Monday, August 9, 2010

Getting serious about goats

It's been more than eight years since I decided to get a couple goats, so I could make chevre. I thought that I'd just buy the goats, and they'd make enough milk to make me happy. All goats produce milk, so what could be challenging about that? Right? Wrong!

Of the first three goats I bought, only one had the personality and teats to be a milk goat. The other two were tap dancing on the milk stand and trying to lay down on the bucket. Their teats were too short for me to be able to successfully extract much milk. I learned that all goats are not created equal.

Fast forward to today, and we're milking thirteen does every day, which provide almost 100% of our dairy needs. All of our does have good teats and a respectable supply. Some have outstanding production. Only one is bratty on the milk stand, and she's a first freshener, so we'll cut her some slack. We're on milk test, so we know how much milk they produce, as well as the butterfat and protein content. We've focused on production, personality, and mammary systems, and we're happily headed in the right direction. Almost all of our current milkers were born here.

Bonnie is a first freshener, so we were not able to get
an official score for her, but the classifier did do
an unofficial evaluation. Now that we better understand
her strengths and weaknesses, we can make better
breeding decisions. The goal is always to have kids
that are better than the parents.
Yesterday, we had our goats classified, a program of the American Goat Society. Basically, a classifier -- a very experienced judge who has had special training in classification -- gives your goat a report card. He looks over every little thing, judging it against the ideal and giving the goat a score on that part of its body. And I do mean every little thing -- feet, topline, head, teats, and more. Only does who have freshened (been in milk) at least two times are eligible for classification, because most first fresheners have not really developed a remarkable mammary system.

It was a lot of work to get ready, because we had to clip all the goats, which is pretty time consuming. Add temperatures in the 90s, and any sane person would have questioned whether or not it was worth it. But we persevered, and we had six senior does and three bucks classified. The does and one buck had scores of 86.6 to 89.8, which is "very good" and made me very happy. Two of my bucks had "excellent" scores -- Pegasus was 90.5, and Draco was 91.6, which is about as high as you can get. I don't think I've ever seen a score much higher than 92-point-something.

Although the scores are fun to see when they're good, the more important aspect of classification is figuring out where your breeding program is going. I've said for years that Sherri throws better daughters than herself, and the classifier agreed, because her daughter got a score that was two points higher! That's why I buy the best bucks I can afford. I'm looking forward to having Sherri's other daughters classified in future years. I also learned more about the really fine points of conformation, such as lateral udder attachments, and I have a better idea of which does and bucks will be likely to produce better offspring. It's great to have another opinion from someone with fresh eyes and more experience.

But if I'm surprised about how serious I've become about goats, I'm even more surprised about how serious my husband has become. Regular readers might recall that he's the hard-cheese maker on the farm, and recently he's been complaining about lower cheese yields. I mentioned that I had been mixing sunflower seeds into the goat grain ration, but we ran out of them a couple months ago. A lot of people swear they increase butterfat, but I had never paid attention before. You know what he did? Yep, he went straight to the feed store and bought two 25-pound bags of sunflower seeds!


LindaG said...

This is a great article. Thanks for this. :) I don't think we'll have goats, unfortunately, because he grew up on a dairy farm. But I still enjoy reading about all the people who have goats and milk them.

And yes, I believe sunflowers have a high content. I think I've read about sunflower oil somewhere, but I could be wrong. My memory is not the best.

Thanks so much, again, and congratulations on the great scores! :)

Robert said...

Shelled or unshelled sunflower seeds?

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

LindaG, how funny about your husband -- our classifier grew up on a dairy farm, and now he has goats!

Robert, they're black oil sunflower seeds, still in the hulls, and sold as bird seed. You can find it any place that sells feed for people's wild bird feeders, but it's usually cheaper at feed stores.

SkippyMom said...

You never fail to fascinate me when I come to your blog. I swear. I learn so much.

Your husband is cute. Don't they all do that in relation to what they want to do? heehee.

Thanks so much for this. The pic' of your one goat is gorgeous.

I want a goat. :(

Chef E said...

I finally on my trip this week got to visit a local farm and saw them milking a goat, so cool! I was just talking about how good sunflower seeds are for us, so I can imagine how they help make the cheese better!


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