There is growing concern about the direction Boergoat breeding is taking in South Africa. Driven by overly exuberent prices obtained on local auctions, and the urge to continuously improve thereon, breeders are increasingly resorting to feeding full rations to their Boergoats from a young age already. By following this feedlot-like route, animals reach significant size and weight in a short period of time, often at the expense of the economically important traits for which the Boergoat has become greatly in demand around the world.
While a healthy market for good breeding stock is good for the industry and indicates confidence in the future of the small stock sector, a situation is developing where record-breaking prices obtained on auctions are the rule rather than the exception. At a recent auction the average price of does was around R15000 (US$1936) while the record price obtained for a doe was reportedly R45000 (US$5800). This is true of the livestock and game ranching industry in general in South Africa at the moment — in 2011 a buffalo bull on auction was sold for R18 million (US$2,32 million). There are a few driving factors behind this.
Government funding of emerging farmers and agricultural syndicates is an important element. Bidding with government money behind you normally doesn’t require much restraint nor knowledge of the product being bought. The increasing involvement of businessmen with capital from outside the agricultural industry and not primarily reliant on income generated from their farming activities is another driver. This is causing the development of — to use a commonly used term — a bubble, that is, in the opinion of many long-time producers, economically unsustainable in the medium to long term.
Certainly, some of the economically important factors of the Boergoat such as hardiness and adaptability, are being sacrificed to this new trend. This is a dangerous route to follow, given that the Boergoat has been selected for precisely these factors.
A growing number of established stockmen with a long animal husbandry history and significant breeding achievements are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the performance of supposedly top animals bought on auctions. They cite rapid loss of condition under natural grazing conditions, lack of libido, low fertility, inability to produce on natural veld grazing without significant feeding and poor functionality as some of their main concerns. The longer term issue for the industry in general will be the proliferation of inferior genetics at the expense of hardiness and adaptability. Particularly producers in the more extensive regions of South Africa as well as in Botswana and Namibia are concerned.
This is good news for producers of veld-raised animals, a model characterised by low input costs, significant natural disease resistance and only strategic nutritional supplementation as opposed to full feed rations. Interest in veld-ram projects is increasing and more potential buyers are seeking production data from producers before buying.
Boergoat producers should be jealously guarding and improving this truly indigenous breed, remaining true to its heritage of being able to profitably produce on minimum inputs under extensive conditions.
The previous record price for a buffalo bull was broken on 14 April when Chris Troskie, son of a South African film-maker, paid R20 million ( about US$2,4 million) for a buffalo bull at a game auction near Rustenburg, South Africa. Troskie narrowly outbid Cyril Ramaphosa, an exceedingly rich ANC businessman who obtained his fortunes thanks to crony capitalism and the ANC’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) laws. Neither of the above are farmers.