There is no better place to get great goat management ideas than from other dairy goat breeders. And there is no greater gathering of such breeders than at a National Dairy Goat Show. It’s worth the cost of getting there just to stroll around the barns, through the aisles of pen after pen of beautiful dairy goats, looking and listening to see what works for others and what ideas might be worth taking back to try on the herd at home. At the 2009 ADGA National Show in Sacramento I saw several ideas I’d like to try—some old, some new, but interesting all the same, such as spring-loaded water valves, mini-mineral blocks and holders, oat hay for does, and energetic youth helpers.
Spring-loaded water valves allowed these girls to drink all the fresh, cool water they wanted.
I have seen spring-loaded water valves before. We’ve used them in the past for our 4-H show pigs, but it never occurred to me that dairy goats could and would learn to use them. According to Jolene Berg of the University of California, Davis dairy goat show team, the brass water nozzles work great for dairy goats and make show pens a lot neater and cleaner (fewer spilled water buckets) and with some prior training, the does seem to drink more readily from them, whether at home or away.
The Cal-Davis does were penned in horse stalls and had a little more sun and heat to deal with than does in the barns closer to the show ring, but their pens were rigged up with water hoses and brass valves and the goats had a ready supply of cool water—all they wanted with just a lick of the trough. It never got dirty or stale, never spilled on the straw or dirt, and they could drink whenever they wanted. Berg said that back at the University barns the does were trained with a bucket of water directly underneath the spout so they learned where to go for water. After that, their curiosity usually took over and they quickly learned to put their mouth on the valve, depressing the solid lever and letting cool water flow past the interior valve. What a great idea! The Cal-Davis does looked happy and comfortable, despite the sometimes hot temperatures at the CalExpo Center for the National Show.
Another idea that made a lot of sense was the use of small mineral blocks mounted in wire feeders on the sides of pens. Several herds have obviously figured out that does who lick on mineral blocks drink more water than those that don’t. And does that drink a lot of water, often produce more milk than those that don’t. Most dairy goat herds these days have some sort of additional mineral feeding system to accompany their general feed routine. But often, at least for my family, in the rush to get packed and on the road to the goat shows of the season, we forget about adding mineral blocks to the list. When attending any dairy goat show, especially those that might require more than a day or two of close penning, I am sure the does appreciate something to do with their time (lick that mineral block), as well as the appetite stimulant that mineral block licking can supply. And don’t forget the little wire cage mounts—no goat should have to lick a mineral block on the floor. It’s just an invitation to get contaminated or dirty. Reaching up to the top rung of the pen is much more natural for caprine browsers, and it makes for a good picture or two for a passer-by. The black Alpine from Redwood Hills Farm (left), was enjoying her mineral lick when I passed by her pen, and I saw several other mineral blocks in use throughout the show week. Certainly an idea worth remembering and something to add to the next goat show pack list.
Small lick mineral blocks wired to the pens keeps the blocks sanitary and gives the goats something to do.
Where I live in central Kansas, the hay of choice for any milk-producing animal, especially the dairy goat, is good leafy, green alfalfa. We have plenty of it and the more fed, the more milk produced. But alfalfa can be heavy for a goat that has been traveling and at the National Show pens of the des-Ruhigestelle herd, the huge dairy does were happily munching on straw?! Closer inspection and a few questions revealed that they were actually enjoying oat straw. It had greener stalks than most other types of straw and the occasional occurrence of an oat head or two kept their own heads in the manger longer, all supportive of the theory that the goat which eats more, produces more. Judging by the appearance of does I saw with oat hay in their feeders, this was definitely an idea that worked! The does were huge, very deep in body capacity and looked to have lots of milk production to back those observations up. Of course, many of those same assets could also be attributed to superior genetics, but from the looks of their happy faces, the oat straw/hay didn’t hurt any!
Having a youth helper along at any show is a bonus for the herd owner and the youth. Having a youth helper at a show the caliber of the 2009 ADGA National Dairy Goat Show was a thrill for the helpers, and a necessity for the herd owners wise enough to realize how useful that young energy could be. We arrived at the National Show later in the week, so a lot of the breeds were done showing and a lot of herd owners were completely exhausted. It was refreshing to see how many youth were "employed" in the dairy goat industry, checking water buckets, cleaning pens, exercising does, pitching in to help wherever needed. A good example of this was Lindsey Coffman, "hired" by Robin Doss, "Thunderheart" Oberhasli, California.
"I just love to be around animals," Coffman said. "Robin is a longtime friend of our family and I just love to help her with the goat shows. Last year she gave me an Oberhasli kid to show, Princess Shera."
Oat straw has greener stalks than other types of straw,
with an occasional oat-head treat to boot!
Coffman is a 4-H club member and also raises horses and poultry. In addition to the Oberhasli kid from Doss, she and her sister brought an Alpine doe, Cool Whip, and a LaMancha doe, Penny, to the ’09 National Show, something she likely wouldn’t have been able to do without the supervision of Doss. Coffman helped feed, water, exercise and just watch over Doss’s "Thunderheart" animals at the show.
Sometime through the course of the time I spent at the 2009 ADGA National Show in Sacramento, I remember hearing someone compare the British Goat Society to that of the American Dairy Goat Association. The gist of what they said was that the British Goat Society is just dwindling in numbers because youth are not involved, encouraged, or don’t see a future in the dairy goat industry in England. However, here in the United States, youth involvement is high and continues to rise. Our dairy goat industry shows hope and promise for the future, and it’s because our long-time breeders see the value of encouraging youth, employing them as helpers at big shows, and giving them a leg up, or a few dollars off on a top quality dairy goat to get started. Long-live the American Dairy Goat Association and the annual National Dairy Goat Show. It’s a great place to see the heart of the industry and to be inspired for the future!