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Stacking the Deck

Make the Most of Good Structure in the Dairy Goat Show Ring

By Shelene Costello

I love showing my dairy goats. It gives me a chance to evaluate my herd compared to other herds, to see how my breeding decisions have worked out. It also gives me a chance to visit with other goat breeders, and we discuss all kinds of things to do with goats, management issues, health, feeding, and genetics and structure. Taking my dairy goats into the show ring also gives me a chance to ask opinions not only of the judge, but other breeders I respect and value.

Over the years, I’ve watched how others show their goats. There are some basic techniques that help each animal look their best, and as I’ve shown mine, I’ve learned a lot about how to set a goat up and how to enhance its best qualities. I’ve still got a ways to go before I consider myself a master showman, but I’ve spent time studying the effects of how setting up, or stacking a goat can make or break how they look in the few moments a judge has to evaluate each animal in the ring.

I’m in the process of running my hand down Lucky’s back to tickle the nerves over the loin so she’d drop her topline down and set in a bit more angles to the rear leg set.

I have her front legs a bit too far forward, and the back legs, one too far forward, one too far back, and holding the collar down too low.

I’m in the process of setting her rear legs. But I should have set the one closest to the camera(or judge) first. And I’ve got her front legs too far under the body,causing her to teeter a bit forward.

Feet are turned out and hocks turned in, the legs can be picked up and set more correctly under the goat and much straighter.

Front legs too far apart.

Too close together.

Legs set directly under the body, wide enough apart to show width of chest, but not too far apart.

Unlike at home, where I have hours every day to watch how my goats stand and move, the judge has to evaluate a bunch of animals in a timely manner to get every one judged in the time allotted. First impressions play a huge role in whether or not an individual animal will make a show ring cut or even get a second look for a more thorough evaluation in the show ring competition. For this reason, it is to every breeder’s benefit to spend time working with their animals at home to practice show ring maneuvers and leg sets.

I spend time at home working with my animals teaching them to be set up, move in a graceful manner and be handled by someone, as they will in the course of the evaluation in the ring.

I make use of cameras, mirrors and other people’s opinions, as to what looks best for each animal to present it in the best light possible in an efficient manner. Goats are goats, they have minds of their own and I never know for sure what they will do in public, but training really helps with my odds of presenting a pleasing picture quickly and efficiently. Most judges are forgiving of the occasional idiocy of goats, where they just won’t cooperate….but to be competitive, it really helps to have goats who know what to expect so they aren’t going to be so hard to evaluate.

A goat that is tensed up, will tighten its skin and not feel smooth and silky with loose pliable skin. A goat that isn’t standing up well, or is turning one part of its body in or out, doesn’t show the judge what it really may have. The judge can’t know that at home the goat is fluid in motion and has a really lovely rear leg set if the goat is hunched up with its hocks turned in as it crouches down to get away.

At our farm, we practice setting up each goat to show off its best points, prior to the start of show season. We do it often enough that it becomes second nature, so that in the press and excitement of an actual show, it will come naturally without me having to think through each step. Same for the goat, if it knows it’s going to get stacked and moved, and stacked and examined, it will be more likely to cooperate no matter what is going on around it. It is no secret that dairy goats like routine, whether in the milk room or in the show ring. So practicing a setting-up routine over and over at home will help the animal show off his or her best attributes when the same routine is performed in the show ring.

As I enter any official show ring, I walk in a clockwise direction, with the collar well up on the neck directly under the jaw. I move slowly and carefully, so that my goat is walking gracefully, not swinging her udder from side to side. I want the head to be up and looking alert, pointing forward if possible, so that the body is in a good position to be seen straight and true by the judge. I want her to take long fluid strides showing ease of movement and proper placement of feet as we move.

I walk to where the line stops and quickly set up my goat. I try to set up the side of the goat the judge is standing closest to first. For example, if the judge is behind my goat, I’ll set up the rear end first. I look down to make sure the legs are set square under the doe, so that there is a straight line from the thurl to the ground when looking from behind. I make sure the hock is perpendicular to the ground, ideally set directly under the pin bones. This usually shows a balanced view of the udder and leaves plenty of room to showcase the udder from behind without extra space showing on either side of the udder between the legs, yet far enough apart that it doesn’t squeeze the udder out of place.

Next, I’ll move up to the front end and make sure the front legs are set directly under the withers, wide enough to show the proper width of the chest floor, yet not so wide as to make the goat look spraddle-legged.

Then I’ll run my hand down the topline, and tickle the nerves above the loin so that the topline drops down a bit and pushes a bit of angle into the rear legs, making the topline look as level as I can.

I continue to hold the head up high if the goat’s neck is set on high, or I’ll hold the head out a bit more in front to make the neck blend into the shoulders and hold that topline up and level if the neck is set a bit lower. Holding the head out a bit also gives an impression of length for a slightly shorter bodied animal, and it can pull the front legs under the goat a bit more if needed.

I work to keep that head held straight, to keep the topline in a straight line and not throw off the profile. It’s not pretty to see any animal twisted sideways, making them lean one way or another.

As the judge moves about the ring, I watch and keep the goat between the judge and myself at all times, so that there is an unrestricted view of the animal. Besides, no judge wants a view of my backside while I’m handling the goat.

My job is to continue to present the best picture of my goat, as close to the ideal dairy goat as I can present it the entire time I’m in the ring, clear through the placements and giving of reasons…no matter where I place in the class.

Part of sportsmanship is behaving in a sportsman-like manner the entire time in the ring, no matter if I agree with the judge or not, and no matter what else happens in the ring around us. I try to walk by or lean up and congratulate the winners, if I’m not at the front of the line that time. And if I win, I try to be as gracious as possible to the other exhibitors.

I pay attention to the reasons as the judge gives them, looking at each animal in the line up to see if I can make sense of the reasons and see why certain animals were placed as they were. There is a lot to be learned from other excellent showmen and the line-up at the end of each class is a great place to do just that.

I also watch as others show their goats throughout the day, looking to see if they are doing things that I can use to try to improve how my goats are presented.

When all is said and done, it is nice to head back to our pens and relax and enjoy watching the rest of the show. Dairy goat shows are great places to learn about and appreciate the breeding programs of animals from other parts of the county, state, or even country!

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