Learn how to examine the udders, check the teeth and estimate the age of a goat to be sure you choose a healthy animal to raise.
The following is an excerpt from The Backyard Goat by Sue Weaver (Storey Publishing, 2011). This book is an introductory guide to keeping productive pet goats, especially for those who want to raise livestock in their backyard. This excerpt is from Chapter 2, “Getting Your Goat.”
No matter what type of goats you need, buy healthy ones; don’t make the same mistakes we've made in choosing goats of poor health and form. Consult the images in the Image Gallery for traits that should and shouldn’t be present in the goats you’d like to buy. In particular, you’ll want to consider the prospective goats’ udder and teat conformation, as well as mouth structure.
Dairy does should obviously have good udders, but meat and fiber breeds should, too. Kids can’t nurse from the sort of badly deformed teats often seen in Boer goats or from udders that sag so low they nearly brush the ground.
Examine a doe’s udder before you buy her. It should be globular, soft, pliable and free of lumps. It should have good “attachments” (the ligaments that attach her udder to her body) that hold the udder up high and tight to her body. She should have two normal, shapely teats with no spurs or outgrowths — unless she’s a Boer or Savanna; these breeds generally have four teats. Both sides of the udder should be the same size and both teats the same size or almost so.
When choosing a doeling who hasn’t built her udder yet (it develops when she gives birth to her first kids), examine her mother’s udder and her father’s teats; this will give you a preview of what’s to come.
Yes, her father’s teats. Males have rudimentary teats in front of their scrotum (or where their scrotum used to be). It’s important to check a buck’s teats before buying his daughters or when choosing a mate for your doe. He should have the correct number of teats for his breed, and they shouldn’t be misshapen.
A goat’s lower teeth should be flush with her upper dental pad when her mouth is closed. If her lower teeth extend beyond the dental pad, she is “sow-mouthed” or “monkey-mouthed”; this is fairly common in Roman-nosed (arch-faced) breeds such as Boers and Nubians, and it’s severely penalized in the show ring.
If her dental pad extends beyond her lower teeth, she is “parrot-mouthed.” This is severely penalized as well. And worse, badly parrot-mouthed or sow-mouthed goats have problems browsing and grazing. They tend to lose weight on pasture and need hay and possibly grain to survive.
Both sow-mouth and parrot-mouth conditions are hereditary and should be avoided, especially in young goats, as both of them worsen with age.
Most goats are healthy, but you’ll want to make sure your goats have been tested for the major diseases: caprine arthritic encephalitis (CAE), caseous lymphadenitis (CL), and Johne’s disease. Also, you’ll want to choose individual goats based on your particular needs, taking the following factors into consideration.
If you’re looking for pets, working wethers, or a companion for your horse or pony, think about starting with kids. Kids bond with the humans who raise them and the type of animals they find in their environment. However, take extra care with kids. Build separate quarters in your horse’s stall until the little guys are big enough not to be stepped on, and give packgoat and harness kids time to grow up before putting them to work.
Harness goats shouldn’t be driven and packgoats shouldn’t carry weight until they’re at least 2 years old. If you’re eager to pack or drive right now, choose a more mature goat.
Dairy doelings are fun to raise but not so much fun to train to the milk stand. Also, first-fresheners (does who have recently given birth to their first kids) give less milk than older does and have teeny, hard-to-milk teats. If you haven’t milked before, you’re much better off with a seasoned adult.
In Angora-type goats (Angoras, Pygoras, and Nigoras), the younger the better, as fiber coarsens with age. You don’t want old goats if you need fine fiber for spinning, though their fleece is excellent for making dolls’ wigs and Santa beards.
How old is old? It depends. Most does and wethers live 12 to 14 years; some live much longer. Does should, however, be retired from kidding when they’re about 10 years old, as kidding problems increase with age.
If you don’t breed goats, you probably won’t want a buck.
If you milk, obviously you need does. And while harness goats and packgoats are traditionally wethers, if you have a doe and don’t breed her, she can be a working goat, too. Some packers take low-production dairy does in milk out on the trail to provide fresh milk for meals. If you plan to do this, choose a doe with a small, well-attached udder, not one with an easily injured, floppy udder and dangly teats.
Wethers make the best all-around goats because they aren’t preoccupied with kids, heat cycles or rut. Unless you plan to milk or breed, think wethers.
Choose goats that can do the job you have in mind. For instance, Myotonic goats (unless they rarely faint) and Nigerian Dwarves don’t make good backcountry packgoats. But be objective when choosing. If you don’t need a lot of milk, non–dairy breed does may provide all you need; some Spanish and Boer goats produce almost as much cashmere as bona fide Cashmere goats; and if you day-pack on fairly level terrain, a Pygmy goat can carry your sandwiches.
To learn more about evaluating goats, ask the organization that registers your breed of choice for a copy of its breed standard. Have fun goat shopping!
Reprinted with permission from The Backyard Goat, published by Storey Publishing, 2011.
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