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Selecting for the top producers

With goats, as with any class of livestock, it is important to know which animals have best genetic potential

Artificially rearing our goat kids this spring was the only way we could think of to kid our herd early enough to have the kids gone by fall and to determine which females were our highest-producing does.

We don’t have the infrastructure for the does to raise their kids in the winter and after our small-scale experiment last year we had a suspicion part of our doe herd just wasn’t milking enough.

Every farm has a different level of milk that is acceptable. The Canadian average for an adult dairy goat on a high-potency 16 per cent grain and alfalfa hay diet is two litres per day. Our personal guideline was one litre per day production for a first freshener and two litres per day for all other lactations. Our expectation for our does was to maintain or surpass this production on the milk stand for a projected 10-month lactation. We do not feed second-cut alfalfa hay or dairy ration so we expected less of our does but not a lot.

Worth the effort

Considering we run a meat operation it was actually surprising how smoothly pail feeding more than 70 kids actually was. As each doe kidded the young ones were brought in the house and cleaned up, umbilical area iodined, fed as much colostrum as desired for the first 24 hours, and kept in an old crib. We lined the crib with cardboard, an old comforter and old sheets. This did increase our laundry load but it was the easiest way of keeping them warm and dry because we do not use heat lamps in our barn. It also made the transition easier for the does. They couldn’t hear the kids so most of them didn’t even look for them.

Once the newborn kids were established and able to suck on the nipple pails — usually three days — they were moved to nursery pens in the barn and put on four feedings a day. What we learned with this part of the experiment was that we had a lot less stress than having the kids with the does outside. We lost none due to being laid on or bad weather. If any became ill, it was caught immediately which also lowered our death loss. Overall this method was a huge success and we would definitely do it again.

Culling process

As the does kidded they were moved to the milking herd. This was a bit of a learning experience since most of our herd is managed for meat production. In fact we milked a 15-year-old cow this year that lost her calf and she was easier to convince to be a milk cow than some of these goats were.

Some of the does never attained our milk production goal, while others started dropping off within weeks.

It didn’t take long to establish why kids were not keeping up with weight gain past six weeks without creep feed. Out of 70 does only 50 made the first cull. The next cull came when the does went to pasture.

Since our herd is expected to take their young to pasture and feed them, as a beef cow or ewe would, it was important to establish which ones started to dry off once pasture came. We have no interest in weaning our kids at three months as many meat goat people do. Thankfully milk supply remained stable on the does that made it through the first cull.

At this point of the experiment we are confident the kids are all growing uniformly and have an acceptable weight gain of 10 pounds per month above their birth weight. Therefore, it was established our genetics are able to grow kids as long as the milk supply is constant which led us to purchasing a new buck.

To add to our new experiences this spring was the introduction of a new registered Alpine buck from New Brunswick, that is a complete genetic outcross. We have never flown in livestock or purchased anything without being able to inspect it before delivery.

Shipping tips

Here are a few tips for breeders planning to transport kids from a distance:

  •  Don’t buy from anyone if you don’t have a way of sending a representative to inspect the animal before it comes to you.
  •  Demand all vaccinations be done according to your herd program before the animal is delivered, and have the breeder provide documentation.
  •  Don’t pay for the animal before you accept delivery. It is much easier to not pay for a dead animal than to get a refund.
  •  Get all correspondence in writing. Verbal instructions and agreements are useless.
  •  Check flight schedules and prices so you know costs in advance. Our flight suddenly jumped $200 without notice because of the date we flew.
  •  When picking up your animal make sure you bring along fresh water and hay. The animal has had a long ride. Administering a probiotic and vitamins upon pickup is also recommended.
  •  If the animal hasn’t been vaccinated for shipping fever (pasteurella pneumonia) check with your veterinarian if antibiotics are required to protect the animal further once home.

This experiment was admittedly a lot of hands-on work, but all of us agree it was worth it. Where exactly it will lead us is yet to be determined but for the economic stability of the farm and being able to responsibly sell high-quality does, it was needed. Our next adventure is to find an economically viable use of the excess milk when we finish weaning the kids. Soaps, lotions, feeding it to other livestock, spreading it on the fields as a calcium/enzyme amendment — the possibilities are endless. †

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