breeders’ Association board, he has proposed that the South African Meat Industry Company (SAMIC) and the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO) change the roller-markings to clearly indicate the age of carcasses. SAMIC and RPO are still considering this suggestion.
Because goat’s meat serves a niche market, Pip believes that the meat should be sold at a premium. “Goat meat is a great source of protein that’s lower in cholesterol and higher in iron than other red meat varieties,” he says.
In South Africa, the bulk of demand for goat meat is driven by the religious and cultural market, but this is not viable for Pip’s operation.
“We receive good prices for our goats, but due to the seasonal nature of the market, as well as our distance from these markets, it’s not feasible for our operation.”
For this reason, Pip has exported live goats to Saudi Arabia for the past four years, where there is a buoyant market and consumers prefer goat’s meat.
Before being shipped to Saudi Arabia, Pip’s goats are quarantined in Philipstown for two to three weeks while undergoing blood tests and vaccinations.
Although goat exports to Saudi Arabia have proven profitable, this market can be unpredictable. “In terms of quantity and preference, it’s very difficult to determine what the Middle Eastern market wants,” he says.
Pip also exports embryos to the US, Australia and Brazil. Dr Frans Jooste, a veterinary surgeon at GeneCo in Philipstown, performs the synchronisation and embryo flushing at his quarantine facility.
To achieve international exposure, Pip advertises his goats on social networks. He also uses auctions and shows; two of his children, Derek and Tania, recently showcased the stud at Agra Middle East, an annual agricultural trade show held in Dubai.
In addition, Pip regularly exhibits his goats at shows and has produced numerous champions, including four world champions. Despite the drought, he also managed to win all 12 categories at the 2016 Western Cape Club Championship.
Email Pip Nieuwoudt at [email protected].