How Good is He?
In late summer and early fall, the sound and behavior of the herd draws our attention to breeding. The cacophony of bucks trying to out-bellow each other and does stridently pleading for their attention can't be avoided unless you leave town.
Becoming a breeder - producing your own kids rather than buying them from others - means much more than getting any old buck, tossing him in with the does and letting reproduction happen.
Each breeder needs specific goals and must work persistently toward them. Perfection in animal breeding is forever just out of reach. That's why some breeders love the challenge, including false starts and seeming dead ends, and stick with it for many years. Many others become frustrated and sell out.
Every breed association has their own standards which help define their goals. If your breed association values a productive trait (dairy, meat or fiber), you likely have very helpful documented material and improvement tools available. Linear appraisal and other breed type evaluations, sire summaries and DHIA records (milk) help define goals and should make it easier for you to identify superior animals to incorporate into your herd or to keep if you produce them yourself. These programs help you concentrate the best genetic traits possible in your herd.
How many times have you heard the term "brood doe"? Technically speaking, this is a breeding female. But in the goat industry the term has mutated to mean "of lesser quality than its intended purpose, but reproductively functional enough to be improved upon." This is on the opposite end of the spectrum which comprises a breed's ideal female. Ideally, the best females should reproduce efficiently and contribute as many offspring as possible to the elite animals of the breed. Our wise choice of sires is a constant source of upgrading the quality of our does.
For sure, you never heard the term "brood buck!" In most livestock industries only the top 5% of the males are used for breeding. Yet, some goat associations consistently register one buck to every 2.5 or 3 does. That means a great many bucks well under the top 5% are kept and used. This excess of sires can foster genetic diversity, which is valuable when the total number of animals in a breed is limited, but that is not the case with breeds commonly found in the United States.
Each herd is composed of a large variety of different genetics and traits, and no "magic bullet" is right for everybody. The more you know about structure, productive traits and health, the more successful the outcome of your breeding decisions will likely be. Look at your individuals with a critical eye to see their strengths and weaknesses. Some of these traits will be present in much of the herd, especially if you use certain sires heavily or linebreed on a particular animal. If you are not experienced enough to evaluate your animals, ask one or more experienced breeders for a critique. Be prepared to take comments without offense - it is a learning experience, and some people have more tact than others.
Some basic animal breeding concepts are often ignored. One is that the sire should always display an exaggerated trait to improve a the incorrect trait in the doe. For example, if a doe has posty hind legs, some people would use a an over-angulated buck. Wrong. That will only produce kids with both extremes, not a correct kid. Always use a buck with correct structure, not exaggerated structure.
Another misunderstanding is that many traits can be improved all at once. Qualitative traits (those expressed in descriptive terms) are controlled by many genes and are impossible to get all at once. We work with the does we have and the wise use of bucks improves the kids over the quality of their mothers. Identify two or three of the most important traits you want to improve in each doe, and look for sires that excel in those areas. If you get those improvements in the offspring, they should be bred to sires who excel in those correct traits in addition to what needs to be improved in each of them. This is the way progress is accomplished - one step at a time.
Some breeders don't keep bucks and have asked if this is a wise way to run a breeding operation. It can be ideal. Some areas have many good bucks available for outside service, and you can match each doe with a sire who complements her best. Artificial insemination is also a great way to match each doe to the best buck for her. People who do not own a buck are forced to more closely investigate each potential sire and rarely breed themselves into a problem by putting all their eggs in one basket, so to speak.
Researching the background of each potential sire is as important as evaluating him physically. Pedigrees are the obvious place to start, but they tell nothing about a buck's estimated breeding value - what he is likely to produce. For some of that information, talk to his breeder. Then talk to others who have close relatives. Be honest with yourself if you are his breeder. If you want to keep replacement kids out of him, they have to be what you want. If you sell his offspring, how each of them perform for their new owners reflects directly on you.
Show wins are a dubious research criteria. Shows are limited to comparing the merits of the animals present, rather than comparing your animal to your breed's ideal. Production criteria is usually completely missing in the show arena. Exceptions to this are classes in which a certain level of production is needed to qualify for entry in the class. After a buck meets your trait and production requirements, a show history may be important to you. But all other criteria should come first. You can have it all - you just have to find it.
The first questions to ask about a potential sire are about his parents. How old are they? Has his mother had any kidding problems? Have his father's daughters kidded, and do they do well at it? Does the bloodline generally have good kidding ability, good mothering ability, lots of milk and good health? Do structural, health or other problems crop up in the bloodline? Are production records available?
A friend recently called and asked me to write an article about the value of mother goats. I questioned the purpose and was told, "My buck kid was the only one in the class whose mother hadn't died giving birth to him." Need I say how important it is to develop a bloodline with productivity and longevity? This doesn't happen with dead mothers.
Each buck carries 50% of his dam's genes and 50% of his sire's genes. He is 25% of each grandparent, so the same questions could be asked about them. Why? Because some traits can skip a generation, especially those related to gender. Female traits skip from a mother through her son to his offspring, and male traits skip gender in like fashion. By the time you get back to great-grandparents, each have only passed on 12.5% of their genes to the sire or dam in question, so their importance diminishes. Your kids will only carry 6.25% of the great-grandparents' genes.
Suppose you have used a buck in the past and he throws some kids with a trait you don't want. You have to decide: 1) whether his best offspring are worth using him again, and 2) how to cull the rest. All his kids, even his best, carry 50% of his genes so they are capable of carrying the trait you don't like and passing it to their kids. (See where checking out the grandparents pays off?)
An older buck should have plenty of progeny. How have his kids and grandkids done in the areas you are interested in? Are there production records to back up claims made for him? Has he been crossed with a variety of bloodlines? Did they all perform well, or did certain crosses work better?
If you are hopelessly in love with a young buck's physical attributes and ancestry, look at his physical fitness for breeding. Is he old enough and big enough to do the job? Nothing is more frustrating to a young buck that to be presented with a willing doe in estrus whom he is too short to reach. Or to be faced with an aggressive doe who has another mate in mind and tries to knock his block off.
A breeding soundness evaluation can be done, especially on older bucks who have potentially been exposed to more detrimental physical and environmental influences. He has to be in excellent reproductive shape. His first round of breeding is often enough to show whether or not he is fertile - does will either settle or come back into heat.
If you do not get a good conception rate, an examination of both the buck and your management should be done to identify problem areas. If several bucks have fertilization failures look at nutrition, supplements, general health and body condition. Selenium deficiency can result in sperm deformities. Obese bucks, especially in warm weather, can have drastically reduced sperm quantity and quality, and illness may impair a buck's sperm for up to six week following the illness.
Next spring when your kids are born, don't blame the buck for producing singles or brag on him for producing many kids per litter. Litter size is is completely dependent on the doe, and that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. The buck is responsible for the gender of his offspring through the X and Y chromosomes, but there seem to be at least a few unexplained and anecdotal variables to account for some preponderance of male or female kids.
No matter how much you research and plan those breedings, there is always a chance that something will surprise you. I've always been fond of saying of a particular breeding pair, "Go ahead and try it - they're only producing one set of kids, not getting married..."
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