Dairy Goats 

Rags on the Fence

Do They Stay or Do They Go?

Posted on April 7, 2016 at 5:25 PM

I am often asked questions about how we decide which does are on the sales list each year. I was going through some old files and found one of the original letters I wrote on this topic, and decided it was time to pull it out, dust it off, rewrite, and slap it up on a wall! Every herd should have a plan- why they pick their breed, their does, their bucks, and why each goat stays or goes. The plan is a living document- goals are met, plans fail, things need to be reassessed...


I would like to preface my explanation with a note about where we show our goats. While I like to depend on appraisal scores and DHIR records for improving my herd, my daughters both enjoy showing. I live an hour from Pella's Triple C, 3 hours from Lakeshore, Branicur Farms, Wingwood Farm, and Redwood Hills. At every show we attend in northern California, at least 2 of these National Show quality herds are there with there Nubians. In addition, many of the smaller herds use exclusively those bloodlines. Showing in CA is like attending a mini Nationals at every show!


While we never go to as many shows as we would like (it is expensive), our goats do show well when they are shown against those herds. Usually our girls place 3rd-5th behind those animals. Sometimes our older girls place 1st (the other herds have finished those does by that time) but they are not able to stand up against the younger does for champion. Judges that own dairies and appraisers usually place our does higher.


We freshen about 30+ does each year, but keep 16 or less milkers. In 2016 we are freshening 32 dairy goats and 3 commercial Boers. Not all of the does we list as possible sale milkers will be sold, they are just on the short list until after they freshen. Young does are more likely to be sold, and if a doe gets to 6 she will most likely never leave here.


1- Babies- this is an easiest category aside from poor udders. We almost never keep kids from first fresheners unless it is a very special breeding or we need the kid as a herd replacement. We just don't have space for them! When we first started breeding seriously, we used to freshen every doe kid ourselves or place them in local homes so we could see them freshen, that way we knew quickly what our bucks were doing. This allowed us to improve our quality very quickly.


2- Age- We try VERY hard to limit ourselves to a maximum of 3 does in each age class. Our herd is weighted too much to older does right now (over 5). We will have 10 does in milk in this age group this year and a handful more that are not kept in milk! The oldest that most people want to buy a milker for either milk or breeding purposes is usually 5, so if the doe has already served her place in our breeding program or is not showing well enough in our area, we will try to move her on by the time she is 5.


3- Appraisal scores- We are not as hard on young does in their scores as we are for mature does. We know that our lines are truly slow to mature, and if we see what we like in a young doe, we do not panic. On the other hand, we do not keep does that appraise 80 or below unless there is a really good reason! Penny (one of our foundation does) only appraised 81 +++V as a ff two year old, but the next year she scored 89 EVEV. We do however use the scores we see in a family line to make decisions- for example if a daughter is showing no improvement over the dam in a certain area, then we might sell her, and sometimes the dam also if NONE of her daughters have ever shown improvement. (Especially if it is a trait we are picky about.)


4- Milk- Our focus is breeding animals that will function well for the creamery we hope to someday open. With that in mind, we have focused on maintaining high components in our herd, with a focus toward cheese yields. Someday we do hope to test our does for casein gene type, but for now we just go off of what we get from making cheese. Flavor is important to us- we like sweet, rich milk over volume. We sell milkers that have consistently lower butterfat numbers unless they are milking over 12# a day.


Somatic cell count counts here more now- we may use a doe that has had mastitis as a brood doe, but we are aiming to lower our SCC over the herd. Does need to be able to hold their milk and not leak after 12-14 hours (confession- I am afraid our management is not consistent!)


5- Condition/Personality- We sell does that do not thrive in our management. We do not have the time to baby a doe that is stressed by living with 20 other does, we find her a home in a smaller herd. A favorite story of mine is a doe we used for a year that just didn't do that great as a milker here. She went back to her 'mother' herd (about the same size as ours) and didn't do that great there. At about 2 months fresh, on her 3rd lactation, she moved into a very small herd of Alpines. Believe it or not, she took over as queen, and her milk production jumped to 10-12 lbs a day. She filled out and grew happy. She needed a small herd, and apparently to be in charge!


For several years, I kicked myself about does that didn't grow as well, or keep weight on as well. Then I realized that in the same age group, with the exact same management, I had does that were fat, happy and milking their socks off. It was an 'Aha!' moment! I know now that some does aren't going to perform without extra grain, supplements, smaller herd size, etc. I want ladies that perform well on what I can give them.


We will also sell a trouble maker, especially a noisy one. I know, I know- I raise Nubians, but we actually have an almost silent herd of goats! Most of our ladies are almost silent, like their vocal cords are broken, and we like it that way! If a doe is constantly threatening the status quo, especially our herd queen, they go away.


6- Show- Balanced with our appraisals, milk production, and just what we like to see is the fact that we do aim to have show strings. We sell beautiful, productive does every year that just aren't nice enough to make the cut compared to the competition. In another show circuit, they might be very competitive, but not here. I hear back from customers about how much they love these does- disposition, milking ability, etc., and some of them have gone on to win in the ring away from California.


What is your plan, for your herd? I encourage you to write it down and revisit it in a few months or next year. You will be amazed at what has changed and what has stayed the same!


Categories: Goat Ramblings

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1 Comment

Reply Denise
5:45 PM on April 7, 2016 
Wow, you did it again! Blew my socks off with a topic I have been thinking of a lot lately - herd goals and how to get there. I just sold five does in milk, all under age 3, mostly for all the reasons you listed. This, along with your post about evaluating kids, is something I will print and stick in my goat notebook to refer back to. And we'll have to get busy writing our own version! Thanks!