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Gems at the Sale Barn

By Tim King

There is a well-known saying, "You get what you pay for." And, often it aptly applies to those who are buying dairy goats. Anna Severson, Toggenburg breeder at Knotkneer Farm near Nimrod, north central Minnesota, normally agrees with that thinking.

"Top production and show quality does and bucks are not accidents," she said. "They are the result of years of investment in breeding programs from people who have a lot of knowledge about genetics and management. There is a lot of planning and learning involved."

That said, Severson added, "Sometimes people can pick up nice animals that are registered NOA or NOP and they can be nice animals that should go into the gene pool."

It was those thoughts that led her to take a second look at a dairy doe at an auction barn in 2004, a doe who went on to become the number one producing Toggenburg in the United States according to milk records verified by the American Dairy Goat Association.

"I had neighbors who were thinking about getting into meat goats so I went to an auction in Pierz, Minnesota to see what the prices were going to be," she said. "I had no intention of buying any goats. It was a slaughter auction. They had about 1,000 head there, and I saw this doe back there and I kept going and looking at her. I thought, that doe is too nice to make into tacos."

2*M Ru-Ridge Starbuck Trinity, a doe purchased for $75 by Anna Severson, Nimrod, Minnesota at an auction, was named the top producing Toggenburg in 2009 by the American Dairy Goat Association’s DHIR program.
2*M Ru-Ridge Starbuck Trinity, a doe purchased for $75 by Anna Severson, Nimrod, Minnesota at an auction, was named the top producing Toggenburg in 2009 by the American Dairy Goat Association’s DHIR program.

Severson didn’t recognize the consignors and there were no papers but even though the doe needed some work, she had a hunch.

"She was thin, with overgrown hooves and a smoker’s cough but she seemed special," she said. "I paid $75 for her and crammed her in the backseat of my Saturn."

On the way home the skinny doe nervously chewed off her scrapies and auction tags and some of her own ears. But when Severson and her new goat got home, a closer ear check revealed that the now tattered appendages had registration tattoos.

"I saw that the tattoo was RURI and thought it was probably Melanie Rubesh," Severson said. "I’d only been in Toggs for a couple of years but I knew Melanie because I had put a note up on the Minnesota Dairy Goat Association’s Yahoo group. I had two doe kids and I needed to find a nice buck for them. She e-mailed back and then brought a buck down for me. That’s how we knew her."

Rubesh of Ru-Ridge Toggenburgs and Saanens was from nearby Carlton, Minnesota.

"I e-mailed her about the doe I found at the sale barn and she said she still had Trin’s papers," Severson said. "She had sold her to someone else for a home milker six to eight months earlier."

When Severson got the auction doe’s papers she learned that her doe was Ru-Ridge Starbuck Trinity 2*M and that her sire was +*B Ru-Ridge Regal/J Starbuck. Starbuck has a history of exceptional daughters. But that was something Severson learned later. Pleased with her good luck, she set about nurturing the new addition to her small, but growing, herd of Toggenburgs.

"She’s been on DHI test since her second lactation," Severson said. "By her third lactation it looked like 3,300 pounds was in her reach. I decided I wasn’t going to wreck it for her so I made sure she was fed right and managed right. Then she freshened as a four-year-old and every time I looked at her I thought ‘oh my gosh, how can you work this hard?!’ She peaked at 18.9 pounds."

"During her fourth lactation Trin had made over 3,000 pounds by 180 days fresh, and finished as the number one producing Toggenburg in the U.S. for that year, making 4,620 lbs. She held her spot at number one for her fifth lactation with an impressive 4,130 pounds. That made her one of a very few dairy goats to be Breed Leader twice in a row. Trinity is still milking well at six years old and is the undisputed queen of my herd," Severson said.

That little doe in the Pierz sales ring proved she was worth more than a few pounds of taco meat, and she has delivered some promising kids as well. She now has some promising daughters coming up and in 2009 she had her first son.

"Wedge, Trinity’s buckling, went to Ron and Becky Lindholm," Severson said. "They have a commercial dairy near Brainerd, Minnesota. He is a nice looking buck with a ton of milk on both sides. I think he will make a lot of money for them."

Stories like Severson’s sale barn gem might be rare, but dairy goat judge Pat Fausett, DeSoto, Texas, knows a story of another sale barn Cinderella, a Nubian doe rescued years ago by fellow Texan Cody Lynch of Bosque Valley. She said that when Lynch was a little fellow he favored something other than the large horses his parents were interested in.

Gems in the field: A field of happy Toggenburg does is a heart-warming sight.
Gems in the field: A field of happy Toggenburg does is a heart-warming sight.

"Cody’s mom had gone to the sales barn looking for horses," Faucet said. "Cody was with her. They were back in the pens prior to the time for the sale and Cody saw a white Nubian-type doe in one of the pens. He begged his mom to buy her for him. So, they went in early since goats are sold first. The bidding started very low so Rena made a bid, and they bought the goat. They looked for some goat shows and found out that because she looked like a Nubian they could record her. Then a friend who also had dairy goats suggested they check her ears for tattoos. If they were there, they might be able to find out who the breeder was, and if she was purebred, get her registered. Turns out the white doe was registered. After she won the Recorded Grade Grand Champion at her first show, the Lynches intensified their search to find out the doe’s history. After much searching they found the man who sold her and how she arrived at the Texas sales barn. He was from Oklahoma and had a farm accident and could no longer milk. When Cody called and talked to him the man was happy to send the certificate on the doe. She was purebred and won her GCH after she freshened the next year."

Faucet said the Lynch family has now been out of goats for some time, but their story is well known in show circles.

Another story of a sale barn gem comes from Dawn Rush, Spring Hill, Kansas. Rush said she bought a slaughter goat at a sale, intending to provide goat meat for her African meat goat clientele. When she got the goats she had purchased home she noticed one had a particularly impressive udder.

"I checked her teeth and saw she was only a two-year-old," Rush said. "I put her in an isolation pen and milked her out. She gave a bit over a gallon. Needless to say, I was pleased. I left her in isolation for three months and tested her and the milk. She passed everything. The only problem I could find was that she had a pretty good size knot in her left udder."

Rush named the doe Goldie because she was reddish with a white under coat. When she kidded the next spring, Goldie produced three healthy kids and was an attentive mother. The second time Goldie was bred and freshened, she produced triplets again. She also adopted a fourth kid and still gave enough milk that there was a quart per day left over, after feeding the four kids, for Rush.

And, how much was she worth, by sale barn standards?

"I only paid $35 for my Goldie girl," Rush said. "I was very lucky."

Gems from the sales barn are occasionally available for those with an attentive eye and a good stroke of luck, but there are many real dangers to consider when bringing a sale barn animal into an already existing herd. Exposure to disease is very high in the auction environment and many goats run through the same facilities pick up pink eye/conjunctivitis, CL (caseous lymphatitis), CAE (caprine arthritis encephanlitis), mastitus bactia, foot rot, pneumonia, and other potential bad things. A quarantine pen is an absolute necessity for any animal coming through such a place and even then, the chances of the sale barn animal succumbing to the plethora of diseases listed, or at least becoming very sick, is a very real possibility.

Then too, there is more to getting a successful goat to produce at top standards than just paying for it. Severson said all good luck requires good management and hard work to pay dividends.

To learn more about Knotneer’s Toggenburgs in Minnesota visit http://knotneer.tripod.com. Severson is working hard to breed an entire herd of top producing does that may challenge her beloved Trinity. To learn more about Spring Hill Farm and Dawn Rush’s Kansas goat farm visit www.cidawnfarms.com.

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