Is there any value in breeding dairy does with a Boer or other meat goat buck to produce crossbred kids? This is a question with as many different answers as there are breeders. A management style appropriate for one goat herd might be completely unacceptable to another and vice-versa. For those who have dairy goat herds and focus on maximizing milk production and genetics, the idea of crossbreeding with a meat breed just seems to make little or no sense at all. But for others, crossbreeding can be used as a management tool with a variety of purposes.
Pat Hendrickson, Napavine, Washington, sells raw goat milk year-round from her Rocky Run Dairy. She uses crossbreeding as a management tool for her herd of Saanens, utilizing a Boer buck to keep her herd small in numbers.
"I breed my yearling dairy does to a Boer buck largely to evaluate what kind of producers they’re going to be," she said. "If the doe turns out to be a good milker, I’ll breed her back the second year with a Saanen buck. If she’s not, I sell her."
In recent years, Hendrickson and her husband, Don, have decided to keep the herd size smaller. Producing some crossbreds eliminates the temptation to keep all the kids. They strive to keep their milking herd at about 18 does and sell off anything not meeting their expectations.
"There’s a good meat market for crossbred kids where we live and I have no problem selling them," she said. "And a crossbred brings more money than a pure Saanen kid. Since we have no desire to grow the herd, it simply adds more value to the kids we sell."
A second major benefit to crossbreeding with Boer goats, according to Hendrickson, is that Boer bucks will breed throughout the year as opposed to the dairy breeds that tend to be much more seasonal. This allows her to freshen does through the winter to meet the year-round demand for her milk. Hendrickson understands that she’s passing up an opportunity to improve purebred genetics by crossbreeding and that’s where she has to make another management decision.
"For me the value of the milk I can sell during the winter is greater than the value of a purebred Saanen kid. I use a Boer buck on my yearling does because it makes economic sense," she said.
Also citing economic value is Nancy Eales, Hutchinson, Kansas, who raises, breeds, and milks crossbred meat/dairy goats exclusively.
"To me the 50-50 Boer cross is an excellent milking goat," she said. "They’re more filled out and they milk well, too. They average between a gallon and a half-gallon of milk per day. I’ve experimented with breeding more Boer into the crosses but unless they are at least 50 percent dairy, they just don’t work out for milking, especially over an extended time."
Eales also said her Boer/dairy cross kids grow faster and are bigger than the pure dairy kids and they sell for more, especially the bucklings and wethers she sells to the local ethnic population.
"I have people coming to my farm looking for day-old crossbreds and they are willing to pay from $50 to $75 per head, live weight," she said. "The going price for a dairy buckling is around $15. Cross breeding is a good way to get extra value out of the males that you’re not going to keep, anyway."
Chris Glynos, Bethlehem, Connecticut, breeds both Boer and Savannah meat goats at his ranch and is also in complete agreement that cross breeding meat goats with dairy goats produces a better kid.
"The outcrosses are better in that they grow faster and command a better price at markets in New England," he said. "They tend to be a heartier animal."
Glynos said the market for goat meat in Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts is growing rapidly as the ethnic population increases. In the Eastern region of the United States the demand for goat meat is growing faster than the demand for goat dairy products.
"You get the best of both meat and dairy with a cross bred goat and you’re better able to utilize marginal pastures-pastures that you wouldn’t be inclined to use for pure dairy breeds," he said. "You have to remember that goat meat is still the number-one meat consumed in the world. Many people in the United States still consider goats as the ‘poor man’s cow’ and consider goat meat and goat dairy products as inferior to cow milk and beef. Goats fit a need in many parts of the world because they are easier to raise and have less of an impact on the environment. That’s something that needs to be considered as more good land is taken away from agriculture, especially in New England. If you’re close to a large population center with a diverse ethnic population like we are here in Connecticut, raising a few crossbreds on your goat dairy is definitely worth your time."
Randi Hoskins, Moscow, Ohio, has used Boer bucks to breed her Breeze Fields Dairy yearlings in the past, but found time and labor constraints trying to manage the two different types not worth the end result. She said the main reason she got into crossbreeding with a Boer buck was to see how the udders would turn out on the first-freshening dairy does.
"The kids of this cross were very nice," Hoskins said. "Mixing the Boer with the dairy gave the kids more height and milking capacity. But I only did this for a few years, ending last year. I discontinued because I decided just to focus on my dairy goats. Having two completely different types of goats was difficult in the overall care, genetics, etc. Now my herd consists of 10 Alpines (seven does and three bucks) and one LaMancha doe."
Hoskins said the dairy goats were easier to care for and not as hard on fences and feeders as the Boer goats were. Plus she enjoyed working with the pedigrees and genetics of her dairy goats more.
Carolyn Hillman, Colrain, Massachusetts, also said she had no interest in combining meat and dairy breeds in her herd of about 40 Alpines and Nubians.
"My whole business is focused on producing milk and making my cheeses. Last year (2006) I produced and marketed 6,000 pounds of goat milk cheese," she said. "I’m not opposed to people breeding a cross but I don’t have the time to spend that’s necessary to raise the crossed kids and then market them."
Hillman also said she wasn’t convinced using a Boer buck on dairy does was a good idea, in terms of size of kids and influence on future milk production. For her, selling surplus dairy kids at the local markets or sales in Massachusetts has always been profitable and price was not dependent on the color or type of kid sold.
"I make my living with cheese production," she said. "Perhaps those folks with smaller herds who don’t depend completely on their goats for their livelihood are in a better position to take advantage of the extra income that crossbreds might provide."
In conclusion, the use of a Boer buck to breed dairy does depends entirely on the focus, market, and goals of each individual goat breeder. Those looking to concentrate strictly on milk and cheese production and improving dairy genetics, don’t have much use for crossbreeding meat and dairy goats. But for those who have all the milk and animals they need, using the crossbreeding option might make economic sense. For Hendrickson, Eales, Glynos, Hoskins, and Hillman, having differing views on the same subject doesn’t mean that one preference is better than another. It just means that each must make a management decision based on their own goals and management plans. Could cross breeding increase goat kid value?