The demand for high quality, lean, healthy red meat is the one of the underlining forces behind the development of the American meat goat industry. With a growing base of ethnic consumers, the demand for goat meat continues to increase in the United States each year. The importation of goat meat into the United States is estimated over 30 million dollars annually, and over half of the goat meat eaten in the U S is from feral goats imported from Australia.
When the Spanish explorers came to North America, they brought goats as a meat source. Some of these goats either escaped or were released when alternate meat sources were discovered. These feral goats became known as “Spanish” or “brush goats.” Although not of a specific breed ancestry, they have developed through natural selection. These goats never received much documented attention, so the history is hard to verify, but Spanish goats in this country show their DNA to be of Iberian origin. The term has also been used to describe any goat of unknown ancestry. Most are wild or at least semi-wild. Size varies greatly due to climate, terrain and available breeding stock. Body shape, ear shape, horns, hair and color are non consistent.
For the next couple of centuries the goats were used for milk, meat, hair, and hides. They survived well with minimal management, and those that became feral survived with no human management at all. They also adapted well to their regions, and natural selection was the norm, producing a breed of goat that was an exceptionally well-adapted survivor.
Goats were some of the last animals to captivate the interest of large-scale livestock breeders and commercial markets. Cows and sheep had all of the attention, and next to that were pigs and chickens. The Spanish goats thus escaped the intensive and industrialized livestock management practices that became so popular in the 19th and 20th century. In this country, in the 1840’s, a goat was still just a goat.
The development of the Boer goat in the early 1900’s can be traced to the Dutch farmers of South Africa. Boer is a Dutch word meaning farmer. With meat production setting the selection criteria, the Dutch farmers developed the Boer goat as a unique breed of livestock. The Boer goat has a rapid growth rate, excellent carcass qualities and is highly adapted to different environments. Through the subsequent decades of selective breeding, the Boer goat gained its genetic superiority and nobility, laying the foundation for the improved Boer Goat and the basis for today’s American Boer goat. The first full-blood Boers were brought into the United States in 1993. Since that time a tremendous amount of interest in breeding Boer and Boer influence goats has exploded in the United States.
The South Africans carefully selected and bred goats to produce the traditional Boer goat which a goat with a white body and a red head. There are also grade Boer goats that may be solid reds or white, or paints or dapples. While most of these can be registered with the Boer breed associations in the USA, in South Africa only the traditionals can be registered. Docile, high fertility and a fast growth rate are some of the traits that set the Boer goat apart in the purebred and commercial segments of the American meat goat industry. Mature Does can weigh between 190- 230 lb and mature Boer bucks can weigh between 200 – 340 lb.
The Kiko goat was created for meat production by Garrick and Anne Batten of Nelson in the northern South Island of New Zealand during the 1980's. The Battens crossbred selected local ferel goats with imported dairy goat bucks, namely from the Nubian, Saanen and Toggenburg breeds, aiming for hardiness, fast growth and survivability with little input from the producer. Kiko is from the Maori word meaning flesh or meat.
After four generations of selective breeding – selection being on the grounds of survivability and growth rate in a hill country environment – a dramatic improvement in liveweight and animal performance was achieved. By 1986 the Kiko breed was established and the herd was closed to further cross-breeding. Within New Zealand, control of the breed remained with the original developers. Kikos were exported to the United States in the 1992, where breeders were looking to improve meat production by crossing with the indigenous Spanish goats.
The Kiko breed was slow to catch on in the United States, but has gained popularity in recent years, particularly in the South East and other humid areas due to good parasite resistance and motherability.
[PIctures courtesy Dr. An Peischel, Goats Unlimited.]