Keep or Cull?
Make Decisions Based
on Realistic Standards
By Todd Biddle
The economy is a number one news headliner these days. Does the current worldwide instability of markets impact dairy goat herds? Sure does. Everyone seems to be thinking smarter and making hard choices in the management of their own finances. Kids are herd replacements, but keeping too many of them can be costly. Below are some suggestions to use in deciding what herd replacements to keep. Note these are only suggestions. They have worked for me and others I coach. While I consider myself to be very competent at culling kids, sometimes I have misjudged the potential of a kid. However, no system is going to be perfect, unless every kid from the crop is kept, freshened at least two times, and then evaluated for a keep-or-cull decision as a second freshener two-year- or three-year-old. While some large dairy goat operations may have this luxury, most typical goat breeders do not. Therefore, it helps to have some realistic keep and cull standards in place to help hold down the costs of raising extra kids.
- Have clear breeding program goals. When setting a goal, make sure it is realistic and measurable. It is good to have goals to strive for, but make sure they do not push too hard, too fast. Also, find a way to measure these goals. I believe that participation in linear appraisal and milk testing programs through the American Dairy Goat Association are a great way to access data that might otherwise not be available. These tools provide concrete standards of ways to improve and measure the quality of the herd.
- Know what it costs to raise a kid. How many can be fed economically without affecting the optimal care practices for each kid? Also, be familiar with the square feet of the pen or pasture used to house them. Overcrowding will hinder performance and the good kids may be the ones that lose out from the dominant behaviors of others.
- Cull kids with breed and ADGA scorecard disqualifications and very serious defects. Some of them from my experience are more heritable than others, but I can testify that cryptochidism and extra teats are hereditary. They may skip a generation, but they will resurface in future years. Pseudo hermaphrodites can be hard to detect. Many of them will have extremely small teats at birth. A vet can use a Karotype test for accuracy of evaluation, although they are expensive. Another option is to use an AI rod to determine the length of the vagina.
- Cull kids that are poor performers in terms of growth. However, please note while the biggest kids may win the classes at shows, they are not necessarily the most structurally correct or best replacements. Body capacity is not general appearance. Just be aware and note which kids are thrifty, healthy, and “easy-doers” and which ones struggle and need constant intervention to keep them on an appropriate growth scale.
- If a doe is sold or culled but her daughter is kept, it’s likely she will be culled later for the same reason as the dam was culled earlier. Dam and daughter traits are highly inheritable. Even knowing this, I sometimes have a doe that freshens and has all the traits I want, but lacking in one. I might keep that doe kid if she is extremely correct at birth.
- Cull buck kids that are not top of the line. We as an industry need to work on this. I believe breeders do themselves a favor by castrating all bucklings that are not from their highest quality does, so that when breeding season roles around, we are not using something from the middle or even lower ranks of quality. However, if we, as an industry, want to improve the quality of registered animals we need to have a strict criterion in keeping herd bucks.
- Cull kids with obvious structure problems that are functionally related. This may include kids with weak pasterns with extreme toe spreading; kids with front legs that toe out or have extremely sloped rumps. I also cull kids that lack in overall balance. This can change with time as kids have gangly stages. However, low fronted kids often never catch up with their hind ends. Now, in my parents’ Belgian barn, we want foals with low front ends as it is an indicator there may be a lot of growth in that foal, so breeders need to be aware that evaluative measures from one specie may not transmit to quality in another specie. When making culling decisions with dairy goats, make sure the tests and measures are caprine specific.
At a friend’s dairy goat herd linear appraisal session, I listened to an appraiser explain how he culls kids at birth based on the proper length of the sternum past the front legs. I listened intently and then I went home and looked at all my kids. I noted I cull using the same idea, not knowing that I was. I cull kids that when they make the transition to rest the front leg comes square off the center of the shoulder. Similar perspective; different way of looking at it.
Remember, each breeder knows his or her herd the best. He or she knows and understands which lines are slow to mature. We need to be careful not to cull those kids that are immature.
Do not breed a kid too soon. While many suggest 70 to 80 pounds is big enough, that may not work with some breeds or lines. Breeding a kid too young or small can hinder overall growth and cause functional problems to occur as bones continue to develop and the demands of gestation are added to the mix.