That all changed when Joe, who was raised on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma, saw the sorry state of Fijian goats. Scrawny and ornery, he likened them to "feral" animals.
What I'm sure surprised him was how popular they are on the dinner table.
Nothing is more highly prized in Fijian culinary circles that an spicy hot goat curry. This is especially true during the holidays. Whether you are an indigenous Fijian or an Indo Fijian, to ring in the New Year, you've simply got to do it with a goat curry.
A New Year's day without goat is worse than New Year's eve sans the bubbly.
There’s always a run on goat meat at this time of year so you’re lucky if you can find it in the store or on the hoof.
That is, if you have the means.
Goat meat is expensive.
If someone shows up with a gaggle of goats over the holidays it will indeed attract attention. Last Christmas I witnessed a fellow wash ashore with a boatload of goats and set up an ad-hoc market in Taveuni. (See top photo).
Salivating at the opportunity buy a goat, people crowded around the bleating, pathetic animals. They could practically taste the curry.
Each goat fetched around $F300-400 which is a lot of money in Fiji.
This passion for goat meat did not go unnoticed by Joe.
He decided the best thing he could do about it was to improve the caliber of the humble goat by breeding the emaciated local animals with pure bred Boer Goats he imported from Australia.
Originally bred in South Africa, the Boer goats are twice as large as Fiji goats (35-40 kg vs 15-20 kg) and provide over twice the meat per kg, per animal.
If that ain't enough, the Boers are lower in bad cholesterol than the native stock.
Not only do those beefy critters offer more healthy meat on the hoof, the randy South African devils breed at triple the rate of the typical lethargic Fiji goat. Joe said the Billie goats will practically rip down a fence to get at a doe.
Joe jumped through a plethora of his own regulatory hoops and finally manged to bring sixty goats to Fiji from Australia in 2009.
He says breeding his super goats with the Fiji variety is producing excellent results. Just after a few generations you’ve essentially a goat with all the Boer’s characteristics.
What more could a farmer ask for?
Well, evidently not Joe's goats.
Fijian farmers haven't exactly fallen in love with the studley South Africans. They are a conservative lot and it will take time to get them to accept the new breed.
Joe is optimistic that once the hot new Boer catches on, he'll be a hero.
Farmers will have realized the Boer will put more and better quality food on the table. Unlike the farmers, the grocery stores, he says, already will buy all the goat meat he can offer them.
He notes that goat manure is excellent for gardens and, if you’re lucky he’ll have some high grade goat scat to sell you. I wish he was closer by. I could sure use some for my vegetable patch.
Top shot Taveuni goat sale (Rob Kay), Middle photo features a Boer Goat and bottom feature show Joe Smelser with his prized buck.