Re-inventing the Wheel
Several times each week I hear from goat producers across the nation who are breeding every imaginable cross in an effort to produce the ultimate slaughter meat goat. I believe that this approach can waste years of valuable breeding time. Each of us should learn from other goat producers successes (and failures); it wouldn't hurt us to study how cattle industry leaders developed their cross-bred meat animals, either. For instance, they didn't cross Jersey dairy cows with Angus beef bulls in their efforts to produce a quality beef animal. Why are goat producers trying to make meat goats out of dairy and hair animals by crossing with these breeds?
Successful cross-breeding and up-breeding (within a breed) require setting a specific goal. If a large, meaty animal destined for the slaughter market is that goal, decide first of all if the animals which you currently own can get you there. Quality breeding stock is ESSENTIAL; a well-thought-out game plan is MANDATORY. Haphazard breeding is both ill-advised and self-defeating.
Generically there are three types of goat breeds... meat, milk, and fiber (hair). Within each group, animals have been selected by mankind and nature over time to achieve a specific objective. Some dairy and fiber breeds have been so highly developed that in-breeding has occurred. Meat breeds are only now being evaluated and selectively bred to produce a superior product for the tables of America and the world.
Most native (feral) goats are small and lean out of necessity; they've had to survive and thrive through natural selection and without supplementary feed. The desire to breed these animals into a better product is understandable. Does it make sense to breed feral goats to larger-framed, dairy-type animals? Let's evaluate this concept further.
Although a case can be made for its dairy-goat origins, the Boer is currently the most visible example of selective breeding in our industry today. The Dutch farmers (boers) who emigrated to South Africa during the late 1800's took British milk goats with them and cross-bred the Nubians with the feral goats of their newly-adopted country.
The visible similarity is obvious; both Boers and Nubians have roman faces and long, pendulous ears. Despite scores of years of rigorous selection for meat-goat characteristics, Boers retain obvious dairy similarities and deficiencies. Nevertheless, the Boer remains the best candidate among dairy-type animals for cross-breeding to produce a quality slaughter meat goat.
Other dairy-type and full dairy breeds are, in this writer's opinion, wholly unsuitable for crossing to achieve a substantial slaughter meat goat. As the American Dairy Goat Association says in its introductory membership packet, 'dairy is the opposite of meat.'
Dairy animals are long-bodied; long legs are needed for lactating does to carry udders engorged with milk. Having little meat on their frames, their sides typically sink in at the flanks. They are ... no criticism intended ... terrific DAIRY goats.
In contrast, meat goats are short-legged, wide- and deep-bodied creatures. Does have tight, compact udders that don't catch on briars when browsing. Being largely pasture animals dependent upon their own skills to avoid predators, they are agile and skittish. No domestic pet exists here!
Fiber (hair) goats have serious limitations as meat crosses. Despite recent articles appearing to the contrary, research completed last year at a well-known university's goat study center revealed that Angora goat meat spoils faster than any other goat meat.
Feed protein apparently goes to produce fiber rather than meat ... another indication of trait selection achieving the desired results. The long and sometimes curly hair of fiber goats makes them poor candidates for foraging on rough pasture containing briars and thickets.
Angoras, moreover, are acknowledged to be poor mothers in pasture conditions. Any goat breed, if pampered and managed enough by humans, can be made into a relatively decent mother. Bottle feeding, holding of teats for kids, etc., is not possible in native pasture settings.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Kiko, this goat breed was created beginning in 1978 in New Zealand. The feral goat of New Zealand was crossed with males of dairy origin ... Saanen, Toggenberg, and Nubian bucks ... for a minimum of four generations. Therefore, this breed also is substantially dairy in foundation stock.
Two different producers come to mind when discussing improvement in existing meat-goat breeds . . . up-breeding. Jim and Elaine Willingham of 8-Mile Ranch in Uvalde, Texas have bred back improved Spanish goats to succeeding generations over the past 15 years to produce an incredible meat goat. If you like Spanish goats, the Willinghams have the animal that you want.
We at Onion Creek Ranch in Buda, Texas have followed a similar path with Myotonic goats. We have bred large and heavily-muscled Myotonics back to unrelated large and heavily-muscled Myotonics over many breeding seasons to produce the TENNESSEE MEAT GOAT™. No dairy influence exists in this animal whatsoever.
Although cashmere is a type of fiber, it appears in some cases on various breeds of goats. Cashmere, at this point, is not a breed of goat, although some breeders are working towards achieving breed status for cashmere-type animals.
Remember that BIGGER IS NOT NECESSARILY BETTER. Some South African Boer breeders have scaled back the size of their goats; they've gotten them so large that they are unthrifty... too big, heavy, and feed-intensive to be efficient pasture goats. Larger frame size does not always mean more meat. Bigger frame = more skin, more bone, more offals (waste organs). Concentrate on hanging weight rather than live weight. Goats may be selling based on live weight now, but just like cattle buyers, goat buyers will soon be able to look at an animal on the hoof and evaluate how that goat will dress out. If the goat industry is to prosper and go forward, this circumstance has to occur.
While the Boer has brought great interest in goats to America, far too much emphasis has been placed upon this breed as the 'end-all' solution to meat goats in the U.S.. Other meat breeds in particular have much to contribute. I'm always amazed when someone tells me that he has a 'one-quarter Boer,' yet has no idea what breed comprises the other percentage of the animal. That other 75% of the gene pool has a major bearing upon the quality and worth of the animal. Breeding the best buck in the world to an inferior doe will produce less-than-quality offspring.
At least some supplementary feeding is necessary to produce quality cross-bred animals or to improve goats within a breed. This can be done sensibly without making pen animals of them. What and how much any animal is able to eat has to have a bearing upon its size and development.
It continually distresses me to hear breeders talk of shaping animals and their habits to fit human preferences. Disbudding and deliberate bottle feeding of kids are two items of concern. Horns are the only means of defense available to goats. Bottle-fed kids tend to become human-dependent adults. When goats leave Onion Creek Ranch to become breeding stock in some other part of the country or world, we never know what conditions they will be confronting. We believe that all the natural traits and characteristics given to them ... their instincts for protection and survival . . . should be left intact. If we've made them human dependent, we've condemned them to death if they go to an environment so tough and native that they cannot compete. Meat goats, in this writer's opinion, need to he hardy, pasture-ready and pasture-wise animals.
We all want to produce the best meat goat stock possible. To do this, breeders need to become focused on both where we want to go and how we plan to get there. Historical evidence concerning development of other species' slaughter animals indicates that a cross-bred (hybrid) animal is the ultimate goal, with full-bloods of various breeds being the seed stock.
We must focus on QUALITY before we can achieve QUANTITY. Careful SELECTION of breeding stock to produce excellent CONFORMATION offspring without the use of any growth supplements is essential. Rapid WEIGHT GAIN in the first 90-100 days of life to achieve a slaughter weight of 75-90 pounds is the likely target.
Let's not confuse frame size and height with amount of marketable meat. No one eats what's between the belly and the ground. Let's recognize and produce genuine meat goats!
MGN - Dec 97
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All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.
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