Part of the goat flock at Zvikomborero Farm.

Pathisani Ncube has a wholly indigenous flock of 15 goats that he rears on a 90ha farm in Inyathi, 70km north of Bulawayo. Kalahari sand and thorny shrubs dominate the landscape in Inyathi, enough evidence that the area is dry.

Maize, the national staple crop, does not do well there but smallgrains and livestock do. “Without irrigation, growing maize here is a non-starter, so many of us tend to concentrate on smaller grains and cattle ranching,” Ncube says.

“I could have chosen cattle, but on 90ha that line of business won’t work. That is why I am experimenting with goats. For now, I have an indigenous flock that I want to grow in terms of numbers and quality, but my ambition is to rear Kalahari Reds.

“They are bigger in size and heavier than the Matebele that I have. Because they are bigger and heavier it is obvious that they have more meat than the Matebele. Goats require less in terms of pastureland than cattle, and a ewe can give a farmer three twin births in two years, which is six kids in two years from one ewe.”

More turning commercial

Ncube hopes to learn from a goat farmer in a nearby district, who has done extremely well with Kalahari Reds. He plans to buy Kalahari Red breeding stock this year or early next year. “I visited his farm with a relative who bought a few Reds from him. He is a great example of how to run a successful goat farm,” he said.

The farmer Ncube is referring to is Chris Grant, who runs the Mzilikazi Kalahari Red stud in the Matobo district, some 100km south of Inyathi. Grant has been producing goats for many years but started stud breeding five years ago. He is probably Zimbabwe’s biggest Kalahari Red commercial and stud goat producer.

Zimbabwe has around 3,4 million goats, with the most common breeds being the Matebele and Mashona that are reared on a subsistence basis. However, more farmers are turning commercial. The Boer goat and Kalahari Red, both of which originate from South Africa, are the most preferred. Farmers are encouraged to rear more goats by the presence of a ready local market for chevon from a population who is developing a taste for leaner meats.

There is also huge export potential, according to ZimTrade, a government agency that promotes exports. Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) could be the first export destinations for local chevon.

“A market scan recently conducted by the embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe in the DRC established a potential to supply goat meat to that market. After restrictions on the export of Zimbabwean beef due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, goat meat could be an option for the resuscitation of the meat export business,” says the agency.

International market

The international market for chevon has been on an upward trend as indicated by world imports, which increased by 140% in the eight years up to 2014. The world’s imports of goat meat rose to $372 million from $155 million during the same period. The top importers of goat meat included the UAE ($98 million), Saudi Arabia ($60 million), Bahrain ($33 million), Oman ($14 million), and Qatar ($14 million).

An adult Mashona or Matebele goat fetches no more than $100 on the local market, but prices for a commercial Boer goat or Kalahari Red range between $500 and $600. A farmer wishing to buy the South African breeds for breeding purposes pays at least $1 500 per ewe or ram.

Zvikomborero Gozho specialises in Boer goats at his property further north of Inyathi, in Chegutu near Harare. “We have a big opportunity as a country, but the limitation is that we have not commercialised the goat per se,” says Gozho, who is also secretary of the Boer Goat Breeders’ Association of Zimbabwe (BGBAZ).

“The ongoing transition from subsistence to commercial production has created much demand. Also, Zimbabwe has an advantage because our landscape is favourable for the goat. We have good grazing and shrubs for browsing. That diversity of plant species is good for goats, so a farmer spends less on supplementary feeding.”

Training goat farmers

To help promote Boer goat production, Gozho’s association runs regular training workshops in Harare, often led by South African Boer Goat Breeders’ Society facilitators. Zvikomborero Farms, another big goat producer, runs its own Boer goat and Kalahari Red training programmes at Featherstone in Chivhu, 140km south of Harare.

The Boer Goat Breeders’ Association of Zimbabwe, launched in June 2018, runs a parallel programme as well. “Our courses cover theory and practicals, which is why the training happens at our farm. Participants must actually see what a Boer goat looks like or what the most suitable pens must look like so that when they return to their farms they know how everything must be done,” says an official at Zvikomborero Farms.

While some producers such as Mzilikazi Kalahari Red stud and Zvikomborero Farms are doing really well, many others still have a lot to learn. At a livestock revitalisation conference held in Harare in May 2017, a senior government official, Joseph Sikhosana, said the general quality of goats in the country is uncompetitive, while their productivity is often hampered by high kid mortality and poor animal husbandry practices.

No certified Boer goat stud

Zimbabwe has a few hundred commercial Boer goat breeders but not a single certified Boer goat stud. “We are not being insensitive when we say our country doesn’t have a certified Boer goat stud. Even I as secretary of the association have not reached the stage where I can qualify for certification,” said Gozho.

“There are a number of factors to consider before one can get certification. You need to have genuine stud stock. Each of the animals must be recorded in terms of paternity and maternity. The farmer’s operating environment is also important because your stock must never come into contact with other breeds. This means that issues such as fencing off your farm to secure your stock from possible contamination from outside goats, that may not be pedigree Boer goats, are critical.

“I must also add that for one to qualify for certification, you must have passed a minimum of two advanced courses. The breeder’s farm must be inspected to ensure that the records, facilities and breeding programme are in tune with the international standards as outlined by the South African Boer Goat Breeders’ Society.

“Unfortunately, not a single farmer has reached that stage so far in Zimbabwe. What we have are just commercial Boer goat breeders. We have stud stock here and there, but we do not have registered stud breeders.”

Questions to be asked

Mhlupheki Dube, livestock specialist and newspaper columnist, urged the government to play a leading role in ensuring that livestock breeders adhere to standards so that buyers of their stock are not defrauded. “When farmers pay top dollar for a goat that is claimed to be a Boer goat they have aims and objectives they want to achieve – among them infusing high performing genetics of the Boer breed,” he wrote in the 26 August 2018 issue of Sunday News.

“Yet some unscrupulous dealers prey on the inadequacy of knowledge and experience of some of the farmers. They know that most farmers think that every goat with a brown head and white body is a Boer goat. It may not be.

“Also, if in fact it is a Boer goat, how much of the Boer genetics is it carrying? That is, what generation of the cross-breed is it? These are important questions that need to be answered to help the farmer choose better and perhaps pay an amount that is commensurate with characteristics of the product.” Ian Nkala, Stockfarm