As appeared in Goat Rancher June 2010
Observations on the Savanna Goat: History, Importation, and Breed Characteristics and Utilization
Brian Payne , Scandia, Alberta, Canada
In the recent past there has been increased producer interest in improving their herds by increasing their genetic
worth. Crossbreeding is one of the ways to do this as is evidenced by the use of combinations of Spanish, Boers, and,
later on, Kikos. More recently there has been increasing interest in using the Savanna breed, perhaps primarily to
improve maternal characteristics while maintaining or improving carcass traits. It is the purpose of this paper to
provide historical information about this relatively unknown breed and possibly dispel, insofar as possible, erroneous
notions held by those who are inadequately informed.
My personal interest in Savannah goats began in 1996 with a visit to South Africa and the World Boer Goat
Championships. As president of the Canadian Boer Goat Association, I was interested in meeting many of the South
African breeders who had exported embryos to Canada. In my earlier capacity as a consultant to Landcorp Farming of
New Zealand, I became aware of Boer goat production and history, primary through the publications of Dr Quentin
Campbell, pre-eminent South African livestock researcher.
Dr. Campbell’s 1984 paper on “The development of a meat producing goat in South Africa” was referenced in the
prestigious Small Ruminant Research Journal (Casey and Van Niekerk, 1988) which featured articles on “The Boer
Goat: Origin, Adaptability, Performance Testing, Reproduction and Milk Production”, as well as, “Growth, Nutrient
Requirements, Carcass and Meat Quality”. Almost all of the performance data cited in these sources was the work of
Dr. Campbell. It had been collected while he was “Officer in Charge” of South Africa’s Mutton Sheep and Goat
Performance Testing Scheme.
Primary conclusions of this paper and others (”Performance Testing and Adaptability of Boer Goats”, Campbell) are
instructive (italics are mine, here as elsewhere):
1.) “The future of Boer goats lies in performance testing for economically important traits. Performance testing “is
the second phase in the development of the Boer
goat breed. The first phase was the adoption of (phenotypic) breed standards which developed (and codified)
uniformity of type, color, hair, and body conformation.” (Casey and Van Niekerk)
2.) “No performance criteria are stipulated as faults for culling within the Boer goat breed standards (for example,
semen quality, growth rate, feed conversion, fertility, mothering ability, milk production or carcass quality
Discrimination against furryness has been questioned…” (op. cit.)
3.) Crossbreeding studies (Angwenyi and Cartwright, 1987) concluded that “the
Boer Goat was a logical sire breed, contributing significant directly additive effects to body weights at 4 to 12 months of
age, and to pre-weaning absolute growth rates, but Boer goat maternal additive effects were mostly negative”.
4.) “Reproduction is the trait of greatest economic importance. Any breeder who wants to implement performance
testing should keep proper ewe records (ease of lambing, growth rate of lambs, lamb mortality, number of lambs
weaned, and the health status of the ewes as well as the lambs. He should use these parameters for selection purposes
and select for productivity and not for fancy points. Should (Boer) breeders persist in paying a lot of attention to split
scrotums and the amount of red hair and spots which may be allowed, very little genetic improvement for
economically important traits will be made”.
Quentin Campbell’s bias in favor of production economics over Show Ring- determined “fancy points” reminded me of
my long-time friend and mentor, Dr. Frank Pinkerton, who regularly promotes on-farm testing over phenotypic
selection (visual evaluation). Like other survivors of the early boom-and-bust days in the Boer goat business, I was
determined to have productive animals under commercial conditions rather than overfed Show animals. Like many
others, I was concerned that the mothering characteristics of some Boer goats as well as the sluggish behavior of many
newborn kids might be deleterious to commercial profitability. (Such adverse traits are seen today in the U. S. in some
portion of this breed and have promoted crossbreeding in commercial herds to alleviate the difficulties and improve
However, meeting “Quenty” in 1996 peaked my interest in Savannah goats. His paper on “The Origin and
Development of Savanna Goats” and a later publication describing “The Savannah White Goats of Olierivier” (“Origin
and Description of the Well-Adapted Indigenous Fat-Tailed and Fat-Rumped Sheep Breeds and Indigenous Goat Breeds
of South Africa”) seemed to describe just the kind of goat I was looking for.
1.) “Savannas are sexually active during the whole year”
2.) “One ram can be mated to fifty or more ewes.”
3.) “Savanna goats have relatively simple and low nutritional requirements and can
survive and reproduce where other small stock breeds can not exist.”
4.) “Savannas are the ultimate easy care goats.”
5.) “Indigenous rams did not develop mouth, leg or hoof problems as was the case
with some Boer goats.”
6.) “Savanna goats produce a higher net profit because of lower input costs.”
7.) “Very good mothering ability and milk production of the ewes ensure fast
growing lambs. Savanna ewes must be able to lamb in the veld (brush land) and
rear their lambs without assistance.”
Because of these traits, I became determined to own some of these hardy, disease resistant white goats and began
planning a return trip to South Africa. Dr. Campbell’s lifelong quest, as stated in an article, “Outstanding Producer of
Red Meat from Low Quality Grazing (Boerbok Nuus, 1998), became my personal quest as well. Accordingly, I re-
visited him in the spring of 1999 to interview him about the Savanna goat Standards (detailed description of desirable
phenotypic traits) and to visit the Savanna operation of Lubbe Cilliers and family. (My video interviews of Dr.
Campbell and Mr. Lubbe Cilliers describing the Savannah breed history will soon be available via the North American
Savanna Association website).
Savanna history in South Africa
The D.S.U. Cilliers stud was started in 1957. The family had a variety of indigenous “Boer” goats (in the Afrikaans
language, “farm” goats), which were separable, by phenotypic characteristics, into various types of goats as follows:
(Van Rensburg, 1938, op.cit.).
- Ordinary Boer goats such as roan or “skilder” goats
- Brindle or Briekwa goats
- Mouse-eared or short eared goats
- White red-headed Boer goats
- Long-haired or “Jas” Boer goats
- Long-eared polled Boer goats
As was common in those days, many of these types were found in the original Cilliers’ flock; selection for uniformity
in phenotype, or for improved production characteristics, had not yet been started in South Africa. Lubbe described it
as “by chance” that one of his mother’s indigenous ewes had a set of pure white twins and his schoolboy’s dream of a
“wit Boerbok” (white Boer goat) was born. These and other white goats were propagated, and, after 36 years of
“natural selection” under extremely unfavorable conditions, a group of 12 indigenous ‘white goat’ breeders met in
November, 1993 at Olierivier and decided to form a Savanna Goat Breeders Society (Association).
Given the worldwide interest in South African goat genetics generated by the Boer goat exports to North America, it is
important to note that other indigenous goats were acceptable to the Savanna Society in 1996, i.e., red (Kalahari), roan
(Skilder) and mouse-eared goats. The evolving nature of the Savanna breed was evidenced by the appearance of a few
white goats with red heads in some of the original North American embryo transplant progeny. All of these goats are
‘pure’ Savanna goats, as defined by the founders. The Savanna breed was, and is, the legacy of Lubbe Cilliers, the
major player in its development.
In another area of South Africa (the East Cape), a small group of breeders selected from similar types of indigenous
‘farm’ goats, but their selection criteria included emphases on different body conformation characteristics and on one
specific color pattern. Thus the red headed, white-bodied Boer goat breed was created, and, in 1959 the South African
Boer Goat Association was formed to further develop and merchandize the breed.
In an earlier Goat Rancher article, Dr. Pinkerton described this breed development process as follows: “Readers should
understand that a recognized ‘breed’ came into existence when a few interested and able men sat around a table and: 1)
using a blank ledger, first created a Herd Book; 2) then arbitrarily decided the phenotypic characteristics of animals
deemed desirable for inclusion in the Herd Book, and 3) arbitrarily identified and chose the initial ‘foundation males
and females’, which were then given ‘registration numbers’ into perpetuity.
In South Africa, as also in Canada, the Herd Book is maintained, not by the Association, but by an ‘arms-length,
unbiased and independent body that reviews and responds to producer-controlled Breed Associations. Only one
Association is allowed to represent a given breed. In South Africa, this body is the Stud Book & Livestock
Association. It was created in 1905 as a producer organization but became a Government entity in 1977 via the South
Africa Livestock Improvement Act; the Canadian version is the Animal Pedigree Act. The Stud Book is the only
organization that may issue pedigree certificates (registration papers). It is also the repository of the Breed Standards
for each Association and changes can be made only with both Association and Stud Book approval.
Note that the Breed Association itself decides, at its inception, the ‘content’ of the original Herd Book. Dr. Pinkerton
has described it thusly: “Such an Association Herd Book may be closed or open. If closed, only descendents of the
original animals selected for the Herd Book may be registered. An open Book permits subsequent additions of ‘outside’
animals’ sired only by Herd Book-registered males, through a closely controlled process of ‘grading-up’. The original
phenotypic characteristics used to denote ‘minimal standards’ for registration may, or may not be modified over time
by the Association.
The strife and tribulation accompanying such organizational decisions, large and small, are near endless, but such
decisions are, in point of fact, necessary for the perpetuation of the breed—and equally important, the membership. The
primary function of any Breed Association is to maintain operational exclusivity of the Herd Book; all else is
peripheral”. (In the U. S., all such decisions were, and are, at the discretion of the Association (or Associations, in the
case of Boers and Kikos); in South Africa and Canada, ‘Government’ approval is also required).
The Herd Book and its control through an active Association are fundamental to breed survival. Indeed, the integrity,
and therefore the legitimacy, of a breed is dependent upon a properly conducted breed registry procedures because
genetic stability of any breed is evidenced by the proven relationship (unbroken chain) of all animals to a common
foundation population with common origin and history. Genetic stability of a breed population is further evidenced by
successive generations of adherence to established breed phenotypic standards (but may be modified by Association
Imports of Savannas to the U. S.
Jurgen Schulz (CODI-PCI) imported the first South African Savanna goats to a Florida quarantine station in late 1994;
in early 1995, they went to a Texas ranch approved as a quarantine unit. On December 5, 1998 the surviving herd was
sold through the Kifaru Exotics sale barn in Lampasas, Texas to buyers from several states. Little is known about the
reproduction or sale of any of these original imports or progeny prior to the complete herd dispersal sale.
Unfortunately, too little is also known about the proliferation and distribution of the animals and progeny thereafter.
The lack of an Association or even a Registry for some time after the Kifaru sale makes it difficult, if not impossible, to
trace correctly—and thus prove the validity of—all the goats purported to be pure Savannas.
The only documentation provided to Kifaru purchasers was a “Dear Customer” cover letter indicating the animal had
originated ‘from Mr. Cilliers’s farm in South Africa” along with a statement that “these were the only Savanna goats
in this country”. One generation of pedigree information was provided, and buyers were told “the U. S did not have a
Savanna goat Association/Registry.
Some six years later, the second set of Savannas was imported by my firm, Keri-rose, to Alberta, Canada. These Cillier
embryo-derived, Canadian-born, Savanna goats hit the ground in the spring of 2000, but they didn’t remain Canadian
citizens for very long. We had made a decision to “move south” and follow our goat dreams at the Galaxy Ranch, the
farm of Kay and Ellis King near Kinston, N.C. We later moved the herd of 29 Savannas (17 bucks and 12 does) to the
Turkey Tracks Boer goat operation near Fayetteville, NC.
All Keri-rose Savannas were blood sampled for DNA storage at the Saskatchewan Bovine Blood Tying Laboratory
prior to moving to NC. South African Stud Book certificates of registration of the original embryos were received while
we were in Kinston. Thereafter, we maintained detailed breeding records to be used for subsequent registrations in the
U. S. as circumstances permitted.
While in NC, we leased Savannas to Mike Browning, Erick and Derrick Wilson (Timberlake, N.C.) and Jerry Webb
(Ivor, Virginia). Multiplication of Keri-Rose genetics was accomplished through several ET programs conducted by the
Wilson brothers who were, later, estate heirs of Mike Browning, an original purchaser of Jurgen Schulz’s Savannah
genetics at the Kifaru sale. We later relocated our Savannas to Chris Glynos of CT and thereafter sold him a portion
and returned the remainder to our farm in Alberta. We collected on-farm performance in ’09 and will do so in ’10 as
part of effort to improve our herd and to merchandize ‘tested’ stock to others.
The third source of Savannah genetic material imported from South Africa was through DNAfrica an organization
spearheaded by Johan Campher who set up representatives (DVMs) in Canada to sell Savanna embryos or descendants.
This procedure took advantage of an existing Protocol between South Africa and Canada. The U. S. had no such
Protocol, then or now (the Schulz live-goat importation was an inexplicable exception).
Subsequently, Ms. Dennise Peterson of Hanford, CA as well as David Hagen of MN worked with the Canadian
veterinarians to implant recipients and produce an unknown (to me) number of live Savannahs. These animals must
have arrived on American soil sometime before the end of 2002 because it was at this time that Ms. Peterson was
actively trying to establish the World Wide Savanna Goat Association (now known as the World Wide Sheep and
Personal communication with Dr. Brian McOnie of British Columbia (a DNAfrica representative) confirmed the
authenticity of Ms. Peterson’s program, but privacy concerns would not allow him to elaborate on its size, its success
rate in terms of live kids or the pedigree information. Apparently, the Petersen goats were later sold to Ms. Lynette
Ladeau of AZ, recently relocated to MN. I know nothing of the fate of the Hagen goats.
Creation of a Savanna Breed Registry
I believe, but do not know for certain, that by 2002-2003 Ms. Peterson’s WWSGA and Ms. Pauline Wohnoutka’s
Pedigree International were registering Savanna goats; they do so today. However, there was as yet no national
Savanna Association with an associated Registry. To fill this perceived need, I and other Savanna owners created the
North American Savannah Association (NASA). It was legally incorporated on August 25, 2003 as a Texas Non-Profit
Association. Dr. Pinkerton, Elgin Pape (a TX Spanish goat breeder using Savanna bucks), and I were the required
three Directors. The stated purpose of the ‘corporation’ was to ‘develop and promote the Savanna goat in North
America by establishing and maintaining a Breed Registry and by encouraging seed stock performance recording’.
The three founding Directors and eleven other Savanna owners each paid a $300 Charter Membership fee in order to
pay for the creation of a ‘legal entity’ and its anticipated computer programming needs. The Charter members were Pat
O’Brien, Benalto, Alberta, Canada; John Tarnowetzki, Tuffnell, Saskatchewan, Canada; Ron Stein, Lake, MS; Charles
Barnes, Sims, NC; Erick and Derick Wilson, Timberlake, NC; Dale Coody, Lawton, OK; Lonnie Durbin, Central, SC;
Dr. Lynn Harwell, Seneca, SC; Zelotes Shaver, Grapeland, TX, plus Pinkerton, Pape, and me.
Brian Payne was instructed to address the following key issues:
1) Obtain a buyer list of the original Savannas imported by Jurgen Schulz and as later sold through his Kifaru
sales facility. There was group concern that ‘imposter’ Savannas could possibly be offered for registration; accordingly,
Schulz document was vital information for establishment of a creditable Registry. It was so obtained and is now part of
the certificate verification process used by the NASA Registrar.
2) Contract the services of an experience, economical, and un-biased Registrar to provide the registration services
for Savanna owners in North America. In due time, The American Dorper Sheep Breeders’ Association (ADSBS)
authorized their Registrar, Ms. Ronda Sparks, to undertake the registration of Savanna goats. The NASA address is
PO Box 259, Hallsville, MO 65255-0259, ph 573-696-2550 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Services were initiated in
December of 2003.
3) Provide the Registrar with a clear definition of full-blood foundation stock and specify the necessary
documentation for acceptance into the NASA Herd Book For registration purposes, initial full-blood
foundation stock were identified as: a) Savannas imported by Jurgen Schulz in 1995 and subsequently sold at his
dispersal in December 5, 1998; breeders must provide original Kifaru Sales documentation, verify any subsequent sales
or transfers of ownership and provide their private breeding records to register their animals; and b) Savannas born
from embryos and their descendants imported by Keri-rose or DNAfrica must be accompanied by government
importation documents, certificates of embryo transfer completed by both the exporting veterinary team and the
domestic implant team as well as their private breeding records (i.e., recipients utilized) and any subsequent sales or
transfers of ownership.
4) Instruct the Registrar to register offspring of grade females of unknown provenance if sired by fullbred Savanna
bucks and to issue registration certificates as purebred Savannas if they are 15/16 Savanna.
As with all breeder organizations, some of the original members of NASA dropped out over time. However, new
members enrolled and registered their goats. Although there is no ‘formal’ Savanna Association (President, Vice-
President, etc.), the present membership interacts, as needed, with the three Managing Directors (currently Chris
Glynos of CT, Dawn Steiger of KY, and myself).
In concluding this short history of the Savannah breed in North America and the formation of the North American
Savannah Association, I would be remiss, as founding Board Member/Director, if I did not note the critical
contribution of Nan Brock of Palestine, TX as early recording secretary of NASA. I also cite the later participation of
Board Member/Director, Chris Glynos of Bethlehem, CT and, most recently, of Dawn Steiger of Bowling Green, KY,
who serves as Public Relations person of NASA as well as Board Member/Director. She is responsible for our Webpage
and has been very active in recruiting new members. “Lubbe’s Legacy” could not have been protected without the
help of these individuals.
Now that the Registry is functioning smoothly, I encourage all Savannah enthusiasts to get their registrations up to
date, to re-new their memberships (or join), and to participate in the further development of NASA. As of this writing,
there is no official Association entity; in the interim, members interact with the three Directors at will. As the
membership grows, a more formal arrangement can be made.
I specifically encourage all owners to enroll theirs herds in the On-farm Performance Evaluation Program conducted
by Dr. Kenneth Andries at KY SU, Frankfort, KY (email@example.com.). As Dr. Pinkerton so often says,
registration certificates trace only pedigrees, not performances, and, secondly, phenotypic evaluations only tell one
what an animal looks like, not how it will perform. Put differently, performance testing is a factual—and thus useful—
contribution to herd management in pursuit of profitability; pedigrees are but interesting genetic history. He, and I,
would consider a performance-tested animal (from two generations of tested animals) to be appreciably more valuable
than one with a legitimate six-generation pedigree, but unknown performance ability. Pedigrees sell, but pedigrees-
cum-performance sell better. If they do not so sell, we are all but producers and purveyors of (too cheap) auction-
bound slaughter goats, or so says The Goat Man…