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What are Wattles?

By Jennifer Stultz

By general consensus of those who have attempted to define them, wattles on dairy goats are simply hair-covered appendages of flesh hanging from the throat area of a goat. But they certainly attract interest at fairs or shows where those who are not familiar with dairy goats pass through…and there are goat breeders themselves who have interesting theories on how, why, and what for, wattles on dairy goats exist.

Wendy Antoa sent in this picture of her cute Oberhasli kid with 'ear bobs.'
Wendy Antoa sent in this picture of her cute Oberhasli kid with “ear bobs.”

According to website information from Triple I Goats, Fulton Co., Pennsylvania, wattles are sometimes called “bells” or “skin tags” and are most commonly found in dairy-cross Boers, dairy goats, and pygmy goats. Goats can either have one wattle or two. They serve no purpose and are believed to be a genetic trait “left over” from evolution.

Yvonne Roberts, R & R Resources Nubians, Oregon said she also saw no purpose in wattles on dairy goats.

“They are just little things that hang under the neck,” she said. “They can be really cute. I had a doe born with them on her ears once, like earrings!”

Roberts began raising Nubian dairy goats in 1991 but it wasn’t until 1997, when she purchased several purebred Nubians, that she began to see wattles in her herd. “We get about 25 percent or less of the kids born with wattles in our herd,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what doe is bred to what buck, it’s totally random. I’ve watched the breedings and the wattles and it doesn’t make any difference who it is, they all seem to have a 50/50 chance or less of being born with wattles.”

Roberts and other dairy goat breeders agree that wattles can appear in any breed of dairy goat. They have been seen in Alpines, La Manchas, Nigerians, Oberhasli, Nubians, Saanens, Sables and Toggenburgs. While they may seem more common in Swiss breeds, there are documented cases of wattles in purebred animals of all different dairy breeds.

“Most people think that purebred Nubians don’t have wattles, but they do,” Roberts said. “It is a common practice for breeders to cut them off at birth, so there really isn’t any sure way of knowing if a genetic line carries them or not.”

Roberts said she thinks wattles are adorable on goats, but because a very successful Nubian breeder once told her that registered does show better without them, she removes the wattles on any kids she plans to sell for breeding stock or show.

“I routinely rubber band any wattles on kids that may be registered, but I leave them on the wethers,” she said. “That’s why most of the kids and adults don’t show wattles. It’s not a big deal to most people, but I just want anyone looking at my animals to know, wattles or not, it’s in my bloodline and any animal bought from me will have the potential to throw wattles into their kids.”

Roberts said she has never lost a sale because of her herds’ wattle status, and some buyers of wethers have even requested the goats with wattles. However, she does believe that if she left them on the registered does, it could make someone think twice about buying.

According to a 1980 Report on the Relationship Between Body Conformation and Production in Dairy Goats by C. Gall, published in the Journal of Dairy Science, Vol. 63 No. 10 1768-1781 by the American Dairy Science Association®, wattles on a dairy goat are an indication of good milk production potential.

Gall states in the article that “heterozygous polled goats or those with wattles are more prolific than horned animals or without wattles,” in the abstract from the Institute for Animal Sciences and Genetics, Veterinary University, D-3 Hannover, West Germany.

Roberts said this scientific statement has not been proven in her own herd.

“I have heard that does with wattles milk better…not true in my herd,” she said. “I have seen no difference in ones born with wattles or born without. I do not believe wattles have any purpose other than to look interesting.”

Sometimes there are “misplaced” wattles on parts of the body other than the throatlatch or neck where they are normally seen. These misplaced wattles also seem to serve no real function.

“We purchased an Oberhasli doe kid with her mother at the Roseburg Goat Show in June,” said Wendy Antoa, Glide, Oregon. “She came from the Ludwigs Mohawk herd located east of Eugene/Springfield, Oregon. Lolita is her name. Both her dam, Natalya, and her sire, Figaro, have wattles on their necks. I have seen wattles on cheeks, necks, shoulders, etc., but this is a first for “ear bobs”!

Both of these 2008 winning Toggenburgs have wattles. Left: National Show Grand Champion SGCH Neshaminy Acres CD Aloha, and right: Reserve Grand Champion Neshaminy Acres KD Havarti.
Both of these 2008 winning Toggenburgs have wattles. Left: National Show Grand Champion SGCH Neshaminy Acres CD Aloha, and right: Reserve Grand Champion Neshaminy Acres KD Havarti.

Whether a dairy goat breeder chooses to take wattles off at birth or leave them on their goat kids, they seem to pose little advantage or disadvantage to the full-grown goat. Every once in a while, lumps known as wattle cysts, can develop at the base of a wattle attachment. These cysts can fill with fluid but are non-contagious. Though they can look like a CL abscess, they are benign and do not spread to other goats.

Mary Lee, Hemet, California said that most breeders choose to cut off wattles so they don’t get in the way of collars, but there is no real problem with leaving them on.

“Wattles are just a skin appendage,” she said. “I’ve seen goats with only one wattle. I’ve seen goats with wattles half way down their neck, and I’ve seen goats with wattles up near their ears.”

Two prominent dairy goats with wattles just happen to be part of this September/October 2008 issue of the Dairy Goat Journal—the 2008 ADGA National Show Grand and Reserve Champion Toggenburgs, pictured below.

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