Hardy Boer Meat Goats
Meat Goat Breeds - The Genetic Improvement of Goats for Meat Production.
Except for San Clemente Island goats and Arapawa goats, the breeds of meat goats found in the United States today are of very recent origin. Development of the Boer and Savanna breeds began in South Africa about sixty years ago. These breeds are probably the oldest of the commonly used meat goat breeds found in the United States. Development of the breeds of cattle, hogs, sheep, and dairy goats that we have today began about 200 years ago. It takes time to make genetic improvement in livestock. For this reason there is much variation between individual goats within the various breeds of meat goats (except for San Clemente Island Goats and Arapawa Goats.) This can be good because it enables us to make genetic improvements within these breeds easier and faster. The wide spread use of embryo transplants in goats in the past 20 years has greatly increased the rate of genetic improvement in meat goats.
Back in the late 1950's when Ken was a student of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin, students would have friendly debates as to which breed of cattle was the best. They would try to get their professors to take sides, but the professors would always give this response: There is more variation within the breeds than between the breeds. One will be most successful with the breed that appeals to one most. When we first began looking at getting into the meat goat business twelve years ago we researched all of breeds available back then (there are lot more breeds available now.) We chose the Boer breed because it appealed to us most. We are very happy with that decision.
There is very important genetic material in each of the meat goat breeds. Each breed can and needs to contribute to the genetic base of our commercial meat goat herd. If we had the time and the money we would be raising all of the meat goat breeds at Critter Ridge, but our time and our money is very limited. For that reason we decided that we could accomplish more by limiting ourselves to full blood Boers. We are also very happy with that decision.
The meat goat industry is the fastest growing segment of American agriculture. It is also changing very fast. For that reason the research we did on meat goat breeds twelve years ago is no longer complete. Some breeds that were so few in numbers that they could not easily be located or purchased back then are now more readily available in the United States. These would include Savanna Goats, San Clemente Island Goats, and Arapawa Goats. While these breeds are still quite rare and probably quite expensive they are found in most regions of the country and bucks can probably be purchased quite easily. Thanks to advances in the internet and recently organized breed associations for these breeds, they are also a lot easier to find today than they were twelve years ago. We will discuss these three breeds in detail along with five other more readily available breeds of meat goats found in the United States.
What is a Meat Goat Breed?
Since we are talking about breeds of meat goats we really need to define what we mean by a breed. The classic definition of a breed of domestic livestock is a group of animals that through selection and selective breeding resemble each other and uniformly pass these traits on to their offspring. While this definition would hold true for most breeds of cattle, sheep, and hogs, it would not hold true for most of the breeds of meat goats found in the United States today. The meat goat industry has not had time to fix the important traits that we are breeding for. These traits are not uniformly passed on to offspring, but the meat goat industry is making rapid progress in accomplishing this.
A better definition of breeds for the meat goat industry is the one quoted in Oklahoma State University's "Breeds of Livestock" as put forward by Dr. Jay L. Lush in his book The Genetics of Population: "A breed is a group of domestic animals, termed such by common consent of breeders, … a term which arose among breeders of livestock, created one might say, for their own use, and no one is warranted in assigning to this word a scientific definition and in calling the breeders wrong when they deviate from the formulated definition." Common usage within the US meat goat industry would classify each of the following as breeds under Dr. Jay L. Lush's definition even though most of them would not qualify under the classic definition:
4. Kiko Goats
5. Boer Goats
8. Pygmy Goats
Feral (Wild) Goats
During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries sea traveling explorers and merchants deliberately released goats and hogs on off shore islands along their routes to establish feral populations that could be used as sources of fresh meat on future trips. These animals thrived on these islands because the islands didn't have predators.
Two of the meat goat breeds (San Clemente Island goats and Arapawa goats) are feral breeds. All of the other breeds (except Pygmy) are composite breeds developed by crossing several breeds of goats. We predict that the San Clemente Island goats and Arapawa goats will play a very important role in developing new composite meat goat breeds in the United States. DNA testing of these breeds done by Amparo Martinez Martinez and Juan Vicente Delgado Bermejo at the University of Cordoba in Spain in 2007 and reported by Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg shows that these two breeds are highly inbred and are not related to each other or to Spanish goats found in the United States or to Saanens, Alpines, Nubians, Boers, to ten breeds of goats found in Spain or to breeds of goats found in Cuba, Brazil, and Bolivia. The Spanish goats in the United States were found to be related to the breeds of goats found in Spain and Latin America. Additional testing done at Cordoba in 2009 showed the San Clemente Island and Arapawa goats to be unrelated to feral Rawhiti goats from North Island, New Zealand, feral goats from Galapagos Island, Old English milk goats, Golden Guernsey goats, and Damascus goats (http://www.arapawagoats.com/dna.html.)
Hardiness, fertility, mothering ability, and resistance to internal parasites are the most important traits in meat goats. Feral goats will be used to develop new breeds of meat goats that excel in these traits.
San Clemente Island goats are descendent from stock probably placed on Santa Catalina Island by Spanish Explorers in the 1500's and by Franciscan Missionaries in the 1600's and 1700's. Feral goats were taken from Santa Catalina Island to San Clemente Island (60 miles west of San Diego, California,) by Salvador Ramirez in 1875. In 1934 the Island was turned over to the U.S. Navy. The Navy removed all of the goats from the Island during the 1980's in order to protect endangered species of native vegetation. There were about 20,000 goats on the Island when removal of the goats began. The last goat was removed from the Island in 1991. The Fund for Animals live trapped about 6,000 of the goats and resettled them on the mainland. Today there are between 400 and 500 full blood San Clemente Island goats owned by 31 US Breeders and 7 Canadian breeders. They are distributed evenly across the United States and in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. These goats are small, fine boned, with good muscling for meat production. They are said to be very hardy. Detailed descriptions of these goats together with many pictures and contact information for all breeders who have registered full bloods can be found on The San Clemente Island Goat Association web site (http://www.scigoats.org.)
Arapawa goats are found on Arapawa Island in the Queen Charlotte Sound of New Zealand. The island is separated from the South Island of New Zealand by Troy Sound. Captain James Cook released two goats on Arapawa Island in 1773. These goats were taken from Cape Verdes Island at the Cape of Good Hope. Captain Cook reported that these goats were killed before he left the island. Old English Goats were probably brought to the island by English settlers about 1830. In 1839 a number of goats were reported to have been seen at the whaling station on the island. Arapawa goats resemble the Old English Milk goat which was the dominant breed of goat in England until the Swiss breeds of dairy goats were introduced in 1870. Since the Arapawa Island has a warm humid climate the breed has probably developed resistance to internal parasites and hoof rot. In 1994 six Arapawa goats (3does and 3 bucks) were imported into the United States by Plimoth Plantation, a living museum at Plymouth, Massachusetts. In 2006 Marilyn Burbank, an Oregon breeder imported semen from five Arapawa bucks at the conservation herd of David Hughes in New Zealand. The Arapawa Goat Breeders - USA publishes a detailed description of this breed, its history, a picture gallery of the goats, and a list of breeders with contact information on its web site (http://www.arapawagoat.org.)
Spanish goats are very diverse and are derived from three very different groups of goats. Goats from Spain were brought to the New World by Spanish explorers and settlers in the 1500's and 1600's. They were brought to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, all of which were originally explored and colonized by Spain. English settlers brought Old English Milche goats to the thirteen original colonies in the 1600's and 1700's. As Americans moved west from these thirteen original colonies they took descendants of these old English goats with them. They were even taken into the states that were already populated with goats from Spain. Both English and Spanish sailors deliberately released goats and hogs on islands along their routes to establish feral populations which would provide fresh meat on subsequent journeys. In the late 1800's and early 1900's the Swiss and Anglo Nubian breeds of dairy goats were imported into the United States and distributed to all regions of the county. All of these diverse types of goats had some influence on the goats which are commonly called Spanish goats today. They were originally called Spanish goats only in the Southwest. They were called wood goats in Florida, brier goats in the Carolinas, hill goats in Virginia, and brush goats and scrub goats in other areas of the South. Today they are called Spanish goats throughout the United States. The Ozark Milk Products Company (Jackson-Mitchell) in Yellville, Arkansas, which makes Meyenberg evaporated goat milk is one of the oldest goat milk processing plants in the world. It has been operating since world war two. Many dairy goat farmers in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri have brought in Nubian and Swiss dairy goat breeds to improve their milk production. Surplus goats from these herds have been used by cattle ranchers in the area for brush control. Thus Spanish goats in this part of the country probably have more Old English and dairy goat influence than in other parts of the country. This is evident when one observes goats coming through the special goat sales at the Cattlemen's Livestock Auction in Harrison, Arkansas, but occasionally one does see groups of goats come through this sale that are distinctly Spanish. The Spanish Goat Association was formed in 2007. They are searching for blood lines of Spanish goats that have no history of crossing with more recent imports such as Angora, Boer, and Dairy breeds. They have document and described fourteen such bloodlines on their web site (http://www.spanishgoats.org.) Lines of Spanish goats from the warm, wet climates of the southeastern United States are probably more resistant to internal parasites and hoof rot than lines from the more aired regions of the southwestern States.
The American Livestock
Breeds Conservatory has
recently begun efforts to rescue a herd of about 30 head of feral
Spanish goats on a costal island near Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.
They will remove selected animals from the herd and place them in
conservation breeding herds to protect them from predators and increase
their numbers. Two pregnant does, one buck kid and one doe kid have
already been moved to Brook Green Gardens, south of Murrells Inlet. DNA
samples, for further testing, have been taken from these animals under
Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg's supervision. These goats will contribute
valuable genetics to our meat goat population in future years. More
details of this rescue can be found on the ALBC Blog.
The Kiko breed was developed in New Zealand by Garrick Batten from feral goats found in New Zealand, bred to dairy goat bucks (Toggenberg, Saanen, Nubian, and Alpine.) He began selecting feral goats from all districts of New Zealand in 1978. About 10,000 feral goats were initially assembled. From them 1,000 were further selected to be crossbred to dairy goat bucks. The crossbreeding continued from 1979 to 1986. The crossbreds were interbred from 1984 to the early 1990's. The main selection factors during this period were rapid growth, hardiness under range conditions, resistance to hoof rot, and resistance to internal parasites. In the early 1990's the flock was reduce to a central flock of about 100 head which was further reduced to about 50 head by 1994. In 1994 the entire herd along with the GOATEX Group Ltd. shares was sold to new shareholders who exported all of the animals to the United States that were suitable for export. A few animals were too old or too far along in pregnancy to under go shipping and quarantine. They remained in New Zealand in a single herd and were sold to Garrick Batten in 2003. Garrick Batten is using these goats to start a new Kikonui breed of improved New Zealand meat goat. More details on the history of the Kiko breed can be found on Garrick Batten's web site (http://www.caprinex.com.) The first Kiko goats to go to the United States were four Kiko bucks imported by Dr. An Peischel to Hawaii in 1991. Dr. Peischel is now the Goat Extension Specialist with Tennessee State University and has a herd of Kiko goats in Tennessee. Two breed associations, the American Kiko Goat Association (http://www.kikogoats.com) and the International Kiko Goat Association (http://www.theikga.org) register Kiko goats in the United States. More information about Kiko goats and lists of breeders with contact information can be found on their web sites. Several crosses have been developed by crossing Kikos and Boers. Gene Masters and Texas Gene Masters are Boer/Kiko crosses registered by the American Kiko Goat Association. Bokis and American Meat Makers are Boer/Kiko crosses registered by the International Kiko Goat Association. The breed associations' web sites have more details on these crosses. For the commercial meat goat producer the Kiko breed would be an ideal maternal breed to cross with Boer bucks to produce market offspring. The problem is Kiko does are still scarce and expensive. The feral goats of New Zealand were descendants of goats very similar to goats brought into Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri by early settlers from the eastern United States. The breeds of dairy goats brought into Northern Arkansas and Southern Missouri in later years are the same ones used to develop the Kiko breed. We believe one could find herds of very inexpensive Spanish or brush goats in this area that are equal to Kikos for hardiness and mothering ability. Crossing these Spanish does with Kiko bucks might even produce does that are better than either breed because of hybrid vigor.
Dutch farmers in South
Africa developed the
Boer breed by crossing native African goats with European dairy breeds.
This effort began in the 1950's. The Boer breed has the largest number
of registered goats of the meat goat breeds in the United States. There
are more Spanish goats than Boer goats but they are not registered or
clearly defined as to what really is a Spanish goat. Boer goats have a
very distinct well defined color pattern and horn set that takes at
least two to four generations of breeding to full blood Boer bucks to
show up in the kids when crossed with other breeds. There is a saying
in the industry that if it looks like a Boer it is a Boer. Many
commercial meat goat producers have been using Boer bucks for many
years and have herds that have a very high percentage of Boer even
though they are not registered. Full blood Boer goats were imported
into the United States in very large numbers. The first Boer goats came
from New Zealand starting in 1993. Later imports came directly from
South Africa beginning with a shipment of 400 Boer goats by Jurgen
Schulz which was released in 1995. These Boer goats, imported by Jurgen
Schulz, became known as CODI-PCI animals. More recently Boer bucks and
semen have been imported from Australia. Boer goat imports into the
United States represent many different South African herds and
bloodlines. The Boer breed in the United States has a very large
genetic base. The American Boer Goat Association (http://www.abga.org)
It was formed in 1993. It is the oldest and the largest of the three
breed associations registering Boer goats and sanctioning shows in the
United States. The other two are the International Boer Goat
Association and the United States Boer Goat Association. Boer goat
breeders put a lot of emphases on showing. There are many sanctioned
Boer Goat shows throughout the United States. Most state fairs have
sanctioned Boer goat shows. The show goat industry has invested large
amounts of financial resources into improving the Boer breed. Embryo
transplants are used extensively in Boer goats.
Savanna goats have solid white hair with black skin pigmentation. They are a very hardy breed of meat goat developed by the Chillers family of Douglas, South Africa. The Chillers started selecting for solid white meat goats in 1957. The Savanna Goat Society of South Africa was formed in 1993 at which time a breed standard was drawn up, and the society joined the South African Studbook Association. Savanna goats are hardy, heat and drought tolerant, and breed the year around. They were fist imported into the United States by Jurgen Schulz in 1995. They were a small part of a large shipment of 500 animals, mostly Boer goats. The entire herd of thirty-four Savanna goats was dispersed through the Kifaru Exotic Sale Barn in Lampasas, Texas, on December 5th, 1998. Unfortunately no records were kept on these animals. Pedigree International was formed a year and a half later. They register Savanna goats and publish a directory of breeders with contact information (http://www.pedigreeinternational.com/savanna.htm.) An excellent article describing the breed and its history was authored by Brian Payne and Dr. Frank Pinkerton (http://www.savannagoats.com/savannagoatshistory.html)
Myotonic goats have a condition called myotonia congenita which causes muscles to stiffen when the animal is startled. This happens to varying degrees. Some times the goats remain standing and other times they fall over. The condition is inherited and causes the goat to be more muscular than other breeds. The breed goes by several different names, Fainting goat, Wooden Leg goat, Stiff Leg goat, Nervous goat, and Scare goat. The breed has a very distinct head and body conformation. Because of the myotonic condition these goats are easier to fence than most goats. The breed originated in Marshal County, Tennessee, in the early 1800's when a farm worker named John Tinsley showed up with three does and a buck that were myotonic. Local people believed he was from Nova Scotia, but they didn't know for sure. When Mr. Tinsley left a year later he sold his goats to his employer, Dr. H. H. Mayberry. Dr. Mayberry propagated the goats and did extensive research on them, but he could find no such breed of goat anywhere in the world. There are two breed associations that register Myotonic goats, the Myotonic Goat Registry (http://myotonicgoatregistry.net) and the International Fainting Goat Association (http://faintinggoat.com.) Their web sites have detailed descriptions and pictures of the goats and breeders' directories with contact information.
"Tennessee Meat Goat" is a registered trade mark owned by Suzanne Gesparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, for her special line of Myotonic goats and "TexMaster Meat Goat" is her trade mark for her line of Myotonic/Boer crosses. More information on these lines of Myotonic meat goats can be found on the web site of Bending Tree Ranch in Arkansas (http:/www.bendingtreeranch.com.)
Ten years ago before high percentage Boers were readily available many commercial meat goat producers in northern Arkansas were successfully breeding Pigmy/Dairy goat and Pigmy/Spanish goat does to percentage Boer bucks. Many crossbred goats used for meat production have some pygmy blood in them. I do not know of any commercial meet goat producers that use straight Pygmy goats. Pygmy goats have also been crossed with Nubian dairy goats to produce a breed of dual purpose goats called Kinder Goats. Full blood Pygmy goats are used primarily as family pets and are also used in petting zoos. Vasectomised Pygmy bucks are often used by meat goat breeders to encourage other breeds of meat goats to breed out of season and to encourage multiple births through their rutting (see page on Breeding Season.) The breed originated in Cameroon Africa near the equator, and thus are non seasonal breeders. They were bred by African tribes for both meat and milk. They were imported into the United States from a Zoo in Sweden in 1959 and kept primarily in Zoos at first. In 1965 when Ken was in the Army and stationed in San Antonio the Breckenridge Park Zoo had about thirty head of Pygmy goats. They were selling their offspring to other zoos and would have been willing to sell them to individuals who wanted to buy them. Pigmy goats are true dwarfs with short legs and neck. Detailed descriptions and pictures are available on The National Pygmy Goat Association web site (http://www.npga-pygmy.com.)
Come Visit Us and See Our Herd
is four miles south of Yellville, Arkansas, on Highway 14.