Boer goats prove easy to raise, challenging to sell

Julia Hollister/For the Capital Press The Rossotti Ranch is home to African Boer goats like these in Petaluma, Calif. The breed originated in South Africa and is slowly making inroads in California livestock and meat production.

Animals gain weight rapidly, and meat is known for nutritional benefits

By JULIA HOLLISTER

For The Capital Press

In 2005, Julie and Tony Rossotti of Petaluma, Calif., were looking for something different in livestock production and found what they wanted -- something "new" with an old history.

"We found the African Boer goats in Oklahoma as part of a drought rescue project," Julie said. "Their size suited my needs because they were small so that I could 'ranch' them on my own. Goats also graze well with other animals."

The Boer goat has a long history. It was developed in South Africa as a breed meant solely for meat production. The term "Boer" refers to the descendants of the Dutch immigrants, or Boers, most of them farmers, who settled the country. The breed is considered superior to any other goat for meat production. It is known for rapid weight gain, heavy muscling and high fertility. Boer goats typically give birth to twins.

Agriculture is not a new venture for the Rossottis. Tony is a fifth-generation farmer; Julie, fourth-generation. They were looking to diversify from beef cattle raising and became interested in Boer goats. It's hard to pin down the number of Boer goat operations in California because many, like the Rossottis' herd, are not registered and come under the category of agricultural products rather than breeding or show animals.

Goat meat has many health benefits, and only chicken has fewer calories than goat meat. Although goat meat is considered more healthful than pork, beef and lamb and lower in cholesterol, fat and saturated fat, trying to convince customers to try it can be a hard sell.

"I think the biggest hurdle is that there is no 'subtitle' for goats," Julie said. "There is beef for cattle, lamb for sheep, pork for pigs and poultry for chicken, but goat is goat. What's more, 'kid' is a very human term."

The 125 goats in the herd are 100 percent grass-fed and protected from predators (coyotes and bobcats) by a massive Great Pyrenees named Kate. The goats also earn their keep by clearing pasture land of invasive thistles, weeds and shrubs.

The majority of the goats kid from December to April, so there is always a fresh goat supply available.

Goats are processed at eight to 10 months in Occidental (Marin County) and sold online directly to the customer (www.rossottiranch.com), through the Sonoma Meat Buyer's Club and at the Marin County Farmers Market.

Carcasses range in price from $130 (under 20 pounds) to $175 (30-40 pounds). Harvesting is $30, and cut and wrap is $35. Special cuts -- ground, loin and other selections -- are available.

"I think the only real problem about raising goats is developing a local market for the meat, especially in a society whose population does not typically eat goat," Julie said. "But we are trying to change that."

Freelance writer Julia Hollister is based in San Francisco. E-mail: juliawrites@earthlink.net.

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