How to Choose Breeds/Breeding Stock

The first consideration is what is the planned market for the kids? Which type of meat goat business are you in? What are the needs of that market?

For example, if you are selling meat goat kids to a particular ethnic group, you need to think about what size kid is needed, what time of year you need the kid ready to sell, and whether the buyer has a preference for color or type. What price can you reasonably expect to receive for the kids? What will it cost to maintain the does?

Having answered those questions, you may decide that you want to sell 60-pound kids at the auction barn, where you've heard that buyers prefer the Boer coloration and pay extra for that red head. You think you can plan to get $1.25/pound live weight for the kids, and that would gross about $70 per kid. In your area, a big Boer doe costs a lot to maintain, possibly as much as $60 a year, not leaving much profit after the kids are sold. But perhaps you could use a Boer buck on some smaller does—Spanish or Kiko or crossbreds—reduce maintenance costs for the doe herd, and still give the buyers red-headed, muscular kids. If your does average 50% twins (weaning a 150% kid crop), there should be some modest profit.

Of course, this is a hypothetical example, but looking at the economics of what you intend to do will help you realize that you cannot afford very high-priced stock for a meat goat enterprise, where meat is the product. Having an idea of the returns will help you be prudent when you purchase stock.

Once you have in mind the breed or breeds that should work for your particular meat goat business, the next consideration is personal preference. You can't quantify the benefits, but there is satisfaction in raising a type of animal that you find appealing. If you enjoy the animals, you will feel a pride in producing them and take pleasure in observing and caring for them. This is intangible, but real nevertheless.

The next consideration is a very practical one: what kind of goats are available near you and kept under the same kind of management that you intend to use? This is important because animals that are already adapted to your climate and to your management system will be more productive and healthy than goats that suffer "transplant shock." Goats that have been raised in a dry lot will not be very good at grazing or browsing. If you intend to run an extensive operation and not interfere with the goats' mothering, you will be better served by goats that thrive by themselves. In addition to proximity and management, you have to be practical about price. Sustainable agriculture means that you make some profit, and paying too much for initial stock can mean that there is no profit for several years. It may be wiser to purchase healthy unregistered does and the best bucks you can afford and set about to continually improve the herd. Within a few years, you should have a good herd of does and money in the bank besides.

This brings up another question: How many goats do you need to buy? In general, you can add one or two does per cow to your cattle farm without any impact on the cattle's pasturage. The kids produced will boost your income, and the does will keep your pastures clear of weeds or brush. Another rule of thumb is that six to eight does are the equivalent of one cow (this depends on the size of the does, as well as the size of the cow). Therefore, if you know that it takes 3 acres to support a cow in your area, and you have 30 acres, you could theoretically have 60 to 80 does on your land. However, if you have never raised goats before, it would be safer to start with a smaller herd and let it multiply over a few years. This will keep your costs low and allow you time to learn about goats while you adapt your systems and avoid being overwhelmed or overstocking your land. If you are buying only a small number of goats, you can be more selective about the quality and traits of the animals, and also avoid going into debt.

Consider health and conformation (soundness)

Once you have found goats for sale of the type and price you are looking for, it's time to select the individual animals to take home to your farm. Now you have to consider conformation and health. Health is the critical component, but conformation is also an important factor.

To begin, look at the entire herd. Do they walk well? Do they appear lively and vigorous? Are they in proper flesh, not too fat or too thin? Are their coats shiny and their bodies smooth, not lumpy with abscesses? Are they grazing or kept in a pen with free-choice hay?

Your overall first impressions are valuable. If the herd appears to be healthy, your chances of getting healthy animals are much better.

Having gained a sense of the overall quality of the herd, now examine the individuals that are for sale. You are looking at their conformation and the physical appearances of health. For raising meat kids, you don't need show-quality does. You should select does that are sound and ready to be productive. Good conformation (soundness) means:

  • Sound feet and legs
  • Good body capacity (deep and wide, to handle forages and hold twin kids)
  • Correctly aligned bite, with lower incisors meeting the upper dental pad, not over-shot or under-shot
  • Good teat structure, with the correct number of functional teats (two)
  • Good teeth

Goats that are sound in these areas should be able to range widely for forages, to bite and chew and digest those forages well, and to carry and feed kids. In addition to passing these tests, though, the goats you select must be healthy. Some visual indicators of good health are:

  • No limping
  • Alertness, lively appearance
  • No lumps or abscesses, especially on the neck or shoulder area
  • Moderate condition, not too fat or too thin
  • Smooth, shiny coat
  • Pink mucous membranes, including inside lower eyelid
  • Normal feces; round pellets, no diarrhea

Diseases to be aware of

Of course, there are diseases (such as Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis-CAE) that may not be apparent. But if the seller's herd matches the above description, your odds of purchasing a healthy animal from it are very good. The reverse is also true; if the seller's herd includes animals that are limping, emaciated, "dull", have abscesses, or appear "poor," chances are that the animal you buy will be carrying a disease, even if that disease is not obvious in that particular animal.

Because transmissible diseases (including internal parasites) may not be apparent in an individual, observing the condition of the herd of origin is important. This is one reason why it is better to purchase animals on the farm, rather than at an auction. Also, sale barns receive a lot of unhealthy and otherwise unsuitable animals. They are the dumping grounds for goats that do not thrive, have contagious diseases, are terrible mothers or incorrigible jumpers, non-breeders or poor milkers. If you shop for breeding stock at the sale barn, you may very well be bringing home diseases to infect the rest of your herd, or be bringing home animals that are unproductive and therefore unprofitable. If you are lucky enough to find some good stock at the sale barn, by the time those good animals have mingled with the unhealthy ones in the barn, suffered the stress of shipping and sale, and tracked through an environment where many unhealthy animals have been, their immune systems may be overwhelmed. There really are no bargains at sale barns, even if they are cheap.

Take someone who knows about goats with you when you go shopping. This will help you be objective when looking for potential problems.

It is also helpful to educate yourself about diseases and their treatments (or lack of treatments) before you go. Understanding the consequences of a particular disease in your herd will help you understand the risks and the costs of buying a disease. This may mean that you offer to pay for some testing to screen for a disease that you are particularly anxious to avoid.

Another module will contain in-depth information about goat diseases. However, because learning to recognize health and disease is an important part of selecting stock, the following chart of symptoms and the diseases they can indicate will be useful.

Symptoms/observed characteristics Possible diseases indicated
(What you see:)
(What you may get:)
Limping foot rot, CAE, mastitis, injury
Dull, depressed appearance pneumonia, internal parasites, bacterial infection
Lumps, abscesses caseous lymphadenitis, injection-site abscesses, other causes
Very thin internal parasites, CAE, Johne's, bad teeth (or may just have finished raising triplets, or had a hard winter with insufficient feed)
Very fat may have breeding problems; failure to kid (or, grossly overfed)
"scruffy" appearance parasites (internal or external), malnourished or other causes
diarrhea, pale membranes, bottle jaw, "poor" internal parasites or coccidiosis
runny eyes, blindness pinkeye
misshapen udder mastitis (present or previous)

(Note: This is a very sketchy list. Thedford's Goat Health Handbook includes a diagnostic chart that is much more detailed. This is only a starting point as you learn about diseases.)

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