Is the time right for you to finally bring an adorable goat back to your homestead?
Our original goal, when we brought goats home the first time, was to stock our refrigerator with fresh, wholesome milk. Today those trail-blazing goats are a production pillar for our little homestead.
Not being dependent on the grocery store for milk was a fantastic level of self-sufficiency, but now that we can sell the kids and extra milk too, it became a profitable one too.
Opportunities like these make dairy goats an excellent investment for homesteaders, especially those with small acreage. But like many things in life, you get what you pay for.
We made our share of beginners blunders but looking back I'm thankful we made an effort up front to buy high-quality dairy stock.
Breed Standards and Who Sets Them
The versatility of goats has been a boon to humanity for centuries. Dual-purpose breeds are a throwback to when goats provided meat, milk, and fiber necessary for almost every family’s survival.
In North America, the first goats known are the Spanish goats which came with the Spaniard explorers in the 16th century. Which means, goats are an old American tradition predating both the Thanksgiving turkey and 4th of July apple pie!
It was not until the 1900s that the development of various goat breeds took their modern form and several goat associations originated.
These organizations were instrumental in giving unity to the fledgling breed standards and, today, maintain much of the research done on goats.
For dairy goats, the most well-known registry in America is the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA). ADGA recognizes eight dairy breeds, which are: Alpines, LaManchas, Oberhalis, Nubians, Saanens, Toggenburgs, Sables, and Nigerian Dwarfs.
3 Reasons Why You Should Buy Registered Stock
When we decided to only buy high-quality dairy stock, we put in extra effort in finding them, and we paid a high price for papered stock. And even though we've been ADGA members for 15 years, we have never shown one of our goats. We wanted milk and once we had it have always been quite content.
But I never regret out decision, and there's three reasons why:
1. Healthy Genetics
First, breed standards are just as much about healthy genetics as they are about pretty animals. For example, a swayed-back or parrot mouth (severe overbite) is a disqualification for almost any showring but do we really want a doe that has a deformed back or mouth regardless of whether she ever prances before a judge?
A swayed-back can lead to birthing complications, while a parrot mouth is genetic, and kids that inherit this trait will be less easy to sell.
2. Backed by Research
Secondly, many associations also do genetic research, which enables you to expand your herd armed with knowledge and facts. Again, my family has never done more with our goats than drink the milk, raise kids, and keep the brush down, but the option has always been there if we wanted them and we have used that wealth of knowledge in choosing new stock.
3. Better Opportunities
Lastly, having registered stock gave us options. Fifteen years ago selling our extra milk wasn't on our radar but now we can't keep up with the customer demand. I'm very thankful for the hours we put into looking for the strong dairy lines that back our little herd.
The same could apply with showing in the future or simply providing a top-notch breeding stock. Obviously, I can only speak from my experience, but if I were to do it again, I'd not change our decision to build on quality blood-lines.
What to Look For in Body Conformation
Whether or not you choose to show or simply raise your dairy herd for your needs, body confirmation is a prime indicator of quality stock and genetic health.
While ADGA provides specific definitions for each breed, for the sake of simplicity we'll cover the basic definitions that encompass all goat breeds and how they relate to health.
Like all aspects of body conformation, the ability to discern desirable qualities means looking at many different goats. So make it fun!
Create a Pinterest board, browse photos of past grand champions to develop your eye. It takes time, but believe me it's worth it – and you can use the pictures in this article for starts!
1. Gentlemen and Ladies
Whether it is for meat goats, dairy goats, Nigerian Dwarfs or Saanens, masculinity qualities are looked for in bucks, and feminine characteristics in does.
As a general base-point, bucks should be larger than does, sturdier and more muscular. It's also especially important for a buck to be well-proportioned since his characteristics will be passed on to every kid.
When I look at our annual crop of kids, certain characteristics catch my eye. A doeling with a blend of strength and grace, bucklings with solid frames, and overall balance and harmony in build, are promising signs of future bucks and does that carry the beauty of the breed to a new generation.
2. Top line
Picture someone pulling a string from the goat’s shoulders to the base of the tail and you have the top line. We want that string to be taut and parallel to the back with no valleys (swayed-back) or humpy hills brushing against it.
3. Well-sprung Ribs
Sometimes also called the barrel, this refers to everything between the front and rear legs.
In describing ‘well-sprung' I like to think of it in terms of kitchens. Imagine the cramped quarters of a fast food kitchen as opposed to a nice dinner where there is plenty of room. Both do the same kind of work but one is spacious and the other cumbersome.
In our goats we want them to have a spacious room to store and ruminate their forage and, for does, plenty of baby-making space so she’ll have multiple, healthy-size kids.
The brisket refers to the flat, girth area between the front legs. We are looking for a wide, broad, roomy brisket. Also, the shoulders need to be flushed with the body, as they are with the Toggenburg shown above.
Roomy with a high arch is what we want for both bucks and does. In does, the udder ligaments must be strong, holding the udder high and tight up against the body.
Notice how in the photo above, the does have: 1. roomy arches allowing for high production, 2. tight ligaments that will serve well into the golden years, 3. good front and rear udder attachment that keeps the teats hanging straight down.
Below is a Saanen doe with poor rear udder attachment (note how the teats point at an angle).
6. Genetic history
Naturally, much of what we've covered with body conformation boils down to the quality of genetics behind the goat. Personally, I would not buy a buck or doe without first seeing their pedigree for two reasons.
One, I don't want a lot of line-breeding (parent-to-offspring breeding) in my herd; pedigrees reveal how much diversity is in the gene history.
Two, while I notice champions and grand champions, I'm looking for strong milking lines because that is important to us. Pedigrees are readily available, so never hesitate to ask for one.
7. Number of Siblings
In my experience, health and nutrition are the best promoters of healthy twin and triplet births. That being said, I've also seen a history of triplets in the line be passed on to daughters and granddaughters.
Again, this may not bear out 100% of the time, but typically, multiple births in the line should raise your chance of the same from your does as well.
8. Milk Lines
As I mentioned before, good milk production is important to us, so this is a top priority for us when choosing a buck or doe. Yes, that's right: bucks pass on milk quantity too.
A pedigree will reveal if a buck or doe has milk awards in their line or even if they have offspring which have won milk awards.
Markers of Good Health
By this point, you know more about goats than many goat owners learn in a lifetime. While genes are important there are outer signs of health we want to be attuned to as well.
Here are classic markers of good health in dairy goats:
Parrot mouth (severe overbite) or other deformities of the mouth can cause eating challenges and thus malnutrition. Beyond that fact, it may also be passed on to the offspring.
2. Eyelid and Gum Color
Pale eyelids and gum color is one of the earliest indicators of anemia, which is often caused by parasites – including the deadly barber-pole worms.
I've heard of beautiful, expensive goats falling ill overnight because they were hosting these silent killers. Deep pink is what we want to see when looking at eyelids and gums.
3. Hoof Health
Limping, odor or infected tissue in a goat's hooves are all signs of hoof rot. Not only is hoof rot a pain (pun intended) to cure but it is also contagious, so don't hesitate to pick up hooves and look them over. While you are at it, also inspect it for founder, twisted hooves, or overgrowth that has joined the two halves together.
4. Coat and Body Condition
Regardless of breed, a dairy goat's coat should be glossy and smooth. Also, the body tone should be neither too thin or too fleshy, with flesh over but not drowning the ribs.
Plush, smooth coats, and toned body condition are the top indicators of pristine health.
Healthy, solid stock is the surest foundation for success with goats. We are now in the sixth generation from our original does. For a decade and half, they have faithfully produced healthy kids, delicious milk, and helped us tame the wild, brushy side of our homestead.
Most goat problems are rooted in genetics and health, so by being cautious, taking your time to shop around, and ultimately by only buying registered stock, will your dairy herd treat you well in years to come.