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GREAT Potential in a New Industry

Richard V. (Rick) Machen, Ph.D. - Asst. Prof. and Extension Livestock Specialist,
Texas Agricultural Extension Service - Uvalde, Texas

While browsing through a livestock industry publication recently, I came across an unusual add. Occupying a single column and tucked inconspicuously amidst the help wanted pages inside the back cover, it read:


Person or persons to provide leadership for a lean red meat producing industry. Must have a vision for the future and ability to focus an industry with tremendous enthusiasm, yet lacking a sense of direction. Person(s) must be an energetic, goal-oriented team player and a futuristic thinker not bound by tradition. Untiring positive attitude preferred; excellent people skills a must. For further information, contact your nearest meat goat producer.

Never before has there been such interest and enthusiasm within the U.S. meat goat industry. Never before has the need for production goals and a common sense of direction been greater. Interest and excitement in the industry has primarily been spurred by one event - the introduction of the Boer goat. Introduction of new breeds (almost regardless of species) is always exciting. In the short term, the lucrative market values resulting from high demands on a limited supply stimulate interest. However, the true worth (long-term) of any breed is not established until significant contributions to commodity (i.e. lean meat) production have been made.

What then, are some of the possible contributions the Boer goat will make toward the long-term viability of the meat goat industry? Following is a brief discussion of some of the Boer goat's unique attributes.

Muscle Mass:
Although little carcass data is available to support this claim, observation of the goats and comparison to typical domestic meat goats leads one to conclude that the Boer goat is a more muscular breed of goat. More muscle mass translates into greater body weight at a given age. If the marketing structure ever changes from a "by the head" to a "per pound of body weight" basis, heavier muscled slaughter goats will have a higher market value.

Heavier muscling may also provide opportunities for implementation of different carcass fabrications and diversification of the size and type of goat meat products offered to the retail consumer and HRI patron.
Body Capacity and Mass:
Beef cattle, sheep and swine breeders have proven that substance of bone, structural correctness of feet and legs, spring of rib, depth of side and chest floor width are essential components in the development of a functional, productive, meat-producing animal. Of the breeds available to U.S. breeders, the Boer is most likely to contribute body capacity and mass.

In addition, the Boer appears to have a larger rumen volume (gut fill) than most domestic goats. In terms of lean meat produced per unit of input, goats cannot compete with the other red meat producing species on grasslands, improved pastures or on concentrate feeds. However, on native ranges with substantial quantities of palatable browse, goats have a competitive advantage and are most efficient in the conversion of browse to muscle protein. The Boer's possible contribution of additional gut fill could result in enhanced forage (browse) intake and improved performance.
Producer observations will substantiate the claim that Boer goats have a greater appetite than other breeds. One opportunity in the meat goat industry is the development of a more continuous supply of goat meat. By nature, goats are somewhat seasonal breeders; breed Sept-Nov and kid Feb-May. Unlike beef, pork and lamb, the goat industry has never developed a "feedlot" phase. One reason for the absence of an intensive feeding phase is the goat's poor appetite and relatively inefficient conversion of feed to body weight. While fattening goats in a feedlot is certainly not advocated here, some "time on feed" may eventually be required to support a continuous supply of goat meat. If so, the Boer goat's apparent ability to influence feeding behavior may prove beneficial.
Maternal Ability:
In South Africa, Boer does exhibit strong maternal instincts and admirable flocking behavior, are prolific and have a relatively long breeding season - traits that warrant consideration and inclusion in the development of an American meat goat.

Boer does also have excellent udder confirmation. Dairy breeds are making a significant contribution to the mature size of the meat goat population, but at the same time may shorten the longevity of many crossbred does due to udder unsoundness. The magnitude of effect the Boer can have on maternal characteristics remains unquantified.

>A word of caution deserves inclusion here. Currently, meat goats are at the same stage of development as the beef cattle industry of 1960. In the fifteen plus years following 1960, new breeds of cattle were imported into the U.S. - breeds with heavier muscle, larger mature size and greater milk production potential. Bigger was better so cattlemen spent twenty years building better cattle, often times with little consideration of consumer concerns or environmental constraints. In the late 1980's, the beef industry realized the need for consumer input and the identification of production targets. The "box" became a major production target and many cattle didn't achieve the objective. Moderation, predictability and consistency are now focal points. So how is this related to Boer goats and the meat goat industry?

Considering the breeds available, the potential exists to develop a meat goat that is too big and too productive for the environment in which it has a competitive advantage. Therefore, it is imperative that breeders identify a production system appropriate for their environment, then develop a goat that efficiently performs therein.

Positive impacts on growth and phenotypic characteristics are substantiated by breeder observations and limited applied research data. Data collected on spring 1994 born 1/2 bloods indicate individual 90 day weaning weights in excess of 36 kg are possible and marketable product produced per doe can exceed 68 kg by 90 days postpartum. Preliminary results from a Texas A&M study comparing Spanish to 1/2 Boer, 1/2 Spanish kids indicates inclusion of the Boer positively affected growth rate, especially in the postweaning phase.

The industry desperately needs a production target or target(s) on which to focus, a goal at which to aim, a clear direction towards success. For the bulk of the industry, long term viability may hinge on the breeder's ability to develop a prolific, fast growing animal with desirable carcass characteristics that can be sustained and productive on a browse diet. The Boer goat can play a significant role in that process.

The meat goat industry is searching for leadership and direction. Someone once said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it." Boer goats have captured the industry spotlight and currently hold everyone's attention. Perhaps the time is right for them and their breeders to step forward in answer to the WANTED add.


About The Author

Richard V. (Rick) Machen, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor & Extension Livestock Specialist
Texas Agricultural Extension Service
Texas A&M University System

>Dr. Machen is the Extension Livestock Specialist for 21 counties in central and southwest Texas. He holds an appointment in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M University, and his livestock production responsibilities include beef cattle, sheep, goats, wool and mohair. He directs and coordinates Extension educational programs related to livestock production, conducts applied research, and provides technical assistance to livestock producers.

Since the introduction of the Boer goat in 1993, Dr. Machen has spent an appreciable amount of time evaluating its impact on meat goat production. Research efforts have focused on preweaning growth and performance of Boer sired kids. In addition, feeding studies have been conducted to evaluate post-weaning performance and carcass characteristics of percentage Boer wethers.

Richard V. (Rick) Machen, Ph.D.
Texas A&M Research & Extension Center
P. O. Box 1849
Uvalde, TX 78802-1849

Phone: (210) 278-9151
Fax: (210) 278-4008


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