Meet our heritage: Indigenous Veld Goats

Nguni ram
Nguni ram

Article provided by the Indigenous Veld Goat Breeders Society

The Indigenous Veld Goats of Southern Africa almost disappeared with the development of the Boer Goat and the Mohair industry. Today, a renewed interest is experienced for the disease-resistant and hardy indigenous goats that are not only our unique heritage, but can also play an increasing part in maintaining societies in future.

In this article we briefly discuss their origin, development and the different ecotypes.

Epstein (1971) The Origin of the Domestic Animals of Africa – explained how the nomadic Northern African nations started migrating in 5 AD southwards through Africa with their cattle, sheep, goats and dogs. They moved down the sweltering hot Eastern coast into southern Africa. The coloured nations from around the equator, with their disease resistant stock, were also driven southwards by stronger nations, but they proceeded along the western coast into southern Africa.

During the 20th century farmers in South Africa started “improving” the indigenous goats they acquired originally to open up thorn-bush country – these goats were called “boer (farm) goats”. This improvement was further helped on by a specific big, robust dapple-coloured male goat. With the selection for red heads, white bodies and well-muscled animals, a lot of the indigenous goat genetics was replaced and swallowed up by this “improvement”.

Some of the attributes of Indigenous Veld Goats are summarised below:

• The goats are naturally bred for functional efficiency; they move with ease and can walk long distances.

• They are highly fertile from a young age, have a long breeding season, have non-seasonal breeding patterns and have a long productive lifespan.

• Multi-coloured, roan (speckled / “skilder”), dappled (“apple”), or solid coloured patterns occur; due to their different colourations, they are difficult to spot by predators.

• They are antelope-like, with longer legs and slight cow hocks; and are able to cover large extensive areas.

• They have excellent herding instincts to help protect themselves from predators and will even fight them off.

• They are well-adapted to harsh environments all over Southern Africa; their hair coats can be slightly longer or shorter depending on the difference in climates; a down (cashmere) coat is found on some goats during winter for extra protection; they are also able to handle the humidity in the eastern parts of South Africa.

• They have excellent pigmentation due to their dark skin and are highly heat and sunlight tolerant.

• They are highly tick and parasite tolerant.

• Their hides can be tanned for glove leather and tanned skins can be utilised whole or for various leather products.

• They can either browse (around 60% of their diet) or graze (around 40% of their diet) on a wide variety of plants, shrubs and grasses and have the ability to select a higher quality diet should they have limited feeding time and to obtain nourishment from average quality forage.

• Rams are masculine with prominent hair on the neck and shoulder. Testes are of functional size and shape, equal in size and situated near the body.

• Ewes are feminine with long and slender necks, and they are very good mothers. They have well-developed udders with more than enough milk for twins and even triplets.

Xhosa Lob Ear, Northern Cape Speckled and Nguni are the most prevalent Indigenous Veld Goat ecotypes in South Africa.

Below are some distinctive characteristics of each of the ecotypes:

Nguni ewe
from IVG archives

Mbuzi’s (Nguni type)

• multi-colours

• small frame

• compact but well proportioned

• small to medium semi-pendulous ears

• profile – concave (hollow) to flat

• legs – strong but fine, medium to long

Xhosa Lob Ear

 Eastern Cape Xhosa Lob Ears

• multi colours

• large frame, robust & well muscled

• lob ears (big floppy hanging ears)

• profile – flat to slightly convex, & rather strong

• horns – up and outwards; large & heavy, inclined to be longer than the skull

• legs – strong, medium to long

Northern Cape Speckled ram

Northern Cape Speckled Goats

• speckled – dark red, brown and black, concentration of speckles varies

• concentration of speckles on legs, pattern is true breeding but recessive

• majority have a white blaze

• large frame

• lob ears (big floppy hanging ears)

• profile – flat to convex; slight dip in front of eyes

• horns – up and outwards; tips slightly curved in, inclined to be +/- same length of skull

• legs – strong, medium to long

Northern Cape Speckled ewe from IVG

Kunene (from the Kaokoland, Namibia)

• multi-colours

• medium frame and slender

• lob ears (big floppy hanging ears)

• profile – flat with narrow face

• horns – straight and slightly up, with the base closely spaced

• inclined to be 2/3 of the skull and in line with the profile

• legs – finely boned, long and lanky

Kunene ram

Mbuzi’s are abundantly found in the hotter, wetter and more humid eastern parts of Eastern Cape, Transkei, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Swaziland, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Mozambique, northern parts of Namibia and in the rest of Africa. Today Indigenous Veld Goats are found all over Southern Africa, and not only in their original, historical distribution areas.

With farming input costs and veterinary costs escalating year on year, Indigenous Veld Goats can play a vital role in goat meat production, due to their hardiness, disease resistance and low maintenance requirements. These traits make Indigenous Veld Goats the ideal dam line for terminal crossbreeding with terminal sires that need more inputs in order to survive. The Indigenous Veld Goat ewes can be farmed extensively on the veld, while the terminal sires can be kept and looked after at home during the day, letting them in with the ewes to breed at night. Indigenous Veld Goat ewes can be described as cost-effective embryo factories with enough milk to raise their kids with minimal inputs. The hybrid vigour resulting from terminal crossbreeding leads to increased meat production and capacity, in conjunction with the lower input costs required for the Indigenous Veld Goat dams.

It is part of the mission of the Society to encourage and promote the preservation of the breed characteristics of the Southern African eco-types, by good selection in terms of the accepted description of a pure Indigenous Veld Goat. The Society encourages healthy practices, sound animal stock breeding principles, and promotes a courteous, harmonious and productive responsibility amongst our members.

Kunene ewe
from IVG archives.

The world-wide trend for super breeds threatens to wipe out thousands of indigenous breeds with their unique abilities to perform in harsh environments. Irreplaceable genetic resources are being lost in the process. Their loss is not just a matter of heritage; it’s very much about our future.

Dr Herbert Atkinson said in the 18th century about man always wanting to “develop” the animals around him: “Please do not spoil, transform or improve them out of existence”

For more information, contact the Indigenous Veld Goat Breeders Society at +27(0) 54-891-0058, or

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