New Trends in Small Farm Livestock
New Trends in Small Farm Livestock

New Trends in Small Farm Livestock

by Lauren Ledig Klingbiel of Malcolm Island, BC

We have all seen what happens to farmers and ranchers who don’t change their products to fit what the consumer wants – after years of hard work, they end up losing profit and going out of business. Today’s trends for healthier food look like they are here to stay for a long time and as a small farmer, one should look into all of your options so you don’t get left behind – or go broke.

Change is inevitable. Over the past 40 years we have seen body types of beef, sheep, and hogs go from short legged and blocky, to longer legged, leaner, longer, and larger animals.

People want meat that is healthier, less fat, and still tasty. Ranchers and farmers want to raise the animal that will fit the criteria, make the most profit with the least of problems (disease and vet costs), and for it NOT to be a “fad.”

For a while, everywhere you looked there were new breeders of alpaca, llamas, emus, and ostriches. Many people saw dollar signs and paid high prices for their breeding animals but found that after a while, the market grew soft and they ended up giving them away or sending their animals to the local slaughter house for pennies on the pound.

Keeping all this in mind, have you considered bringing the African Boer goat as an addition to your farm? There is unlimited information on the internet about these animals. Some you have to subscribe to or pay for in some way. I found the best source of information by asking the people who are in all facets of this industry: Boer goat breeders, African Boer Goat Associations, and by asking a friend of mine, Pat Ariaz, who was an agriculture teacher and a livestock judge for many years in Manteca High School in California, and who now owns his own 40 acre Boer goat Ranch, “Ariaz Mountain Ranch” in La Grange, California.

Pat is also a Boer goat judge who travels all over the United States and will soon be going to Mexico to judge.

He has studied every part of the Boer goat industry and has come up with some useful and pretty amazing information, and by incorporating it into your farm, you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” He has good ideas on fencing, feeding, obtaining your starter stock, housing, and selling the Boer goats.

Pat got into the Boer goats quite by accident. Someone he knew was no longer interested in some goats and signed them over to Pat. One of his friends, Don Smith, a pioneer in bringing Boer Goats to the U.S., told him that they were good goats… REALLY GOOD goats and he should get the best buck available to breed to them. Since then, he’s been concentrating on line breeding the Lucus bloodline and the results have not disappointed him. In fact, they have produced several Champions in many large shows. He now has two tremendous bucks and another one coming in from Davis.

Incidentally, Don Smith, from Texas, was instrumental in developing the Boer goat industry in the U.S. He brought his first African Boer goats from Africa, moved them to New Zealand where he collected embryos and shipped them home to implant in host does. His efforts were 87% successful with him keeping 20 and selling 67 head. The cheapest was $20,000 and the most expensive was $45,000. He then bought a sire and went from there. I am told that the mature bucks reportedly weighed from 350 to 380 pounds and the mature does, about 200-220 pounds. The Boer goats have evolved over 40 years of breeding and 20 years of performance testing into what you see today.

Pat stated that having the proper fencing is integral to a successful ranch or farm. It should keep your livestock in and predators out. Inadequate fencing and poor equipment can make a livestock rancher’s daily life miserable. Your property should have a high tensile variety around the perimeter. Pat has solved this by working with Ketcham’s, in Illinois, for the past 4 years and they have designed innovative livestock fencing, chutes, and tilt tables to help the sheep and goat rancher with giving vaccinations, pregnancy checks, and other day to day operations with the least amount of stress to the animal. Pat said it isn’t cheap, but is certainly worth the money as it’s made to last and is excellent quality. Now is not the time to be “penny wise and pound foolish” as having the proper equipment saves lots of time and pays huge dividends later on.

Once you have the proper fencing, it is essential that you have plenty of clean fresh water available – there is no excuse for not having this in every goat pen at all times.

Then, you should know the proper feed and supplements to have on hand – Boer goats adapt to all climates and are great foragers, but, at different ages they do have certain requirements.

Pat likes to have molasses licks and trace mineral blocks available to all his goats. During the last trimester of pregnancy, he feeds the does 2 pounds of 16% grain pellets.

He has a regular vaccination schedule for his goats. During the first trimester he gives them 7 to 8 cc’s of LA 200. Since his area is deficient in selenium, he gives his goats 1 to 2 cc’s of Bose, but not if they are pregnant as it can cause abortion. All of his goats are given wormer.

His Boer goats wear ear tags due to one case of scrapie being found in Tracy two years ago. It’s a good idea anyway as you can keep track of the individual animals better and identify certain ones for problems.

Due to good solid foundation breeding stock, Pat has had very few problems with their health. One practice that helps with this is to wait until the does are older before having them bred. They are able to be bred at only a few months old, but he waits until they are 16 months old. They are more mature and have fewer kidding problems. It gives their bodies a chance to mature. A buck can breed 3 or 4 does at 6 to 8 months. The testosterone encourages growth.

Boer goats are able to have kids twice a year with multiple births being the normal. Pat only has his does kid once a year so they will stay healthy and have a longer production life. Boer does can produce kids for 6 to 8 years. Breeders keep the exceptional doe kids for future replacement animals. He said that A.I. is not now a viable option as it is very expensive and there is only a 50% success rate. Having your own buck is preferable, but Pat advises not to overuse the buck. If you have a large herd and aren’t registering your goats offspring, by putting two bucks in your pasture, you will get more goats bred by creating competition.

I asked Pat about the temperament of the bucks and he replied, “Never, never turn your back on them, as they may, at any time, try to kill you. Their potential to harm you is just like any male breeding animal, no matter how much you have handled them or how gentle they seem. Always plan for the worst and then you won’t get hurt”. Handling them as kids usually helps but each animal is unique.

If you are keeping wethers (castrated male goats) Pat suggests you castrate the bucks between 30 to 60 days, creating more muscle and quicker growth. Wethers are sold for meat or for 4-H projects, or pets.

I asked about dehorning and he only dehorns the wethers. It is done by putting a dehorner (hot iron made for this purpose) over the horn bud growth area until it looks burnished, and is done when they are between 3 to 7 days old.

He doesn’t need to do much if any hoof trimming as he lives in a dry rocky area. He does pay attention to their feet to ward off any possible hoof ailments. When he takes them to shows, he might touch them up with hoof trimmers or a rasp.

Another practice he has found invaluable, is to have a creep feeder available for the kids from day one. It has free choice alfalfa and medicated 16% protein grain pellets to promote faster growth. The creep feeder is essential for keeping the feed clean and off the ground and in wet areas, it prevents the hay from becoming mouldy and being stomped on by the older goats. Goats will eat the stems of the hay before they eat the leaves.

The main reason the young goat kids grow so quickly is that the doe’s milk has 5 to 6% butterfat and the average milk production is 3.3 to 5.5 pounds per day, depending on the age of the doe and days of lactation. The Boer does give less milk per doe than the traditional “milk” goat breeds (Nubian, Alpine, Toggenburg, and other breeds) but they have superior maternal capabilities and use that ability to raise multiple offspring.

Pat’s goats have had very few problems with kidding. He always has some clean rubber gloves on hand just in case. He might have to massage the pelvic girdle and even reach in to gently reposition a hoof or turn a baby goat if it’s in trouble. It is good to remember to always take your time if you have to assist in the birth of an animal. Then, give a uterine bolus and give 10 cc’s of penicillin to prevent infection.

Also a must for young goat kids is to have a playground for them where they will run and jump and exercise. They love to play so Pat has rocks and crates to climb on, chutes to slide down, and a lot of other things for them to explore, so they don’t get bored.

There are several options for selecting the best foundation stock for your farm or ranch.

The Boer goats are very different from the traditional milk goats that so many of the small farms have. They seem to be the ideal animal for poorer pasture, yet they produce better meat and more of it with ½ the cholesterol. As I mentioned earlier, the does are known for multiple births, and can take care of them as well. They have 4 teats thereby eliminating the time and trouble of bottle feeding the “extra” kid or kids born to the traditional goat with 2 teats. By selecting the best bloodlines you can have a kidding average of 2.5 per kidding, adding up to more profits for your farm.

Remember that the Boer goats are very adaptable. They can go from a cold and snowy climate to hot and dry and do quite well.

For predator protection for Pat’s herd of 135 goats, he has two dogs. One is an Anatolian and the other an Anatolian Great Pyrenees cross that he lets out with his goats at night. He warns against making pets out of the guard dogs. It is imperative that they know that their main purpose is to guard their herd.

Look up your local and regional Boer Goat organizations or clubs and see which breeders live close to you so you can visit them. Visiting a goat farm or ranch has its merits. It will give you a better idea what their bloodlines are like, see if they have any health issues, and you can probably expect to pay less when buying your animals than at a fair or auction. Good breeders stand behind their product. Word of mouth is the best or worst type of advertising. Take your time, compare the goats with what you’ve seen and you can make your informed decision

Another place to begin your search for your foundation stock is to go to your larger state fairs and look at the breeding stock. Compare the animals that catch your eye with what is winning in the different categories, this will tell you if you are on the right track in your selection. It also gives you an idea of what animals should produce the better quality meat and breeding stock. Have a list of questions ready to ask the different breeders showing at the fair when they have the time to talk to you.

There is NO substitute for having the best breeding animals that you can buy. If they are a little more than you have saved up, wait! It takes years and years of up-breeding your animals to achieve the top producing animals that you want. It is much better to buy the best to begin with, then all you have to do is to keep the bloodlines working for you. Pat says to “Always breed up and never breed down”. It costs the same amount of money to feed a poor or mediocre animal as it does to feed a superior animal.

What are average prices? Look and see what is available around your area. Ask at the livestock shows. Ask 4-H and FFA members as many times they will have some excellent stock to sell or tell you where they obtained their goats. And they know the value of having the best livestock they can buy. Don’t get in a hurry! Easy to say and hard to do sometimes, but just take a breath and know if you miss one opportunity, another one will come along.

There are also Boer goat auctions that have some noted offspring of champions. But know what you want before attending these auctions…and there is always the chance of “getting caught up in the moment” and spending way more than you had intended. If you are a person who “talks with their hands,” stay home, or you may end up buying what you don’t want at some very high price! “Let the buyer beware” is the best advice for those who are considering buying at a sale or auction.

Remember registered stock will sell for more money. They also have percentage goats on farms. They are “so many percent” purebred African Boer, such as ½, and ¾, and so on and so on. And ennobled goats will bring a still higher price as they are proven to produce quality offspring. Ennobled goats have met the requirements for accountability. They have been shown 4 to 5 times and their offspring has so many wins at the shows and this gives points to the parent goat.

There are several reasons why goat meat is becoming so popular. It isn’t necessarily a “cheap” meat to buy, but health wise, it comes up a winner. Boer meat is the leanest meat of all breeds according to the Boer information on the web – 50% to 60% leaner. They are the most efficient animal on poorer land browsing on bushes and weeds and in the conversion of browsing pasture to lean tissue. With the increasing Asian, Latino, and Middle Eastern population, the demand for meat, milk, and cheese just keeps increasing, a whopping 320% since 1999. The goats yield anywhere from 48% to 54% depending on whom you talk to, and of course, the quality of the animal. They can gain 1/3 pound a day. Goat meat is the most widely eaten meat in the world and one of the healthiest as well. It has the lowest cholesterol among red meat. The kids are butchered from 25 to 40 pounds for Christmas and Easter use and 50 to 100 pounds for the rest of the year.

The price you will pay for Boer meat depends on the time of year and the area in which you live. You will pay higher prices during the holidays Cinco de Mayo and Ramadan. With the larger immigrant population in Florida and New York, there is a corresponding greater demand in those areas. Also with the Hispanic population in Texas and in California there is the correlation of a greater demand there. And, now with the healthier eating trends in our society, goat meat seems to be the perfect meat to supply the demand. 80% of the world’s population eats goat meat.

Where do you advertise your Boer goats? This depends on whether you are selling breeding stock or meat on the hoof. Small Farmer’s Journal is the place to advertise if it is breeding stock because the subscribers are world wide. If you are selling the goat meat, advertise at your local feed stores, veterinarian offices, bulletin boards, and of course, on line opens up a huge advertising market in your area.

Another place not to skimp in your Boer goat business is in developing your website. What a difference a great website makes compared to a mediocre one, start looking and you will quickly see what I mean (this goes for any business). This may cost you from $300 to $500 but is worth it several times over. Your webpage should have easy to find contact information, some history of your ranch or farm, and pictures of your livestock. You need a catchy logo and keep updating it at regular intervals. Many of your web designers do this for no extra charge, it’s all part of the original price.

If you decide to show your animals at your local fairs, make sure you have good signage and a fresh clean eye catching display, with a table, a couple of chairs, and have someone there with the knowledge to answer the questions they will get from the public. Have some hand out pamphlets with your information on them. And, of course, have your animals groomed to the max. The more visibility your product has, the more interest you will generate, whether it’s selling breeding stock or selling meat. It will take some time for you to develop and incorporate the information that I have mentioned in this article, but most successful enterprises are built over time.

Attending shows or fairs can be time consuming and expensive. Most breeders do this to promote their goats and at the larger fairs, gather points to be put towards ennobling their goats, making them more valuable.

Before you go out and buy an expensive goat grooming stand, look at the various ones you see at goat shows; you might just make your own and save money. Then you will need clippers and a blower for drying the goat after it has been washed. They have some great seminars covering this and other topics that a person would greatly benefit from by attending.

Your goats should carry a bit more weight when being shown. You should wash and trim their neck and belly hair a week or so before and do a refit at the show. There are various entry fees for the classes for the shows, higher ones associated with the breed shows.

I asked Pat what advice he would give to a beginner – someone who is seriously contemplating getting into raising African Boer Goats. He replied to start out on a small scale and learn from there! Watch and learn every day about the whole process and you just might learn that you DON’T want to get into this. Best to learn this before spending lots of time and money.

If you do decide to raise Boer goats, you will be more apt to make the right decisions for your operation based on what you have read, seen, and by taking the time to actually visit ranches, fairs, and shows. This just may be the addition you want for your small farming operation; something that is well worth your valuable time and is profitable for you.