Devil’s River

“Uno is a buck with a remarkable story. He belonged to a rancher who decided to raise Boer-cross goats, and was the one of the last purebred Spanish goats in the herd that got caught out. Uno was just a kid, and was scheduled to be eaten for dinner by his owner. That is, until Marvin Shurley saw him. Shurley was struck by the structural soundness of the little goat, and made a deal to buy him on the spot. Thus Uno found a reprieve from the BBQ pit and a new home on Shurley’s ranch in Sonora, Texas. Uno became the reference buck for what is now called the Devil’s River bloodline.

Shurley had raised Spanish goats for many years, running up to 2,000 head at one time, but got interested in Boers in the early 1990’s and crossed his Spanish goats with Boers. However, as the President for the American Meat Goat Association, Shurley is able to stay well-informed on the studies and trends of meat goats in the United States. And he had learned from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy that Spanish goats had been assigned as a conservation priority. He knew then that he’d like to put together a Spanish herd before the breed disappeared altogether.

So Shurley started with Uno, and set out to find some Spanish nannies. He found out that Eugene Bradshaw in El Dorado, Texas had put together a group of 900 Spanish nannies; Shurley chose what he considered to be the top 49 nannies out of the bunch and bought them. Since then he has added a performance-tested Sawyer billy to breed with Uno’s progeny, and to produce sires for use in his composite breeding program. He’s breeding both Spanish billies, Uno and Eddie, to Boer and Spanish nannies.

Shurley’s ranch has the same terrain as most hill-country goat ranches, with Live Oaks, Shin Oaks, and fairly dense brush. Apparently the brush is a deterrent for eagles, making landing and take-off too tricky for them. The ranch is devoid of coyotes, which have been virtually wiped out in the area by commercial ranchers’ trapping efforts over the years. There are still predators though, mainly bobcats, raccoons, and foxes. Shurley does not use any livestock guardian animals, relying solely on traps and snares. In the past three years he’s caught 120 bobcats, 400 raccoons, and about 100 foxes, which not only benefits kid survival, but is also a fun and profitable hobby.

Shurley primarily chooses Spanish goats that are structurally sound. He likes large-framed and heavy-boned goats that show no signs of frailty. He prefers black coats, but does not breed for color. The goats are expected to be hardy—there is no deworming, and natural forage is only supplemented when necessary by 20% protein blocks.

Shurley’s long-term goat-ranching strategy lies in developing a composite herd that includes a mix of Boer, Nubian, Kiko, and Spanish in the mix. He’s not happy with guessing what’s best, he wants proof. He wants numbers, and has participated in goat performance tests since 1995. And Shurley’s willing to become actively involved with some very interesting studies to find out if his hunch about the perfect composite mix of goats is correct or not. In some on-farm testing in the mid-1990’s, some of his Spanish dressed out at 57% compared to his Boers who only hit around 52% on a live weight to hot carcass weight comparison. Unfortunately those ‘old?Spanish genetics of his goats were lost due to out-crossing with Boers.

Shurley has seen the population of Spanish goats drop from well over half a million to today’s hard-to-find goats numbering perhaps 7,000 nationwide. Shurley has the experience to know that if you want to continue to keep Spanish blood in the herd, you’ve got to raise some purebred Spanish goats. Thankfully there are still a few isolated herds of Spanish goats running around in the Devil’s River area of Texas that aren’t being crossed with other breeds.

Shurley would like to state that many of the long-time breeders of Spanish goats listed on this website served as an inspiration to him in his meat goat ventures over the years. And he wishes to say, “Thanks to all of you who stuck with Spanish goats.

History of Devil’s Run herd by Marvin F. Shurley, February 2008. Shurley passed away in April, 2009.