Selecting a good dairy goat comes after you decide on what breed you want to start out with. If you choose Nigerian Dwarfs, make sure you study the breed standards as outlined by the NDGA or other registry. Also look at pictures of LOTS of goats within your chosen breed. Pure bred goats will have a more consistent ‘look’ about them, and will be easier for you to select a good looking goat. A hybrid will have mixed features, and unless they are being bred toward a specific and obvious purpose you will have a more difficult time finding a goat with all the right traits. Mini dairy goats are the only ‘hybrid’ I would recommend for beginners as they are bred to the same standard and must have the same appearance as the full sized goats.
Examine the mammary. A good udder on a goat will be full, and rounded in appearance. From the side profile you want to be able to see the udder bulging out from behind the legs, and out in front of the legs. In goat terms, this is called extending to the front, extending in the back. When you look at the goat from behind you will notice that there is a line/ crease between the udder and the hind legs that runs all the way to the top of the udder just under the vulva. If the crease is too deep, the udder you will notice has a tendency to sag a bit like a flour sack between the goats legs. In goat terms, this udder is said to have ‘poor attachment.’ A poorly attached udder is not only difficult to milk, but on an older doe becomes quite painful! You want ‘perky’ udders on your goats that are well/ tightly attached to better resist the rigors of dairy life.
Also, on the back of the udder you should see a slightly visible line running down the middle of the udder, and at the lowest point (the udder floor) there is a slight cleft between the teats. This line is called the medial line, and is where the medial ligament that supports the udder lies. It is also the division of the udder into the two halves. You want to make sure that the udder is filled equally on both sides, and that the medial line is visible. A lack of the line is usually an indicator of a poorly filled udder, and may also indicate a doe who will have a tendency to sag with age..
The teats should be well placed. Meaning not too close together, not too far apart, and not pointing straight down. They should point slightly forward and down. This will make milking much easier, and as the doe ages ensure her teats won’t be dragging on the floor. Teat size is also something to be considered. If they are tiny, thin, and look like your pinky finger you are going to be under that goat all day. Larger teats the thickness of you thumb or larger are easier to fit in the milkers hand. Also look for scars, spurs (extra teats coming out of an exsisting teet), extra teats in general (boers normally have four, but dairy goats should only have two), and feel for hot/inflamed tissue. The orifices where the milk comes out should also be examined. They should be visible, not tiny pin-pricks. Tiny orifices will make your day a lot longer when it comes to milking.
Also, while examining the teats and udder, feel the udder texture. If it is as supple as a water balloon you are in business. If it is hard or ‘beefy’ in texture the doe in question could have a mineral deficiency, infection, or be suffering from CAE. Never purchase a doe with any of the latter, you will save yourself a lot of time and heart ache.
All in all, an udder that has a good ‘forward’ and 'back' fill is a good indicator that this doe is making the most use out of her mammary system, utilizing all that God gave her to produce higher volumes of milk. A good filling, nicely round udder, with soft flowing texture is most desired. If it looks and or feels too much like a speed punching bag, don’t waste your money.
Feet and Legs: Often over looked, but just as important as the mammary. You do not want to try to squeeze a ten inch tall bucket under a doe with eight inch tall legs! Make sure that the doe has nice long, straight legs that will keep her elevated and out of your milking pail. A wide stance viewed from the rear shows a doe that will be comfortable when in milk, and will not have to try to waddle around her over filled udder. Nice wide, strong, solid hooves are indicators of the does’ health and any potential mineral deficiency. Narrow, thin, long, twisted hooves can be both nutritionally linked as well as genetically inheritable. Use does that have good feet for breeding long lasting, healthy dairy goats that can stand to be on a milk stanction without discomfort.
Back and Hips: A nice level back that curves into the hips not only makes a doe look sharp, but is also a good sign of a resilient milker. You do not want a hunch-back or sway-backed doe to breed or milk. The spine of your goat is where their strength is. A goat being bred to produce milk is going to have all sorts of pressure from birthing, as well as issues with ageing. An animal that has a sagging ‘sway back’ is going to suffer more from back pain as she ages than a doe with a good ‘posture.’
If you are looking at your goats rump (where the tail line curves into the back of the hind legs near the hips) and it appears rounded like that of a horse, or so ‘steep’ you could ski off it... you run the risk of having birth complications. You want a goat that has a relatively ‘flat’ rump, but not too sharp or round. And when viewed from above, you want the points of the hips to be well spaced. If they are only a few finger widths apart, this doe will have serious problems pushing kids out of her narrow birth canal. You instead want hips that are at least a hand length (heel of the palm to tip of your fingers) apart.
Neck: The neck of your goat should be thin, long, and joined well at the withers (shoulders). If the goat you are looking at has a sagging neck reminiscent of a camel, or is short and bulldoggish like that of the third line-backer beware that the offspring produced by this doe may suffer complications reaching up to be fed. Life for a baby shouldn’t be more difficult than it already is. Don’t breed traits into your herd that will hinder the development of future dairy goats. Many breed standards and guidelines for dairy goats also warn against this fault in an effort to help protect the future health and longevity of the animals being bred; they are not simply there to serve as a fashion statement.
What about a doe or doeling that is not in milk? How can you tell if she will be a good milker ?
This is where the gamble of goat buying begins. To give yourself the best possible chance of selecting a good milker you want to look at the udder of the does’ mother, and the mother of the does father. This will give you an idea of what your doeling/doe has inherited from her parents. Many reputable breeders will often have pictures for you to reference if the does’ mother/ grandmother is not currently in milk as a reference for buyers. If they don’t have pictures, or if they do not have the mother or grandmother on the premise in milk for you to observe.. then you will be leaning on that breeders judgment; this is not always a bad thing! After all who better to know their animals than the person who bred them? However, if you feel you are working with a dishonest person then walk away; in many cases it’s better to be wrong about a person and do more research on your end than to make a purchase and not be happy with what you brought home.....
Purchasing your first goats from reputable breeders in your area will also allow you to see goats produced by that breeder that were sold to other people. Observing their animals, is another way to give you a better idea of what to expect… however, purchasing from neighbor Bob down the road who got his goats from the auction house may not be such a sure thing. You always want to look at the parents/ grandparents of the doe you are going to purchase if you are truly in the market for a dairy goat, and demand production that will last.
Other than that, all the other rules still apply. You still want a soundly built goat.
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