Friday, September 3, 2010

Book review: The Field Guide to Goats

The following review will be printed in the fall issue of Ruminations, my favorite goat magazine. If you've been thinking of subscribing to a goat magazine, I highly recommend it, because I learn something new from every issue!

There are plenty of beautiful photographs in "The Field Guide to Goats" by Cheryl Kimball. Beyond that, this book is sadly a waste of paper. As a writer myself, it is not easy to write a bad review, but given the choice between no book and this book, I'd recommend you buy nothing, because this one is filled with misinformation.

While I certainly do not expect all goat breeders to agree on the finer points of feeding, housing, and veterinary care, there are many things we do agree upon. Kimball, unfortunately gets a lot of basic information incorrect, such as the breed standard for Nigerian dwarves, which she says are supposed to be 17 to 19 inches in height for does. She also says, "Oberhasli goats are typically raised for meat," although she has them listed in the dairy section.

It was especially frustrating that she said, "A benefit to breeding dwarf goats for milk production is that they breed year-round, allowing a breeder to get three kiddings in two years." If a breeder really wants milk, why would they waste 15 months of 24 on pregnancy? Any serious dairy goat person would want goats that milk 10 months or longer. She goes on to say, "This gives the doe about a six-month break between pregnancies, while providing almost year-round milk production." A six-month break from what? How can you have year-round milk production when a goat is pregnant so much? How would anyone ever have a 305-day milk test? It always bothers me when I see it written that a Nigerian can be bred three times in two years, because all she is doing is feeding kids when she is bred that often.

There is also a wealth of contradictory information. In the section on Nigerian dwarf goats, it says they can be registered with AGS, CGS, and IDGR, but in a photo caption 55 pages later, it says that they are one of eight dairy breeds recognized by ADGA. Does she not realize that means that they are registered by ADGA?

Although she says, "Some goat breeds are naturally polled, which means that members of that breed will never have horns," she never tells you which breeds are polled. Fact: Although there are polled goats in a variety of breeds, there are no breeds with exclusively polled goats, because most people believe that breeding polled to polled has a high rate of hermaphrodites. She goes on to say, "Other breeds are hit or miss: Some will grow horns, and some will not." It is very hard to believe that Kimball is a certified veterinary technician, because there is very clear science behind whether or not a goat will be polled. If you breed two horned goats, the kid will grow horns. One parent must be polled to have a polled kid, which will then happen 50 percent of the time.

Some of the advice in the book could lead to a world of headaches, such as, "Goats will respect electric fencing." Other advice could lead to needless worry, such as the "Black Walnut" section, which says, "This plant has been known to kill animals even when it accidentally ends up in bedding." Perhaps she is thinking of horses? My goats live in a black walnut grove, and most herbal dewormers for goats include black walnut hulls.

And yet other advice could cause confusion, frustration, and the death of an animal. She says, "Grain is beneficial to male goats for several reasons," but only lists two (breeding season for bucks and weight gain for meat wethers). She says that they should have grain with ammonium chloride in it to avoid urinary calculi. It does not appear that she is aware that too much grain is what actually causes urinary calculi, or that ammonium chloride is available as a supplement.

This is only a small sample of the misinformation in this book. Do not assume that the author's veterinary background means that the veterinary info in the book is correct, because much of it is also inaccurate.

It was especially frustrating to me when I learned that the author owns a single Oberhasli wether as a pet. This might be why she never mentions the importance of having more than one goat. As herd animals, they need another goat friend for mental and physical health. I will not sell a single goat to anyone unless they already have goats, because I want my goats to be happy and healthy.

The author's lack of real-world goat experience would also explain why she does not understand so many things that seem simple to those of us who have goats, such as goat shows. She mentions the USDA as a place to learn goat showmanship, and refers to the "USDA scorecard to get an idea of what the judge looks for in a show animal." The sample scorecard says it is used at ADGA-sanctioned shows but credits the American Dairy Association.

Ultimately, the publisher is the one to blame for bringing this book to print. They chose an author who has no more authority to write a goat book than I do to write a book on horses. I have a retired old horse who lives here as a pasture ornament. With so many knowledgeable goat people in the world who know how to write, it is sad that the publisher chose a person with a single pet goat to write a book on the subject.


LindaG said...

Sad that just because they are a vet they felt qualified to write such a book.

Glad you spoke up and turned thumbs down. And thanks for the recommendation of the magazine.
While I don't know that we will ever have goats of any size, but I am always looking for magazines that promote homesteading/small farms, to read and learn from. :)

Erica Anne said...

Wow. The book should come with this post as Foreword. (Or a "Forewarned!")

Please consider posting your review at as well. As important as it is for readers of Ruminations to be aware that this book is out there disseminating misinformation, the general public looking for a good goat book would learn much from your review alone.

I'm usually averse to bad reviews. In this case, though, your review was completely warranted. I appreciate that the review was heavily supported with facts. What a shame that there's more misinformation beyond what you've addressed.

Keep on writing. I look forward, too, to reading YOUR book(s) someday. :o)

Amy Manning said...

Wow! I just started keeping goats and I know better info than she does. Thanks for keeping us informed and thanks for your blog. It is one of my favorites.

Sharon -- The OKI Stampqueen said...

Sounds like...some of the "supposed" nurses and MD's that recently tried to kill me-literally-in our local hospital. Example: I was sitting up in bed, calmly reading, completely coherent (THANK GOD!) when an RN came rushing into my room hysterically telling me that I was "flat-line-ing"! I kid you not-no pun intended! Long story short-she forgot to reconnect my heart monitor (and, I reminded her, my IV as well) after I returned from my ultrasound. Again, I obviously wasn't, do not believe the 3rd dr's final diagnosis and had an all-out war today with my PCP because I said I didn't agree with the dr., was stopping all meds and wanted to revamp my entire health-care journey! She in turn told me she did not have time to discuss it-she was "too busy"---until I started packing up all the meds that had fallen out of my bag and started to leave. THEN she suddenly had time and was willing "read" what I had written. I think...she just wanted to placate me and get me to leave-which I did, gladly. Can't trust anyone with a "DR" before their name simply because, well, they have "DR" in front of their name-this goes for people as well as animal docs! Thank you for speaking out! Blessings, Sharon

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Sharon, what a terrible experience! Good luck with your health issues. I have a friend who was planning her husband's funeral when they decided to go all organic and natural, and he's back at work now. I met her when they were adding goats to their homestead.

I think this woman just thought that she could do a little online research and write a book about goats. So much of what she writes sounds like she read something and drew an incorrect conclusion.

Spinners End said...


Do you have a resource for goats that you DO recommend? We have the Sue Weaver book (which I like but doesn't have a lot of information on health concerns)but could use another. We have two Pygora goats that we recently added to our fiber flock.


Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

I'm currently reading "Raising Goats for Dummies," which is good so far. The author is Cheryl K. Smith, who was editor of Ruminations for a few years, and she's been raising Nigerians for at least ten years, so I'm expecting this to be good. I'll be posting a review on it when I'm done.


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