The future of Boer goats in South Africa

Boer goat stud breeders from across the country were in Bloemfontein at the start of May to participate in the annual Boerbok, Kalahari Red and Savanna World Show. Sabrina Dean spoke to Boer goat breeders Kobus Lötter, Andries Vollgraaff, Casper Byleveld and Lukas Burger about the current state of the Boer goat industry, and what the future holds for it.

Boergoat ram
Some of the finest Boer goat rams, ewes and kids came under the hammer at the Bloem Showgrounds on 3 May after being selected as suitable for inclusion in the sale hosted at the end of the World Show.
Photo: Sabrina Dean

The Boerbok, Kalahari Red and Savanna World Show was held in Bloemfontein from 28 April to 3 May. It was hosted by the South African Boer Goat Association.

Farmer’s Weekly spoke to four breeders at the event to gain insight into the Boer goat industry in South Africa.

Kobus Lötter (KL), who farms in Willowmore in the Eastern Cape, is the founder of group breeding scheme Doornpoort Genetics.

This comprises about 70 members from across the country, who together run about 5 000 stud ewes. The members focus on line breeding, paying particular attention to good dam lines.

Andries Vollgraaff (AV) operates his Tekoa Boer Goat Stud on leased land between Worcester and Wolseley in the Western Cape. He has been a Boer goat stud breeder for only three years, and runs a flock of 120 ewes.

Casper Byleveld (CB) of the Nico Botha Boer Goat Stud farms in Britstown in the Northern Cape with his wife, Loudine. Loudine’s father, Nico Botha, started the stud in 1972, making it one of the oldest in the country.

They run a flock of 600 stud ewes farmed under extensive conditions, but use intensive lambing practices.

Lukas Burger (LB) of the Lukas Burger Boer Goat Stud in Griekwastad in the Northern Cape runs a flock of about 450 stud ewes. The stud had both the top-priced ram and the top-priced ewe at this year’s sale.

Who are your main target markets?

KL: Our markets are commercial and stud farmers, with the emphasis on empowering younger or new breeders. The traditional/religious slaughter market, however, remains the cornerstone of our business.

LB: Mostly other stud breeders and goat breeders across the world. Over the long term, South Africa has been the best market, but we also have strong markets in Brazil, Australia, Botswana and Namibia.

What is your opinion on the current state of the Boer Goat industry in South Africa?

KL: It has been 60 years since this association started with the ‘ennoblement’ of the Boer goat. If you look at a Boer goat journal from 10 years ago, you’ll see there has been tremendous development over the past decade. What scares me is what the Boer goat could look like 10 years from now because it feels as if we’ve already reached the ultimate. The goat looks good enough; we now need to keep it functional and maintain balance.

CB: I think our industry is incredibly healthy. Demand entirely exceeds supply. This is why the prices are so high, which is naturally very good for us. There’ll never be enough goats. The goat industry is in a very good place and can only go forward.

LB: The industry is healthy and is still growing. Many business people also seem to be investing in Boer goats.

Have you experienced an increase in demand for live goats and breeding stock? And if so, what’s driving it?

CB: Yes, definitely. I’ve had to turn people away. Customers are looking for breeding ewes in particular. We’ve also been exporting live goats to Africa and the United Arabic Emirates as well as embryos to the UAE and countries such as Brazil and Argentina. In addition, we’re seeing a lot of interest from new or emerging black farmers.

LB: Most definitely. Demand is increasing. One of the reasons for this is growing awareness of the health qualities of the meat. The challenge to get goat meat onto the supermarket shelves at the moment is because the domestic market isn’t regulated; it’s very informal. Individual buyers therefore often offer better prices for goats than one would see in a regulated meat market, which makes it difficult to get sustainable supply onto the supermarket shelves.

Demand is being driven by the fact that the commodity is very popular both for its meat qualities and the manner in which it can be produced. Goats can be farmed intensively or extensively, and can be used to diversify a larger farming operation. Goats also slot in well with cattle or wildlife components.

What are the main inhibitors to profitable goat farming?

AV: This is another aspect that will be different for everyone. For example, I’m leasing land, which is an added expense. From time to time, the poor condition of the grazing, along with drought, has been a problem. Stock theft is also a challenge.

CB: Labour is my number one challenge, followed by predation. A goat is a highly adaptable animal, which helps to make it profitable. The labour requirement is actually not that high but employees must be reliable.

LB: Not being able to export due to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak is holding us back the most. Predation can pose problems but we manage that by using methods such as electric fences to keep the predators out.

Is management of internal parasites in goats difficult?

CB: We live in a dry region, with an annual rainfall average of only about 220mm. We have very few internal parasites and even fewer external parasites. The Boer goat prefers a dry climate, and likes walking. I dose every eight months for internal parasites and also inject against pulpy kidney, but that’s it.

LB: We do get resistance problems, but goats are generally less susceptible to internal parasites than other livestock because they feed at a higher level. They prefer a diet of up to 70% leaves, which means they browse a bit higher. This is also why they fit in so well with cattle and wildlife components: they target different vegetation.

Where do you see the industry five years from now? 

KL: There’ll definitely be further growth over the next five years. I believe that if we can improve South Africa’s animal health status and get export protocols in place with other countries, there’ll be a severe shortage of good breeding material locally [because it will all have been exported]. The biggest frustration in the Boer goat industry is that we’re sitting with a product that the whole world wants, but our doors are closed. Foot-and-mouth disease has had a major impact.

AV: Compared with how we began 60 years ago, we’re racing ahead at full steam. The first rams were sold for R135 (about R12 600 today). The most expensive ram on auction was recently sold for R330 000. So, the future looks bright to me, if we can get export access.

CB: I believe we’ll see plenty of growth. Many young breeders are entering the industry because of the profitability. The new young breeders are also injecting a lot of energy into the industry. I think that the number of Boer goat breeders will increase by at least a third over the next five years.

The industry has also obtained a roller mark for meat but the challenge is that we can’t supply enough product. So many of the goats end up being bought for religious sacrifices that there just aren’t enough to supply the consumer meat market. I do believe, though, that within the next few years, goat meat will start becoming available in stores.

LB: If our borders are opened, the industry will go from strength to strength. At the moment, we’re already struggling to produce enough for the market. There is a larger demand than what we can breed, which means there’s still a lot of room for growth in the industry.

Despite the tough circumstances, such as drought and economic pressures, the Boer goat industry is still growing.

Email Kobus Lötter at [email protected]; Andries Vollgraaff at [email protected]; Casper Byleveld at [email protected]; or Lukas Burger at [email protected]