What Breed Of Goat Should You Buy?

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Those of you who regularly read my column know that I am a livestock dealer as well as a breeder of commercial herd sires. I deal mostly in goats, and as a result I get many calls from people who want to buy goats. Many of those people are buying goats for the first time. One of the first questions they ask is, "what breed of goats should I buy?"

I normally try to avoid discussions of the merits of different breeds of goats for the same reason I avoid discussing religion, politics, or the behavior (usually misbehavior) of other people's kids and/or animals (sometimes its impossible to tell the difference between the two). The topic is too volatile, people get too emotional about it, and the real zealots will never admit that their favorite breed has any drawbacks. Having said that, I'll ignore everything I've learned the hard way over the years and risk having to receive a ton of hate mail by discussing the topic in this month's column.

I will preface this by stating that over the years I have owned fullblood and Boer crosses of the following breeds: Boer, Kiko, Spanish, Nubian, and Angora goats. I have been able to observe them side-by-side in my pasture, and compare their performance. After years of culling, my herd is now composed almost entirely of fullblood Boers and 7/8 Boer or higher goats with the remaining 1/8 or less of their blood coming from the Angora breed. Since those are the breeds I know, I will limit the discussion to those breeds. There are of course other breeds available, but since I don't know much about them I won't discuss them.

Those of you who are big fans of Kikos or Spanish goats can stop reaching for your poison pens. I am not about to launch into a full scale attack on your favorite breed. Just because those breeds didn't work out well in my operation, does not mean that there is something inherently wrong with them and they should be avoided by everybody.

Every breed has its strengths and weaknesses, and the commercial producer must determine which breed is best suited to his operation. You can start by looking at the area where the breed of goat was developed and the purpose for which it was developed.

As a commercial meat goat producer I would immediately eliminate from consideration all of the dairy goat breeds. They have over the years been optimized for milk production, and it is very difficult to find a source for the large quantities of these animals that a successful commercial meat goat operation requires. Using dairy goats for your meat goat operation is like buying a school bus to haul around your family of four. Yeah, it will work, and there are even some positives (like safety in the case of the school bus), but I can think of much better options overall.

I would start by looking at the climate and other conditions in my area. Those of us in most of the west and southwest live in an area that is dry, rocky, and brush infested. Several breeds of meat goat have been developed in and for areas like this. The Boer, Spanish, and Angora goats all originated or have been raised and adapted to this type of climate for a very long time. The areas of the world that produce the best specimens of these breeds are the western part of Texas and South Africa. Is it any wonder that those breeds and crosses of them were the goats that did the best on my ranch?

Those of you in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast experience completely different conditions. The adjectives damp, humid, and lush come immediately to mind when I think of those parts of the country. Having spent some time in New Zealand I can tell you that conditions there are similar. Coincidentally, there is a breed of goat, the Kiko, that originates from that country. I owned some Kiko's years ago, but unsurprisingly they did very poorly on my ranch that some years receives less rainfall in a whole year than the area they are native to gets in an average week. I might as well have tried raising them on the moon, they would have been as well adapted.

Last month there were several articles in this publication about the Kiko and its advantages. Not surprisingly almost all of the writers were from the Southeast, an area of the country that Kiko's are adapted to. The Southeast is also an area of the country that I frequently hear complaints about Spanish goats from. Could the problems with the Spanish goats have something to do with the fact that they were bred to live and thrive in an arid climate, which the Southeast is definitely not? Could the Kikos be doing so well there because they are adapted to that type of environment? In both cases I tend to think so.

Now that you have considered the climate and other conditions in your area, you can look at the specifics of the various breeds and determine which will work best for you.

The workhorse of commercial meat goat operations has historically been the Spanish goat. Today the Spanish goat and the Boer x Spanish goat are the most common types of goat in commercial meat goat operations. They are plentiful and easy to find, and are inexpensive to purchase relative to other breeds. They make a fine meat goat in areas where they are well adapted.

Outside of those areas they will still work, but you need to be aware of a few things. They come from an area where worms are not a significant problem most of the time, and they don't have much resistance to them. If you don't manage the herd correctly and stay on top of the situation, you will have big problems with worms. The area they come from is also very rocky and the ground hard and abrasive. Their hooves grow quickly, and if you put them on ground that will not keep their hooves worn down you will need to trim them on a regular basis.

Many of the pure Spanish goats and lower percentage Boer cross Spanish goats behave more like wild animals than domestic ones. They can be difficult to roundup and work because of this, and if you insist on walking through the pasture during kidding season and disturb them before they bond to their kids they may abandon them. You will probably also mistakenly think they have abandoned many of their offspring because like deer they hide their offspring until the kids are strong enough to keep up with the herd and only return a couple of times a day to feed them. If you keep them on a large acreage during kidding season, I have seen them forget where they left their kids or wander so far away that the kids died before the doe returned to feed them. These problems are easily solved by reducing the size of the pasture they have access to during kidding and leaving them alone.

In the Southeast Spanish goats do not seem to do well during the times of the year when the vegetation is most lush. I am not sure if their digestive systems are not designed for that level of moisture, or the vegetation lacks vitamins and minerals they require when it is growing that rapidly, or since worms are worst at that time of year if the worms are the source of the problem. The solution is to manage your Spanish goats so that times when they have a high nutritional need coincide with times when pastures are not very lush.

Properly managed Spanish goats and their crosses can still be a viable option for producers in areas where they are not well adapted.

Another goat that is (was might be a more appropriate word) common in my area is the Angora goat. Since the federal government ended the mohair subsidy program a few years ago their numbers have been rapidly shrinking. Many have been sent to slaughter or crossed with other breeds, mainly the Boer goat. Since they are primarily a hair goat, the pure Angora goat is not really a meat goat. They put a considerable amount of energy into the production of fiber, instead of meat, therefore do not make very good commercial meat goats. However, if you cross them with a meat goat breed, the offspring demonstrate considerable hybrid vigor and most will not produce the excessive quantities of hair that are undesirable and unnecessary traits for a commercial meat goat.

I have not heard much about how this breed or their crosses perform in areas like the Southeast, but suspect they would suffer from the same types of problems that the Spanish goats seem to, and would need to be managed similarly.

Another drawback of this breed that gets passed on to the offspring, even when crossed to a breed that does not exhibit this negative trait, is late maturity. Most meat goat breed does are sexually mature at a very young age. I have seen some kid at 9 months of age, meaning they were bred at 4 months. It is not uncommon for some Angora and Angora cross doe lines to fail to breed until they are yearlings. The only way to get rid of this trait is through culling. I have tried to breed it out of them, and even at 7/8 Boer, 1/8 Angora the trait is still expressed. Other lines do not have this problem so careful selection and culling of entire lines is necessary to rid your herd of the problem.

It is also frequently difficult to put any color in them. I have purebred Boer does that have a minuscule amount of Angora blood in them that are still solid white. Otherwise, they look exactly like a Boer including the short slick hair.

Despite the drawbacks, I have found this cross to be the best for my operation. My fastest growing buck at the performance test last year was a 15/16 Boer, 1/16 Angora. My best buck the year before was his older brother (I didn't send him to the test because at the time I was only testing fullbloods, but he outgrew every other young buck in my herd that year), and I have his younger brother and half brother on test as you read this. Over the years I have steadily culled down my percentage doe herd, and all that will be left this year are Boer x Angora does and fullblood Boer Does.

I have also seen some Spanish goat herds where the rancher would buy really big, meaty Angora bucks every few years to breed to the does and add some hybrid vigor to the herd before the Boers became readily available. Those Angora x Spanish does are really something special, and the kids you get when you breed them back to Boer bucks are even better. I have some photos of a herd of these does that I am trying to sell now, and they are truly impressive.

The Angora crossed with a meat breed can be a very good commercial meat goat.

The Boer goat was developed specifically as a meat goat in South Africa where the climate and environment is very similar to that of Texas. In the US it has been raised more as a show goat by many breeders, which in my opinion has led to the emphasis of traits that are commercially worthless, and in some cases contrary to what makes a good commercial meat goat. It has almost gotten to the point where there are two subtypes of the Boer. The show type and the commercial type. About all the two share in common is the characteristic red head and white body.

The commercial type animals are raised on pasture or range, and the traits selected for are the same as would be used with any type of meat goat breed. In many cases mother nature does the selecting for you. The sick and weak die and are eliminated from the gene pool before they ever pass on their genes. The producer then further culls the herd every year to remove those animals that are least productive or have health conditions making them unsuitable for breeding. Although they are colored like a Boer, these animals will frequently be much smaller. This is a good thing, since it makes them more productive (productivity is defined as the amount of output you receive from a given amount of input, regardless of size most mature does will produce two kids per year, but the larger doe will require more feed to do it, making her less productive).

These commercial type Boers make excellent meat goats. They are quick growing, docile, healthy, good mothers, and have many other traits that make them valuable as commercial meat goats. The main drawback is cost and availability. It is difficult to find large quantities of commercial type Boer does, and when you do they are usually more expensive then a comparable goat of another meat breed. Most breeders still raise them as show goats, and expect show goat prices.

The show type Boer is an animal that is raised in a pen and selected to satisfy the whims and fads of the show goat world; whether that be for does with two teats, or extremely long goats, or extremely wide goats, or extremely large goats, or pure South African goats, or solid red goats, etc. In general selection and breeding of show goats is based on appearance and/or pedigree, not performance, and certainly not performance under commercial conditions.

The perceived value of these show types is so high that extreme measures will be taken by some breeders to save even the sickest, weakest specimens. Then those animals that mother nature did her best to eliminate (but proved to be no match for modern veterinary medicine) are sold to other breeders to pass their genetic problems on to their offspring.

The show type animals are also frequently allowed to grow to excessive sizes and weights, and in many cases are intentionally selected for their large size. Consequently, the Boers that are successful in a commercial setting have less in common every year with the animals that are successful in the show ring. When I hear someone complaining about how worthless the Boer proved to be in their commercial meat goat operation I always ask where they obtained their animals from and how the animals were raised by the breeder who produced them. Invariably the source proves to be a show goat operation where the animals have been selected and raised to thrive in a high-maintenance, pen environment; not a low-maintenance, pasture environment.

Boer bucks can be found for reasonable prices, but I would determine before buying them whether they originated from a commercial or show goat operation, and for what traits the breeder has been selecting and breeding over the years. Good commercial type fullblood Boer bucks can be a valuable addition to a commercial meat goat herd, and someday fullblood Boer does will also be common in commercial herds.

Finally, there is the Kiko goat. The Kiko was also developed primarily as a meat goat, but under completely different conditions from the breeds I discussed above. This breed originates from New Zealand which has a radically different climate from the areas where most meat goat breeds got their start. As a result they have strengths in areas where the other breeds are weak, and weaknesses in areas where the other breeds are strong.

In the arid part of Texas I live in I found them to be poorly adapted. The ground is hard and rocky and it seemed they were always limping around with sore hooves. The summers are hot and dry, and they didn't seem to care for that either. They were the first ones to head for the shade and the last to leave. Their Boer cross kids grew more slowly then the kids of the other breeds, even though the same sires were used. This seemed to be a function of lower milk output by the Kiko does under the conditions which were usually hot and dry. The vegetation in my area is also radically different from what a Kiko is used to eating, which probably contributed to the problem.

I also had tremendous problems with the bags on the Kiko does. If we had a case of mastitis it was usually one of the Kiko goats or their daughters. If a doe had a bad teat, again it was usually one of the Kikos. Since they were developed in New Zealand, where I don't ever recall having seen a cactus during my admittedly brief visits, apparently they aren't adapted to areas where thorns are constantly poking their udders and introducing bacteria.

If you happen to live in the Southeast or a similar area you would not have these problems. The ground is not rocky, summers are not hot and dry normally, the vegetation is lush and plentiful, and cactus is nonexistent. The conditions would be much more like those under which the Kiko was developed, and their performance would likely be much better than what I observed.

Like the Angora, the Kiko is also very difficult to get some color in the kids if you are using the pure white types. In fact, my experience was that the pure white Kikos were even less likely to produce kids with any color than the Angoras.

The other major drawback to the Kiko is finding large quantities of reasonably priced does to start your herd with. It is not unusual for me to have several hundred or even thousand head of Boer x Spanish does available, but I never see that with the Kikos. Although the Kiko doe may be the best option for producers in areas like the Southeast, until their numbers increase dramatically and prices come down they will not be a viable option for the serious commercial meat goat operation.

Ultimately, when selecting a breed to start your herd you will need to consider several factors. What is the climate and environment like at your operation and which breeds are well adapted to it. Which breeds can you readily find in the quantities you need at prices you can afford. Keep in mind that the goat that is less expensive to purchase initially is not always the least expensive goat in the long run.

Finally, no matter what breed you select there will be members of the herd that thrive under the conditions present on your farm or ranch and others that will struggle under those same conditions. The biggest challenge for you the producer is to identify the members of your herd and their offspring that are doing well so you can retain them, and identify those that are doing poorly so you can cull them. If you do a good job of this you will eventually have a herd that is well adapted to your operation, and you will find that managing the operation becomes easier and less time consuming every year.

No matter what breed you select I will just about guarantee you that before the end of the first year you will want to sell every goat on your place because of the problems that the poorly adapted members of your herd will cause. If you resist the temptation to do this, and remove only the problem goats and their offspring you will find that by the end of the second year you would not want to contemplate life without goats.

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This page updated 06/16/02

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