The Boerboel of 20/30/40 years ago, by Nico Kilian


“Baron” a dog owned by the Greyling family, pulling a cart made by the family’s children in 1968. Source

I wanted to put this post up long ago and at last I have had the time to sit down and do it.

This is my life experience and my opinion …as I grew up with this breed and have witnessed what their roles as dogs were on a lot of farms in the Volksrust, Utrecht, Vryheid, Louwsburg, Pongola (Kwazulu Natal, South Africa) areas.  Those of you who know the Boerboel’s history, will also know that the De Jagger’s, one of the founding families of the Boerboel, are farmers in the Utrecht area, as well as Hofni Boerboels they were neighbours. I know these families well and spend a lot of time on the Schoeman’s farm as they are very good friends of the family.

This 90% was mostly around “die werf” – the homestead.  They had a comfortable place on the porch or at the back door of the kitchen where they monitored their domain.

That is why, most of the time, there were 10 + dogs on the farm – from the small little mutts for (rats and small vermin) to the more running type of dogs the “Afrika Wind Hond” – African Grey Hound, and herding dogs (depending on what type of farm it was). They coexisted as a pack.  No dog had its own kennel – they slept where they wanted.  They dug a hole in the ground and made themselves comfortable. Winter or summer, they stayed outside. [Note from Janet: in winter, South Africa is really really REALLY cold at night ]

There on these farms, dogs were of average build they were not big, heavy dogs. Look at Piona Vegter and Piona Lugar for example. Most of the Boerboel males of today do not resemble any of the old school dogs. That said, there have been improvements made over the years to the Boerboel some for the good and some for the bad.

The other 10%? Well, these dogs were the more working type dogs. They would run after the horses and follow their master on the farm where ever he went, be his shadow. These Boerboels could follow a horse if it went out to go look at the herds or jump on the back of the “bakkie” pickup to ride along as the farmer did his rounds on the farm, or run behind the bakkie.

Not many were used for herding, and by saying that I think I saw one that was used for herding.  Why? You see, in South Africa the farmers have a “Bees Wagter” – cattle herder – looking after his animals. In the day time these herders were mostly  accompanied by their own dog as a sentinel. Their dogs were a small little mixed breed, the Africanis, and they were very important because they were an extremely alert type of dog that could look after itself and catch mice and lizards to survive in the day time.

So bringing the big farm dog along was not always a great idea as the farmers had a lot of respect for the herders and their animals. They were usually very old wise man, and most of my knowledge I have of the “Veld” I learned from them. These dogs were used for hunting and catching game, or hunting jackal.

I love the stories I have heard that people have seen a Boerboel grab an Afrikaaner Bull by the nose and pull it to the ground… If a dog does that to a farmer’s Bull in South Africa he is dead trust me. Or the legend that a Boerboel killed a Lion. Have you seen the size of a real lion? I don’t think so …

Hofni Boerboel Dela Rey Schoeman took a pack of Boerboels into cave close to Utrecht going after a couple Hyenas that were killing animal in the area. If I remember correctly, they killed two hyenas but some dogs got injured and one or two died in the process. This I know is true, as I spoke to these people myself and the witnesses that were there the day.

The original dogs from the Free State, Natal and Transvaal looked different, as these dogs had different tasks that they had to fulfil. From the big heavy boys for guarding the property, to the more agile running type that worked with the herd and was used for hunting. In those days dogs had function and were bred for it. From lazy couch potato lying on the porch, to a guarding dog,  to a working dog, to personal protector, it was your choice.

My point is that what makes this breed THE BOERBOEL so special is the fact that YOU the prospective buyer and owner can go and do your homework find the breeder that has the dogs that suits your needs.

Breed Standard
Within these parameters you can find what suits your needs
Size must always be in relation to overall balance and may not hamper mobility
Male dogs:
Not less than 60 cm to 76 cm measured to the top of the withers, with an ideal size of 66 cm
Female dogs:
Not less than 55 cm to 71 cm measured to the top of the withers, with an ideal size of 61 cm

I want to thank Nico for this wonderful account of the daily life of a Boerboel on the farms, which is what they were bred for. 

Here is a video of Nico’s dogs!


See my Boerboel Index here

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

3 thoughts

  1. Not mutch have chance then, on my farm one Jack Russel; one labrador x blue heeler; one labrador; one blue heeler; one dachhound; 2x boerboel.

  2. Well said Nico. Most of the registered dogs of today could not perform these tasks either because of deficits in their temperament or their physical conformation. Good post that also supports my recent post on the changing Shape of the Boerboel

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