Goats do roam

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Th­ese com­i­cal, stub­born an­i­mals are prized for their meat, milk, wool and skin – we tell you how to get your goat and keep it

Goats are com­i­cal, stub­born beasts, but also very in­tel­li­gent, adapt­able and hardy. And yes, with enough at­ten­tion, they could in­deed be “pets” – some will even give you milk to pay for their board and lodg­ing.

There’s an Afrikaans say­ing that refers to a goat be­ing a bliksem, or a hel­lion, which tells you some­thing about their rep­u­ta­tion for mis­chief. Ac­tu­ally, goats don’t de­serve this no­to­ri­ety; it’s only goats raised singly that can be de­mand­ing and naughty. They’re herd an­i­mals, and if you keep only one you’re look­ing for trou­ble. A sin­gle goat is a lonely goat who will get into mis­chief.

The ques­tion is, could a goat and its mates be pets?

Yes, pro­vided you’re not look­ing for a sub­sti­tute or a part­ner for your pave­ment spe­cial Duke, Charles the cat or Polly the talk­a­tive par­rot – and you al­low your goats to be, well, goats, first and fore­most.

Many goat own­ers over­seas take their pet goat for walks – but you can for­get about house-train­ing your goat and teach­ing it to use a lit­ter tray.

Goats in south­ern Africa

The first writ­ten men­tion of goats at the south­ern tip of Africa was in 1661, nine years after Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape of Good Hope, when a Na­maqua prince gave the new­com­ers a goat as a gift dur­ing an ex­pe­di­tion.

Goats still play an im­por­tant role in some of our in­dige­nous cul­tures, and they’re one of our old­est in­dige­nous do­mes­tic an­i­mals bred specif­i­cally for South Africa’s harsh cli­matic and grazing con­di­tions.

Goats are kept for their meat, milk, wool and skin. The most popular breeds for meat are boer goats, in­dige­nous goats, and Sa­vanna and Kala­hari Red goats. The most popular dairy breed is the Saa­nen, orig­i­nally from Switzer­land, which pro­duces about 1 200ℓ of milk per ewe ev­ery 305 days – that’s about 4ℓ per day! An­gora and cash­mere goats are the top wool-pro­duc­ing breeds.

The boer goat is of­fi­cially the most fer­tile and pro­duc­tive meat goat in the world and is used in many in­ter­na­tional cross­breed­ing pro­grammes to im­prove the qual­ity and per­for­mance of the in­dige­nous goats of other coun­tries. The boer goat has the abil­ity to turn low-qual­ity grazing into healthy red meat with the low­est choles­terol con­tent after game and os­trich meat.

The meat of young goats or kids is ex­cep­tion­ally ten­der, juicy and flavour­ful, as op­posed to the meat of ma­ture goats, which tends to be tough and could have a strong goaty odour.

Even though goats pro­duce more than enough milk for their lambs, it’s not ad­vis­able to milk them – the lambs need that milk for op­ti­mal growth. >

What goats ex­pect of you

Mu­nic­i­pal reg­u­la­tions on the keep­ing of live­stock vary. In many towns you may keep a limited num­ber of sheep and goats – pro­vided your yard is big enough. Con­tact your lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­ity to en­quire. • Shel­ter Peo­ple in the goat in­dus­try say that if wa­ter can run through a fence, a goat can get through it too. Goats are highly in­tel­li­gent and cu­ri­ous, crave at­ten­tion, and love ex­plor­ing their en­vi­ron­ment. They like climb­ing and will get on top of boul­ders, mounds of soil, walls and even cars if you give them half a chance! Re­search shows that goats who are stim­u­lated enough with a play and clam­ber area are much hap­pier and health­ier than goats kept in a bare camp.

A sturdy, high fence is a must: it should be at least 1,2m high, with chicken mesh up to a height of about 90cm. Also, pack heavy rocks at the foot of the fence so that they can’t find a gap to crawl through.

Goats kept per­ma­nently inside a camp need an area of at least 4m2 per goat. Be­cause they have a smaller per­cent­age of fat than, say, sheep (their wool also doesn’t have the same in­su­lat­ing prop­er­ties), they aren’t suited to spa­ces where they’d be ex­posed to a com­bi­na­tion of driz­zle, cold and wind for days on end. They need shel­ter from wind and rain. • Fod­der Boer goats are very adapt­able and for­age on a large va­ri­ety of veg­e­ta­tion. Like any other live­stock or wildlife, if not man­aged ad­e­quately they can over­graze a camp or yard quite se­verely. In a smaller camp, good-qual­ity fod­der – lucerne or lucerne pel­lets, hay and sorghum – is es­sen­tial, with strate­gic min­eral, vi­ta­min and trace el­e­ment sup­ple­ments when needed.

The cheap­est food source re­mains high-qual­ity nat­u­ral grazing, but they also do well on pas­ture. Re­mem­ber, goats are browsers, not graz­ers – this means they’d rather eat the leaves from trees (es­pe­cially thorn trees) and shrubs (they love branches, even Port Jack­son) than grass. They eas­ily tuck into thorny plants such as bram­bles, thorn bushes, this­tle and net­tle, and also stand on their hind legs to get to plants that would be beyond the reach of sheep. They have an affin­ity for cer­tain bushes and flow­ers, es­pe­cially roses! They will also eat vegetables such as spinach, cab­bage and pump­kin, but th­ese should be seen as treats and not part of their ra­tions.

Fi­nally, make sure they al­ways have ac­cess to fresh, clean wa­ter.

The good things in life

In short, all a goat re­ally wants to do (and this is con­firmed by goat farm­ers), in or­der of im­por­tance, is eat, drink,

play, fight and mate. ( You could say this of cer­tain peo­ple too.– Eds.) Above all, eat­ing is their favourite pas­time.

Your goats will soon learn that you’re the one bring­ing the treats – so make peace with the fact that food will al­ways form the ba­sis of your re­la­tion­ship. Never shout at your goats or hit them. Re­main calm at all times, and don’t make sud­den move­ments or loud noises. Talk softly, be­cause a goat is a goat and not a bliksem.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH to Jo­han Steyn, Wal­ter Curlewis, and Michelle and Marizelle Kruger, who pro­vided in­valu­able in­for­ma­tion and ad­vice for this ar­ti­cle.

ABOVE LEFT Goats are herd an­i­mals – a soli­tary an­i­mal will quickly de­velop be­havioural prob­lems. ABOVE RIGHT Goats mate all year round. The ewes have on av­er­age 1,8 lambs and mul­ti­ple births are common, in­clud­ing triplets.

Jo­han Steyn owns a boer goat stud, the Pa­triot Bo­er­bok­stoet, in the Graaff-Reinet dis­trict in the East­ern Cape. Boer goats pre­fer brows­ing on the leaves of trees and shrubs: about 70% of their diet con­sists of leaves, but they for­age on a wide va­ri­ety of plants. They don’t turn up their noses at grazing on cul­ti­vated pas­ture ei­ther.

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