Second only to dogs in the length of time since their domestication, goats have been managed by man for approximately 12,000 years. At Isle of Man Goats we concentrate on two breeds of goat, the Angora goat and the South African Boer goat. Angoras are classed as one of the world’s ancient goat breeds, whereas South African Boer goats are one of the newest.
Boer is the Dutch word for farmer and this breed was developed by Dutch Farmers settled in South Africa in the early part of the 19th Century. The Boer goat is completely different in appearance from the established dairy goat just as meat and dairy cattle differ. Developed specifically for meat it is a stocky animal with short legs, a broad chest and a thick rump. Apart from the Boer’s distinguished colours of dark chestnut head and white body and its evident docility, the main characteristics are its body conformation, which makes the Boer the first meat-producing breed of goat in the world. The breed continues to be selectively bred for its size and muscle mass, essential characteristics of any meat species.
The Boer goat first came to the UK in the 1980s and rapidly became a very popular choice for small holders. In recent years the breed has become more widely recognised as a viable source of top quality meat with much healthier levels of good fats and nutrients compared to traditional British meats. Indeed top quality grass fed Boer meat contains around one tenth of the fat of lamb but has as much protein and in fact more iron than beef.
The Boer herd has two kiddings when the young goats, the kids, are born on the farm. A small number of Does kid over Christmas and they and their kids spend around 8 to 10 weeks in the comfort of the barn out of the Winter weather. The new kids and their mums gradually get used to being outside before they are turned out onto fresh pasture, with purpose built shelter, as the better weather starts.
The main herd kids from mid March onwards. All new mums and their kids spend at least 36 hours in the barn whatever the weather when they first kid. Goat kids are fragile and are unable to regulate their body temperature at first. We keep a very close eye on all the expectant mums and the ones that have new kids, checking them all every two to three hours day and night until all the Does have kidded and all the new kids are doing well.
Goats are usually great mums are there are few problems of abandonment or rejection. Some of our older goats are such good protective mums that it is not safe to go in with them at all for the first few hours after their kids are born. Most mums are left to bond naturally with their new kids and we only interfere if we can see there is a problem.
Once a Doe has bonded properly and is feeding her kids well (our kids get all the milk their mums produce) they are turned out into fresh pasture, always of course with proper shelter.
The Does and kids spend the rest of spring and the summer months together. The does gradually wean the kids as the youngsters eat more and more grass. Eventually the kids are fully weaned when they are separated from the Does. This is very important for the Does as they need a break before they go back to the bucks to mate and start the whole process again. The weaned kids live in a big group usually with an old doe to guide them. They will have grown rapidly over the spring and summer on their mother’s milk and fresh chemical free pasture. Some kids go for meat towards the end of their first summer and some take a little more growing which gives us a year round supply of fresh Boer meat for our customers.
The breeding males are called bucks. Isle of Man Goats currently run three Boer bucks: Cockerham Victor who was our foundation buck when we first started; Beech Hay Idealist our second buck whose sire was a Champion at the first UK Boer Breed Show in June 2013; and our latest buck Beaufort Commander who started ‘work’ on the farm in October 2015 at seven months old. Commander came to the UK as an embryo from Australia and his blood lines go back to some of the biggest and most famous Boer goats bred in South Africa. It will be very exciting to see the kids he sires in the years to come given his outstanding genetics. Victor, Bertie, and Commander will spend every spring and early summer with the Angora bucks. The Boer bucks start work at the end of July to sire the kids that will be born at Christmas time. They each then work their larger group in the Autumn to sire the kids that will be born in the main kidding in mid March onwards. Ballanorman goat farm opens to the public twice a year for Kidding Chaos.
Isle of Man Goats is proud to have one of the largest Boer herds in the British Isles and enjoys a growing reputation for the superb taste and quality of its grass fed Boer meat.