Boer is an Afrikaans words meaning “farmer,” which sums up the history of the Boer goat (literally, “farmer’s goat”) nicely. From the breed’s origins in South Africa in the early 1900s, the Boer has been the choice of enterprising farmers wherever it has traveled.
The Boer was bred solely for meat production right from the beginning. Its ancestors were varied, including native goats from several African tribes and possibly influenced by some genetics from Europe and India. While the origins of the foundation stock may be slightly obscure, the selection criteria were simple—profitable meat production.
After several decades of breed development, the Boer spread to new countries—illegally. A group of smugglers exported frozen goat embryos to New Zealand to be implanted into does available there. The smugglers were primarily seeking Angora embryos, valuable for their production of mohair. A few Boer embryos were in the shipment, however, and these went on to establish a Boer population in New Zealand.
The first Boer goats in America were descended from the New Zealand herds, arriving on our shores in 1993. These goats were instantly recognized as having considerable entrepreneurial potential, not just as the basis of a goat meat industry, but to supply the ever-extravagant exotic animal trade. Prices of Boer breeding stock soared to absurd and unsustainable highs within a year.
Fortunately, the prices returned to sanity fairly quickly as purebred Boer numbers boomed. Today, values for breeding Boers are comparable to those of other purebred goats, putting this breed within the reach of business-minded farmers across the country. It is now common throughout the United States, but particularly in Texas, where a large-scale goat ranching industry has arisen to supply the demand for goat meat coming from immigrants from Asian, Caribbean, Latin American, and Middle Eastern countries.
The Boer is purely a meat breed. However, because quality breeding stock can still be expensive, most purebred Boer goats are not slaughtered. Instead, they are crossed with other goat breeds to produce less valuable animals for consumption. Most goats actually used for meat are about 7/8 pure Boer.
The other common purpose of a Boer goat is to manage pasture. This breed is good at rustling a living off of scrubby land, making it a good choice for reclaiming low-quality acreage that would otherwise remain useless. The Boer can also maintain high-quality pasture when placed in a rotation with cattle. The goats will clean up the unpalatable weeds left by the cattle, preventing them from taking over.
Boer goats are known for excellent dispositions, being quite even-tempered and docile. In fact, they can become rather petlike in their affection for their people.
On the whole, the Boer is a healthy, hardy, trouble-free goat. However, this record has deteriorated slightly since the breed’s introduction to America. Those who tend to regard their goats as pets have not been rigorous in their selection and culling of breeding stock based on health, while even commercially minded goat-keepers have neglected this important step in an effort to maximize production. It is easy to understand why breeders would want to ensure that their goats have every advantage with regard to feed, vaccinations, parasite preventatives, and other aids, but the fact remains that these practices tend to conceal genetic problems lurking in breeding stock, thus perpetuating bad genes for future generations. This is precisely what has begun to happen in the Boer breed. Fortunately, the downward trend is in its earliest stages and is quite reversible. Buy breeding stock from a goat-keeper who is focused on testing and breeding for health.
Despite the white hair of the Boer goat, sunburn is not a concern. Its skin is pigmented, providing it with adequate protection in even the most unforgivingly hot climates.
One thing that the Boer goat did not develop in its native country was a strong resistance to internal parasites. However, some breeders have focused attention on selecting for this trait with encouraging results. A careful choice of breeding stock will avoid parasite problems for the most part.
Also, Boers, particularly older Boers, can be susceptible to hoof rot, but only when kept in unsanitary conditions. Any appearance of hoof rot in the herd is a sign that an improvement in pasture management is necessary.
- Easy-to-handle disposition.
- Respect of most mesh and electric fencing.
- Adaptability to both extreme heat and cold when provided with a simple shelter.
- Strong instinct to graze even during adverse weather.
- Ability to thrive on brushy pasture.
- Disease resistance.
- High fertility rate.
- Ability to breed year-round.
- High incidence of twins (note that young does usually only have one kid the first time).
- Excellent mothering ability.
- Fast growth rate.
- Heavy muscling.
- Mild flavor, often compared to veal.
- Meat tenderness.
- Premium prices paid by consumers for Boer-influenced goat meat.
- Marked ability to transmit docility, growth rate, and meat quality to crossbred offspring.
- Abundance of poor-quality specimens.
- High feed requirements of goats from show lines (not usually a problem in goats bred for commercial production).
- Susceptibility to internal parasites.