Evaluating My Herd

I have been seriously evaluating my herd of goats this past week or so. This is a really good thing to do on occasion. We started out unsure if we really even wanted goats. Our first goats were sweet pygmy’s, pretty near given to us pregnant by a wonderful woman looking to help another if she was able. The girls were great, and provided us with milk that first year, but we found we needed longer lactation’s and so we began looking at the nigerian dwarfs.

In our part of North Carolina you generally have 2 choices for getting nigerian dwarf goats. You can go all out and spend $600-$800 for a kid you have to raise or buy a pet. It took us a while, but we found a breeder selling some of her adults bred and due to kid soon. She had real milk does, not just pet quality, and sold us our sweet Cinnamon, then Hallie and Katmandu. These are all wonderful backyard milk goats, but there is only so much we can do to improve on them. And here is where I have been evaluating.

Our goal is two-fold here at our farm. First, we really need lots of milk for our family. Due to our small space it is crucial we have heavy producers. We brought an alpine doe home in a trial to see if we should move to a different breed, but have found it is not for us, thus our little goats really have to be top-notch. A doe that produces well but doesn’t necessarily have the best udder seemed okay until we learned enough to realize that poor udder attachment leads to shorter productive life in our does. Cinnamon, a wonderful producer with a bad attachment, has been a great milk producer but her udder is becoming a problem as it begins to sag more. We have bought, and are buying, bucks to hopefully correct the udder problems in her offspring, but we can only take it so far.

Our second goal is to produce better offspring than what we have and to help put goats out there that will fit the needs of others who need a couple of backyard milk goats, not just pets being milked. We see a lot of poor udders being milked, thus producing more poor-quality goats. They make great pets, but there is a glut in our area of these and not enough great genetics at reasonable prices.

Now, to our evaluation. My heart really wants to keep all these sweet babies and first goats, yet on half an acre I can’t. I know far more right now than I did even 6 months ago, and would really like to move my herd to a new level, infusing it with genetic potential to bring even better goats to our area. I really want to see even pets being high-quality. Inevitably, even pets sometimes get bred. I really want to see better animals as the norm rather than the exception.

To this end I have been spending a lot of time researching lines and trying to see how much I can afford. The fact is, I only have so much cash, and I still need milk for my family. Change is very slow, and I have already invested heavily in even the goats I have. I cannot get prices like some in other parts of the country command, so I have to be very careful not to run myself too far into the hole. I have found some lines and farms that seem to consistently produce goats with good udders and milk production, so I find myself considering selling many in my small herd just to cover the cost of one or two does out of those lines. I fear making a mistake, still not knowing enough to trust that I will make the best decisions, but I sure will do my best! So, here is to the future and the hope that I will make good decisions, and that one day it will be easier for the small-time homesteader to have good goats.


About nigerianmeadows

I am a homeschooling mother of 2 autistic children and cook gluten-free, I homestead on 2.5 acre and raise goats and chickens for dairy and eggs, I garden, cook, quilt, and take photographs. I build, paint, scrub, and dance on tables. I am the ultimate WOMAN!!! Oh, yeah, and I like my husband a whole lot (he is the one that makes all this possible, and he loves me like no other!)
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9 Responses to Evaluating My Herd

  1. Angie Wills says:

    Now, if it were me, and I were limited to space like this, I wouldn’t even house any bucks at all. I would just have does and then find someone to work with who would allow me to use their bucks for a fee. I know you’ve said you didn’t want to do that due to the hassle, but it would add more room for does, which is what is needed for milk. Also, I must add that ANY DOE YOU BUY FROM ANYONE is a risk. If anyone ever guarantees that their animal will be a milk producer, especially a doeling, then be very wary of them. Even the best genetics in the world produce animals that are not up to par. The bad thing is that it’s sometimes difficult to tell how well a doe will do until the second freshening, and by then, you’ve invested quite a bit of time on them. Linebreeding will help, but a lot of outcrossing, while it strengthens that generation by adding vigor, doesn’t lock in any of those exceptional genes that help form correct udders and upstanding dairyness. In addition, the same genes shouldn’t be chosen all of the time because, in this area especially, those same genes can already be found everywhere, so while some people might be interested in attaining the line, it will also depend on the buck and whether they are interested in that line, too, especially in doelings (one reason I went way up north for Uproar! :)). The thing to always keep in mind is that the majority of show people will keep the best for themselves, and if a buck does not blend with your herd through linebreeding in some way, shape, or form, AND carry good udder genetics and production behind him, then you shouldn’t use him unless you are simply breeding for pets. There are plenty of people out there who simply want pets, and one or two of the larger well-bred goats can offer as much milk as double the amount of Nigerians, so it all depends on the situation and what the person wants in terms of quality and intent. People have to be very clear about that when they make purchases or it ends up creating problems down the road. Of course, many people might not know right off the bat that they want to jump in deeper. 🙂 In this case, it often means selling stock they are attached to in order to make improvements. I get attached to all of mine, so I know how that is! If you are interested in showing and production, one of the best things to do is to choose a couple of lines you really like by looking at their history in the ring and the milk pail, and then choose animals with those genetics to work with. 🙂

    Generally, if there are two doelings in a birth group of equal value, then a breeder will probably sell one, and in that case, you’d get lucky! Otherwise, the best are usually retained for herd improvement just as you would retain the best to improve your own herd. There are some good breeders in this area who are focused on herd improvement (NC Promisedland, Firestone Creek [have to include myself, of course!], Kids Corral, and a few others), but many of us have been working at it for several years and have gone out of the area to buy quality animals that have proven production and conformation behind them, which means we’ve paid those high prices–sometimes unreasonable– for the stock we have. Yes, we end up passing it on to our customers most of the time because if we don’t, we are simply throwing our own money away. You’ll find you are actually much better off doing that, too, in the future, depending on the stock you have, simply because your reputation will not be good with other breeders if you are selling stock at low prices. The other breeders will raise their prices when you ask about stock sometimes simply because you are competition, and not competition in a good way, because if someone purchases their stock and then turns around and sells the kids at low prices, then that will drive stock prices down, period, and all of that person’s hard work is dashed away. It hurts everyone who has invested a lot of money when that happens because then people think, “Oh, why should I pay this much for this goat when I can just get it elsewhere for less,” not realizing that what they are buying isn’t out of the same quality stock but out of watered down stock and possibly outcrossed to whomever was available. It happens. When you’ve been working on your bloodlines for several years and spending money on milk test and showing, then those low prices can really affect your bottom line, too. You spend the extra money on testing and feed and everything else needed to take good care of your animals, and then other people just sell $200/less animals all day long while you are overcrowded because you can’t find homes for the really excellent stock that should be procreating instead of the mediocre animals. While it’s nice to find a deal, it’s often better to have a good working relationship with other breeders who respect what you are trying to do with your breeding program because those people will be more open to selling you/ leasing you top of the line animals at a decent price–animals they would have retained themselves– in order to help you out. 🙂 They will be willing to offer advice and help you choose animals that will benefit your herd based on their own experience of what works and what does not work. 🙂

    If you want to try a real milk combo, maybe we could work something out with Ammi and Archie in the future. 🙂 He has the same milklines behind him. You could ‘borrow’ him/arrange a visit. We could make some type of agreement on that, I am sure, if you are interested. 🙂 It would benefit us both, which is the name of the game here, isn’t it?

    • Yes, and actually I think the goats we have are not bad, I just see the long-term potential as not being good enough since I don’t have the room to raise up younger does very often. You sold me some good animals, and made quite a few improvements on Cin with your breeding. I’m learning, though, that it may take too much time and money to keep working on her. I wish I had known more early on, had a clearer direction, but I needed milk very badly and she sure is a powerhouse in that area! Even now, while I know more where I want to go, it will take me years to get there. The good thing is that it looks like I will always have these little goats, so I have lots of years! 🙂

      I do like keeping a couple of bucks, even with the small space. I just don’t currently have a good way to transport goats for breeding purposes, and live awfully far away from people. I am working on an arrangement with a family that has a lot of land to keep bucks there and both use them, which would really help.

      One of the things I have found in this part of NC is that most of the people want brush goats. There seems to be a glut of them for $50 or less. There is no way any of us can sell kids for such low prices when we pay so much, but the market is slim. Due to economic factors, the breed will slowly decline in price, not because they cost us less to raise, but because we can’t afford to feed and keep them if people won’t spend the money. I see lots of people breeding the nigerian dwarfs, and many have access to good stock. Unfortunately, since these goats tend to continue to be bred and produce so many babies, supply appears to be outpacing demand for the higher priced animals. There will be a few farms able to maintain higher prices, but eventually we will end up in the same boat as most other breeds, in the $200-$400 range most likely. Breeders of, say alpines, have a difficult time getting even $250 for a bred doe! I never expect my animals to pay anything, and I will probably never even see a return on their purchase price. The direction of buyers is not the show person or individual interested in breeding for profit or pleasure, but rather the family that really needs a small goat or two for milk or companionship. I feel these people are the future of the breed, and I hate seeing them forced to buy and breed the animals that don’t really hold up for the long haul just because they can’t afford the better genetics and the cheaper ones are so widely available. I don’t want to cheapen the breed, but it’s going to happen and I hope the good genetics don’t just disappear.

      I really value working with other breeders as well. It’s so interesting to see the different herds and directions they take! It’s hard to network, though, if you don’t really get into the showing and start to travel and meet people, and everyone is having trouble staying in the black with their animals there is only so much they can do. My biggest hope is to develop a good base of does and find a couple of bucks that consistently produce good kids with them, and stick to the same breedings over and over. Archie is a fine buck, and I may take you up on your offer in the future! I might need better transportation, though!

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments and advice 🙂 You are right on when you mention that we are working with POTENTIAL, not guarantees! I think it’s why I’m having such a hard time deciding whether to sell most of my kids or keep them. There is a good chance for decent producers; it just takes so long to find out! I have seen so many breeders happy to have a doe or buck they sold young return to their farm. I wish there was some magic answer to seeing into the future, hahaha! I guess it’s all one step at a time, right?!

  2. Uddermost Farm Girl says:

    Jordana, Another great post … as always. It helps me so much to know how others reason. Ever since you visited and gave me your assessment of my little herd, I have been having some of the same thoughts you discuss here. Quality, afforability, practicality, availability, emotional attachment to my girls … all considerations to weigh. My goal is not breeding; my goal is milk production in a backyard herd. Unfortunately, that requires annual breeding. So I should learn more about assessing quality in these goats and breed responsibly.

    • One can only do so much. Your girls are nice, you are just in the same boat I am, but with limits imposed on you by city ordinances. Besides, how many of us, when first starting out and unsure whether this adventure will even work, are willing to drop $500 or more for a really top-notch potential doeling? Not to mention figuring out how we will breed it! It’s good to think ahead, though, to where you may want to be one day.

  3. LindaG says:

    Seems like you have a great start. You can never have enough information. Maybe start having conversations with the farms you are interested in buying from. Not about buying at first, but just for information. Tell them what you’re doing and why and see if anyone there has time to just talk goats with you. 🙂
    Don’t know if it will help, but it can’t hurt, right?
    Good luck! I wouldn’t even know where to start or what a ‘bad udder’ looked like.

  4. laura little says:

    Look, I have a doe who just kidded a month ago. She has a good udder attachment. I have not milked her. Her kids are still on her when she lets them. Would you like her? Visit my blog if you want to take a look. She’s Nutmeg. I would not be able to give her to you until April, due to the babies, but then she would be free. I’m talking a gift, as she was a gift to me. Let me know.

    • Laura, I went over to your blog, and ended up 2 hours late to bed! I love the way you write, your sense of humor! I needed to laugh so badly, and you gave me that gift with the stories you tell 🙂

      Your offer to give me Nutmeg is so kind, but won’t you want to milk her? She looks like a lovely doe, her and Echo! What sweeties 🙂 I saw you were going back and forth with keeping them, but I also saw that you want to keep two around, even if 4 or 6 is too many. I understand the work involved, that’s for sure! If you need to let her go let me know, but I do have some milk does, I just have to work on them a little. I wouldn’t mind another adult milk doe, though…

      • laura little says:

        I’m absolutely serious. I really need to simplify. I originally just wanted some brush goats, truthfully, then was offered these two goats as a gift so I took them. I really don’t even care about the milk. I thought I would, but I don’t. My goal would be just to have the two wethers, Molasses and Cinnamon, and let the does go. Echo is not a good milking candidate: her hocks are too close together, she is very stubborn and too small for safe breeding, I think. But I would give Nutmeg to someone who wanted a milk doe with good characteristics. I’m going to post a parade of Nutmeg Udder Images today, just for you, so you can check it out and let me know what you think.

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