Goatcha! Grand plan for rural farmers works a treat
NGO aims to help goat herders double their production in a year and lift entire communities out of poverty
Last year goat farmer Mvezelwa Mchune had to look on helplessly as 40 of his 75 newborn goats died.
This year he is cautiously optimistic thanks to an NGO, goat agribusiness Mdukatshani, that helps farmers like him grow their herds.
This year his goats had 98 kids, with the latest one born on Friday. Most of the kids are already three months old. And not one has died.
“All are alive because [I am] feeding them,” said Mchune, who is from Msinga in KwaZulu-Natal.
Now, if he manages to sell his goats at one year old, each for the going price of R1,000, this year’s new herd is worth about R100,000.
“This year is better than last year,” a relieved Mchune said.
Farmer Rauri Alcock, who runs Mdukatshani to help 20,000 rural people, said if local goat herders could double production in a year it would lift them out of deep poverty and meet demand.
Mdukatshani has set up the goat project to improve the life expectancy of kids, thus doubling local people’s – mostly women’s – herds in a year or two.
Alcock runs his project in northern KwaZulu-Natal from Estcourt to Emangusi on the Mozambican border, an area often faced with drought which means maize, vegetables and cattle do badly.
SA imports at least 400,000 goats every year from Namibia with many more coming unofficially across that border and from Mozambique, said Alcock.
Goats are slaughtered for almost every cultural celebration, explained the man who grew up in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
The animals are easy to farm because they “self-herd” – roaming and returning home at night. Hence they are perfect for people living on communal land without fences.
Goats need to walk at least 4.5km a day, which means commercial farmers who keep pigs or cattle in fairly small spaces are often not interested in goat farming.
Speaking recently at a farming event in Bela Bela organised by Landbou Weekblad and Agri SA, Alcock said there were an estimated 30,000 commercial farmers in SA. But there are also three million people who use some form of agriculture such as goats to survive.
Alcock said the problem with goat farming is the high mortality rate – between 40% and 70% – of new goats. Local farmers say they don’t count the number of kids that are born twice a year until a few months after their birth, expecting more than half the babies to die.
Most herds in KwaZulu-Natal are between 10 to 15 goats and self-sustaining. If community households could breed more goats and sell 10 a year instead of three, they could make about R11,000 a year, said Alcock.
Working with local people who keep goats, and with help from the Cedara Agricultural Training Institute in Hilton, Mdukatshani has come up with a theory about why most goat kids die at about three months old.
Goat keepers keep baby goats at home after birth and let the mother graze and suckle the kids when she returns home. This keeps the small kids safe from jackals. Then at three months old the baby goats are let out of home and suffer immense stress.
“Suddenly they are walking long distances, weaning and are exposed to all sorts of diseases,” said Alcock. “Our solution is to feed baby goats solid food from two weeks.”
He said the food makes them stronger for when they wean completely and begin to walk long distances, becoming exposed to many diseases outside of the home.
“In some herds, the 60% mortality has dropped to no die-offs,” said Alcock.
The food comes from a common acacia tree, which has a pod that is high in protein. Unemployed people are trained to grind the pods and mix them with maize or harvested dry grass to make goat feed.
Alcock has been with the project for four years. He said if the Department of Rural Development and KwaZulu-Natal department of agriculture rolled out the project to people on communal land countrywide, more goats would be bred. This would allow downstream industries such as goat leather, goat cheese and goat wool to develop and thrive.
“Other programmes give handouts, but we work with people already keeping goats and try to optimise their goat farming,” he said. Goats eat bush which encroaches onto farm land, thereby allowing more water to run off after it rains into rivers.
Saudi Arabia, China and India have approached SA for goats because the animals are free of foot and mouth disease and safe for both the export and eating, said Alcock.
His calculations show if 35,000 farmers sold an average of 13 goats per year instead of three (keeping herd composition at 10) they would produce 455,000 goats a year – about the same number imported officially from Namibia.
The project also sets up goat dips that can treat a few thousand goats an hour at a cost of 50c per animal.