Carolina Savanna Farm

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You will be welcome at Carolina Savanna Farm. Come and look leisurely, then ask for the performance figures. You will be pleased you did, and so will we. For more information, contact us at the farm (Jeff Kron, manager, 585.993.6228) or away (Wayne Cooper, owner, 704.502.1991).

History

The Carolina Savanna Farm (CSF) began in 2008 with the purchase of 350 acres of land fronting Union Highway about two miles south of Gaffney, SC (itself just south of IS 85).  The owners are Wayne and Judy Cooper, residents of nearby Charlotte, NC where Wayne has extensive business interests.

Following preliminary preparation of facilities and fencing of initial pastures in early 2012, Wayne employed goat industry consultant, Dr. Frank Pinkerton (aka The Goat Man), to help him decide among types of meat goat operations (Show animals, purebred seed-stock production, breeding-herd replacements, 4-H project kids, or commercial slaughter kid production). Wayne elected to focus primarily on raising herd replacements for sale, mostly to target small-herd owners, and to use crossbreds, not purebreds, in order to take advantage of hybrid vigor and enable reasonable sales prices. Thereafter, Wayne met Pinkerton in the Hill Country area of Texas for on-site assessment of crossbred offerings.

Breed and individual selection

Pinkerton took Wayne to the ranches of Elgin Pape, long-time breeder of Spanish goats and, since 2003, user of full-blood Savanna bucks (from Canadian Brian Payne and others) in his crossbreeding program. The F-1 (half-blood) kids grow 8-12% faster than straight Spanish kids and garner an appreciable premium at auction (10-20% depending on drought-influenced market conditions). These improvements and prices, plus improved phenotype (eye-appeal), were such that, because of the ready market, no F-1 females were retained for several years. Too, local (rain-limited) experience had shown that moving much, if any, beyond F-1 Boer-Spanish dams did not appreciably improve productivity and economic returns. However, in the wetter areas of eastern Texas to the Carolinas, F-2 Boer-Spanish dams (3/4 Boer-1/4 Spanish) have in fact produced more and better market kids than half-blood dams for many producers (as have Savanna crosses elsewhere).

And so it was that Pape, with urging from Pinkerton and Payne, cautiously decided to create a small number of F-2 Savanna-Spanish dams for initial evaluation. He found appreciable improvement in kid growth rates to occur when F-1 does were back-crossed to purebred Savanna bucks to produce F-2 kids (3/4 Savanna-1/4 Spanish).

Subsequently, area neighbors Grady and Donna Fort, began a Savanna crossbreeding program using selected performance-tested Spanish does (a rarity in Texas, as elsewhere). Currently, they retain few of the F-2 females for breeding because their drought-prone forage area might not support further back-crossing. While Pinkerton feels that F-3 females would in fact do well in areas of higher rainfall, he also notes that the rate of improvement due to back-crossing (grading-up) declines with each successive generation. Accordingly, producers of slaughter kids may not find much economic advantage in moving beyond F-3 does. Put differently, F-2 and F-3 dams may be optimum choices for typical producers with average grass and browse.

Why Savannas?

There are five breeds of meat goat in the U.S.: Spanish, Boer, Kiko, Myotonic, and Savanna. Each breed is said to have certain strengths and weaknesses and to have them in varying proportions within each breed. Many of those choosing a breed of goat do so, in part, by ‘selecting against’ perceived negative traits rather than ‘selecting for’ perceived positive traits.

Contrarily, Savanna owners, newer to the game and admittedly fewer in number, seem to accent the positive aspects of their animals, citing fertility, fecundity, mothering ability, rate of gain, parasite resistance, carcass quality, and near year-round breeding. Experienced Savannah owners repeatedly identify reproductive efficiency (highest adjusted litter weaning weight/weight of doe at weaning time) as the most economically valuable trait of the breed.

With adequate feeding and above average management, annual kidding rates of 175-200% in mixed-age Savanna or Savanna crossbred herds can be achieved. Such performances allow a keen manager to retain only 20-25% of the doelings born each year for replacements. Judicious culling of the bottom 15-20% due to unacceptable performance (as defined) or less than desirable phenotypic appearance (as defined) means that about 60% of each doeling crop is available for sale as breeding stock, typically at considerable premiums over slaughter stock.

Caveat… most goat owners feel confident that they can select, correctly, breeding bucks and does simply by looking at them, that is, by assessing their visible, phenotypic traits (structural correctness, muscular conformation, sexuality, and ‘closeness’ to a predicated Breed Ideal Animal). On the other hand, we feel that on-farm performance testing of our herd is a better way to select keeper stock for herd expansion and for sale as replacement stock. Accordingly, we offer only tested animals for your consideration.

We do this via participation in the KY SU-Frankfort Goat Herd Improvement Program. This free program ranks every doe, every year, on adjusted litter-weaning weights and, if multiple sires are represented, it also ranks them, based on the performance of their offspring. Although we do set certain minimum phenotypic characteristics (looks) to be met for retention of replacements and for breeding stock sales, our primary selection criteria are gains/day of age for kids and the doe’s reproductive performance and litter weaning-weights over time.

We pay little, if any, attention to extraneous traits (those that do not influence productivity or carcass quality and yield). Horn set or shape or ear skin pigmentation does not concern us, nor does whiteness (purity) of hair coat color. Just like full-blood Boers are mostly white with red heads, full-blood Savannas are mostly white with a bit of gray or speckled black occasionally. Savanna crosses also show mostly white but can show other colors including occasional red heads.

Note that Boers, Savannas, and Kalihari Reds all came from the same multi-hued indigenous South African gene pools over the years. The science of population genetics says some fraction of the indigenous colors will recur indefinitely in these man-created breeds; live with it.

In earlier times, goat breed selection and differentiation via color and attention to other visible characteristics (skeletal dimensions and conformation) was the norm. However, in modern times, selection for other, more useful productivity traits (fecundity, kid survival, litter weaning weight, disease resistance, hardiness) is emerging. Such traits are simply not readily apparent to even experienced eyeballs.

Remember, hair color or pattern on a goat is merely a convenient marker for recognition. Geneticists have found no correlation as between such markers and any economically important trait in goats, or any other species, anywhere.

And, as packers know, all goats are virtually the same color hanging on the rail, and consumers rarely know, or care, about breeds or crossbreds. They care only about ‘meatiness’, ‘youthfulness/tenderness’, and, of course, price. Accordingly, we care only about doe output (adjusted litter weaning weights/lifetime, conformation/muscularity of her kids, and economical longevity). Logically speaking, all else seems irrelevant to us as sellers of replacement stock and commercial slaughter goats.

 

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