Every year we have all these cute little baby goats. It can be challenging to decide which of the kids we are going to keep, and which we need to sell to keep the herd numbers manageable. Figuring out how to pick and choose the right kid or kids that have the best potential of meeting our specific goals is one of the hardest things that I have to do. They are all so cute, and so many of them have qualities I’ve been looking for in a dairy goat. Realistically though, it is not possible to keep them all, and there are early indicators of traits I like to see in dairy goats, and a method I developed to make those painful decisions easier.
First, before we ever have kids born, I spend time looking over pedigrees and the traits that individual does in my herd have. I bred them to bucks that hopefully will produce traits we need improving on, while not losing too much of what I already like in those does. I look at the sire’s female relatives, particularly, as they are going to show milking traits that just can’t be seen on buck.
By the time kids are actually born, I have a general idea of what we "may" produce in the breeding. What we actually get, may be entirely different sometimes, or it may be exactly what I’m looking for. Nature can be tricky that way.
As the kids are born, my first go over is to make sure everyone has the outward working body parts. Some kids are born without the proper parts to survive…I have had kids born with no opening in the anus, or without one of its legs, or with a cleft palate, etc. If anyone breeds long enough they will see plenty of oddities born, but usually they are rare.
|Nigerian Dwarf, Promessa’s Golden Touch, as a pale cream kid (above) and as a milker (below). She darkened up to a dark golden brown. As a kid, we can see the solid structure that supported her growing into a functional dairy goat. Her wide long body with good feet and legs, and wide open escutcheon had room for a capacious well-attached udder.
Next, I check to see what sex the new kid is, and if the proper sex organs appear where they should. I check to see if the doeling’s vulva set under her tail, and if the buckling’s penis and scrotum (including testicles) are properly placed and normal looking. It is very important to check for two teats of normal shape and size.
Teats will grow with the animal so spur teats and extra teats may not be visible right away. Sometimes too, testicles may not be down in the scrotum at birth but may drop a bit later. Typically in goats though, if the testicles are not down within a short time after birth, I do not expect them to drop on down.
Using my knowledge of basic goat structure and the dairy goat scorecard along with my experience with the bloodlines and individual animals I’m working with, I then begin to evaluate each kid more thoroughly.
Some things in kids can be seen and will stay very similar throughout life, others are an educated guess as to how they will develop.
The dairy goat scorecard allots 25 points to feet, legs and pasterns for junior does. That is one quarter of all points available. So it is a very important part of evaluating young kids. If the feet and legs, including the pasterns, are not strong and solid as a kid, they are going to break down even more as the goat grows and gains weight.
Strong and straight legs start with toes that point ahead and are well held together with solid hooves that are level front to back with deep heels. I want legs that have good bone, without being too coarse and round, solid joints, knees pointing forward, with plenty of width between those front legs leaving room for a wide chest floor. The back legs should also be wide leaving room for a capacious udder to fit in as the doe matures. Short strong pasterns that are relatively upright are needed and desirable in the correct dairy goat.
There are 10 points each for front end assembly and back structure. Now, I consider the front end assembly as part of leg construction myself, but the score card actually allots it it’s own points, which bump leg points to 35, more than one-third of the total 100. When looking at legs, I consider the shoulder and upper arm construction, as that is how the leg is held to the body and supports nearly two thirds of the weight of a goat. It needs to be tightly held to the body, and well angled with a proper length of upper arm.
Something I stress over and over to myself, as well as any who ask, that I want a kid to grow up and be a functional dairy goat. Anything I can do to breed and keep animals that will be functional for a long productive life is what I am going to choose to keep. Tightly held shoulders, flat muscled, strong straight legs that are standing on strong pasterns with solid feet will support a dairy goat for a long life.
The more deviation from the ideal, the more issues may surface during that life and may shorten the usefulness of the doe and impair the quality of her life.
Moving along, the back is the support for the heavy body of a doe hung between those legs, so it’s important to have a kid with a solid strong level back that is wide and well muscled. Any weakness in the topline in a kid, tends to worsen as the animal matures.
There are 10 points for head, breed character and stature. Now, I personally love the breed type that sets each breed apart from the others, but the scorecard has few points over all to allot to it. The main thing I remember is that a head often matches the body behind it, so a nice strong long wide head, of sufficient breed type and refinement as befits a dairy animal will play a part in my decision on which particular kids appeal to me. Stature is the size and growth appropriate for the breed and age of a goat. That is only two points, but in functionality, it is a bigger part of what I will look at. I want a kid who grows fast and easy with little care. To me, a fast growing kid is a sign of good overall health of the animal. A small runty, spindly kid is not a good choice for me. One of those may or may not outgrow it with extra care. I tend to look for an animal that does not need special care to thrive so that I can spend my time and money enjoying my goats rather than providing work to maintain.
Again on the scorecard, body capacity has 15 points. To me, I consider body capacity a good part of what I’m looking for. I want a goat that is long enough and wide enough to eat well, to carry kids and lots of milk. I want a deep heart girth, showing good heart and lung capacity.
Dairy character has the remaining 30 points on the scorecard. This is where the flat bone, flat muscling, and lean neck, sharp withers, flat incurving thighs, fine skin, wide rumps, and open escutcheons all come into play. This is where we find the refined yet strong look that makes a dairy goat different from a meat goat or a pet goat, or a fiber goat.
We want to see all of this evidenced in a kid. It gives us a good idea that this kid who is solidly built, strong, well grown for its age will indeed grow into a functional dairy goat who will give us years of productive milking.
Now, having given all of the scorecard ideals of what to look for, I’ll actually tell how I decide which of those kids meets my goals for my breeding program.
|La Mancha Promessa’s Blizzard, as a six-week-old kid (above), shows the solid structure that lets her grow into her promise as a long, level well-built milker (below).
I want strong functional goats. But no goat is ideal so I have to accept that there are some things I can compromise on and still have a solid dairy animal.
I first look at those feet and legs. I spend hours watching my kids run, jump and play. I see how they land on the ground and stand hanging out in the pen. Do their legs come down square? If not, how much deviation is there?
I put a large importance on wide flat rumps, particularly, wide and flat from side to side, and it’s a bonus if I get plenty of length as well.
I want young kids to be balanced in overall proportions. Do they appear to be all of a piece or do they show disharmony of parts? Can I figure out what isn’t meshing with the rest by looking and feeling?
I want body capacity and dairy character and I’ll compare kids not only to the other kids, but to the ideal in my mind. I personally have chosen to give a bit more consideration to body depth and width than the scorecard does in kids, as I see how it impacts my herd later in life. The kids I’ve kept with a bit less have not always thrived as well down the road as the ones with good width and depth through the heart girth and to the rear end.
I take photos of the kids playing and with me stacking them at several ages to see if what I think I see is in my mind or really in the kid. I find for me that emotion can cloud my judgment, so photos really help me see a clearer picture. I compare escutcheons, and yes, teat placement on kids, though the scorecard doesn’t mention the teats at all. To some extent I can give an educated guess as to teat placement on an udder, by studying how my goats grow and age. I want to try to weed out as much as I can early on, so that I don’t have time to get attached and realize a major fault is hiding under there.
I mentally place my kids as I would in a class, when I’m out playing with them. They will vary as they grow, but the kids that I continue to place highest tend to end up my keepers. I run my hands over my kids regularly. Not just watch them from a distance. I want to get a feel for their bodies. Part of that also gives me a good idea of their health, but a lot teaches me their feel and how they are going to mature.
With all of this said, I then compare what I see and feel in the kids to how the parents look. What traits do I see that I want in those parents and what do I want to improve? Some years I may keep a kid that I may not in another year, because I want something particular out of that breeding.
For instance, this year, the buck I used on my Nigerian does has tight sharp withers, flat, flat bone, solid feet and legs, and overall smoothness of blending. This is something I really want to improve in my herd over all. So I’m going to really pay attention to those traits in these kids. I may give up a bit on some other traits, to keep the ones with the best of what that buck throws.
Next year, I’ll be using different bucks and will choose the kids then based on how this year’s kids freshen, and what traits the new kids show.