Bright future with indigenous veld goats

Vhutolo Khangale believes farming is the best way to fight poverty. He says easy-care, hardy and adaptable indigenous veld goats have tremendous economic value to offer, especially to Africa’s poorly resourced smallholder farmers. Vhutolo talks to Peter Mashala about the benefits of farming the Indigenous Veld Goat breed.

Vhutolo Khangale believes farming is the best way to fight poverty. He says easy-care, hardy and adaptable indigenous veld goats have tremendous economic value to offer, especially to Africa’s poorly resourced smallholder farmers. Vhutolo talks to Peter Mashala about the benefits of farming the Indigenous Veld Goat breed.

In his early years Vhutolo Khangale spent time looking after his dad’s livestock on a small plot near Thohoyandou in Venda, Limpopo. His father, Moses Khangale, is the chief of the Ha-Makhuvha village under the Rambuda Traditional Council just outside Thohoyandou.

His farming background gave Vhutolo a longing to have his own animals and when he started working as a traffic officer in 2016 he bought five goats with his first salary. He says young people feel farming is just hard labour and is a backward activity that does not pay well. “This is not true.” Vhutolo adds. “Farming is a rewarding career that can solve the problems of poverty and unemployment.”

STARTING WITH VILLAGE GOATS

The first goats Vhutolo bought were mixed breed animals from various local farmers. “I’ve always been surrounded by mixed-breed village goats and knew nothing about different breeds. I was just buying goats in the village and practicing terminal crossbreeding. I had no idea that genetics were so critical to livestock farming,” he explains.

He had no formal training in agriculture and all his knowledge and experience came from working with his dad. A natural entrepreneur, he sold animals using Facebook as a marketing tool. This created a connection between Vhutolo and Emmanuel Mudau, chairman of Limpopo’s Indigenous Veld Goat (IVG) Club, who wanted to buy goats from him.

“He called me and we arranged a time for him to come and see the goats. During his visit we had a long conversation about farming goats, and he motivated me to farm indigenous veld goats,” says Vhutolo.

“The rest is history. I haven’t looked back since then.” There were difficulties in the beginning. The aspiring veld goat farmer was inundated with negative comments from other goat farmers. When Vhutolo told them of his plans to sell all his goats and start over with IVG they said he was making a big mistake.

“People said I should get a good Boer Goat ram to improve my flock,” he recalls. Vhutolo says there is a popular misconception in Venda that IVG are smelly goats, don’t grow out well and are not productive or profitable. “They have even given them the derogatory name ‘zwikemba’, which means ‘I’m sorry’.”

Despite the negative feedback, he sold all his goats, bought a few IVG ewes and a ram and went ahead with his plan to breed veld goats. He also started on a course of intensive reading and research so that he could better understand the IVG ecotypes. “Through this study and by visiting some breeders, I realised that much of what my fellow villagers were saying was based on ignorance,” he explains.

PERFORMANCE AND PROFIT WITH IVG

Vhutolo says switching to IVG was the best decision he could have made. His kidding and weaning rates have improved significantly, and twins and triplets are becoming the norm. The kid mortality rate of his flock has dropped to less than 5%. He points out that there is very little intervention in terms of supple­ mentary feeding or vaccinations. “I do not vaccinate my goats and I only treat them when they are sick,” he says.

Vhutolo is a founder member of the Limpopo IVG Club and says he has come to appreciate the enormous potential of these naturally functionally efficient goats. Hardy and adaptable animals, they are parasite tolerant and more disease­ and drought­ resistant than other breeds. They forage by grazing and browsing on a variety of shrubs, trees and grasses and can move easily and walk long distances.

Indigenous Veld Goats are known for their high fertility even under difficult conditions and are excellent mothers. The IVG has been criticised for its smaller body frame by farmers who do terminal crossbreeding in the villages with breeds like the Boer goat or the Kalahari Red. But some of the IVG types are larger framed and Vhutolo says farmers can also select to produce larger framed animals.

“The key to any breeder’s success is selection. Don’t expect too much from your herd if you fail in selection. You must know the history of the animals you bring into your herd, otherwise you will be working backwards,” he says.

His personal preference, because of his farming environment, is for medium­frame animals. He also thinks breeders who focus strongly on selecting for a larger body frame, and more carcass weight, could lose functional traits like hardiness.

“I have limited grazing as I’m in the middle of the village. My medium­frame animals are easier to maintain and need less feed. They stay fertile even in very dry months,” he says. Veld goats are not selective grazers or browsers and will eat whatever forage is available, he explains. In the often extremely hot climate of subtropical Venda the thick and pigmented hide of the IVG breed protects them from the sun.

BREEDING ON COMMUNAL LANDS

Vhutolo selects his goats the natural way, so the toughest animals are kept and the weaker ones are culled. “We don’t vaccinate against heartwater although we live in a heartwater area. If an animal can’t survive heartwater, then it shouldn’t be in the flock,” he explains. He does however treat kids that contract the disease and most of these kids survive.

The goats always have some ticks on their hides to help build resistance to tick-borne diseases. Vhutolo doses animals for worms and other internal parasites only when it is absolutely necessary. Vhutolo says the communal land setup presents its own challenges, which can make it difficult to operate. His biggest concern is to avoid contamination of the IVG bloodline. This needs careful hands-on management.

His flock is always watched by a herdsman and grazes separately from the village flocks. The goats go out from 11 am to 2.30 pm when they are taken to water. They go out again at 3 pm after drinking and come back in for the night at about 5.30 pm.

“Every morning we check to see where most of the village flock has been driven. At 11 am when we let our animals out the herdsman drives them to the opposite side of the pasture,” says Vhutolo. He feeds a supplementary ration, of goat pellets and lucerne, in the morning and again in the afternoon. The amount of ration fed depends on the body condition of the animals.

“When they have a low body condition score (BCS) I feed them every day but if the BCS is good we give them supplements every other day.” As Vhutolo does not have the land to separate the animals into different camps, he manages the breeding intensively.

“We monitor the goats at breeding to make sure we are using the right rams for the ewes. We must be careful to avoid inbreeding, so we take cycling ewes out [of the ewe flock] to make sure they are put to the right rams,” says Vhutolo.

His house is not far from the kraals so he also checks his animals and does not leave everything to his herdsman. “When the rams make funny sounds, I can tell they are following ewes on heat. That’s when I check to see if the ram is following an ewe from the right bloodline and if necessary I separate him,” he says.

A HEALTHY MARKET

Vhutolo says indigenous veld goats fetch better prices at live markets than they do at carcass markets. There is a huge market for veld goats, particularly in the informal sector. “Besides selling breeding material to other farmers, I also sell goats for meat, especially for traditional ceremonies that require a specific colour of goat,” he explains.

Veld goats perform better in the traditional ceremony market than the uniform colour breeds because the market has specific colour demands. Formal markets, particularly breeders’ sales, are also valuable platforms, says Vhutolo. “I’ve sold a few rams to breeders for good prices.”

Vhutolo is to take part in the Limpopo IVG Club’s upcoming breeders’ sale at the Polokwane Vleissentraal saleyard. “Emmanuel has helped me choose some young rams for this auction. I would love to participate in national auctions and have also applied to become a registered IVG Breeders’ Association stud breeder,” Vhutolo says.

Contact: Emmanuel Mudau at 079 277 5823 or emmuofhe@gmail.com

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