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Choosing a Herd Sire

Form Follows Function

By Nancy Nickel

The purchase of a herd sire is the manifestation of a vision for every dairy goat owner. It is a concrete and positive step in the direction of a herd’s future, and the continued enjoyment of one’s goat keeping endeavors. More than “half a herd,” he is the future.

The decision to purchase a herd sire is carefully considered at Nickel’s Dairy Goats, Clark, Missouri. We first list the traits we believe our herd exemplifies and consider only genetics that will enable us to maintain our genetic advantage. Just as corporations and businesses maintain a mission statement for guidelines and direction, a herdsman will profit from keeping a clear view of attainable goals. All team members involved in our goat project participate in the planning stages as well as in the daily work; the “hands-on” experience is the basis for the decisions to be made.

Our second consideration in selection is the list of qualities that we believe will move us ahead. When deciding, we always remember the advice we have been given by prominent breeders who we revere as our elders in goat keeping. When faced with the decision of a new herd sire in 1993 we questioned Evin Evans of Split Creek Dairy in North Carolina for some good advice. We felt fortunate that a person such as Evans would take the time to talk to us, for in addition to her success as a commercial dairyperson; she is an ADGA judge and has placed well when exhibiting at the National Show level. Evans told us that in her years of goat breeding she had found that “form follows function.” She explained that when making choices about what does to keep or what bucks to use she always made her choice in favor of milk. She found that to choose the milkiest animals also brought conformation and longevity into the herd.

We look to a buck’s mother and grandmothers to assess our chances of getting the production and conformation we desire. Seeing uniform udder form and shape on these three does has proven to give a good indication of the type of udders a buck will produce.

We use a method of “guestimation” in an attempt to hedge our bets in favor of receiving the actual genes that will give us what we observe visually. The first rule of thumb is “have it in hand to pass it on.” Simply stated, a doe with a lovely udder is more likely to pass it on than her full sister who is average in that area. A buck from an excellent dam and granddam is more likely to pass on this trait than a buck that comes from an average mother.

Once the lineage shows that a trait is not passed on to the next generation, we treat it as lost and consider it to be a nonentity in those genetics. Certainly, there are desirable recessive traits that will not be apparent and can resurface in the following generation. However, this is a risk that we have chosen not to take in our breeding program. Recessive traits are actually the easiest to breed for, if one considers that in order to exhibit a recessive trait, an animal must be genetically “loaded” for that trait. By loaded, I mean he has that potential on both gene sides, and has no other choice but to produce what is seen.

All breeders of livestock must play the genetics gambling game in order to succeed in the animal world. Basic rules indicate that if there are two traits of equal strength, there is a 50/50 chance of receiving either one. In life we find this not to be exactly true. It seems that some traits will be transmitted in bundles. To add to the confusion, some families pass these bundles more freely than others. In the line of LaManchas we have worked with we see this with the color genetics for black and white in contrast with the genetics that produce orange and cream. The orange ones were better milkers by volume and the black ones were the high butterfat does. Given a pair of full sisters, this would inevitably be true. In the LaMancha world in general, the does that fit the official American Dairy Goat Score Card would out-milk and out-live the ones who did not. We consider the effects of longevity balanced against the ability to withstand the rigors of production over extended time important in sire selection as well.

Milk production records are also very useful. Our goal has always been superior production. And more importantly, we look for long level lactation curves that provide us with an appropriate volume of milk over an extended period of time. Like stated earlier, we believe traits are passed most usually in groups, or bundles, and not as individual entities. So when looking for a herd sire, it’s important to consider what traits have been passed consistently in his family and be sure to look at all four corners of his pedigree to see that there is a consistency of breeding in each corner indicating that these traits have come from a single and continuing source.

Line breeding using the four-corner method is just another way of saying look at the grandmothers. To make this visual, we place the buck’s name in the center of a 4″ x 6″ card and write his mother’s name on one side and his sire’s name on the other. Then we write the parents’ parents in their respective corners. The goal is to have each animal on the card be an individual that exhibits the qualities you wish to incorporate in your herd. If this is not the case you have opened yourself to the possibility that you are bringing in dominant and unwanted characteristics that will manifest in the kids produced. To add to the surety that we will get what we are seeking, in addition to the consideration of “where” these traits will come from we believe it is a plus to know “who” the traits will come from. We hope to see that the four corners of the pedigree card have a single ancestor exhibiting the proper trait, either in two corners of our card coming from each side, or as a parent of each of the four corners which would then come from all corners on both sides.

The more different the bloodline in the corners of this card, the more likely one is to miss the mark in adding the desired trait to the genetics one is breeding. For simplicity’s sake, we would call this a “1″ corner and view the possibilities of receiving genetic benefit to be rather random. When bucks like this are used, we have always had to cull the offspring heavily for the traits we needed—an expensive proposition in both time and labor. Then those doe offspring would need to be bred back into the buck’s lineage exhibiting the new trait, or to the sire himself and the culling process proceeds another year. Although it is truly only three generations from the sale barn doe to Best in Show, the time and expense of this journey is prohibitive. What must be done in traveling on this journey is to build a “3″ or “4″ corner animal as described in the preceding paragraph.

To save both time and money, we like to buy a four cornered herd sire already composed by a thoughtful breeder. If this is not likely to be available we purchase a “3″ cornered buck and a doe who will compliment the missing corner and in a year or two we will have bred our own “4″ cornered sire. In Nubians back in the 1980s it was a simple thing to do—most of the big milking Nubians were line bred on GCH++*B Hallcienda Frosty Marvin. We purchased GCH ++*B Winterberry Shawn’s Caviar who was “Marvin bred” on all four corners; in fact, he traced back to Marvin 32 times if the pedigree was taken to the limits. No matter what this buck was bred to he provided improvement in milk, mammary, stature, and topline. As a four-corner buck, he had no choice but to give us what he had been bred on. It was a bonus that three of his four corners were animals that would have been considered “4″s as well.

In addition to using the four corners to choose new herd members, the cards are used to select what breeding we will look to for herd replacements. The four corner cards made for every member of the herd include the milking records indicating length of lactation, total poundage and butterfat percentage. These have proven to be an invaluable tool in looking at the composition of our herd. We are able to predict with some accuracy what kids will look like and what production might be.

Always a consideration is the awareness that an animal who does not pass on the traits that the card indicates is culled as are the offspring produced. While this may seem like a drastic measure, we consider that to be able to manifest a herd vision and project it into the future is a goal to be met in the most expedient manner. We consider the pedigrees and the examples of the genetics we see in the flesh as signposts pointing the way to shape the herd of the future. A buck that is solidly bred to produce the traits he exhibits is the most economical way for us to proceed.





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