I have goats. Lots of goats by my standard (24 or so), not so many compared to some herds. I have had them for many years now, nearly 10? I can’t really remember except that my youngest child was a baby. In those years I have seen a lot and learned even more. I have studied and helped others, worked with goats of many breeds and abilities. One thing stands above all else; goats are, like all living things, based on the foundation of genetics. Thus, the first thing to remember when feeding a high producing dairy goat is that genetic base. Because of that, it is the first thing I want to address in this series of blogs.
Do you recall watching Jurassic Park? Remember the scene where the main characters are on the ride and watch the story of the genetic sequence and the gene altering being done by the scientists in the laboratory? They were altering DNA strands to create the genetic code to turn frog DNA into the missing links for “dino DNA”. It gives a good basis for how genetics work, except in nature and on farms we are not altering the code in a laboratory but by breeding two goats together to create a mixed genetic package.
In nature, the genetic code is created from those animals that can survive. That means, in the case of goats, that the goat does not pass out at sudden sound, that they do not produce more milk than their babies need or more muscle than is needed (both excess milk and muscle is a waste of resources and inefficient and not sustainable in nature). Nature is cruel; only the fittest survive, the ones that resist parasites, can survive on the barest of nutrients, can run the fastest, and are just plain lucky.
On a farm it is slightly different. In some cases farmers breed and manage in such a way as to mimic nature, but in most cases a farmer that depends on his stock does not have lawn ornaments or trust the natural world to make his living. These animals are his meal ticket. He can’t afford losses, and he has to meet the market demands, whether it be pet, meat or dairy (or even brush goats). Thus, he has to combine genetics that would not generally survive in nature, focusing on them while still attempting to maintain the other less important (monetarily) but desirable traits of the species.
In dairy goats that means creating a goat that makes more milk than her babies need and that has a will to milk for longer periods than is typical in nature. To achieve this feat, the farmer breeds animals that, in the case of a high producing dairy goat, cannot be sustainable in a purely natural environment. Having some of these goats, and seeing other high producing goats that owners did not understand this genetic base and did not manage well, I can share with you that these animals will produce until they kill themselves if the farmer does not understand the genetics and care for the animal correctly.
A high producing dairy goat, one that goes beyond the average and makes people go “wow”, is an animal that has a will to produce so strong that she may come into milk without being bred. She may, in fact, continue producing for years on end. Her genes are so strong to make milk, and to devote resources to making that milk, that she can literally produce herself to death if she does not receive the nutrients to support that kind of production and careful management of her breeding and udder. A goat like this will not just produce less if fed less. She cannot control her genetics and what they tell her body to do. Rather, if you actually want a goat like this, you need to be prepared for what to expect so that you can manage such production and keep a healthy animal.
In future blogs I will address the basics in caring for a high producing dairy goat. Much of it is the same as for any goat or animal on your farm, but with these goats you can’t just leave out any one part. They are too far removed from their original state and have to be cared for with that in mind. To re-cap this post, remember that:
- Goats are based on a genetic map
- A goat is a slave to her genetics
- A high production animal cannot sustain itself without high quality input