The current buzzword in Zimbabwe’s smallholder farming sector is goat production, an industry with more than 3.5 million goats in the country.
Most goats are kept in the drier parts of the country and mainly reared for meat although some communities consume goat milk. However, climate change induced droughts and rising global temperatures have made goat production a national favorite business venture owing to their ability to survive under harsh conditions. Goats are resilient and adaptable to harsh environments because of their morphological characteristics and selective feeding abilities.
Despite the seemingly adaptable nature of goats, starting a goat production enterprise still needs capital and knowledge of goat production basics. To succeed, an entrepreneur also needs to show business acumen through planning ahead and sourcing markets early.
Now, let us look at some of the common goat breeds in Zimbabwe.
Most Zimbabwean farmers rear the large Matebele and the Small East African (SEA) indigenous goat breeds. These have an average birth weight (of kids) that ranges from 1.5kg to 2.5kg (up to 3kg). As such, 98 percent of goats in Zimbabwe are indigenous breeds that are owned by communal farmers.
Although indigenous breeds are more adaptable to their respective environments, exotic breeds like the Boer goat, which has an average mature weight of 65kg’s and is mainly reared for meat, are gaining popularity. Another exotic breed that has entered the Zimbabwean market, the Saanen goat, produces an average of 3.5litres of milk per day and is kept for milk production. An entrepreneur’s choice of the breed should always depend on the objective of their enterprise.
Goat housing is another important factor to consider before starting the enterprise. Care should be taken to ensure that goat pens can protect the goats from bad weather – rain, sun and wind – predators and thieves. In addition, each adult goat should be allowed a floor space of 1.5 square meters. This means, a farmer with 10 goats should build a 1.5*10 or 15 square meter pen. Housing can be walled and roofed, usually with a wall that is at least one meter high. It is, however, critical to ensure that the housing is well ventilated and protects animals from wetness during the rainy season. Structures must also be warm and easy to clean. In some cases the wall could be made from poles and dagga with a thatch roof. Contemporary housing structures have a raised floor with wooden walls, a flat roof and a feeding area. This type of structure is recommended because it is warm and easy to clean while animals can be fed at the pens. The floor is also well drained and reduces the incidence of foot rot disease. This is usually ideal for small to medium size flocks.
Before one ventures into goat farming, they should also gain an appreciation of animal nutrition. Although goats are natural browsers, they also graze and have the advantage of being selective feeders because they have nimble lips, capable of picking off the most nutritious plant parts. As such, they do well where they can feed on a variety of feeds. Goats are most palatable to shrubs, bushes (and wild fruit/pods) and grass but can also be fed hay and silage. The quantity of feed consumed by a goat depends on age, breed, sex, size and physiological status (pregnant /lactating.) Goats will consume about 3-5% of their own body weight in dry matter daily. Young goats will consume relatively more than mature goats. Pregnant and lactating animals will need more feed to produce milk and to enable the foetus to grow. Goats need a balanced diet comprising of water, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Types of feeds include compound feeds, straight feeds and supplements. Where huge numbers of goats are being reared, it’s also advisable to grow forage and fodder crops.
It is also important to monitor the health of the goats although they are resistant to some diseases. Therefore, farmers must adhere to such routine management practices as dipping, dosing and deworming. This protects the goats from such common goat diseases as pulpy kidney, heart water, abscesses and mange. The idea is to either prevent or diagnose and treat diseases early.
Some routine management practices include identification through the use of ear tags or ear notches. This is important for record keeping and identification of animals. Controlled breeding through castration is also recommended and comes with the benefit of high quality meat and the absence of that ‘characteristic smell’. Another recommended practice is flushing. This involves giving the goats high quality diets as the breeding season approaches, to improve birth weight of kids and the general condition of goats. To reduce chances of foot rot, hoof trimming is advised, especially in moist conditions during the rainy season. Animals also walk on hard, rough ground and hooves become overgrown, thus, the need for regular trimming to prevent injury.
When one takes up goat farming as a business, the major objective is to make a profit. But, they can only make a profit by providing a quality product that meets market requirements and expectations. So, understanding the goat market is important in this venture. Currently, the market for goats is highly informal and middlemen dominate transactions. Goat markets include individual traders, abattoirs, NGOs, ethnic groups and the export market. Regardless of which market an entrepreneur enters, it is important for farmers to plan their production cycle and consistently supply required quantities at specified time intervals.
Goat production is one of the ventures with the potential to improve household income. Opportunities are endless in the goat value chain and there is need for research and development within this value chain. As an entrepreneur, if you do it well – your chances of success are high!