Making a go of goats – 2

Goats can be a money-spinner, but good stockmanship is essential for success, says Roelof Bezuidenhout.

Making a go of goats – 2
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Buying breeding stock for a commercial operation is expensive, but with a good kidding percentage you can double the value of your initial investment in two years. This quick return is possible because the goat ewe has a gestation period of five months. Conservatively, it could take another seven months to raise the kid to marketable weight.

If she does produce another kid in the following year she will have produced at least two offspring, in effect replacing herself twice. You can then sell both offspring or keep one and sell the mother. Angora goats offer an additional income from their hair. As with any livestock farming, there are problems associated with raising goats. Stock theft, disease, infertility, predation and drought are among the risks.

Some can be countered with good stockmanship, which includes good management and farming with the best type of animal for your conditions.

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Feed and fodder
Management involves ensuring the availability of feed and forage for the flock. Goats can get by on most types of forage – even weeds – that wouldn’t sustain cattle or sheep, but farming with goats won’t be viable if they don’t also have access to good veld or planted pasture. As buying in feed or lick is expensive, this should be done only when absolutely necessary during drought or to bridge short periods of nutritional deficiency. Hungry animals in poor condition cannot produce healthy kids or any significant income.

Having made sure that the number of goats you plan to run will have enough grazing/browsing, the next step is to consider the type of goat best suited to your conditions. If you want to go in for the bigger, more modern Boer goat types, know what your flock should look like. You don’t want a scruffy, mixed bag of animals. Try to attend an agricultural show where goats are exhibited to see top quality animals. Look at photographs of champion goats in Farmer’s Weekly or other publications to get a better idea of what you want.

Other options
It can be difficult to find the right goats at a reasonable price and buyers can expect to pay more for breeding stock than the meat value. A cheaper option would be to look for old ewes that are past their prime, but still in good enough condition to produce a kid or two if well-cared for. The same goes for rams – network, and find a farmer who’s happy to sell older rams at the meat price.

If you can’t find suitable ewes, you can always upgrade a cross-bred flock using older, pure-bred rams. Rams need to be carefully chosen, as they have the biggest genetic influence on the flock. A healthy, lively ram can cover 30 to 50 ewes in a season and therefore spreads its good (and bad) traits widely, especially if it’s used for several seasons.

You certainly don’t want a ram with obvious faults, such as a weak mouth, overshot jaw, poor legs, difficulty in walking or small or deformed testicles. You want a reasonably big animal, with good length of body, a broad back, well-sprung ribcage and muscled hindquarters. Ewes should have a feminine look. Good udders are critical – look for two functional teats, but avoid animals with double teats.

Colour and hide marking are important for stud breeders, but may not be so for small-scale farmers supplying a local meat market, unless there’s a preference in the community for a specific colour such as red. As a guideline, the Boer goat should have a loose, supple skin, with short, shiny hair. The ideal is a white goat with a red head and ears. The Savannah, on the other hand, is totally white, while the Kalahari Red is totally brown – a characteristic said to camouflage it against predators in the veld.

(There are many finer selection points that can be found in the breed standards of any breed society.) In the lower price ranges, expect to pay about R3 000 for a reasonable Boer goat type ram. Ewes will vary between R1 500 and R2 500 each, depending on age and whether they’re pregnant or not. Angoras are currently available at about half these prices. Top stud animals cost tens of thousands of rands.

For more information on the Boer goat, Savannah and Kalahari Red, contact the SA Boer Goat Breeders’ Association on 051 633 3744, or email
[email protected].