Boer Goat Farming

April 2010

Growing Boer Goats for meat production

Boer goats, the attractive brown and white animals popular on lifestyle blocks, are now becoming an attractive proposition for meat production and sale. South Island stud breeders and commercial growers have joined forces with an Oamaru meat processing plant to produce quality carcasses for export, mainly to the USA and Japan.

Boer goats are natives of South Africa and are suited to dry, fairly harsh conditions and, like feral goats, thrive on woody weeds that other species will not touch. They are fecund and produce a meaty carcass. Crossed with feral goats they impart good conformation and easier handling.

The potential markets are huge, and the prospects for growth of Boer meat production in the NZ industry are limited by availability of suitable country and the prejudices of farmers who have tried and failed with feral goats.

Boer goats are large meat-producing animals originally from South Africa. The Dutch word "boer", meaning farm, was used to distinguish it from the Angora goat. Modern Boer goats are the descendents of indigenous animals. Early in the 20th century ranchers in the Eastern Cape province started breeding for a meat-type goat with good conformation, high growth rate and fertility, short white hair, and red markings on the head and neck.

In New Zealand, Landcorp Farming Ltd and African Goat Flocks Ltd imported embryos in the late 80s and the progeny were released to the general public in 1993. They proved popular with lifestyle block owners but most commercial flocks were small.

In recent years there has been increasing interest in meat goats, especially with the downturn in lamb and beef prices. Goats tolerate weeds such as thistles, ragwort, blackberry, gorse and broom, and seem to thrive on the woody pests of Central Otago like briar, thyme and Vipers Bugloss. They prefer high fibre fodder and thus complement sheep and cattle on pasture. The Southern Boer Goat Group was established in 2008 to co-ordinate supplies of animals from the South Island and tap into the increasing national and international demand for high quality, lean goat meat.

The largest producer of Boer meat in the South Island is Northfork Boers. The company runs 3000-4000 animals on three properties. Tony Grayling is a major shareholder, but his main interest is in breeding. He started farming goats for fibre near Tauranga in the 80s but the industry fell apart.

My first Boer purchase was to try to make the Cashmere and Cashgora animals a bit bigger, but then I moved into the Boers and decided to leave Tauranga and come down to Central Otago where it is more suitable place to run Boers because they evolved on dry country, he says.

I met Neil and we got involved in this company. The climate here is somewhat similar to the Cape where the Boers come from and the only significant difference is that we are a lot further south so there is a greater temperature difference between summer and winter. In South Africa if they have a good season they can kid twice in a year but down here it is very seasonal.

We founded the Southern Boer Group and have got around 50 people involved in that, and we are working together with processing and marketing.

Neil North has been involved with Boer goats for nearly 10 years and has found them to be a viable option in dry, hard country. For the commercial meat production the Boer stud animals are crossed with Saanen, a milking breed provides more milk for kids, and Cashmere, which gives them a thicker coat for protection against the cold Central Otago climate. That mixture works well, according to Neil.

We muster once or twice a year on the large block of about 1200 ha, they are not docked so they go to the works entire. The block has lot of briar and is quite dry and rocky so there are no worm or foot problems and we don't need to drench, crutch or dag them, he says.

So running them requires very little labour and the biggest amount of effort goes into keeping them contained fencing is always a big issue. On the smaller blocks where there is grass and irrigation there is the need to drench.

Neil says that Boers are probably the only goats bred specifically for meat. Most of the carcasses produced by the Southern Boer Group are exported to America for consumption by immigrants - Moslems, Italians, Mexicans etc. There is also some top grade meat going to Japan. In New Zealand there are at least 500 carcasses a week going into the Auckland market and it is not readily available outside Auckland. Clearly there is considerable market potential.

Most of the countrys goats are in the North Island and up until about six months ago the meat works in the South Island would kill goats only in the winter when they ran out of sheep. However, Lean Meats Ltd at Oamaru will now kill all year round, allowing some of the enthusiasts in the Group to work at setting up premium markets for young Boer goat and bigger carcasses. Year-round supply also allows some development of the NZ restaurant and retail butchery trade.

Northfork Boers runs about 3500 animals for meat production, and while the crossbreds mature around about 12 months or a bit older, the pure Boers develop a lot quicker. at present, Lean Meats will take all grades from 12 kg up to 25 kg carcass.

We have enthusiasts within the group looking at marketing the premium Boer carcass as a distinctly different product. Up until now the commercially produced carcasses have all been bundled with the captured ferals, and to secure premiums we are going to have to put a bit more effort into finishing, says Neil.

The premium product is a Boer or Boer Cross, a young animal that has its kid teeth but a good weight, up to 18 kg, and not much more than 12 months old. At present the returns are about $4.50 per kilogram and because it is going to the Japanese market that price is sustained despite the high dollar. We have another buyer who is working on the goat meat trade at restaurants, currently around Wellington, and there are also butcher's shops that would like a better quality product and are prepared to pay a modest premium too.

Wynn Cruikshank says that for health and cost reasons it is better to grow Boers on dry country where worms and foot problems dont check growth.

Central Otago is a vast area of wild briar that goats absolutely love so there is a huge potential to grow large commercial flocks. Briar is a very valuable food source, and goats will eat the leaves and in winter pick off all the hips and eat the bark, so they will eliminate briar if they are allowed to. They also strip wilding pine, eat thyme, Vipers Bugloss, ragwort, broom and many other prickly, poisonous or woody weeds that sheep wont touch, says Wynn.

Boer goats are quieter to handle than feral varieties and less likely to jump fences, so introducing Boer genes definitely eases management as well as improving meat production. Unfortunately many sheep farmers are dead against goats because they have had bad experiences with ferals.

In the past New Zealand has had mainly small-scale breeding flocks but now the industry is moving towards larger flocks and taking advantage of the best South African genetics. Boer does are very fecund and can raise twins or triplets. They have been bred to have four teats, two main ones and two smaller ones, and because of the consistently good mothering and survival instincts of NZ feral goats there can be a rapid increase in numbers of crossbreds for commercial production.

Breeders like Tony and Wynn are selecting for practical traits like udder shape, mothering, and with an eye to their greater use on pasture they are breeding for footrot and scald resistance.

As a commercial grower, Neil is convinced there is great potential for the Boer breed for meat production where land is cheap or difficult or where there are weed problems.

When farmers realise that goats complement sheep and cattle on hill country and help control weeds and improve pastures we will be able to build a very sustainable and profitable industry. There are plenty of countries where goat is preferred and the market will keep on expanding, says Neil.

In New Zealand, goat meat was recently given the Heart Foundation Tick as a healthy, low fat product. The premium Boer product is becoming known locally and internationally for its high quality, and there is a ready market paying good prices. The future looks great.