Why Kikos Didn't Work For Me

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I was wondering what I was going to write about this month. Then my July 2002 issue of this publication arrived complete with a letter to the editor by Mr. Ruble Conatser taking offense at observations I made about the Kiko breed in my June 2002 column. Let me begin by thanking Mr. Conatser for his response. I appreciate the polite tone of his letter, and the thought he obviously put into it.

I would now like to clarify and expand on my earlier comments about the Kiko breed, since I obviously was not clear the first time. (If any of you attempted to contact me about that column using the email address published with it, please note that the address published at the end of the column was incorrect and I did not receive your email.)

First, Mr. Conatser finds the timing of my article "interesting" since it appeared the same month as the American Kiko Goat Association's field day. I can assure you that the timing was purely coincidental. I don't keep up with what any of the breed associations are doing, and don't time my articles to correspond with their activities. I generally write about topics that I am receiving questions about from people calling me on the phone or writing to me via email. If I keep getting the same question over and over again, as was the case with "what type of goats should I buy?" Then, I write a column addressing that issue.

My comments regarding Kikos having "bad feet" related to the problems I personally experienced with them on my ranch. My ranch is not flat. The topography consists primarily of hills and draws. The bottoms of the draws are filled with good sandy loam soil. Sandy loam soil that over the course of eons has washed off the sparsely vegetated hills leaving behind an assortment of rocks of various sizes. This stuff is so hard, sharp and abrasive that I have actually had it penetrate the tread on a tire, and ruin an otherwise perfectly good tire.

This doesn't seem to be a problem for breeds that were developed for these types of conditions, but I found that the Kikos' hooves didn't seem to cope well with the constant wear. It is like having someone come out and trim your goats' hooves everyday. If the hooves don't grow fast enough, the goats will have sore feet.

The good news is I rarely have to trim hooves unless I pen my goats for a significant length of time, and then only because the pens are in an area where the ground is not very rocky. Normally when people complain about a goat having "bad feet" the cause is hoof rot. I should be so lucky that conditions in my area got to a point where my goats developed that problem, since it usually requires moist conditions.

My understanding is Kikos are resistant to hoof rot, which makes sense since the breed was developed in New Zealand where that can be a significant problem. However, the Kikos I owned weren't limping around because they had hoof rot, they were limping because their hooves were bruised. This isn't likely to be a problem in much of the Southeast where the soil is deep and relatively rock free. By the same token, resistance to hoof rot is a non concern for someone raising goats in an area that gets less than 24 inches of rain per year.

Mastitis is primarily caused by the introduction of pathogenic bacteria into the udder. Normally the does' immune system will attack this bacteria and prevent infection/mastitis. If the doe is nursing, then the kids will suck out much of the bacteria helping the doe's immune system fight the infection as well. If the doe is a heavy milker, than the kids will not suck out as many of the bacteria making the development of mastitis more likely.

More importantly though, if the doe is in an environment she isn't well adapted to she will be stressed. When a goat becomes stressed its immune system is depressed and has a more difficult time fighting off infections, including those from the bacteria that cause mastitis. The doe will also produce less milk when stressed, causing her kids to grow more slowly.

As I noted in my original column on this topic, my Kikos did not seem particularly well adapted to the conditions present on my ranch, and there are many thorny plants that assist in introducing infectious agents into the does' udders. As a result I had significant problems with mastitis in the Kikos I owned. However, I also was careful to note that in the Southeast where conditions are more similar to those the Kiko was developed for, and there are fewer thorny plants, mastitis and low milk production should be less of a problem.

Mr. Conatser goes on to correctly note that, "all goats are the same color when hanging on the rail..." Unfortunately most commercial producers do not sell carcasses, they sell live goats. Many producers from all over the country have told me that when they sell their kids, they get a premium for them if they have a colored head and a white body. Therefore, they want me to find them does that will produce kids that have a colored head and white body. If this is true, and I have no reason not to believe it (since the advantages of the Boer breed and the improvement in carcass quality caused by the introduction of those genetics has been generally accepted in the commercial goat meat market), then color is not the least of a goat meat producer's concerns. If you can get more per pound for colored headed kids than you can for solid white ones, which would you rather raise?

Mr. Conatser also correctly notes that, "all goats are not created equal and there are bad and good Kiko genetics, just as there are good and bad genetics in any breed of a goat." I have argued that same point in this column many times. I would note, however, that the Kikos I purchased were not culls I picked up at the local slaughter barn. I obtained them directly from another breeder, and they were from a variety of bloodlines. I have advised against buying breeding stock at the sale barn many times in this space, and I take my own advice.

Of course, the best way to identify the superior genetics in a breed is through performance testing. As I have mentioned many times before here, there are several test sites that performance test goats, including the one at Fort Valley State University in Georgia. I commend Mr. Conatser on testing his goats and trying to improve the performance of his animals. Unfortunately, Mr. Conatser was the only breeder in the entire US to send any goats to the 2001 test at Fort Valley State University! That in my opinion is just sad.

It is sad because the test is so small that it is difficult to draw any conclusions from the results, and Mr. Conatser cannot really tell how his genetics compare so he can improve his operation. It is also sad because it demonstrates a lack of commitment by breeders to improving the breeds they raise. If you are raising commercial herd sires, and your genetics aren't represented at any of these tests, I strongly encourage you to participate.

Commercial herd sires are my primary product and I have 22 bucks on test right now myself, just bought most of Angelo State University's test animals (the animals ASU actually owns, not all the bucks on test), and also just acquired 30 mature bucks that were tested in years past and their brothers. I receive inquiries pretty much year round for these animals, and usually only have them available for a few months in the fall before I sell out. I sell them for a considerable premium over what most breeders get for their commercial bucks, so it can't be the cost of the test or a lack of demand for the product that is keeping so many breeders from participating.

Alas I digress, Mr. Conatser mentions the performance test primarily to reiterate the claim that Kikos show better parasite resistance/resilience and better feed conversions than other breeds. I addressed these claims, and the test data they are based on, at length in 2 letters to the editor of Meat Goat News (February 2001 and April 2001), and my June 2001 column in Goat Rancher. All of those can be found on my website at http://www.geocities.com/mjff/articles.html if you would like to read them in full.

The main problems I have with these claims are that the claims are based on the results of the 2000 Fort Valley State University test that had too small of a sample of goats to draw any meaningful conclusions, that was not conducted in a manner to generate comparable results between the different breeds of goats, and the conclusions are based on improperly interpreted test data.

With regard to the parasite resistance claim, the 2001 test remedied the problem I observed with the 2000 test that led some to conclude that Kikos had better parasite resistance. In 2000 the bucks were kept in separate paddocks and the paddock where the Boers that had parasite problems were located was stocked at a much higher rate than the paddock the Kikos were located in. Was the parasite problem in the Boers genetic or a function of the higher stocking rate? We'll never know, but in 2001 the Boers and Kikos were all kept in the same paddock, if the test report is correct, and none of the test animals, Boer or Kiko, had parasite problems.

The bottom line is until the Fort Valley State University test grows significantly it will be difficult to make any kind of credible claims about the superiority of one breed over another in terms of growth rates, feed efficiency, parasite resistance, etc.

Finally, I would note that for those of us in the Southwest parasite resistance is something of a non issue. I don't recall the last time I had to worm my goats. It is too dry and the stocking rates out here are too low for parasites to be much of a major concern. I met with a rancher yesterday from whom I have purchased large numbers of goats in the past. Because of the drought he was telling me that he has 200 goats running on 20 sections! That is 10 goats per section or 1 goat per 64 acres. How often do you suppose those goats need to be wormed whether they are resistant or not?

My last two criticisms of the Kiko were that the does are too expensive and too hard to find in quantities that a commercial operation can use. I might add that I had the same criticism of the Boer goat. Some statistics might be helpful in explaining those comments. So far this year I have helped several producers start or expand commercial herds of goats. The average number of does purchased for those customers was 788, and the average price for the does was $75.63 per head. The smallest order was 383 does, and the largest 1,410 does.

If there is anybody out there willing to sell that quantity of Kiko does at those prices please call me because I have buyers. In fact, I will probably need several thousand head of good, healthy, commercial does this fall at reasonable prices. Prices that start at $300.00 per head for fullblood Kiko does, and $100.00 plus for crosses constitute a breeder's market for Kiko does, and the same situation exists when it comes to fullblood Boer does. Why would any commercial producer buy does of either breed and sell the kids for $60.00 or $70.00 per head for slaughter if he/she can sell them as breeders for $300.00 on up? I stand by my comment that Kiko and Boer does are not a commercially viable option yet.

Finally, let me reiterate another point I make over and over again in this column. What works for one operation may not work for yours, and what works for yours may not work for someone else's. There are too many differences between operations and bloodlines within a breed to say this breed is best or worst. The point of my original column was to point out the differences and why they exist. I thought I made it clear, but if not let me say it again more clearly, that the very traits that made Kikos a poor choice for me may make them an ideal choice for an operation somewhere else that needs goats with those traits.

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This page updated 08/11/02

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