Some of the topics we cover below.
How much room do I need for a goat?
What kind of fencing should I use?
What do I do if my goat is pregnant?
What is a herd Queen?
Why do I need to tag or tattoo my goats ear?
To disbud or not to disbud?
Can I drink goat's milk?
What is goat Polio?
Can I milk a Boer or Kiko goat?
What do I feed a goat?
What about kidding pens?
What should I do for my goats in the winter?
What is a good first aid kit to have on hand for goats?
What is a closed herd?
What do I do if our does are kidding in the winter?
Breed information on the Myotonic goat.
Picture Tutorial for stages of labor, birth and after the birth (will open in new window)
Picture Tutorial for raising kids (the goat kind) (will open in new window)
Picture Tutorial for Pre-kidding (will open in new window)
How do I tattoo a goat's ear? (and what if my goat doesn't have ears?)
Breed information on the Boer goat.
Breed information on the Kiko goat.
How dangerous are stomach worms in goats?
How should I worm my goats?
How should I introduce my herd to a Livestock Guardian Dog if they are not used to dogs?
Have a question you need answered? Use the "contact us" button on the right of your screen and we will personally respond to your question. We will then also post your question (anonymously) and the answer here for other readers.
Wow, this may take a while to answer. Before you will get a total answer you will have to ask yourself a few questions.
Is there pasture available?
Is there browse available?
What season is it?
Is your goat pregnant? lactating? a breeding buck? growing?
So many factors will determine what and how much you should be feeding your goats. Even within a herd different goats may have different nutritional requirements. I will just try and cover some basics here as I can't possibly cover every scenario.
Browse would be the ideal main part of your goats diet. Browse would be made up of leaves, bushes, weeds, brambles etc. Unfortunately, not everyone (including us) has this as an available option. If only a couple of trees are available the goats will quickly debark and defoliate it.
Pasture is another good option, although unlike sheep, goats are not really grazers but browsers (see above). Pasture leaves your animals more open to parasites ( their eggs, larvae, etc) especially when grazed too short. Rotation is a very good option to help minimize this issue. Putting another species after the goats also helps interrupt that parasite life cycle.
Hay is probably the most common feedstuff for many goat herd owners, especially those on smaller acreages. We use a good grassy hay. Our hay as some weeds in it - knapweed is the most prevalent. Although goats can eat (and often relish) weedy hay, it is important to be careful what weeds are in the hay. For instance, milkweed can cause bloat. Clover can cause miscarriage.
Grains and pelleted feeds are usually only supplemental feedstuffs. We have fed both our own mix (an oat, corn, soy, molasses feed) and a commercial pelleted mix. We plan to return to a "homemade" mix soon. We would like to move away from GMO feed ingredients. It is important to sit down with the correct person at your local grainery/feedmill to be sure you are getting a balanced ration for your animals. For a pregnant or lactating doe a 16% protein would be ideal. The amount would depend on the month of gestation, size of goat or the pounds of milk given during lactation.
Supplements for us include BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds), kelp, comfrey (both fresh and dried), alfalfa pellets (for our heavily lactating girls) and of course treats (usually we feed a store bought horse treat that comes in a biscuit form).
Amounts should increase during the later weeks of gestation, during lactation, during cold winter months or while kids are growing. Bucks can use an increase in their ration if they are being used heavily during breeding season.
Well of course you can!! We milk ours on regularly. Our Boer/Kiko cross girls are great milkers. However we usually allow them to dry up after a couple of months in preparation of the next breeding. Supposedly the Boer/Kiko do not support as long of a lactation as many dairy breeds. The amount of milk the purebred Boers produce is a little less than the Boer/Kiko crosses. The amount of milk the Boer/Kiko crosses produce is a little less than an average dairy doe. I feel that the meat output of the Boer/Kiko crosses more than makes up for the slightly lesser amount of milk produced. We do have one dairy doe (a Saanen/Lamancha cross) that produces very heavily for us (1-1/2 gallons per day). Her milk is delicious, but I do find a greater sweetness to the Boer/Kiko cross milk. I would recommend however if your Boer or Boer/Kiko doe is feeding a litter larger than a single you may want to wait until they a bit older and/or weaned before taking a heavy milk load from the dam.
Well, we did "splurge" a little (for our budget) and bought cattle panels (not goat panels) instead of a rolled fencing. I will have to say that horned goats can and will get their heads stuck in cattle panels. We have decided this year to add the 4' high welded wire garden type fencing with 2x4 holes to the entire fence. (It's the bit heavier stuff, I'll have to check the gauge to be exactly sure I think it is 14GA.) I purchased a roll of the 4' high fencing and cut it in half. I put the fencing on the cattle panels starting two squares up from the bottom of the cattle panel (those two squares are smaller anyway and don't allow an adult goat to get their heads in). This still comes out cheaper for us than it would have been to buy goat panels. It is holding up well to goats rubbing away winter coats and standing on it begging for treats, and best of all - no stuck heads!! We also have two hot wires of electric fence on the OUTSIDE of our goat fence to help deter predators. We have coyote and bear near here, although we have yet to see any bear near our home (the coyotes HAVE been quite close on numerous occasions). I believe the bear would be more likely to raid the grain room than the goat pen, but one never knows.
A closed herd would be one where no animals come into the herd (either new purchases, for breeding, for boarding or anything OTHER than born on the farm) and no animals leave the herd (except to be sold, this means no showing, no outside breeding, no “visiting”, etc.).
Closing a herd should also include testing. There is a HUGE list of things to test for. The top three in my opinion would be CAE, CL and Johne’s. Number four is usually Brucellosis for some other breeders. The frequency of testing is certainly a matter of debate. Some do their initial whole herd testing then again in 6 months then yearly thereafter. Some may only do it once for the first couple of years then stop doing it if they receive continuously negative results with no suspicious issues.
Also to be correctly “closed” I think there are also considerations to be made regarding bio-security measures. These can be as elaborate as your sanity and your pocketbook allow. For a good start, many closed herds do not let visitors in their pastures and/or barns – for ANY reason. If you decide to allow visitors or prospective buyers into the barn or pens, utilizing “visitor boots” or disposable shoe covers is a great idea. I also read recently where one lady requires all visitors to keep their hands in their pockets!!
Most herds of goats are kept as a group of does (and possibly their young doelings and bucklings). In these herds there is generally one doe ranking the highest. In our herd we have Lily. NO other goat dares to be in her way or she will certainly let them have it. She will head-butt other goats (and sometimes even with what seems unnecessary visciousness). The dynamics within the herd also include lesser "bosses". We have a couple that get along with everybody (except of course the queen). What I tend to find amusing, is how they really are individuals and this shows up well in the herd hierarchy. For example just because doe #1 is boss over doe #2 and doe #2 is boss over doe #3 does not mean that doe #3 is the lowest on the totem pole as she just might be boss over doe #1. That may not have made any sense to some of you, but once you get your own "herd" you'll see!!
A scrapies tag denotes the farm on which an animal is born. A registered goat need not be tagged, as it should have tattoos in its ears or tailweb that will trace back to the farm of birth. Once you contact USDA they will assign a number (the number is for your FARM and if you move you will need to apply for a new number). Some people prefer to send ear tags with the goat and not insert them into the ears as they can get caught and rip from the ear. This would be the way it would be done especially with goats without ears (lamanchas). Animals used for showing must have their tag and any required tattoos for their breed.
SCRAPIES is an incurable, devastating disease that always results in death of the animal.
Click here to open the USDA-APHIS page regarding scrapies (opens in a new window)
Many of our kids are born in January and February although the bulk of our kids are often due in March.
Here are steps we take to help ensure "uneventful" and healthy kiddings.
#1 Make sure the area where they are is as draft-free as possible. BUT ventilated is important, so for us we have our eaves open and leave doors open when the days are little nicer. If they are in say a large metal structure, if you can build a smaller pen of solid wood that can make a huge difference (With or without a “top”, walls are the main thing).
#2 We use the deep-bedding method which actually keeps heat from below (hence another reason for the good ventilation)
#3 we keep wool sweaters on hand to put on the wee ones if the temps are exceedingly low (wool is best since it does wick away moisture and still keeps them warm even when wet). We use wool or high wool blend sweaters we find at local thrift stores and cut the sleeves off into perfect little goat sized coats. A nice heavy sweatshirt will work well also and they do tend to wash up better than the sweater sleeves. I also keep a blow dryer handy in the birthing kit along with the towels in case we need dry kids faster than momma can handle.
#4 We have used heat lamps and keep a few on hand just in case the temps are in the teens. Otherwise we don’t bother with the lamps. I get more worried about the danger of the light instead of the danger of the cold.
#5 make sure once those kids ARE on the ground that momma is producing milk and that they nurse. A full tummy keeps them much warmer! We usually give mom a bucket of warm water with molasses in it to help boost her energy levels. A good bowl of warm oatmeal and raisins can be a welcome treat to boost new momma too!!
#6 As far as being able to tell when kidding is close, our best method has been the udder. Only one (and it was this year) has fooled me so far. I check udders at the morning feed and the night feed. Those udders (almost) unfailingly get HARD/FULL within 12 hours of kidding. Usually if it is hard at morning chores I’ll have kids by night chores and if it is hard at night chores…..it’s going to be a long night for me!! I’ve never been much for telling with the ligaments. Making sure I’m there when they kid in this type of weather is very important. Another helpful option is either a barn camera or a baby monitor. It can easily help monitor if there is something out of the ordinary going on out in the barn. It doesn’t take long for an abandoned wet kid to freeze if something goes wrong.
Well, that does depend on the breed of goat you get. First let's assume it's a "full size" goat not a pygmy. Also, lets assume that you are getting two goats not just one. Goats do not thrive alone.
Indoor housing should be very well ventilated but not drafty. Square footage can vary of course and it sure is nice to leave yourself room for expansion. (It's true what they say - goats are addictive.) I started out with a 8x12 open metal garden shed for five young goats. The recommendation is 10-15 square feet per adult goat. So a 4x8 open building should work very well for two adult goats. Be sure to provide a good bedding base in cold winter months. (We use the hay the goats waste as bedding.) NOTE: don't make too big of a building for just a couple of goats, it's better to allow some body heat to be trapped in the winter time. If you have the ability to build a larger facility with the intention of expansion - go for it but partition it off if possible and maybe use the extra space fo store hay or other supplies.
Where pasture space is concerned - go with as much area as you can if you have browse available. BUT, be sure to take into consideration the amount and type of fencing you will use, start out with the absolute best you can afford. When deciding on pasture location and size be sure to evaluate the following points: the fencing, your ability to keep them safe from predators, available browse, space to rotate grazing areas and possible future expansion. A dry lot is also acceptable for goats, but you must definately feed hay in that case. We started out with a 48x48 cattle panel pen (that ended up grazed to a dry lot in a matter of 2 months) for 5 young goats. I would say as a dry lot that was okay for 5 young goats (there were stumps, trees, logs and homemade platforms to play on) but for adult goats it may not give each goat quite enough room to "get away" if needed. I would also like to mention that overcrowding can cause more problems with worm loads and illnesses. We do have our current buck and wether in a pen 48 x32. Inside that is an 8x10' lean to with two sleeping platforms in it. That seems to be ample space for the two of them. UPDATE: We are now up to three young bucks (no wethers)which also seem to be sharing this space well.
In 2012 we had an issue with goat polio (a thiamine deficiency) in one of our does while trying to wean her kids off of her. As much as I would like to go into detail of causes, symptoms and treatments - that has been done to death on the web. Here is a link to a popular page with all that info on it. GOAT POLIO LINK
I will however tell you what symptoms we encountered and how we treated it.
I believe our case was brought on by weaning and some slight feed changes (different hay and increased grain consumption). The cause can be also moldy feed. Anything that causes a rumen upset can start off a chain of events that eventually inhibits the absorption of thiamine.
Two days after separating the doe from her twins (at age 4 months) I noticed her shivering at midday feeding time however she ate fine and seemed otherwise normal. I made the assumption it could be due to weather changes. In hindsight I would have to say this was more likely to be body tremors instead of shivering. By evening meal , my husband told me she had not gotten up for food. When I returned home she was down with no interest in food or in getting up. She also had what seemed to be hiccups or more accurately - "thumps". She was extremely depressed and would stand with her head against a wall or fence (if she stood at all). She had no interest or abilitly to eat or drink.
So to sum up - here are the symptoms we encountered:
Thumps (an entire body "hiccup")
Shivering (body trembling)
Pain (grinding teeth, strecthing and odd body stance)
Staring into space (can be either a sign of pain or a neurological symptom)
Lack of appetite
Inability to swallow (CAUTION if trying to drench in this situation as you can cause liquid to go into the lungs and cause aspiration)
I immeadiately moved her into a seperation stall and reunited her with her kids. Thinking that perhaps it was milk fever (due to the shivering) she was treated with mollasses and Tums to give her a quick sorce of calcium. After a few hours there was no decline in her condition, but also no improvement. After "speaking" on-line with some of the great people at GoatBeat I decided to try treatment for goat polio due to the shivering and "thumps". The Thiamine deficiency causes neurological problems. We did NOT continue treatment for Milk Fever as calcium will significantly inhibit the absorption of thiamine and that treatment would have significantly worked against the treatment for polio. Usually there is a drop in temperature with polio (unlike the spike in temperature with Listeriosis), but we checked almost hourly and found only a fluctuation from 102.4 and 101.4. We began the morning with a treatment of Biomycin injection (5CC per 100# given SQ). Got a prescription of "Thyamine" (thiamine) from the vet and began with 2.5 CC every 6 hours via IM injection. Picked up a bottle of High Level B-Complex and began injections of 5CC. After about three injections of the B-complex, I began giving the doses orally. Also gave a dose of probiotics due to the the antibiotic injections. Because she wasn't drinking on her own I began hourly (or more) drenching with water/molasses solution.
Within 24 hours of beginning the above treatments, she was markedly better. I did not dose again with the Biomycin but continued dosing with both the Thyamine (IM - 2.5CC every 6 hours) and the B-complex (orally 10CC every 2 hours) for a total of 48 hours. After that I continuted the Tyamine (IM - 2.5CC every 6 hours) and the B-complex (orally every 4 hours 10CC).
I will say that given the choice you should always be able to contact your veterinarian and have them examine your animal.
First off what is disbudding? When you want to prevent a young kids horns from ever growning a tool is used to burn the cells responsible for horn growth on the head. Some goats are polled, or naturally not having horns. A large amount of dairy breeders/owners prefer not to have horns on their goats. We here are primarily meat breeders and all our goats are horned (even our dairy does). I have found that disbudding (or not disbudding) is a very personal choice. There are many reasons for both leaving and removing horns. For instance some believe they should remain in their natural state while others may be concerned for either their safety or that of a child that will handle the goat.
NOTE: Please keep in mind a 200# goat could hurt somebody even without horns. Even a goat just jumping up to say "hi" can accidently hurt you or a small child. You should always treat your animals with healthy respect and remember they ARE animals, therefore unpredictable.
I'll say not much different than what you would do in the summer months. Draft free, but well ventilated housing is important. I make sure that we are able to lock our girls inside the barn(s) on days that it is just too nasty to take a chance that somebody will get bullied out of the warm dry area. Here we end up with such short days in the winter we made it a priority to have lights in our barns since it is usually dark during both morning and night chores. Feed requirements will increase as the body keeps itself warm. Keeping a source of fresh UNFROZEN water is extremely important. Also making sure they are drinking adequate amounts. I have heard of people putting "goat coats" on them in the winter. I'm of the school of thought (just as with my horses) that they are better off building up that natural winter coat rather than using a manmade one! There could be exceptions to that of course. I think I would use one if a goat has lost the majority of it's hair coat for example (perhaps due to a parasite infestation or a mineral/vitamin deficiency) or if a day comes when we have a geriatric doe that just CAN'T keep herself warm on those really bad Michigan days anymore.
There are two ways to go with this answer. Conventional and Natural. We began our goat journey using conventional medications, but after a few years we are now transitioning to an all natural method to raising our animals. I will include some items that we had for both types. Please remember that this is NOT an all inclusive list. I have included some of the top ones I would recommend. Our personal herbal medicine chest is quite extensive and at some point maybe we will be able to list everything we keep on hand.
Syringes and needles
Gauze pads and wraps
Molasses (blackstrap only)
Chemical wormer (Ivermectin or Moxidectin)
Iodine (7% solution if you can still find it)
Apple Cider Vinegar (with the mother)
Cayenne powder (blood stop, energy booster)
Yellow dock powder (source of iron)
Comfrey leaf AND root powder (sprains, strains, broken bones)
Catnip powder (source of B-12)
Garlic - fresh and powder (anti-bacterial and anti-viral)
Dandelion leaf AND root powder (anemia, liver, kidney)
Molasses - blackstrap only (anemia, energy booster)
Blackberry leaves dried(anti-diarrheal)
Raspberry leaves dried(anti-diarrheal, pregnancy and lactation support)
Mullein leaf and root powders(respiratory issues, anthelcide, ear problems)
Thyme (anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial)
Yarrow (GI issues, blood restorer)
Slippery Elm Bark powder (anti-diarrheal, GI soother)
Ginger Root powder
Apple Cider Vinegar (with the mother)
Activated Charcoal (anti-diarrheal and removes toxins from the body)
Black walnut hull tincture (navel dip and dewormer)
Essential Oils: Lemongrass oil, tea tree oil, oregano, eucalyptus, peppermint
Also check out our "Herbs" page for other herbs, tinctures and herb mixes we keep on hand.
There are many other things that are great to have on hand when you own goats. Scalpels or banders, Kidding supplies, IV supplies, dehorning irons....the list goes on and on! It really depends on what aspects of goat owning you will be pursuing. As I cover additional topics hopefully I will eventually cover all the stuff you might need!!
Why of course you can!! Although we have mostly meat goats (the Boer and Kiko breeds) we do have one Lamancha/Saanen doe that we use for milk. We here at Cornerstone Acres drink our milk raw/unpastuerized.
Pasteurization: A method of treating food by heating it to a certain point to kill pathogenic (disease-causing) organisms but not harm the flavor or quality of the food. Milk is pasteurized by heating it to about 145°F (63°C) for 30 minutes or, using the "flash" method, by heating it to 160°F (71°C) for 15 seconds, followed by rapid cooling to below 50°F (10°C), at which temperature it is stored.
Here is a nice link regarding the health benefits and nutritional makeup of goat's milk: Goat's Milk (will open in new window)
I am not saying that going unpastuerized is for everybody, but it works for us. I milk daily using a stainless steel stockpot. After wiping down the udder and teats with antibacterial wipes I milk Lily into the sterilized stockpot. I use bleach after washing to sterilize both the stock pots and the canning jars and lids I store the milk in. Be sure to get your milk to cold temperatures as soon as possible. In other words, as soon as you are done milking, get it into the fridge. Or if you have a cooling system for multiple goats - thats awesome. Our milk is creamy and sweet. Goat milk is naturally homogenized - meaning that the cream and milk does not seperate as would happen with unhomgenized cows milk. I've found it's hard to get much cream to use from our goats milk. I do however skim small amounts off of the containers once they sit for a few days. I have heard that the use of a one of those glass gallon suntea jugs (the ones with the spigot at the bottom) are good for seperating the cream. When left to sit undisturbed for a few days, some cream will settle to the top. Just drain the milk out of the spigot until you reach the cream. Scoop out your cream and either freeze until you get enough to use, or use as needed.
Many breeders will allow does to kid in "general population". I feel for us here at Cornerstone Acres we are better served utilizing kidding pens when that time draws near. Depending on factors such as the weather and how sure we are of the "planned" kidding date, we will usually put our does into their pens about 1-2 weeks prior to kidding. This gives us a chance to feed our girls individually and monitor progress better. We have found that the best size for our utilizing our barn is about 6' X 8'. I would love to have them just a little wider (8'X8') for our full size does. I think a general rule for size would be to take the overall length of the goat and make the pen a minimum of 2X by 3X the width of the goat. For example, a smaller 2' long goat should be pretty comfortable in a 4'X6' pen. I do think that it is also IMPERATIVE that you make sure there is plenty of room for YOU to stretch out with you back against either a wall or a hay bale and read a book during those many hours of waiting. We have found over the years that having at least three solid walls works better for us than having open sides. For example we used cattle panels for the pens for a few years. I found that the does had a bit more aggression since they didn't have a place to "get away" from their neighbors. Recently we came across a free wooden dock. The dock was made of fairly solid pieces around 8' long each. This works well as the two side walls. We make the front panel (ie gate) out of a piece of cattle panel which allows the girls to still see their buddies and/or older kids. We do have a few does that we allow to kid as family units. Our Myotonics seem to do very well kidding together. This year we have more mother daughter groups, but they are not bred to have coinciding kidding's so they will have to be separated when the time comes. Prior to this year we utilized only 3 kidding pens. This year with 19 does expected to kid over a period of 4 months, we will be utilizing 5 kidding pens (with an option to add up to three more if needed in our 12x14 unused horse stall). With does staying in the kidding pens on average of 2-1/2 weeks it is a good idea to have those back up pens available if for any reason a doe and her kids need to remain separated for any extended period of time.
Be sure that during the period of time that your doe is on lock down that she is able to get out and get some exercise if possible. Weather permitting she should be able to go outside and get some fresh air. Our does usually kid in the months of November to March and here in Michigan the weather may go weeks without one day that will allow the goats to safely spend time outside.
We usually opt out of using heat lamps, but since our goats will be kidding in a larger barn this year we might have to use them this year. There are lots of people who do use them and also will use a setup that includes a barrel for the kids to snuggle into. You can search for photos of this type of setup on the internet.
Panic! No really, stay calm. For the most part goats do the birthing thing with no problems. I missed the birth of both of our kids so far and came out to find happy healthy bouncing kids. Fias Co Farms and Goat Beat forum (see links page) both have wonderful sections dedicated to goat birth and any problems associated with it. Goat Beat in particular has a wonderful group of people are are really quick to answer any question you may have. Please remember that reading up on all the problems that COULD happen is okay, but don't panic. People more routinely post about their problems asking questions and seeking help than about their good and easy births. NOTE: find a local vet that can handle goats before your doe is ready to kid, keep his/her number handy. There is no time in a dire emergency to locate a new vet.
I do have a few personal tips and notes here.
Although I haven't yet had occasion to need it, I used a cooler for a birthing kit. It holds all the necessities and makes a great and sturdy seat. (even better than the usually reccomended 5-gal bucket) I also have a piece of duct tape on the cooler with a note reminding me to grab my phone and camera.
I use the sleeves off of wool sweaters picked up at thrift stores for coats to use on kids if needed when born in extremely cold weather.
7% iodine(used to dip newborn navels in) is no longer legal thanks to illegal drug manufacturers. On our first kid we unknowingly dipped the navel in a 1% iodine and she seemed to be fine. But I did go out and purchase something called Triodine for the second kid. I originally could only find this on line at Jeffers, but did recently notice it at the grainery where I have my feed mixed.
A breed description is different from most breed standards in that a description describes, while a standard prescribes. The Myotonic goat, a landrace breed, is more varied than standardized goat breeds - especially so if it is compared to imported breeds that were started with relatively few goats that all had very similar traits. A landrace type of population means that the Myotonic goat breed survived (and many still do) as an untracked and unmonitored population of locally used goats for local production purposes. Imported and standardized breeds in the US include nearly all the Dairy breeds along with the Angora and Boer goat. This breed description is lengthy, and tries to be very specific so that breeders can understand just exactly what a Myotonic goat is, and why the breed is more than the single trait of myotonia. The general organization of this document provides a short descriptive piece followed by a comment that explores the practical reasons for the importance of the description and its relation to Myotonic goats.
The Myotonic goat is a distinct breed yet it has many synonyms for names, including Nervous Goats, Wooden-Leg Goats, Scare Goats, Fainting Goats, and Tennessee Fainting Goats. The breed is a multi-purpose goat derived from a variety of strains of goats that were originally from Tennessee. As is typical of locally developed breeds, the overall type and conformation do vary somewhat more than is typical of imported, standardized breeds (dairy breeds, Angoras, Boers). However, the breed does have several distinctive features that set them apart from other goat breeds, and it is these features that help to define the Myotonic goat as a breed. Several old strains of Myotonic goats persisted in Tennessee, and goats of these lines can still be found. In addition, several lines developed in Texas since the 1950s, and some of these have a slightly different “look” by virtue of being selected in a different environment and for different goals. One must remember that the Texas goats ultimately originated in Tennessee and so both strains are indeed branches of the same breed. The relatively newer strain of the breed is the minis. The mini Myotonic goats retain the distinctive breed features, though in a more compact and shorter size. They too ultimately originated in Tennessee, just as the Texas strain, and so too are a branch of the same Myotonic breed.
Myotonic goats have a very distinctive breed type that is based mostly on head and body conformation. They also have a muscle condition called myotonia congenita. This inherited trait leads to an overall increase in muscle mass so that the goats are very muscular when compared to other breeds of similar size. This trait is so distinctive that it is easy to confuse the trait with the breed. However, the Myotonic goat is much more than just a myotonic condition; it has a host of other consistent traits that are very important and need to be conserved for future generations.
Several important characteristics are typical of the breed:
1. Docile temperament
2. Myotonia congenita leading to stiffness and muscularity
3. Abundance of high quality muscle
4. Good adaptation to low-input forage-based feeding systems
5. Genetic distance from other breeds such that crossbreeding yields great hybrid vigor.
Comment: The usefulness of Myotonic goats depends on their being maintained as a pure breed resource, distinct from other breed resources. This requires attention to breed type and breed history. It is also critically important to understand that the breed is more than the myotonia, because crossbred goats can indeed be myotonic. Understanding that the breed needs to be maintained as a pure breed resource is the reason for tracking crossbreeds that carry and/or show myotonia. In general this is a relatively slow-growing breed with great ability to be maintained and developed on a forage-based system. Crossbreeding of these goats will increase growth rates, though size increase or decrease is variable depending on the breed which was used in the crossbreeding; however, crossbreeding will eliminate their genetic distinctiveness and therefore their long-term utility. Their distinctiveness and usefulness lie in their being maintained as a pure breed resource. Current uses include both commercial meat production, as well as companion animals (pets).
Myotonic goats come in varying sizes. The medium to large animals of this breed are generally used for meat production while the smaller animals are generally sought after as pets. Myotonic goats of all sizes are stocky, with obvious width for height. The body is wide, full, and deep, with heavier than average muscling evident throughout. Muscle development increases with age, so that older goats are more heavily muscled than younger ones. Tennessee bloodlines tend to be lower and broader than Texas bloodlines, which tend to be taller and a little less blocky. They are alert, good-natured animals with a conformation that is smooth, functional, and rugged. They are also generally quiet, and are much quieter than many other breeds of goats. Parasite-resistance is another trait that the breed is renowned for.
Comment: The overall appearance of these goats is important, although extremes within the breed should be avoided. Myotonic goats are ideally blocky and stocky, and are distinct from most other breeds in this conformation. However, extreme blockiness can result in difficult kidding and poor mobility in range conditions. Thinly fleshed goats or those with a very delicate and refined conformation are atypical for the breed. Even the mini strain of the Myotonic breed generally holds true to carrying a more blocky and stocky appearance than breeds of similar size. Abnormally thick goats can have mobility problems and should therefore be avoided.
Size varies within the breed, and this description is geared more towards type than size. The weight of Tennessee line does usually centers around 80 to 110 pounds. The weight of Texas line does is generally somewhat higher at 90 to 120 pounds or so. The range of weights, though, is considerable. Mature bucks of lines selected for large size can be close to 200 pounds, with some advertised at weights above that. These include both Texas and Tennessee lines. Small companion animals can be as light as 50 pounds at maturity, and as short as 17 inches at the withers.
The companion animals within the breed tend to be smaller than the meat production animals within the breed. The size variability is continuous, with all sizes between small and reasonably large present within the breed.
The companion animal type has does that are usually no smaller than 50 pounds mature weight and bucks rarely under 80 pounds mature weight. The production type for does generally ranges between 80 pounds and 130 pounds, and for bucks ranges from around 130 pounds to 175 pounds. Does larger than 150 pounds and bucks larger than 200 pounds are not typical of the breed but are occasionally encountered.
Comment: Size is important, but size alone cannot and should not direct the maintenance and direction of the breed. Goats smaller than the minimums above rarely grow sufficiently to be productive, healthy and carefree goats. Very small goats lack overall soundness, and can be frail so that they are hard to maintain. Goats larger than the maximums above are rarely well adapted and functional in low-input forage-based systems, even though they look impressive and meat breeders may be tempted to think that bigger is always better. Overall balance is more important than overall size. No specific minimum or maximum size is indicated, although goats outside the above range should be considered atypical, and should be registered and used for breeding only when needed to reach specific goals within a breeding program. Very small, dwarf-like goats are poor examples of the type of the breed, and are likely to have health problems. Overly large goats tend to lack breed character and are generally poorly adapted to the original low-input history of the breed.
BREED TYPE CHARACTERISTICS
HEAD – The head is medium length with a broad muzzle rather than a fine, snipe-like muzzle. Jaws are full and well formed, and have an even bite (neither overshot nor undershot). The head is broad, and the eye orbits are prominent, especially from above. The eye orbits protrude outward further than in other breeds, giving the head a distinctive appearance with the eyes prominent and obvious. This is more pronounced on most Tennessee goats than it is in many Texas goats, but is present in both. An obvious stop is present at the level of the eyes, separating the head from the facial region. The profile of the facial region is usually straight, or rarely slightly convex. The ears are moderately sized, and most are held horizontally or somewhat forward toward the face. The ears typically have a wave or ripple halfway down the length along the front edge of the ear. Horned and polled animals are both typical. Horns are usually well developed and large, and should have at least and inch or two of separation between them.
Comment: The head, while not usually considered of commercial interest, is of great importance in reflecting true breed type, and through that, pure breeding. The Myotonic goat head is distinctive and sets this breed apart from other breeds. The unique Myotonic goat head can usually be characterized by a combination of the prominent eye sockets (some refer to these as “bug eyed”), the stop (or break in contour) between the head and face, and the relatively straight facial profile. The horizontal, slightly forward ear carriage is also distinctive, as is the “ripple” in the ear. All of these head characteristics help define the breed type, and are also where crossbreeding first betrays itself. These “fine points” are important for breed character, although the head also is a utility organ – the bite is critical, the broad conformation provides for adequate mouth capacity. The horn set on horned animals is important if animals are not to injure others by catching legs between close-set horns. Close-set horns do occur in the breed, but should be avoided whenever possible. Atypical ears show up from crossbreeding. Swiss influence is likely to decrease ear size and make them more erect, as well as removing the distinctive ripple in the ear. Nubian or Boer influences are likely to change the size and carriage of the ears, tend to remove the ripple, as well as providing for a more convex facial profile. Spanish influence generally changes the ear carriage and that distinctive ripple, as well as diminishing overall stockiness. Short, LaMancha type ears are not typical. Crossbreeding also betrays itself in reduced prominence of eye-sockets, as well as in general shape and character of the head. Swiss breed influence tends to refine and narrow the head, Nubian or Boer tend to make them convex or Roman. Spanish influence changes the profile, and ear carriage, but is the influence least likely to betray itself. Nubian and Boer breeding also betray themselves in short, curled horns, which are somewhat rounder in shape near the base, along with being carried somewhat close to the head. Pygmy influence results in a broad, stocky goat but one with shorter, narrower ears than typical, and with a tighter attachment to the head. Pygmy influence also results in a shorter head. Nigerian Dwarf influence, in contrast, leads to leaner, more thinly built goats with finer heads and more erect, smaller ears. Poor bites need to be severely penalized or disqualified, since these relate profoundly to the function of the goat. Blindness, of course, should be severely penalized.
COAT – Coat length varies from quite short and smooth to very long and shaggy. The long, shaggy coats can be long enough to drag the ground in older goats, but never have any tendency to ringlet or lock formation as is present in Angora goats. The hair on shaggy goats is always straight and coarse. Both extremely short and extremely shaggy goats, and all of the range between, are present in purebred Myotonic goats. Many goats grow abundant cashmere in the winter. Presence of beards is variable, with many females lacking them but nearly all males having them. No coat type is to be preferred over another, with the exception that long coats with ringlet or lock formation are unacceptable.
Comment: The coat characteristics are variable for this breed, and therefore are usually not important as betraying relative degrees of an individual’s fit to the breed type. All types and extremes of coats are seen in old, long established herds. Any penalty for short versus long coat types within the breed is to be avoided – a wide range of types and styles is correct for the breed. Many meat production breeders prefer smooth coated goats, as they tend to look cleaner and meatier. However, some commercial meat-producing breeders have come to appreciate goats with somewhat more hair, as they do better at resisting bad weather. Angora influence tends to result in longer coats, but these almost always have ringlet or lock formation. In addition, Angora influence results in finer guard hairs, and more coarse cashmere. This is different from the usual very coarse guard hair and very fine cashmere of Myotonic goats.
COLOR – All colors are acceptable, all combinations, and all patterns or markings.
Comment: Some early breeders of these goats had predominantly black and white goats, and this has confused some discussion of the breed by associating black and white with purebred. Many early breeders did not use color, patterns, or markings to distinguish their goats from other breeds and consequently had many different colors and patterns. Still other breeders preferred some other single color as a characteristic for their goats: white, brown, brown and white, or frosted ears. As a result most (or all) colors or patterns can be found within purebred Myotonic goats. Several of the early herds that primarily had black and white goats had a few goats of other colors. Confusion can arise when these goats are marked similarly to other breeds for which color is uniform, because many people confuse color with breed. The confusion of color and breed emphasizes the importance of the other (non-color related) breed-specific type traits, because these are much more closely related to the breed type than is any color. Color is not specific for this breed, and no color should be penalized. Various breeders do indeed have favorite colors, markings, or combinations, and these are not to be discouraged. No color should be avoided and no color should be preferred. Some colors specific to other breeds do indeed occur in purebred Myotonic goats, and should not be penalized simply because they also occur in other breeds.
STIFFNESS – The stiffness of these goats relates to their myotonia congenita, which is an essential portion of the breed type. The various levels of stiffness are arbitrary, but a general guide is useful for breeders.
1. Never observed to stiffen, but other type traits are consistent as is pedigree.
2. Very rarely stiffens, never falls.
3. Stiffens only occasionally, and rarely falls.
4. Walks normally with no swivel. The rear limbs lock up readily, the forelimbs less so, and goats with this degree of stiffness rarely fall to the ground.
5. Animal walks relatively normally, although somewhat stiff in rear and with a swivel at the hip. Readily stiffens when startled or stepping over a barrier.
6. Animal always moves stiffly to some degree, and readily becomes “locked up” when startled or stepping over a low barrier.
Comment: The stiffness is integral to the breed and its character, but this breed is much more than stiffness. Genetic consistency and type traits other than the stiffness are equally important to the stiffness when evaluating goats for breed type. Extreme level 6 stiffness can impede a goat from using the environment well, and extreme stiffness is not necessarily desirable (that is, stiffer is not necessarily better when evaluating goats). Level 6 is stiffer than is usual in most of the breed. Levels 4 and 5 are most typical of the breed. Levels 2 and 3 are useful in purebred herds, and when these levels are combined with heavy muscling they are entirely typical. Level 1 goats are referred to as “limber” or “limber leg”, and should be scrutinized. They only rarely have a role to play in breeding programs, and should be discriminated against. Any limber leg goat that is used in breeding programs should be excellent in all other traits typical of the breed and even then should see only minimal use. Level 1 sires should not be used since they are not typical for the breed. Breeders should avoid both overly stiff and non-stiff goats. However, each of these classes will be of occasional use to some breeding programs, and therefore, if they are used at all it needs to be done with much thought and care.
BODY CONFORMATIONAL TRAITS
NECK – Neck should be well- muscled and moderate in length. It should appear more round and full than dairy breeds. Female necks are more slender and feminine, with males being more massive and masculine. The neck skin on many males is thick and wrinkled. Some Tennessee lines carry the neck horizontally and so the head is carried lower than on some Texas lines.
Comment: The neck is important as a revealer of femininity and masculinity, and also needs to be consistent with the overall blocky conformation of the breed. Overly thin or weak necks betray a lack of breed character.
FORELIMB AND CHEST – Forelimb should be reasonably muscular, well-angulated from the side, and tightly attached to the body with no tendency toward a loose top attachment (mutton withered). Point of shoulder should be somewhat behind the most anterior portion of the sternum. Legs, from the front view, should be straight from the shoulder down. From the side view the shoulder and elbow should be well-angulated (not too straight), and the forelimb from elbow to fetlock should be straight (neither back nor over at the knees). The pasterns should be short, strong, and have a moderate angle. Joints should be broad without coarseness. Legs should be sound and serviceable, showing good bone density, being neither coarse nor delicate. Relatively heavy bone is typical. The chest should be moderately broad.
Comment: Tight shoulder conformation relates to overall soundness and tightness of conformation. Loose shoulders usually correlate with an overall looseness throughout the animal, and such animals tend to break down at young ages. Angulation is important as it relates to overall mobility and soundness, and contributes to longevity through this. Broadness relates to muscling, and bone must be adequate to support this. Extreme broadness and coarse bone could lead to unsoundness through difficult births, so moderation is in order even though the breed should be broad and robust. Extreme coarseness and poor angulation should be avoided. Too little angle in the shoulder, elbow, and fetlock leads to early degenerative disease and arthritis. Too sloping a pastern leads to weak joints, breakdown and locomotion problems. Excessive breadth through the chest should be penalized as contributing to birthing difficulties. Enlarged and poorly mobile knees are typical of chronic arthritis, and should be avoided. In some, but not all cases, these can indicate Caprine Arthritis Encephalomyelitis (CAE), which needs to be substantiated in suspected cases.
BACK AND BARREL – Back should be strong and level, broad and well-muscled. Many goats rise slightly toward the pelvis. Ribs should be well sprung, providing for large capacity in chest and abdomen. The body should be deep and full.
Comment: Overall broadness is reflected in the back and barrel, with extreme broadness potentially contributing to unsoundness. Weediness likewise is a fault, especially in a stout breed such as Myotonic goats. Depth is important for both chest and abdominal capacity, and these are important for respiratory, digestive, and reproductive function. Any body hernias (umbilical, others) should be penalized. Swaybacks or weak backs, flat barrels, bodies with inadequate depth (“weedy”) are all serious faults and poorly functional.
RUMP – Rump should be moderately angled from the side view, from back to tail, moderately broad and long. Tail is symmetrical, and narrows to tip. The tail is usually carried up over back.
Comment: As breeders work with nearly every breed, selection for smooth, broad conformation becomes more advanced. With this comes a tendency to flatten out the rump topline, but this needs to be avoided. Moderately sloping rumps contribute to good mobility, which results in goats that can use the environment well. This is essential in low-input systems. Correct rump conformation also contributes to good fertility and ease of kidding. Rumps that are too steep, or too flat, can both contribute to locomotion problems in addition to contributing to difficult births.
REAR LIMBS – The rear limbs should have good angles from the side, with no tendency toward excessive straightness (postiness). They are moderately short, in keeping with the overall stockiness of the breed. A perpendicular line from the pin bones should fall right behind the cannon, which should be straight. From the rear the legs should be set moderately wide apart, and should be reasonably straight with little tendency to be cow hocked. Muscling should be heavy, and bone should be proportional.
Comment: Rear limbs are important for overall soundness, especially when mobility is considered. Excessively cow hocked individuals usually need foot trimming more than those with sounder, truer conformation. Some slight tendency towards cow hocks is present in many functional, adapted breeds and does not indicate unsoundness. Overall width and meatiness are important, although extremely wide, square, and boxy individuals are likely to be less sound than those with acceptable but more moderate conformation in the rear limbs. Angles (from the side) are very important, because post-legged individuals usually have a shorter productive life, from early arthritis, than those with more sound conformation and better angles. Avoid poor angles (too straight at the stifle, too angled or too straight at the hock), which relate to poor mobility. Thinly fleshed animals should also be avoided, as they are not typical of the breed. Post-legged animals are to be avoided more diligently than cow hocked or sickle hocked animals, although all three are defects. The overall impression should be one of thick, rugged, serviceable conformation. Too much selection for square, true, broad animals will result in soundness problems, so selection should keep the breed broad but moderate.
FEET – Feet should be proportional to the goat, and large enough to carry the goat effectively. Feet should be symmetrical and sound. The claws of the foot should be symmetrical and should be parallel to one another. The pasterns should be short and with moderate angle from the cannon.
Comment: Feet are essential for mobility, and therefore to successful foraging. Feet should be carefree for the most part. Untrimmed feet that are well conformed and serviceable should be given a bonus, and never penalized. Functional feet are important and any foot conformation that suggests weakness should be avoided.
SKIN – Skin should appear clean, resilient, with a clean, shiny coat.
Comment: Skin and hair coat reveal the general health and robustness of the animal. Avoid thin, weak, skin and hair coats that are dull and lifeless.
SEX CHARACTERISTICS - In addition to specific sex characteristics, outlined below, correct overall type for each sex should be present in all systems. Does should be feminine, and bucks masculine. In general does should be finer without being delicate, and bucks should be more robust without being coarse. Head and neck are useful for evaluating sex character. Does have less massive heads, and thinner, more delicate horns. They also have thinner necks than males, although in this context “thin” and “shallow” are different since “shallow” or ewe-necks are a fault. Bucks have more thickly made heads. This is especially true of the horns on horned animals, which are generally thick, long, and in most cases also have an outward flare. Bucks have thick, deep necks, and generally also have more thickness throughout the remaining body than do does. This is noted especially in the bone structure, which is heavier on bucks than does. Hair coat is also generally longer, coarser, and thicker on bucks than on does.
Comment: Sex characteristics are an indication of overall reproductive soundness. Does should look like does, bucks should look like bucks. Reproductive function on masculine does or feminine bucks is frequently below par.
UDDER – High and tightly attached, with no tendency to be pendulous. Halves evenly balanced, with no lumps or scar tissue. Udder should feel pliable but firm, and smooth. Teats should be uniform and not bulbous nor pendulous, and generally moderate to small in size. Teats should only be two, although variations not leading to functional problems are faults rather than disqualifications.
Comment: The udder is critical to the successful rearing of kids without intervention. High, well-attached udders with small to medium teats are the most serviceable and sound for pasture-based kid production. Udder capacity is not always associated with production potential. Relatively small, but serviceable, udders are the best for low-input production systems where does are expected to raise their own kids. The best proof of udder capacity is the kids and their weaning weights. Teat conformation is important, and two are best. Alterations such as fused teats or double teats, or supernumerary teats can interfere with function and should be penalized. This is especially true in males. Any udder conformation that suggests problems should be penalized. These include evidence of past mastitis (asymmetry, lumps, scars) or poor attachment (pendulous udders) or poor, dilated teat conformation. These defects make successful rearing of kids more difficult, and should be avoided. Multiple teats in any degree are not desirable and should be penalized in either sex, and especially so in males.
MALE REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS – There should be two testes that are symmetrical, fully descended, and with good tone. There should be no lumps in testis or epididymis. Teats should be symmetrical, nonfuctional, and there should only be two. The scrotum should not have a midline split over an inch deep.
Comment: Male reproductive soundness is reflected through the scrotal contents more than anything else, and these must be normal for function to be normal. Avoid asymmetrical testes as these imply cryptorchidism or testicular hypoplasia. Splits in the scrotum should be avoided, because this is a genetic trait that varies in expression, and severe grades of the defect lead to abnormalities of the reproductive tract that interfere with function.
FEMALE REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS – The vulva should be normal, and a normal distance from the anus.
Comment: Vulvas that are smaller or larger than normal can indicate intersexuality and such goats generally fail to reproduce normally. Avoid any abnormality in female external genitalia.
REPRODUCTIVE FUNCTION/RAISING OF KIDS – Reproductive function cannot be measured by conformation, but is an essential component of productivity. Both bucks and does should ideally reproduce year-round. Does should produce multiple kids and raise them unassisted. First time kiddings are commonly of one kid, and not to be penalized.
Comment: Reproductive function is critical to overall success. The Myotonic goat has uneven seasonality, but both sexes should ideally mate and produce kids year-round, though individual traits and climate conditions have been known to affect year-round breeding. Does that grow sufficiently to produce kids as yearlings are unusual, but should not be penalized. Twins or triplets should be the rule for does older than two years, and does should raise these unassisted. Quadruplets and quintuplets should be rare, and supplemental feeding may be necessary with these. Does that raise litters that grow well and do well should be selected for, and this should be a major selection factor as it is more important than some of the finer points of conformation. Moderately penalize does two years and older that repeatedly produce singles. Does that do not raise their kids well should be avoided. Extreme creep feeding obscures the ability of dam and kids to perform in a low-input system, and so should be used with caution.
GROWTH RATES – These are historically slow to moderate growing goats, although selection within the production end of the breed is favoring more rapid growth rate. To some extent, growth rate is related to final mature size.
Comment: Post-weaning growth rates are more related to the individual’s own genetic potential and not to the dam’s milk production. Coupled with growth to weaning (dam’s milk production), this provides a very good selection tool. More rapid is not always better, as very rapid growth could lead to mature size that goes beyond the useful upper limit for the breed. Selecting only on the basis of growth rate could eventually make the breed too large for effective forage use. Diets should be forage based, with concentrate feeding limited to winter maintenance so that diet does not obscure the differences in animals as to their ability to effectively use forage and browse. Avoid extremely small, stunted, slow growing animals, as well as animals that grow too rapidly to sizes too large. Also avoid animals that require abundant supplemental feeding (beyond mainly forage) to achieve gains.