Smallholders interested in keeping goats have a number of indigenous breeds to choose from. Generally, indigenous breeds in South Africa are kept predominantly for meat, as opposed to milk production. Most commercial goat milk producers favour imported breeds. But, if its meat you’re after indigenous breeds will stand you in good stead.

Indigenous meat breeds include:

  • Boergoat – Developed through selective breeding over more than 70 years, the Boergoat is a hardy meat-breed. It is able to withstand arid conditions and is easily adaptable to other conditions. The breed has a high fertility rate, and the does are good mothers with sufficient milk of a high quality. Boergoat kids grow quickly, reaching around 40kg by eight months old. Boergoats are popular all over the world and their meat is considered one of the best. It has the same protein content as beef but is less fatty than both beef and chicken.
goat farming
Boer goats. Image: Johan Steyn.
  • Kalahari Red Goats – Despite the misconception that the Kalahari Red is simply a fully red boergoat, they are in fact their own distinct breed. They were developed out of Namibian landraces and boergoats. The breed was declared sufficiently genetically distinct in the late 1990s and the first breeders club was started in 1999. They are known for their short, glossy red or dark red coats. Occasionally an animal will have a white patch or few spots, remnants of their boergoat ancestors. The breed is popular as a meat producer as well as for its pelts. Kids reach around 30kgs by six months. Similar to their boergoat counterparts, they are fast-growing, hardy and adaptable with low-fat flavourful meat. They are excellent roamers, with mothers raising their kids in the veld to much success. Their colouring is thought to assist as camouflage against the red soils of certain parts of South Africa.
  • Savanna White – The Savanna, or Savannah, is a popular meat breed. Officially dating back to a breeder in the 1950s, the Savanna was developed in the Vaal area but has origins in boergoats from much longer ago. They are largely drought and heat resistant. Although their coat is white, they have pigmented skins, horns and hooves which help them cope with harsh sunlight. They make excellent mothers, often producing twins or triplets. Their milk is nutrient rich for their kids, although not produced in sufficient enough quantities for commercial use. Their white coat makes them a popular choice for traditional ritual slaughter. Their white coat sometimes means they are confused with Saanen goats ~ a Swiss breed popular for milk production.
  • Indigenous Veld Goats – There are four eco-types within the Indigenous Veld Coat (IVG) classification. These include the Cape Speckled goat, Nguni-type goat, Cape lob-eared goat and Kunene goat. The Veld Goat is the basis of most other indigenous breeds and as a result they share many of the same characteristics of more recent breeds. They are hardy and move with ease, able to travel long distances in a day. They are highly fertile with a long breeding season and excellent mothering abilities. The Nguni-type are the most abundant IVGs, known for their dappled or speckled coats. The Cape Lob Ear are thought to have originated along the dry West Coast. They are identified by their droopy ears. There are only a handful of breeders with true Lob Ears now in South Africa as many have been bred out in favour of the boergoat. The Cape Speckled goat, also known as the skilder (pictured on the front cover of this edition), are also thought to have originated along the west coast and north-western parts of the country. Today, they are region specific with a number of well-known breeders and herds around the country. They are identified by dappled or speckled coats with solid-coloured heads and often legs as well. They are heat and sunlight tolerant. Finally the Kunene is found largely in the northern parts of Namibia and it thrives in dry, hot, mountainous areas.
Cape lob ear kid. Image: Indigenous Veld Goats

Milk breeds common in South Africa include:

  • Saanen – The Saanen originates in Switzerland and is the most popular dairy goat in the world. All white, it can sometimes be confused with the indigenous Savanna, although it is a lot less hardy. The saanen’s skin and coat are not as tolerant to the African sun, and smallholders must take care to ensure their herds have access to cooler areas and plenty of shade. A healthy saanen can produce more than 800kg of milk a year. The animals are quite large, with fully grown males standing about 90cm tall. They are a docile breed and are often recommended for children and beginners.
  • Toggenburg – Another Swiss import, the toggenburg are smaller than most other dairy breeds but produce a good yield of milk. Their colouring ranges from light fawn to dark chocolate brown, often with white ears, legs and the underside of their tails. White markings on the face are also common. Adult males can stand around 85cm tall. Does can produce up to 700kg of milk a year. Their milk is lower in fat than some other breeds and so they are not always suited to the making of cheeses. They prefer cooler climates but are friendly and docile, with their smaller size being an advantage for smallholders.
  • Alpine – A standard British Alpine is normally black all over with white markings known as “Swiss markings”. Females have a glossy coat. The breed developed out of the Swiss toggenburg and native British goats. French Alpines are usually rich chestnut coloured with black markings along their backs, faces and legs. However, these markings can differ within the breed. Alpines are popular for their extended lactation periods and their ability to lactate through winter. British Alpines do not like humid environments. French Alpines thrive in drier, mountainous conditions and can cope with a wide range of temperatures.
  • Bunte Deutsche Edelziege – Originating out of Germany in the 1920s, the BDE is a hardy animal. The breed comes in a wide variety of colours but is predominantly brown with black accent markings. BDE breeders claim this milk as the tastiest. There are only a handful of thoroughbred BDE goats in South Africa.

Wool breeds include:

  • Angora – Originally a Turkish breed, the angora is used to produce mohair. Unlike some other wool-producing animals, the angora can be shaved twice a year. It does not molt naturally. Mohair exports out of the Eastern Cape have been successful as the angora enjoys the hot and sometimes drier conditions of the region.
  • Gorno Altai and Saffer – Both cashmere-producing, these two breeds molt naturally around springtime, allowing the production of cashmere from their wool. A project in the mid-1990s released 500 Gorno Altai into South Africa, driving cashmere production. When crossbred with indigenous veld goats, they can produce an interestingly coloured cashmere as well as good quality meat.

Main image: Karoo Skilder courtest Karoo Skilder Stud.

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