Goats do roam
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.