SALEM, Ohio — Where did those redheaded goats come from?
That depends on whether you want the long or the short story.
In Ohio, the short story is that one of the first places to bring them in was Ohio Valley Farms in Belmont County, where Mike and Pam Borsch went all the way to Florida in 1995 for their first load.
Now there are large and small herds all over the state, and redheaded Boer goats are one of the hottest new farm animals going. They are bred specifically for the meat.
Not all of the red heads in Ohio are pure-blooded Boer, the progeny of the first embryos brought to the United States in 1993 from South Africa by way of New Zealand.
Boer goat genetics was mixed with all kinds of native varieties, primarily Spanish meat goats from Texas. These crossbreeds are known to breeders as the percentages.
As they have caught on, however, breeders have been breeding them back to pureblood animals to produce what they call fullblood goats, goats that are at least 7/8 Boer genetics.
Right now, the International Boer Goat Association in the United States has registered less than 1,200 purebloods, 23,500 fullbloods, and almost 27,000 percentages.
There are now more than 40 members of the Ohio Meat Goat Association, and 10 Boer goat breeders from Belmont, Fairfield, Guernsey, Hancock, Hocking, Muskingum, Pickaway, and Wood counties are currently listed in the association’s breeders directory.
The association held its first wether and doe kid sale last March in Lancaster, with 91 buyers bidding for 76 head. And in July it is bringing South African Boer goat judges to Ohio to conduct a sanctioned two-day judges’ training session.
And the American Boer Goat Association will have its first-ever show at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville this coming November.
Boers are the descendants of native South African goats used for both meat and milk.
In Dutch, boer means farm. The native goats were adopted by the 18th century Dutch settlers to South Africa as farm goats. The Boer goat emerged from selective breeding as a distinct breed at about the turn of the 20th century.
Bred for the meat characteristics, they are also a compact, well-proportioned animal with high growth rates, high fertility rates, and short hair with red markings around the head and shoulder.
With the founding of a Boer Goat Breeders Association in South Africa in 1959, breed standards were adopted that included the red head and a blaze and well fleshed legs and good thighs and hindquarters.
When the Borsches bought their first goats, there were no herds in Ohio, although they located about 40 breeders across the southern states.
Fullblood goats, at that time, were selling for $10,000 or more.
Pam Borsch said they had been looking for a profitable and sustainable product for their hilly Belmont County farm, where raising crops is not possible.
Because the fullblood Boers were so expensive, she said, they started with a load of 19 Spanish meat goat does that had been bred to a pureblood Boer buck.
At the same time they also bought their own Boer buck to breed the does they would get from their first crop of kids.
Later, she said, they began buying pureblood does in order to maintain a breeding stock of purebloods to sell to other breeders or for show animals.
But the biggest part of their herd of 60 goats is still percentage goats, and that is the way they prefer it, she said.
The 7/8 percentage is probably a better meat goat than the pureblood Boer, Borsch said. “They are a little less fatty.”
The Borsches have been meticulous in developing a genetic tracking system, slaughtering their goats themselves to check for meat qualities, and then buying bucks to breed for the qualities they determined they still needed.
But right now, they are not selling many goats for meat. Because market meat goats have become “one of the hottest 4-H projects in the state,” Borsch said, they are selling almost every kid they produce for 4-H, and still have a waiting list.
“I am aiming toward getting into the meat goat Christmas market, when the price goes up,” she said.
She would like to split half of her percentage herd to produce in October, so the kids would be ready for market by Christmas. Most of their does are geared toward producing in January and February, when the kids are needed for 4-H.
“I hate to see the children having to leave the state of Ohio to get a market goat,” she said. “I want them to be able to stay right here and buy Buckeye.”
One of the breeders that Ohio Valley Farms has helped to get started is Mel Jackson of Kimbolton in Guernsey County, whose goat was the top-selling wether at the March meat goat sale, bringing $290.
Mel and A.J. now have about 23 does and a buck sired by the Borsch’s prize-winning buck, Sweet William.
“It started as a hobby,” Jackson said, “a way to keep from having to mow so much lawn. But you get addicted.”
Jackson said that although he was no farmer, he wanted to start raising animals on the ground he has around his house.
He and his wife looked at a lot of different possibilities, he said, but it wasn’t until they spotted a redheaded goat out in a field that they found what they wanted.
“When we saw them, we just loved them for their size, their gentleness,” Jackson said. “They are something unique.”
Making money from the goats wasn’t his original intention, he said. But the herd he now keeps in pens and pastures on the land behind his house has turned into a profitable venture.
“I don’t usually have to take them to auction to sell them,” Jackson said, “but I did take one wether recently.”
“I sat there listening to everyone else complain about the prices they were getting — 12-cents a pound for hogs, 58-cents for prime beef. I sold my goat for $1.25 a pound on the hoof.”
When most people think of goat meat, Jackson said, they think of stringy, tough old billie goat. To compare Boer meat to that, he said, is like comparing Black Angus beef to that from a milk cow.
Pam Borsch said if a goat is raised correctly, not allowed to get too old or too heavy, and is sold at about 110 pounds, the meat will be juicy and tender.
“I want to produce goats that people will say, ‘Wow, look at that rump roast’,” Borsch said. “We want good cuts of meat that you can put directly on the grill.”
And there is a market for goat meat. In 1998 the United States still imported 3.8 million carcasses.
“At Columbus last year,” Borsch said, “we were approached by a Somolian inquiring about availability from the breeders. He told us there are several thousand Somolians in the Columbus area alone. They have to go to Michigan to get enough goat meat.
“He’s an Ohio person,” Borsch said. “He should be able to purchase an Ohio product.”