When we first started traveling around the country to acquire genetics to start a goat her, we were interested in both fullblood and wether genetics. We had just sold a herd of cows that half were purebred Maine Anjou, and half were 3 or 4 way cross club calf cows. We were interested in duplicating this with our future goat herd. When we asked goat breeders about both segments of the industry, we were not prepared for the answer we got. The fullblood breeders hated the wether industry and the wether industry had little use for the fullblood breeders and their association. Both segments of the industry are still in early stages relative to cattle, sheep, and swine industries; and are learning to see the bigger picture. The fullblood breeders resented the fact the someone could sell a non-papered, castrated goat for $10,000. The wether breeders wanted some muscle from the original fullblood imports, but can not use the extra hide, head, bone, and ribcage. If you can think of each segment in terms of each a different specie, then it becomes easier to understand the value that each brings to the goat industry as a whole. I will try to explain each below.
The show wether industry, and judging criteria is geared towards filling the needs of the meat packing industry. Imagine a wether carcass hanging vertically by a hook through the tendons of the hock joint, with no hide, head, legs below the knee or hock, or internal organs. The rack and loin are worth more than the rest of the carcass put together. The higher the ratio of rack/loin to the rest of the carcass and the throw-away parts (head, hide, leg bone, guts, ribs), the more value it is to the packer. This is why competitive show wethers have historically had a large rack/loin and a small cylindrical ribcage, small neck and head, tight hide, and fine boned legs. In order to accomplish this unique creature, multiple breeds of goats have been used to the point that the wether type goat can be considered it's own breed, apart from the boer goat.
On the contrary, fullblood breeding stock type of goats are selected for "production" rather than "carcass" traits. In addition to muscle and structural correctness, this would include a big, deep rectangular ribcage designed to converts large amounts of low quality forage into meat. A loose hide is needed to dissipate heat. Additionally, a loose hide is needed to achieve the high growth rates. Ever see a tight hided elephant, St Bernard dog, or grizzly bear? A large circumference of foot and leg bone is needed to assure sturdiness of travel over long distances while browsing. The large head, ears, and roman nose was selected by the original South African breeders to dissipate heat.
A parable to help understand each would be to compare a compact car designed to go 40 miles on a gallon of fuel, with a dually truck designed to pull 5 times it's own weight. They are both good for the auto industry, however comparing (or hating on) either segment to the other is an exercise in frustration.
I usually ask our farm visitors "what are your goals?". The most common response from ones that are new to the goat industry is something along the lines of this: "a registered goat that we can show competitively, and then raise our own county fair wethers out of". That would be the minivan of the goat industry.
Much like the Charles Dickens' classic novel, A Tale of Two Cities, this story has an interesting twist at the end. I was recently visited by two potential buyers on back to back days, looking for does from which to build a herd.
Buyer #1 was came the first day and was eager to share with me all his knowledge and critique my herd. I am the hardest critic there is on my own animals and have always been that way, so I welcomed his comments. Most good Stockmen are this way. When I inquired about his goals, he did not have an answer. Buyer #1 wanted to handle some of the prospects that we sorted out. As I held them, he proceeded to handle every muscle except the rack and loin, and spent a considerable amount of time handling the chest, belly, and front legs. Although he was unaware of the popular sires of the breed, he was quick to tell me how much he knew about genetics. He had just returned from artificial insemination school, and wanted to correct the way that we synchronize our does in our AI program (despite our 75% conception rate last year, and 91% this year). The 2 does that were his favorites were the 2 fattest ones I had. They were fat because they did not raise kids that year. They are on my cull list and will go to the sale barn when grass runs out. He seemed mad that I would not sell these to him. But, if I cannot make them work, selling them to someone new to the industry probably won't end well either. We did not do any business that day, and as he drove away I thought to myself he is the ideal prey for some of the wolves in our industry.
Buyer #2 had bought a couple of show doe prospects in our online sale last March to start a 4-H project for his kids. They were Grand and Reserve at a tough county fair breeding stock show. He wanted to add a couple of breeding age does to the 4-H project. After he asked lots of questions and took notes for 45 minutes while we looked at does, he said the smartest thing I had heard all week. He said "Gary, you obviously know what you are doing and I am just getting started. Can you pick a couple out for me?"
After asking him about his goals and budget, I chose a 2 year old doe that has National Champions for both parents, that has won has class at several ABGA shows and has half her ennoblement points already; but is a bit thin from raising quads her first time kidding. She is already bred back and passed over to a very popular AI sire. For his next doe, I chose an April yearling that is not quite as big as my December yearlings. Though not quite as big as her older contemporaries, once you know her age, you really appreciate her. I told him that if I were starting a herd, these would be the 2 that I would take. For sure, he got the 2 goats that are the best fit for his goals than anyone other than me could have chosen out of this group. As he drove away, I thought to myself that it will be rewarding to see him succeed in his endeavor.
So at the beginning of this article, I promised an interesting twist. Here is some sage, old advice that has been around much longer than me: It is not ignorance that is the enemy of knowledge, but the illusion of knowledge that prevents one from learning more.
Fat, the other white meat. Too many fullblood show judges cannot tell fat from muscle. We have all seen shows where they might as well use a digital scale to sort the classes. Many new goat enthusiasts cannot tell muscle from fat, unless they have a livestock background from another specie. They buy overly fat bred does from a sale, and the next item on their educational agenda becomes Ketosis treatment options. Lets discuss where fat comes from.
As animals consume calories, there are different hierarchies regarding the order in which those calories are used. The 1st priority is skeletal growth. This is why underfed animals can appear "leggy". Once skeletal growth is met for the day, the 2nd priority to use any remaining calories is muscle. This is why competitive show wethers are fed a limited amount, as opposed to full feed. If a wether is fed to gain 1/3 lb/day, he will be leaner than one fed to gain 1/2 lb/day even with the same end weight. After skeletal and muscular needs are met, any additional calories are stored as fat. As the fat layer increases in depth, the animals appear thicker, and fooling some into thinking this is muscle. We all have a "friend" who has bought an expensive animal, just to have it melt away at home in the weeks to follow. I have not spoke about calories used to maintain fetal growth in a pregnancy, that is a topic for another day.
So how do we tell a heavy muscled lean goat from a fat one? Let me share some background. Before the internet was invented, I used to be able to go to the Nebraska Sandhills and buy genetically superior but thin club calf prospects to bring back east and fortify our club calf sale numbers. If you have never seen the Sandhills firsthand, imagine pastures of several hundred rolling acres of dead brown grass about 3 inches tall. The cattle that graze these pastures in the late summer can be described as a bit thin and stretchy. The genetics of these cattle are outstanding. So how do we take off our weekend show jockey hat and put on our Stockman hat and acquire some of these "diamonds in the rough"?
It starts by understanding where true indicators of muscle can be expressed in a thin and stretchy individual. The forearm and the stifle muscle are the best indicators. If you do not know your animal parts, the forearm can be akin to the bicep muscle; below the elbow on the front leg. The stifle muscle is just above the flank and will be the round bulge that pops out when an animal is walking. If they have a stout forearm and stifle, and some width of skeleton (envision the bones); they will power up when hauled back east and put on full feed. In 6 weeks these calves would gain 100 lbs (google compensatory gain). They would be the powerhouses that their genetics suggested they should be. However, if you view a fat animal that lacks an expressive forearm and stifle, that one will melt away after you pull the feed bucket a way. A term used to describe this type of animal is counterfeit. Whether it is goats or club calf prospects, I prefer to buy heavy muscled, structurally correct animals and put the "right" amount of condition on them myself. This is how I prefer to sell animals as well. Selling counterfeits does not to any good to this industry; and they cost more to buy at a sale. Hopefully you feel more educated at a buyer now, and can avoid the other white meat.
As we are in the midst of the county fair season, there is a scene that I see play out all too often, including at our own house. An hour is spent every day at sports practice. The schedule of the kids seems to revolve around this hour. It is a precious hour that takes hours to prepare for, and hours to recover from. If they could just spend 1/4 of the time they spend at sports practice working with their show animals, they would be tough contenders in the game. This is true for many households. I often get asked about the magic secret to winning without working at it. It does not exist. The magic secret to winning simply does not include spending 3 minutes in the barn throwing feed over the gate. What is does involve is removing your project from it's pen, and spending 15 minutes bonding, walking, setting up, and bracing. When done every weekday in the summer (I presume you are showing on Saturday, and resting on Sunday) for 15 minutes, you will be at the top of your game. The power of 1/4 of an hour....
Due to a recent promotion at work, requiring extensive travel throughout the US and Canada, we are reducing the size of our doe herd in order to make winter chores easier on those at home. After we sort off everyone's favorites pets to keep, plus a few donor does, that leaves several high quality females available for purchase that would not otherwise be offered for sale. This list includes sisters to 2TNL Go Dog Go, the 2012 ABGA National Champion Yearling buck, plus daughters of the does listed on our DOES page. Call to discuss what we have left. Most does have been bred, many A.I. at this time.