Top quality Angora goat breeding in the South Cape

While most Angora growers in the Southern Cape have given up breeding these animals, brothers Jasper and Leon van der Westhuizen have achieved exceptional results. They spoke to Glenneis Kriel about local environmental conditions and their management techniques.

Angora goats have been a valuable asset to their operation, say the Van der Westhuizens.
Photo: Glenneis Kriel

Since they began raising Angora goats at Amantis Landgoed in 2014, Jasper and Leon van der Westhuizen have broken the world record for the price of an adult mohair bale several times, ending 2021 with a bale that fetched a amazing R620/kg.

Their 400ha farm near Mossel Bay produces an average size of 26mm, which is the industry standard for young goats.

Jasper says Angora goats are not a popular choice with farmers in the Southern Cape because they are difficult to manage, often escaping from their camps. Coming from the Karoo, however, he and Leon were used to raising Angoras and saw these goats as the future of farming.

“The demand for renewable and natural fibers is increasing. This is particularly the case with fibers like ours, which are produced in an environmentally and ethically responsible manner, as underlined by the Responsible Mohair Standard certification. Mohair is also very versatile, with textile and industrial applications,” he says.

Brothers Jasper (left) and Leon van der Weshuizen farm together on Amantis Landgoed near Mossel Bay in the South Cape.

Good genetics
The Van der Westhuizen attribute their success with Angora goats to good genetics, good management practices and a favorable production environment.

“When we started breeding Angoras we built the herd on a solid foundation by buying the best genetics we could afford from Willowmore stud breeders Fred and Billy Colborne. It’s tempting to save money by buying cheap animals, but it will negatively affect your bottom line in the long run, as it can take years to correct problems through selective breeding,” says Jasper.

Today, the brothers no longer need to buy new ewes, and are content to replace one or two rams each year, depending on demand. “We use natural breeding techniques, with one ram used for 30 ewes,” explains Leon.

The 220 ewes they bought from the Colbornes averaged between six and seven years old, which in the Karoo is considered to be past the prime of an Angora goat’s life. Jasper explains that goats usually start losing their teeth from this age, leading to feeding problems that negatively affect their health, reproduction and mohair quality.

The softer grasses of the Southern Cape veldt, however, are much gentler on the teeth of goats than the bushes of the Karoo, greatly increasing the longevity of these animals. The result is that some of their original ewes are still strong in their flock, even without teeth. In contrast, the veldt grasses of this region are not as nutritious as the bushes of the Karoo, so the goats must be fed daily to maintain their condition, which greatly increases the cost of production.

“We buy all our feed from a reputable source, De Heus, with whom we have built a relationship over the years, and try to plant barley when the soil is sufficiently moist. Unfortunately, this has been more the exception than the rule, as our farm has been plagued by drought since we bought it in 2014,” says Jasper.

Leon would like to plant alfalfa once it is out of the drought cycle, at least in the camps used for weaning. “Drought and rising input costs are threatening our sustainability and making mistakes very costly. For now, it’s better to stick with what you know than to try new things,” he says.

Flow management
The goats’ diet has been designed by a food specialist and is continually adjusted according to the condition of the animals, their reproductive cycle, climatic conditions, the condition and availability of velds and planted pastures. Liver examinations are also performed on dead animals to identify mineral and vitamin deficiencies.

“Feed is one of the cornerstones of animal production, as it directly influences fiber quality, offspring and reproduction. There’s no point in having the best genetics if you don’t feed your animals well,” says Jasper.

The ewes are fed high-protein rations for two months, right after weaning until the start of the mating season, to ensure they are in optimum condition when placed with the rams. Once they conceive, they receive high-energy rations for proper fetal development and to prevent abortions, low birth weights and poor lactations.

Ewes also receive premixed multivitamins and minerals, as well as phosphate, in their feed and licks to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

“I prefer licks to products mixed with food, as the consumption of weak animals can be negatively affected by competition at feeders. Intake is limited when a lick is used, which helps to equalize intake between animals,” says Leon.

Angora goats can tolerate some heat stress, although this results in lower feed and higher water intake. Problems arise when the temperature fluctuates dramatically and conditions are cold, wet and windy.

“We put the goats in a shed to protect them when we expect cold and windy conditions, and supplement their water with glucose to keep their blood sugar levels from dropping, which can cause them to go into shock and even die,” he said.
He adds that giving goats a balanced ration throughout the year and keeping them in good condition makes them less vulnerable to stress and disease.

Production management
The Van der Westhuizens place the ewes with the rams in April to ensure that the joke
the season begins around the second week of September, after the region’s wet and cold winter conditions.

Ewes are dewormed and vaccinated two to three weeks before the start of the breeding and lambing seasons, during which time they also receive an injection of a multivitamin mineral supplement.

“Our humid conditions favor the development of intestinal parasites, such as roundworms and hookworms, especially when hot days are followed by very humid conditions. Where Karoo farmers can get away with one anthelminthic treatment per year, we give regular treatments guided by climatic conditions and animal observations,” says Leon.

As a preventive measure, drinking troughs and troughs are kept clean to avoid the accumulation of parasites. “It’s actually non-negotiable no matter where you grow,” he points out.

The brothers’ dosing and vaccination protocols are based on industry advice and newsletters from Dr Mackie Hobson, veterinarian at the South African Mohair Growers’ Association.

The ewes are taken to smaller camps a week before lambing; then they are placed in small enclosures with their offspring for two to three days, during which they are closely monitored so that any problems can be addressed before they get out of hand.

The ewes with their offspring, along with other ewes and their kids, are then transferred to a small camp, where they stay for at least five days before being reintroduced to the larger camps.

“Most infant deaths occur within the first two weeks after birth. The time spent in the pens and small camps allows us to intervene quickly if something goes wrong. It also strengthens the bond between the sheep and their kids, which helps prevent future complications, such as a kid not being able to keep up with the ewe or a ewe losing its kid,” says Leon.

So far, their ewes have only produced one kid, but that happened under drought conditions.

“While having twins is good, managing them is more difficult because the ewe has to be strong enough to raise two kids,” he says.

The goats are shorn in August, about three weeks before the start of the lambing season, and again in February, two weeks before the kids are weaned.

“We keep the kids with the ewes for about 22 weeks, which is longer than the norm. This, and not shearing during weaning, helps to significantly reduce weaning shock,” says Leon.

It is also easier to castrate young rams after they have been shorn. Rams are separated from ewes and kept on lower quality veldts after weaning. “We keep young rams separate from older rams for the first year to prevent them from being bullied,” says Jasper.

The goats are shorn in a shed, but there is not enough room for all of them during the shearing. This means that if it rains, they must be moved to prevent their hair from getting wet. Fortunately, due to the relatively small herd size, shearing can be done in about four days. Goat hair is shampooed and conditioned before being shorn.

The mowing crew files the hair, but the Van der Westhuizens then spend up to six weeks sorting it. “We find that agents go out of their way to get you a good deal when they see that you’re striving to provide them with a high-quality product,” says Jasper.

The goats are not on crutches, because the farm is far from the shearing crews. Contrary to expectations, however, this didn’t have a big influence on the quality or color of their fleece, according to Leon.

Shearers also cut the hair on the goats’ heads (“wigging”), to prevent “wool blindness”.

“If you leave the hair over their eyes, the goats won’t be able to see where they’re going or where their food and water is.”

None of the farm animals are slaughtered unless the quality of their coat begins to deteriorate.

“We are in the business of mohair production, so we keep animals as long as they produce good quality hair, regardless of their age or whether they are good mothers or bad mothers,” says Leon.

Email Leon or Jasper van der Westhuizen at [email protected]Where [email protected].