The aim of this survey was to characterize the economic, social and nutritional importance of goat farming in the Mgwalana district of the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, and to identify critical constraints and opportunities for use in future development initiatives. The majority (68%) of de facto heads of households were males, of which 66% were older than 50 years of age. The majority (60%) had received schooling for five years or less. Most respondents (86%) kept goats. The mean flock size was 16 head, of which 76.7% consisted of does, 15.8% castrates and 7.5% bucks. The mean kidding percentage was 76% for maiden does and 64% for older does. The annual mortality rate was 7%; adult does accounted 47% of deaths, and abortions for 29%. The main reasons given for keeping goats were for slaughter during traditional ceremonies (35%) and for cash sales (23%), and only 15% kept goats for home meat consumption. The motivation for the sale of goats was mainly to pay debts or save money (45%) and to buy other foodstuffs (27%). The majority of sales (91%) took place during the summer months, and buyers (possibly migrant workers returning home during the Christmas vacation) used the goats mainly for traditional ceremonies, funerals and weddings. Only 10% of farmers indicated that they would invest in goat farming if granted a loan that had to be paid back. This would appear to be related to labour constraints, as 44% of goat owners herded their flocks themselves and 37% relied on school-going children for this purpose. Only 19% of respondents indicated that they hired labour to herd their flocks. It would appear that future expansion of goat farming in this area is severely constrained by labour constraints and the fact that goat meat ranked lowest on the scale of eating preferences. It was concluded that initiatives aimed at improving the economic, nutritional and health status of this community through increased goat production are unlikely to be successful and that the problem of bush encroachments likely to increase to the detriment of other ruminant species in the future.
"Experientia docet" - Experience is the best teacher