One of the most interesting features for us in raising goats is learning about genetics without hours in the classroom studying the theory. As goat gestation is five months, we have at least one, probably 2, chances to see the results of genetic matings each year.
We aren’t looking for thoroughbreds or rare breeds, but we are interested in healthy, productive goats, maybe with a few extra colors or characteristics thrown in to give each goat distinction.
The majority of the goats in our area are white with long ears. While there is nothing wrong with white, it is a little boring. We have been hard pressed to find a little natural variation with which to infuse our stock.
A few months ago we came across a small black and white pinta (black and white) that we paid a little more for and subsequently named Vaca (Cow). Much to our surprise, she was pregnant. However, we weren’t sure if the father was Chivo Pestoso (Stinky Goat) our macho or the macho from the herd she had been with, that seriously resembled Mr. Snuffleufagus, huge, shaggy and brown. We tried counting the months, but without knowing the exact time she became pregnant, we couldn’t say for sure.
Nothing to be done but wait. So we did. And out popped Firolais one bright morning. He didn’t look like Chivo Pestoso. He didn’t look like Mr. Snuffleufagus. He didn’t even look like Vaca. He looked exactly like our puppy Hershey! Talk about genetic anomalies! We determined that he had to be Mr. Snuffleugagus’ son based on his ears. His ears were not like Vaca’s or Chivo Pestoso’s ears. He also has longer than average hair and seems to be developing into quite a big guy, while his mother is rather on the small side.
One male goat is enough manliness for our small herd. Males have a strong odor emanating from the base of their horns that they add fresh pee cologne to when a lady goat is in heat through the impressive feat of urinating on their own faces. So believe me, one macho is quite enough. We had been using a rent-a-stud service, but the arranging, transporting and servicing fees made it more practical to keep one of our own machos as the herd stud muffin. Last year, Queenie gave us twin boys from which to choose.
My husband kept Chivo Pestoso instead of his twin brother, based on the size of his ears. Chivo Pestoso has itty bitty ears, even smaller than his mother’s ears. The twin had ears that were the same size as Queenie’s. All our adult female goats are currently expecting, and the now teenage Chivo Pestoso is the father. It will be interesting to see if little ears is a dominant or recessive trait. Personally, I think it is an unattractive characteristic. Furthermore, it has become evident that Chivo Pestoso has some hearing issues. All the goats come running when we shake corn in a tin can. All but Chivo Pestoso that is. He continues munching away, oblivious to the stampede for corn and often gets left behind. Finding himself alone, he panics and begins his high-pitched bleating. But, as he doesn’t hear so well he can’t hear the rest of the goats when they answer, and he wanders about lost until we go and fetch him in.
Chivo Pestoso, Queenie, Tinkerbell, and Caramela have campanitas, small balls of hanging skin on the neck resembling “bells” hence the name, which is another trait my husband prefers. This particular characteristic is cosmetic, nothing more. It doesn’t appear to be tied to twinning, fertility or milk production, which are traits I am more interested in.
Horns, however, are not just for looks. In goat reproduction, it’s important that the macho has horns. A macho without horns has a 50 percent chance of his daughters being sterile. So any male kid without horns is sold. Males that grow horns are watched to see if they are a potential replacement for Chivo Pestoso. My husband can usually tell if the kid will have horns or not shortly after birth, but it takes me a few days to determine whether the hair swirls will remain swirls or grow horns. As not all of our nanny goats have horns, it is important that the male does to avoid that chance of infertility.
Twinning is another genetic factor we consider when buying, keeping or selling our goats. Queenie has produced two sets of twins in 2 years and was herself a twin. She’s a keeper. Tweedledee has delivered twins 2 out of 3 births; we don’t know if she was a twin or not. Duchess was a twin, but her last two births were single offspring. However, yesterday, she presented us with twin boy kids (pinto with little ears and horns). Vaca had a single birth, but as her offspring is not related to any of our goats, the jury is still out on whether he will stay or go. We try to avoid too much inbreeding. Tinkerbell, Cookie (otherwise known as Shortie), Diabla and Caramela are new purchases and have yet to have babies. Venada (Deer), the daughter of Queene, is the current favorite, being a lovely brown color, having horns and campanitas and being a twin. She just turned seven months old, so not ready for baby making yet, but we can’t wait to see what she produces.
Milk production is another significant factor when culling the herd. Tweedledee, though not always a twin producer, always has more than enough milk for our evening hot chocolate. Queenie, being small and the mother of twins doesn’t produce much extra milk, but has sufficient for her offspring. Duchess and Vaca have barely enough milk for their offspring and are on the watch list. To be fair, Vaca’s baby is enormous, and Duchess is an excellent mother, so no action has been taken as of yet, but when the time comes, they are near the top of the list.
My husband, as the main milker, has a preference in udders. Some teats are long and hang low. This type of udder is harder to milk, seems subject to more infections and often gets tangled or cut when out foraging. Other teats are shorter and found under a rounder udder and the goat booby preference around here. My husband insists that this trait is determined through the male. I can’t say whether I completely believe that or not. His theory, and one I’ve heard from several other locals is the hang and shape of the testicles has a bearing on the type of udder any daughter born will have.
Personality also plays a role in whether a goat is kept or not. It may be more of nature vs. nurture though rather than true genetics. For instance, Queenie lets us know the minute food supplies are dwindling, even if she is still has a bite in her mouth. Her daughter Venada is just as assiduous in keeping us informed. Tweedledee, although a good breeder and milk producer, doesn’t have the “spark” that Queenie and her offspring have. Her twin boys, although both having keepable (i.e. good color, campanitas, and horns) characteristics, were not considered as potential macho replacements because they too lacked the “intelligence” we were looking for. The verdict is still out on Duchess’ little boys. A week or so watching them play a rousing game of bump heads or king of the rock will tell.