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Depth of Body Important for a Fully Functional Dairy Goat

By Shelene Costello

Dairy goats are ruminants and as such, need deep wide bodies with wide open ribbing and lots of room for the rumen to expand and digest large amounts of high-fiber, lower protein feeds along with plenty of water to make lots of great tasting milk. When we add they have to have enough body to carry heavy loads of developing kids for part of the year and several pounds of milk each day, it means we need a good size body for the size of the animal. We are basically looking for that deep, wide body to be what is called a dairy wedge, being wider at the hips than the withers, wider still at the barrel behind the ribs and having a level topline with a bottom line that drops from elbow to the udder giving a wedge shape to the body from top, rear and side views.

To get this shape the dairy doe needs to have a rib cage that is deep enough at the elbow to provide plenty of space inside for organs and deeper still as it drops back to the barrel. It needs to be narrower at the front than the rear to allow the front legs to move easily around it, yet not be so narrow as to pinch those internal organs. There should be plenty of heart girth, the depth right behind the front legs and this area should be fairly flexible to provide plenty of expansion for the lungs.

Dairy goats need room for the rument to expand in order to digest large amounts of fiber.

The front of the rib cage on a nice, deep-bodied dairy doe should extend a bit in front of the point of the shoulders. It should have enough width in the chest floor between the front legs, to give those organs room to expand and do their job, yet not so wide as to interfere with efficient comfortable movement, so they can range far and wide to forage, if needed. Each rib should be of flat bone and set wide apart, angled down and back to give as much room as possible to protect the vital organs. The beginning of the stomach system in a ruminant is in the back of the rib cage with the bulk of the rumen extending behind the ribs and set under the loin. The ribs round out and down almost in an oval shape, but are more narrow at the top where they connect to the spine and wider down below, angling back into the breast bone underneath. If the ribs are close together and more vertical, they make for a short tight body that just can’t carry the sheer amount of body capacity a dairy goat needs.

The loin should be wide, well muscled and able to support that deep wide barrel of the body, where the rumen pokes out and where the bulk of kids reside during pregnancy. The barrel should drop down, blending smoothly into the front of the udder, leaving plenty of room for milk making tissue in the udder, without a lot of excess body tissue where they join. The body should be relatively long in proportion to height of the animal. Plenty of that length is in the rib cage, but some will be hanging under the suspension bridge called the loin and some under the rump above the udder. Too short of a body and there is no room for the rumen to expand or for kids to be carried comfortably, other than to displace the organs. Too long, and the weight will weaken the topline over time.

The skin is the largest organ in the body and in dairy goats it wraps the whole body in a silky supple covering. A thick skin often covers a shorter-bodied rounder animal that tends to put more of its feed into weight, rather than milk. A thin silky skin tends to go with the true dairy type body. The reason we look for fine supple skin is that while they are out browsing in thick bramble and woody browse, anything that catches, causes the skin to roll. Often the point of the thorns or the tip of the branch will slide over the skin rather than digging in, ripping and tearing looser thinner skin.

The dairy scorecard, by which dairy goats are compared for judging purposes, calls for short fine hair to cover that lovely skin. Less hair and a finer texture makes it easier to milk cleanly. Owners who spend time milking find that longer hair, particularly on many Swiss-type breeds, needs clipping to remove the excess hair that gets caught and pulled while milking.

It is typical in the U.S. for most dairy goats to be clipped for show, and also for ease and cleanliness in the milking parlor. Goats with short, fine hair naturally need less maintenance that way, saving both time and extra work.

I have learned to appreciate the things that make a dairy goat body functional: the deep wide bodies, the fine silky skin, and tight short coats. And I am amazed at how varied the expressions of that body type can be—in each breed. A bit more here or there and still they fit the functional ideal.

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