Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
February is such a fun month when it comes to goats… Half of us are watching goat kids being born, and the other half of us are still trying to get our does bred for the year! I’m afraid I’m on the latter half this year, as my does are still lounging around in the barn, neither pregnant nor milking. Whoops. Thankfully I was able to locate a nice Nubian buck, and he will be coming next week to do some work. Better late than never right? I’ll have July goat kids this year, but at least I’ll have kids!!
While perusing Craigslist this past week (oh what would we Americans do without Craigslist?!), I couldn’t help but notice the large number of ads for bucks for sale or for rent. It seems that everyone and their brother has a buck for sale, or has one that you can breed your does to. Shucks, getting the does bred couldn’t be easier, right? You could practically play ‘Spin the bottle’ with all the available male goats that are up for grabs. But wait, how does one pick a buck? Can you just go by looks, or is there something specific you should look for? Are those Craigslist ads really any good? How do you know which of your own bucklings (term for young male goat) you should castrate and which you should leave intact? These were questions that vied for my attention when I first started with goats, and I dearly wish I had known someone back then who could have taught me what to look for in a herdsire. It’s a tricky business choosing a mate for the does, and your decision will affect many future generations of goats to come.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty, and not beat around the bush. What in the world are we looking for in a dairy buck, and why should we care? I’ll answer the latter question first. The buck is half your herd. He is the stamp for the next generation, and his kids will closely pattern him. Now, if you have just a couple dairy goats to supply you and your family with milk, you may not be all that interested in searching for a good buck; you just want your does bred so you can have milk! Am I seeing some nods of agreement from you readers? But ask yourself this: What are you going to do with the kids? If you have dairy goats, then two ideas have probably entered your head. One, you could keep the doelings for future milkers. Or, two, you could sell the doelings as milkers and get a small bit of profit. Either way, you have it on your head that these doelings should produce milk someday.
And that’s where the buck comes in. He’s going to affect what sort of milkers your doelings are going to be. If he’s a good buck, with good milking genetics, then his daughters have a high chance of being good milkers as well. His conformation is going to show on his daughters too; if he has a steep rump, overbite, and is cow hocked then guess what? His daughters have a very high chance of having all of that too, which will affect and possibly impede their role as a useful asset to a dairy herd. A steep rump on a doe can cause kidding problems; an overbite can make eating difficult for her. Cow hocks will mess up her gait and may eventually cause more severe leg problems. It’s all in the buck. That is what I want to stress here. You can breed for a good herd, or you can breed for a bad herd. In the beef cattle industry, you don’t see cattlemen choosing a bull simply because he is available or cheap. They look for the biggest, heaviest, most productive bull they can find, and their efforts are clearly seen in the resulting offspring.
So, what is a dairy buck supposed to look like? In short, he should look like this:
This is an example of the ideal dairy buck. He is noticeably “dairy” looking, but at the same time he is masculine. His topline is smooth and long, he has good brisket extension, nice rear leg angulation, sharp withers, and he is blended smoothly throughout. Are you scratching your head in confusion yet? I thought so. Using this picture as our standard, let’s take a look at some real bucks and we’ll delve into what a good buck should look like…
Buck #1 is a Nigerian Dwarf from Lost Prairie Nigerians, in Colorado. Now, compare him with the picture. How does he measure up?
If you look at A, in the picture, he looks like he has a good topline; very straight and level. His “shoulders” or withers, as they are called, are prominent, but not too much. The red letter ‘B’ shows his brisket…. Or lack of it. This could be the angle of the picture, but this guy doesn’t seem to have much of a brisket! The letter D (my mistake… I accidentally put the ‘D’ before the ‘C’!) is below his stomach, to draw your eye towards his depth. Looking at a goat from the side, you should see the shape of a wedge as the goat gets deeper in body as you go from the point of shoulder, to the hips. I like this buck’s depth. Granted, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to see a bit more on him, but he looks symmetrical, so I’m happy. Perhaps I’m a tad fanatical when it comes to goats, but rear leg angulation is something that always catches my attention first on an animal. If you look at where the letter ‘C’ is, you’ll see the red line sweeping down his rear leg. That is exactly what their rear legs should look like! Some goats will lack this angulation almost entirely, giving them the appearance of being “post legged”. Rear leg angulation is responsible for healthy, problem-free legs that will last as long as the goat does. Without this angulation, goats can develop both leg and hip problems as they age.
A,B,C, and D, are the main points to look for on a buck, but nowhere near all. Other key points to look at are his feet: do they toe outwards, or are they pointing straight? Are both of his testicles descended and even, or are they twisted and misshapen? Is he nice and wide, when viewed from the rear, or does he seem narrow?
Each breed has its own standards and it’s the job of the breeders and owners to decide if a male goat is up to par with that standard or not. This Lost Prairie buck has a lovely head that conforms to the Nigerian Dwarf Goat standard, and overall he seems like a buck worthy of passing his traits onto his daughters. But, the last qualifying trait is his height. I don’t know how tall this handsome fellow is, but Nigerian Dwarfs must be under a certain height limit in order to be registered.
When searching for a buck (or when deciding which bucklings to keep intact), I cannot stress enough how important it is to scrutinize his dam. What does she look like? More importantly, what does her udder look like? It only makes sense that if you’re in the dairy business (no matter how big or small), that the buck should come from good, solid milking lines. Think of it this way: He is going to pass along the milking traits of his dam, whether good or bad. That makes you look at each doe differently as you consider keeping one of her sons as an intact male! You find yourself looking at each doe and wondering if you really want more does like this. Is she everything you could want in a milking doe? Or does she have obvious faults that you know shouldn’t be passed down the line? If she has faults, or is a poor milker, then all her sons should be castrated. Period. Many people groan about the small amount of milk that Nubians give, but I have to be honest in saying that I think it’s our fault. Nubians are such a popular breed that people often breed their does to whatever Nubian buck they can find, and thus we have seen a decline in their milking abilities. We can breed for good goats, or we can breed for bad goats. It’s our choice.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be explaining what to look for in a buck and how to choose a herdsire. We’ll critique some more bucks and bucklings, and learn what is a fault vs. what is a virtue.
You can read more about my goat adventures on my blog at, 'To Sing With Goats'.