Dairy goats are usually, though not always, bred once a year to bring them into milk. They are then expected to hold that milk production for 10 months of the year. The weight of the full rumen and a pregnant body for several months of the year, which may get pretty heavy with multiple kids, needs a good strong topline to support it. Put on the expected capacious milky udder, and several more pounds are added to the body each day during lactation. Any weakness of the topline, especially in the loin area, may lead to break-down over time, leading to the conclusion that strength over the topline is a very, very important point of structure in the dairy goat. Breeders who expect any kind of longevity in their herds must understand how the components of the topline work, in order to evaluate their strength in each breeding program.
When I consider the topline, I usually look at the neck as the first point of topline consideration. How the neck is set and carried affects the way the whole back works. Necks in dairy goats are a necessary part of function. A good dairy goat needs a neck long enough to reach down to graze (no matter how tall or short the goat), and stretchy enough to reach up to higher set leaves and browse. A neck that is long, straight, somewhat elegant, set on and carried high is desirable as it adds to dairy character. A short thick neck usually comes with a shorter thicker body that lacks refinement and often is found on a goat that is putting more food into her body fat rather than into making milk. The length in the neck often carries back to the length of the topline, which in turn affects overall balance.
The next three parts to the topline can be memorized in descending order: the chine, the loin, and the rump. Each of these sections should be approximately one third of the length of the total topline, excluding the neck. The whole topline should be relatively level from shoulders to hips with a slight incline on the rump from hips to tail.
The chine is the area from behind the top of the shoulders, also known as the withers, to the end of the ribcage. The loin is the area from the end of the ribcage to the hips. The rump is the pelvic area, sometimes referred to as from hooks to pins (bones).
Ideally, the chine is level and strong, though in the interest of functionality, a chine with a bit of a dip behind the shoulders can still be functional in a long-lived and productive doe. The chine has a bit of support from the ribcage, because even though it adds weight, it also adds stability. Too tightly set shoulder blades or shoulder blades that are too far angled back can cause a dip in the chine, as can a neck which is set a bit low, when it is lifted up. Strength or weakness in this area is mostly genetically influenced, but condition of the goat can also be a factor.
The loin must be strong and well held up, with good lean muscling to help support it. I consider the loin to be rather like a suspension bridge holding up that wide barrel bridging from the chine and ribcage and connecting to the pelvis.
There will be variations from levelness that will stay sound, but the farther it deviates from ideal, the more weakness may show up over time. If the loin is weak and dips as a young kid, it tends to get worse as the goat ages and matures.
I have found that a roached topline, a rising up over the loin area, is stronger than one that sags. It is not as pretty as a level loin, but it can be functional and the main goal of breeding dairy goats, for me, is function first.
The rump should be long, wide, level from side to side with a slight slope from hips to tail to facilitate natural drainage of the body. Width through the rump is indicative of easy kidding, as discussed in the previous issue of Dairy Goat Journal in this structure series.
When considering what makes a goat strong and healthy, be sure to evaluate the neck, chine, loin, and rump, as putting all of these components together creates a topline that will hold up to rigors of eating plenty of food in order to produce lots of great tasting milk. Strong toplines are imperative in order for a dairy goat to be able to carry a lot of kids over time and stay sound doing it for at least 10 or more years.