Boer Goats for Beginners
By: Gary Cutrer, Associate Editor, Ranch & Rural Living Magazine
As Published In The November 1995 Issue (Vol. 77 No. 2)
Q: What is a Boer goat?
The Boer goat was developed in South Africa as a breed meant solely for meat production. The term “Boer” refers to the descendants of the Dutch immigrants, or Boers, most of them farmers, who settled the country; thus, “Boer” goat simply means “farmer’s” goat. Because of the intense selective breeding over the past 50 years or more by South African goat breeders, the Boer goat is considered far superior to any other goat for meat production. It is known for rapid weight gain and heavy muscling and has high fertility. Boer does typically give birth to twins.
Q: What’s a Boer goat good for?
Because the Boer was selectively improved for its meat production ability and its ability to pass on that trait to its offspring, along with other traits including pasture hardiness, the addition of a Boer buck to a commercial meat goat herd can improve the meat characteristics of the offspring without making them too “soft” to be pasture goats.
Q: Aren’t Boer goats from South Africa? Why did many come from New Zealand?
Although they were first developed in South Africa, for a couple of years nearly all Boer goats in the United States came from New Zealand. In the late 1980’s several frozen Angora and Boer embryos were smuggled out of South Africa via Zimbabwe by New Zealand and Australian companies. The smugglers were primarily after the Angora embryos because of the high quality mohair producing Angoras bred in South Africa; the Boer embryos were just an afterthought.
The companies implanted the embryos into recipient does in New Zealand. One Australian company got into financial problems and ownership of many of its embryos and offspring went to the quarantine station operator, Rob Moodie of New Zealand, who named his herd African Goat Flocks. The other major holder of African Boer and Angora goats in New Zealand was Landcorp Farming Limited, a government-owned entity. Still another Australian firm, Australian Breeding Management, had thousands of African Boer and Angora goats, and those goats were recently released from quarantine.
Q: Can I import a Boer goat directly from Africa?
You can, although if you’re just after a few head of breeding stock and you think you must have an “African” goat, you ought to consider buying stock from a breeder who already has brought in goats directly from Africa; it will be less expensive and much less work.
Until this year, the USDA required importers bringing sheep and goats from South Africa to put them in a strict quarantine for five years. But in mid 1995 the USDA changed the rules for sheep and goats imported from South Africa. Now live animals brought directly from Africa only have to be put into a herd that conforms with the USDA’s Voluntary Scrapie Flock Certification Program, or VSFCP. That program is a means the USDA is using to try and detect and control sheep and goat flocks that might contain the scrapie disease, which has no known cure and the cause of which is not really understood.
Offspring from the goats in those flocks, however, may be sold and moved freely. Goats originally imported from New Zealand face no requirement to be put in a VSFCP herd. The USDA plans to relax other import rules to allow free collection of embryos and their importation from South Africa to the United States.
Q: I hear Boer goats originally sold for astronomically high prices. Why?
It was due a little bit to supply and demand and a little bit to psychology. When a new (to the U.S.) animal species is introduced into this country, especially a species that has commercial potential, often an artificially high “breeder’s” or “exotics” market develops for the animal. This happened with the ostrich and emu, even with the potbellied pig and hedgehog. The Boer goat is a bit different, however. When ostriches were imported into the U.S. there were few if any existing flocks of ostrich. It took years for the breeder’s market to be satisfied. But when the Boer goat was introduced, there were already millions of goats in the United States.
With embryo transfer technology and artificial insemination, we have gone from a few dozen Boer goats to thousands of full-blood goats in a couple of years. And people are still importing live goats. The psychology part of an “exotics market”: People think they can make lots of money selling high-priced exotic animals, especially when the animals can reproduce and make more high-priced animals. The catch: To make money, you have to know what you are doing, know the particular breed, and you have to get in the market very early-on. Timing is everything; early bidding for a limited number of sought-after animals can go very high.
Q: What do Boer goats cost?
Are prices still high? Boer goat prices are still relatively high but are approaching what you’d pay for a quality registered Angora or registered dairy goat. They are nowhere near the steep amounts paid during the winter and spring of 1994, when a bit of buying “frenzy” took hold of some goat breeders and exotics traders. Before the frenzy hit, back in August 1993, the cost of buying a goat at an auction in New Zealand and transporting it to the United States was about $8,000 to $10,000. At the time, people suggested that buyers who spent $10,000 bringing in a Boer goat might ought to spend some time in the loony bin. But those early buyers saw the potential worth of the breed.
By March 1994, newborn Boer kids were selling for $7,000 to $10,000 each. In one 1994 auction, $80,000 was reportedly paid for a full-blood adult buck. Except for an unanswered private treaty offer of more than $100,000 for a stud, $80,000 was about the highest price paid in this country for a Boer goat. About mid summer of 1994, the Boer market declined to “only” about $25,000 to $35,000 per animal and settled there. In an auction during early 1995, full-blood Boer goat bucks sold for an average of about $9,000 per head, while does brought about $11,000 per head. Prices continued to decline during 1995.
As more and more kids reached breeding age and were put on the market, going prices went lower. Then, too, demand for breeding stock was being satisfied, so finding a buyer for purebred Boers was sometimes hard to do. That has changed a little now. It seems like more farmers and ranchers in sections of the country not normally thought of as goat country are hearing about Boer goats and the meat goat industry. At a Boer goat auction in early October 1995 Boer prices stopped their decline and actually improved. At that sale, breeding age does sold for $800 to $1,500 per head. Adult bucks went for around $2,000 per head.
Q: Will Boer goat prices go even lower, and should I wait for that to happen?
Ever hear the old adage, “You get what you pay for.”? Well, that saying applies here. After the buying frenzy in early 1994, people began to wise up and be more selective about how much they paid for what type of goat. Buyers no longer paid high prices just because the goat was white with a red head and was called a Boer goat. Quality became important. You could probably buy a so-so full-blood Boer buck these days for as little as a few hundred dollars. Quality Boer goats, both bucks and does with outstanding conformation and muscle mass and the ability to pass on those traits, still sell for fairly high prices and will continue to do so.
Q: Do I need Boer influence in my herd to be a successful meat goat producer?
Nope. Not at all. Right now you could probably do well raising and selling meat goats (providing demand holds at present levels and imports don’t absolutely flood the country) even if you raised wild, skinny, tough, unimproved meat goats. But as the industry develops and grows, you’ll probably want to add at least a Boer buck to your flock to compete with the meaty animals sure to hit the market in the near future.
Reprinted With The Permission Of: Ranch & Rural Living Magazine
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