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Savanna Goats Augment Dairy Herd Income

Mary Lee Whiteside

Photo by Mary Lee Whiteside

For most dairy goat breeders, times have changed. Weather has created adversity for many dairy goat breeders, and the past three years of economic upheaval in the United States have caused many to examine the farm and ranch balance sheet. I live in Kansas, and along with many of my dairy goat breeding friends, have experienced devastating droughts, hay and grain shortages, and flood damage. In addition to watching decades of hard work and intentions go by the wayside, the price of hay and feed has skyrocketed while the profit margin has plummeted. To help keep my farm alive, I found that I needed to diversify somewhat in what I had to sell. Savanna goats brought back the income I needed, and helped me stay in the goat business.

I consider myself a middle market producer. I started with a small herd of purebred Oberhasli goats, but have always had to work off the farm to support them and make ends meet. Money to start up a Grade A dairy has never been in the picture, nor do I have time to milk, make, and market products I enjoy on my own at home. I do not attend big fancy shows, nor do I participate in expensive upgrading programs. I love my dairy goats and do the best I can by them, selling off extra kids to keep the herd size manageable.

In years past, raising a somewhat rare breed like Oberhasli meant that I had a ready market for any extra kids I wanted to sell each year. I registered my animals and raised them right, so they grew into productive animals. But more and more, it seems to me from where I sit atop my personal hill, that the middle of the dairy goat industry has just about evaporated.

Now, my precious hand-raised dairy goats either sell for the price of meat or weed eaters, or I have to almost give them away. Buyers want the animals with GCH letters in front of their names, or huge unnatural udders (in my opinion), or something free that they can get started with in their own backyards. Unfortunately, individual buyers usually do not understand the joy and toil we put into producing a beautiful dairy doe or buck, and certainly struggle with the realization of the cost of such endeavors. I have pondered what it takes to stay profitable, as well as what is it that keeps me rising at the crack of dawn to feed, milk, and kid my future lovelies. My journey has taken me to a beautiful meat goat called the Savanna.

According to writer Brett Hodges, the white Savanna goat breed was developed from indigenous goats of South Africa. One of the advantages of these white goats was the fact

that the white color is dominant over most other colors.

Hodges wrote that this meat goat breed originated 1957, in the rugged, harsh bush country where temperatures and rainfall varied extensively, and natural selection played a big role in the development of the easy-to-care-for, heat- and drought-resistant animals. The Savanna breed is relatively new to the United States, having been imported in the late 1990s. They have thick, pliable skins with short white hair, and the Savanna has excellent reproduction, muscular development, good bones and strong legs and hooves. Though mostly white, these goats are selected for totally black pigmented skin, horns, hooves and all bare skin areas to avoid injury by strong ultra-violet rays. For me, a city girl turned goat lover, the Savanna brought a renewed energy to my ThunderStruck Meat Goats and Krem Brulay Dairy Goats. Their mothering instincts are superior to other meat goat breeds, and their natural tendency for low parasite influence makes them a good consideration for the farm needing an additional source of income. The bucks cross well with other meat goats and improve health and mothering skills in their offspring.

I have found that, like the Oberhasli, the Savanna gene pool is quite limited, and the breed is rare in the United States. However, I love the hardy, easy-keeper qualities and have already realized additional income from sales of the extra animals.

When I first started farming with my dear Oberhaslis, I never thought I would get involved with meat breeds of goats, but as my own herd grows and expands, I appreciate that the Savanna has given me the opportunity to have additional financial resources through the diversity. I never plan to crossbreed the dairy and meat breeds, but having each on the farm is working, and I’m still here, making ends meet, in Kansas.

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