Why the World Loves Our Boerbokke

By Hilary Prendini Toffoli

“Our Boerbokke have a unique story,” writes Finn-Erik Blakstedt in an email to me from his Boerbok farm in Norway. He came across Boerbokke while doing his Master’s degree in Law at the University of Cape Town. Now he farms them 60 kilometres south of Oslo, serving goat meat in his restaurant, which caters mainly for business groups who want a unique food experience.

“During apartheid it was not possible to export goats from South Africa. However, there was an illegal export from the Karoo to New Zealand in the early nineties, and in 1997 there was an export of embryos from New Zealand to a vet in Denmark. That vet placed them in European Union quarantine for five years, and in 2002 I imported 30 goats from her. Now we have 200.

“In our restaurant in Ekeby we serve whole roasted kids, and our farm shop sells South African wine, olive oil, pesto, and other products. We have an exchange programme with Fairview wine estate in Paarl, and a South African girl works here full time.”

On the other side of the world in Texas in the United States is a breeder of champion Boerbokke. Charles Turner believes his were the first Boerbokke to reach America. He got them in March 1993, also from New Zealand, and three months later launched the American Boer Goat Organisation, which currently has over 7 000 members and registers at least 45 000 new goats a year. After visiting South Africa and acquiring the best breeding stock available, he began producing Boerbok champions, which routinely win thousands of dollars on the livestock shows that attract audiences of up to 1 500.

Other American fans are in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Linda and Clay Trainum regularly blog about the advantages of their family-based Boerbok operation: “We raise the beautiful South African Boerbok as an environmentally sound method to combat an invasive plant problem while producing one of the healthiest meats in the world. The combination of the world’s premier, purpose-bred and standardised meat goat with the fantastic forage base of invasive species in the Valley provides a win-win situation for the land, its owner and the consumer.”

boerbokke1.jpg

Boerbokke look nothing like traditional dairy goats. The champion specimens have strong, stocky, white bodies and heads the colour of chestnut or chocolate. Their large inquisitive brown eyes are hooded and almond-shaped and they have strong curved Roman noses with flared nostrils. Their long ears are broad and smooth and hang downwards. All in all, a noble animal. 

This attractive world-beating goat was developed in the thirties by a handful of resourceful Eastern Cape farmers determined to combine the best qualities of the European imports with South Africa’s own hardy indigenous goats, which settlers had first come across in the 1660s on the West Coast. They marvelled at how well these tough little beasts survived in the harsh African climate.

A policy of strict selection for weight increase and the production of good red meat was applied. In 1959 the Boer Goat Breeders Association of South Africa was founded, and in its first journal, Mr T. B. Jordaan of Buffelsfontein in Somerset East described how some of that early Boerbok breeding stock had been developed by his father. He had bred a very large dapple-coloured male goat from Mr. I. B. van Heerden of Kaalplaas in Cradock with some short-haired female goats with light red heads from Mrs. Van de Venter of Somerset East.

Over the years, the association played a major role in moulding the Boerbok into a noble breed. In 1970 the Boerbok was incorporated into the National Mutton Sheep and Goat Performance Testing Scheme, making it the only known goat breed involved in a performance test for meat production. Now the Boerbok has been imported by farmers all over the world including in Canada, Germany, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia, England, India, France, Malaysia and the British West Indies.

“It’s not only the Boerbok’s healthy meat that makes it such an ideal animal to farm,” says Michael Basson, who is holding a Boerbok Day in March (see below) on his farm outside Darling on the West Coast. “The Boerbok has other special qualities. It can survive drought and resist most diseases. It has a rapid growth rate, high fertility, and long lifespan. And as a browser it will eat alien vegetation such as Port Jackson and Rooikrans, which means it’s a useful ecological weapon while at the same time utilising land not suitable for other livestock.”        

Basson bought his first Boerbokke—45 ewes and a ram—four years ago. He now has a herd of 350 on the 450ha farm near where he was born 46 years ago. It’s the biggest Boerbok herd in the area. Most of his meat is bought by Muslim butchers. Unlike the rest of the world, South Africans have generally not yet cottoned on to the health advantages of Boerbok meat. It’s super lean and low in both fat and cholesterol. It has less than a third of the fat of beef and fewer calories than chicken. And it has a unique flavour that makes it delicious when curried. In an increasingly health-conscious world, the demand for Boerbok meat is growing.

All of which is why one of the world’s most prestigious food markets, Harrods Food Hall, decided to put Boerbok on its meat counter—as a whole shoulder joint, or diced for stewing—as part of its Festival of British Foods recently. The festival is a celebration of Britain’s best delicacies and undiscovered food producers.

It seems ironic that South Africa’s Boerbok should be there. But the Boerbok farmers who are supplying Harrods from their Stoke Mill Farm in Dorset—who punt it as ‘gourmet goat’ on their website and have featured on Channel 4’s Riverside Cottage series—are as partisan when it comes to the Boerbok as all those farmers around the world who’ve taken this hardy, versatile, and in many cases beautiful, creature to their hearts. In New Zealand—one of the first countries outside Africa to get the Boerbok—you can even get yourself a necktie that says My Heart Belongs To a Boer Goat.          

But for all its worldwide popularity, this goat is not an angel. “You want to know something? A Boerbok is a bliksem!” says Michael Basson. “A devil! You know why they call it a Boerbok? Because when there’s a problem a boer makes a plan, and so does a Boerbok.

“It’s so clever, no fence can keep it in. It pushes its nose through the diamond mesh and keeps working at it until the hole is big enough to squeeze through. Fortunately Boerbokke are conditioned to sleep in the same place at night so they don’t leave the kraal. But in the daytime I have to have not one but two goatherds to watch them.”

For Boerbok meat contact Michael Basson on 083-236-9973.

Where to Enjoy Gourmet Goat

Karen Basson

Karen Basson

Boerbok breeder Michael Basson is holding a BOERBOK DAY on Saturday 26 March 2011 on his farm Lelieblom outside Darling on the West Coast. It’s a chance to walk among these friendly and inquisitive animals whose champion qualities are taking the world by storm, and to taste the world’s lowest cholesterol meat at a long table lunch in Karen Basson’s distinctive old barn restaurant on Lelieblom. Lelieblom has a French countryside atmosphere—shabby chic on the Platteland. There are old tapestry-covered sofas and Persian rugs on the original floor. Vintage French prints and Basson family photos on the unpainted walls. And the sounds and smells of the farm drifting in through the open barn doors.
Entrance of R120 includes lunch of freshly-baked farm bread, leg of goat or chicken pie, vegetables, salad, dessert and coffee, and complimentary wine from Groote Post and Cloof. Book with karen@lelieblom.co.za or at 082-573-7736.