Those of you who follow the Heedley’s Hens Facebook page will know that I have been in touch with an experienced breeder and shower of Nigerian Dwarf Goats (in addition to Pygmies), and here’s the kicker…she’s all of 17. I decided to take full advantage of her good nature and drain her of all the knowledge and experience I could, and I’m posting our email conversation here, in installments, so those of you interested in goats can eavesdrop.
Introductions first: My conversations have been with Tori, breeder and handler of the show goats at Calico Patch Farm in Edinboro, PA. Check out the cuties on the Facebook page banner! If you go to the farm’s website, you’ll see that they have a history of success in the ring, where the goats need to be more than pretty: they need to carry the physical attributes that lead to long, sturdy milking life and prolific production.
Here’s Tori, at right, with her sister Rylie, left, and Nigerian Dwarf doe Rosalie between them, having just won Best Udder in Show:
Tori, you are very young to be such an experienced, show-winning goat keeper. How did you become so interested and so committed so young, and why were you drawn to specifically the Pygmies and the Nigerian Dwarfs?
It actually all started when my mom got two Pygmy goats when I was about two and a half years old. She bred them for a couple of years for pleasure, and by the time I was about 11, she decided to get out of the goat business, just as my sister, Rylie, and I decided to get into it. We had been really interested in joining 4-H, and goats seemed to be the natural thing to join for!
We began breeding the pygmies and even ventured out to a couple of other breeds before deciding we loved the size and personalities of the miniature breeds. Because Rylie and I were younger, they were a lot easier to show and handle. Since then, Rylie and I have really built up our breeding program to a point that we are very happy with.
I have a little experience showing dogs (Great Danes) in conformation. Can you describe the show experience for me, from a goat handler’s perspective?
Showing goats and showing dogs can be very similar in some ways. As soon as babies are born here, we start socializing them to make sure they are friendly. When they are older, we walk them on leashes and get them used to being handled. About one week before the show, we do a full body clip on the Nigerian dwarfs because long fur can hide faults.The day of the show is when any last minute fitting and clipping is done; hooves are trimmed and stray hairs can be clipped off.
Now the show. Goats are grouped into certain classes based on breed, age and gender. They will be judged both on the move and standing still. On the move, the judge is looking for a goat that moves smoothly and one that stands on good feet and legs that will carry her through years of healthy milk production. While standing, a judge looks for many things; a deep body to carry kids, a strong top line, and a large, producing mammary system. Based on all of these factors, judges are able to place the goats in the class they are judging. I myself am a very competitive person, so I absolutely love showing. I have learned so much from showing goats.
So, the conformation ring is all about soundness and productivity, in the end. If you were to purchase a goat from another breeder, what would you be looking for, and what questions would you ask of the breeder? How important would pedigree be, and why?
Every breeder is looking to bring something different into their herds. If a breeder has beautiful goats but they don’t quite produce enough milk, they would look for goats that come from strong milk lines. Some breeders may have good producers, but they might notice that when their goats get older, they have trouble walking and supporting themselves, so they would look for goats that have good legs. It really depends!
Big questions to ask include; Is the goat healthy, Have they ever had any kind of problems with the goat, Are they a proven breeder or milk producer, What is their milk production like, Why is the goat being sold, etc. I always like to ask about a goat’s pedigree because it is nice to know what its parents were like and to know what kind of producers they were.
However, just because a goat has a good pedigree doesn’t mean that it will be a champion itself. This is where it is handy to know the goat’s breed standard so you can judge it yourself before purchasing it. On the flip side, a goat may come from lines that aren’t as well known, but with the right breeding, it might turn out to be the best goat in your herd. Pedigrees are always nice to look at, but they are not always a promise of quality.
Thus endeth Part the First. Stay tuned for upcoming installments, which include discussions about breeding and freshening issues…