If you are looking for a sustainable meat source, organically raised Boer goats might be the answer. According to Gail Bowman, Northwest Coordinator of the International Boer Goat Association, Boer goats are the most rapidly growing industry in United States agriculture, and with good reason. Boer goats are hardy and easily managed, making them an ideal choice for new farmers or established farms looking to get the most out of their pasture.
About Boer Goats
Boer goats were developed for meat production in South Africa, where farmers, or Boers, in Afrikaans, were looking to create a breed that would produce the most meat possible on minimal pasture. Early in the twentieth century, breeders crossed imported European goats with several breeds that were already thriving on the continent to create a breed that was efficient, hardy and reproductively successful on limited pasture. The eventual result of these efforts was the breed now known as the Boer goat, a large, tough breed of meat goat that is able to survive and thrive under conditions that would not support other types of livestock. A few of the advantageous characteristics of the breed include:
- Large and double-muscled, enabling greater meat production over less time
- Comfortable in a variety of climates
- Pleasant-tempered and easy to manage
- High birth rate
- High survival rate
- Tender, mild-flavored meat
- Feed and space efficiency
- Ability to produce high-quality meat on poor pasture
Many of the characteristics that made Boer goats a desirable breed for harsh conditions a century ago also make them an ideal breed for organic farming practices today. Farmers wanting to avoid veterinary intervention choose Boer goats for their hardiness, and small-scale farmers are able to produce profitable meat on a small acreage.
Organic Management Considerations
Boer goats tend to do well under most conditions, but do have certain issues that need to be addressed. As with any goats, the primary concern when managing Boer goats is preventing intestinal parasites. This is doubly important for organically raised Boer goats, as the use of antihelmintic medication would preclude organic certification. To prevent parasite infestation, farmers need enough acreage to practice pasture rotation and interfere with the life cycle of the parasites.
A fact sheet published by Virginia State University recommends keeping several pastures and rotating cereal crops, legumes, forage, cover crops and animal grazing. Additionally, as younger animals are more susceptible to parasitic infection, farmers should usually reserve the 'cleanest' pastures for the youngest animals, and consider grazing kids separately from does to prevent the spread of parasites from adults to juveniles.
Buying Organically Raised Boer Goats
Even though the trend has only recently spread to North America, it is estimated that roughly 70 percent of red meat consumed worldwide is goat meat. Goat meat has a lower fat content than either lamb or beef, and their smaller pasture requirements make goats a more environmentally sustainable meat choice than larger animals. So where can you buy organic Boer goats or goat meat?
- Check the United States Boer Goat Association member list for a breeder in your area.
- In Canada, look for breeding stock or meat producers using the Canadian Meat Goat Association website.
- Not all members listed in the associations above are organic farms, so you may have to do a little digging. Alternatively, search specifically for organic meat using the Organic Trade Association member list.
For smaller, local producers, search farmer's markets, classified ads or specialty grocers. If you are looking to purchase your own livestock, try to establish a relationship with your breeder whenever possible. By getting to know your breeder before you buy, you will have a better understanding of your goats' lineage and health history, and have an experienced ally to turn to if you encounter any problems along the way.