The History of Boer Goats

The very name "Boer" gives the most basic fact about Boer Goats because it means "farm" in South Africa, and Boer Goats are hard-working, no nonsense farm and ranch livestock. They were developed from the goats kept in the southern part of Africa and as early as 1800 were referred to as "boer goats," but that only meant a common meat goat much as the terms "Spanish goats" or "brush goats" or "briar goats" do now. The main reason for the term was to differentiate them from the Angora goats which had been brought into that area.

By about 1900 a distinct breed began to emerge because farmers in the Eastern Cape region of Africa had selectively improved the common goat until they had produced goats with well-built bodies, a high fertility rate and a fast rate of growth. Those goats were white with red around their heads and shoulders. They produced a substantial amount of meat; their hides were good for leather; and they were effective in clearing land of dense vegetation. This then was the beginning of the Boer Goat we know today. 

In 1959 the Boer Goat Breeder’s Association of South Africa was established, and they adopted breed standards which referred to build and appearance. This hastened the development of an Improved Boer Goat. In 1970 some of the Boer breeders began to participate in South Africa’s Mutton Sheep and Goat Testing Scheme for performance characteristics.  The meatiness, size, early maturity, fertility and adaptability of Boer Goats attracted the attention of other countries, but Boers could not be shipped to the United States and some other countries without a quarantine period to assure they would not bring in diseases the receiving country already had under control in its livestock.

In 1987 Landcorp brought some Boer embryos from Zimbabwe to Keri Downs on the north island of New Zealand. Later Landcorp brought more embryos to a different quarantine on Eyrewell Island, the south island of New Zealand. The Australian Breeding Management had Boer Goats quarantined in Australia and also put a herd in Rocky Comfort, Missouri. Codi PCI was a quarantine put together by a group of South African breeders and located in Texas.

In July of 1993 Boer Goats were released from Keri Downs and could be brought into the United States as live goats, embryos and semen. Sales from the other quarantines took place at intervals reflecting their completion of the five-year isolation requirement. Both Codi PCI and Rocky Comfort dispersed their herds in Texas. Soon after all the quarantines had fulfilled the requirements to begin selling goats, Boers began to come into the United States straight from South African herds by way of Canada without a five-year quarantine.

International Boer Goat Association registrations use a letter prefix to indicate which quarantine the goat came from: K is Keri Downs, E is Eyrewell, ABM is Australian Breeding Management, and WW is African Goat Flock. Codi PCI is not indicated by a letter since the goats involved in it were from identifiable South African herds. The herd from which a Boer Goat originated in South Africa is indicated by a 3-number prefix referring to that particular one of the approximately 400 Boer Goat studs in South Africa. That breeder’s number precedes the individual goat’s registration number which is then followed by the letters SA.

Worldwide interest and dramatic technology briefly caused the Boer Goat to be called an exotic animal, and prices resulting from its scarcity in the United States reached legendary heights. In the current market, prices for outstanding individuals reach impressive amounts, but their value is now based on their potential as breed-improving individuals - not on sparse numbers. The Boer Goat’s humble origin and utilitarian reason for existence remain unchanged. These goats have been developed to clear land, produce meaningful amounts of good quality red meat from fodder that neither sheep nor cattle will eat, and to furnish high quality leather.

Much pasture land in South Africa was prepared for other livestock by using Boer Goats.   They cleared dense brush and plant cover and proved more effective in preventing bush   encroachment than fire or pasture management of grazing by cattle. Tests in South Africa showed that these goats by preference ate 82% brush. Boers could go into areas where infestations of parasites carried by wild animals kept out Angora goats and sheep because Boer Goats’ short hair made it easy and effective to dip them, thus killing out the ticks and lice.

Their foraging habits make them desirable for multi-species grazing, complimenting cattle and sheep in many situations since they will eat plants passed over by the other livestock. Boers can digest poorer quality fodder than sheep. Their tendency to eat from the top down also helps protect them from stomach worms if they are pastured where trees, vines and brush allow them to forage the way they prefer. In South Africa an observer noticed that Boer Goats did not eat lower vegetation while the dew was still standing on the leaves. This meant they were not exposed to as many stomach worms as they would have been if they had eaten the low vegetation while it was wet.

Boers can take advantage of tree limbs higher than the average meat goat eats in any substantial amount because the Boer Goat’s neck set allows him to profit more from standing on his hind legs and pulling down a limb. He can eat behind his head and all around to reach more leaves from a single hind leg stand. Turning this poor quality vegetation into red meat is what makes Boer Goats economically feasible to own.  A rapid early growth is especially important because the optimum slaughter age is 5 to 10 months. In tests at that age Boers dressed out 48%. Older animals dressed out 60%, but the meat quality declined severely with advanced age- just as it does in any meat animal.

An experiment conducted in Colorado City, Texas, compared the cooked characteristics of meat from good quality Spanish goat carcasses with that from fullblood Boer Goat carcasses. The animals were fed in the same manner previous to butchering and the raw meat compared was composed of similar cuts and weights before cooking, so that the main variable would be the composition of the meat itself. After cooking on a barbecue pit, the bone was removed and bone and cooked meat weights compared. Boer Goats had bigger bone than Spanish goats, but the resulting edible meat proved that the Spanish goat carcass only provided 73% as much meat as did the Boer Goat carcass. The reasons for this appeared to be that the muscle fiber was shorter in the Boer meat which caused it to retain the moisture better, and the Boer meat had less fat to cook away.  A subjective measure of taste by several hundred people also pronounced the Boer meat to be superior in both taste and tenderness to that of any other goat meat the diners had eaten.

Perhaps the most significant proof that Boer goats have contributed to developing a meat goat superior to that of the previous butcher goats available in Texas is that Boer-cross kids sold in the weekly livestock auctions consistently bring higher prices than other meat goats. A market report provided by the State of Texas quotes Boer-cross as a separate category. The telephone number to hear this free report is 1-800-252-3407.

The potential for rapid growth in the kid cannot be realized unless the mother goat is a good milker. Tests in South Africa established that the length of lactation for Boer mothers is 120 to 140 days. Their milk had higher butterfat, higher solids and higher lactose content than any other goat breeds in South Africa. They produced 3.3 to 5.5 pounds per day which was excellent for non-dairy goats and ample to feed twins.  It is commonplace for a fullblood Boer Goat herd kidding naturally to average 200%. Triplets are not unusual, and quadruplets also occur. This multiple kidding is a performance characteristic the South Africans deliberately developed. For the nanny to be able to feed triplets or more, they also selectively bred nannies to have 4 teats. Since Boer Goats are not seasonal breeders, it is possible to manage them so they produce 3 kid crops in 2 years. These goats are sexually mature at about 6 months.

The longevity of Boer Goats is another positive characteristic. They can continue to produce kids at least through the age of ten years. Although old Boer Goats are a rarity in the United States because of their recent advent, mostly as embryos, several older goats were brought in from New Zealand. The Doemaker, Amazing Grace, Patches and the Old Man all produced kids when they were ten years old.  In particular, the ability of Boer Goats to do well in all the different climatic regions of South Africa commended them to other parts of the world. Tests in South Africa proved that they drank 40% less water than sheep which made them useful in near desert regions. Their quarantine in New Zealand and presence in certain areas of the United States prove that they can endure persistently wet conditions with the proper care. They have shown that they can cope with unrelenting heat in parts of Africa as well as the extreme cold in Canada. The coat of cashmere Boer Goats grow under their normal coat of hair when presented with cold conditions insulates them from cold and is shed when temperatures become hot. Nations in all climate zones have successfully built up Boer Goat herds.

The development of embryo transfer technology has played an important part in the geographical spread of these meat animals as it continues to do today. During the relatively short time this science has been applied to goat embryos it has been largely responsible for spreading the very useful Boer Goat throughout the world from its cradle in Africa.

Note: Information for this article not personally observed by the author came from a package of Xeroxed excerpts from South African publications which was distributed when Boer Goats first came to the United States. Although the material was obviously genuine and contained lists of many reference publications, the abbreviated presentation of that material made it impossible to annotate sources in the normal manner.


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