By David Lowe | Dispatch Record
Longtime rancher Larry Rutledge has deep roots in the Lampasas area, but the ancestry of his prized Savanna goats traces to a much more distant land — South Africa.
Rutledge, who ranches several miles east of Lampasas, raises about 60 Savanna does and about a dozen Savanna bucks in a herd he calls “Texas Savannas.” The herd has a Facebook page by the same name.
Rutledge — who has raised cattle, sheep and goats, and used to work at the sheep and goat auction in Lampasas — said he has found Savanna goats offer several advantages to livestock raisers. Rutledge said he wants to help publicize the breed.
HISTORY OF SAVANNA GOATS
The solid-white, hardy animals were developed in the 1950s by selecting from indigenous bush goats in South Africa, according to Pedigree International — which breeders commissioned in 2000 to maintain a Savanna herd book.
In 1994, according to Pedigree International, Jürgen Schulz imported the first live Savannas into the United States. Schulz became the first Savanna breeder in the U.S., and 32 Savannas were sold to the public at the Lampasas-area businessman’s Kifaru dispersion sale in 1998, according to Pedigree International.
Imported frozen embryos from South Africa also brought Savanna genetics to herds in the United States for several years, although “new genetic material from South Africa is currently banned under international law,” according to Pedigree International.
The organization has registered more than 3,500 Savanna goats in the U.S., Rutledge said. The Lampasas County rancher, who said he got his first Savannas 12-15 years ago, is one of about 270 active Savanna breeders listed on Pedigree International’s website. About 40 of the breeders are from Texas, and the rest are from 42 other states.
Rutledge had the top-selling buck and doe at the South African Savanna Goat Spectacular, held Sept. 18-19 in Springfield, Missouri. The sale featured about 100 head of goats, with 28 states represented, Rutledge said.
With good pest tolerance and adaptability to extreme temperatures, the Savanna breed “has proven itself from the dry heat of the [South African] Veld, to the harsh winters in Alberta, and in the wet humid climate of the southeast USA,” Pedigree International stated in online material. “This goat adds muscling and heartiness with moderate rancher inputs, giving a nice return on investment.”
Rutledge — who said he sells breeding Savannas across the United States — said Savannas are similar to the Boer meat goat, but they have advantages in terms of mothering ability and parasite resistance. Rutledge said worms can kill many goats, especially in wet years, but he said some years he does not need to give his Savannas any worm treatments.
“Like this year, I haven’t hardly had to worm any at all,” he said.
The rancher said he never worms his entire Savanna herd at the same time. Instead, he evaluates the animals and treats only those that seem to need it, he said.
Savannas’ dietary needs are no different than those of other breeds, Rutledge said.
“They’re just another goat, in terms of [nutrition],” he said.
Does breed once a year, and Rutledge said he tries to time conceptions for August. The gestation period is five months, so kids typically are born at Rutledge’s ranch in January and February.
Rutledge reported an average kid crop of 150% to 170%, as he said his herd has many twins. It is fairly common for his does to give birth to triplets, he said, and Rutledge said his herd has had rare occurrences of quadruplets.
Rutledge maintains a list of which does he plans to breed to which bucks, and he said most of his records are hand-written.
Rutledge said Savannas’ breeding productivity declines — with fewer kids, less milk and decreased immunity — after a doe is about 8, but some of his goats have bred even when they were as old as 11.
“Right now, I’ve got a few 10- and 11-year olds, and with their bloodlines, I want to get as much out of them as I can,” he said.
To meet breed standards, Savannas must be solid white, with black pigmentation on the nose and tail, Rutledge said. No red colors are allowed in the hide, he said.
Although Rutledge said most Savannas are sold for breeding purposes, rather than going to meat markets, he said those that do not conform to breed standards are culled. In Texas, most of the meat from culled animals is sold for Middle Eastern or Mexican cuisine, Rutledge said.
LOGISTICS OF BUYING AND SELLING
As he develops his herd, Rutledge is buying only bucks. He said he plans to purchase three to four males soon, which should give him what he needs for about three years.
Rutledge typically buys off the internet, and he has gotten bucks from Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Dakota and Idaho.
Evaluation of the goat and its genetic stock is key, the rancher said.
“I look at the animal first, because he’s got to be a big-boned, meaty animal,” he said.
Then, Rutledge looks at the pedigree to determine if the buck comes from good stock.
Most of Rutledge’s buyers come to him to pick up goats, but Rutledge said in some cases, he arranges hauling for customers. On one order, Rutledge sent five does and one buck to Utah.
When striving for good genetics, buying and selling can be a long-distance arrangement.
“You’ve got to look around and try to find the best,” Rutledge said.