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Choosing breeds based on suitability to environment

 
Em Kellner
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Can anyone advise me on, or point me toward a resource for, choosing goat breeds based on region/landscape/climate etc. In the permaculture fashion I'm hoping to work *with* my (theoretical) goats' natural tendencies rather than against them as much as possible, so I'm thinking through my selection in an "outside-in" sort of way. In this scenario we'll be raising goats for meat and milk (just enough for our family), but my concern is much less with production quantity than with creating a system that is "zero input" as much as possible. (Some things are for sure unavoidable, for instance we live in a selenium deficient region and will need to supplement minerals etc - but I mean what I say, as much as is reasonably possible.)

We have 2 acres of pretty tucked away land in northwest CT, some open grassy space, a fair bit of woods, only one neighboring property. I'd like to be able to essentially "free range" the goats (along with chickens and ducks), turning them out to forage especially in the woods the majority of the time, maybe utilizing some natural barriers. We already have a 600 sqft fenced area in part of our yard where I would locate their housing along with planting it into a self-foddering environment for wintertime, supplementing with small-scale hydroponically sprouted grains/legumes, and some stored fodder crops.

My hope would be to start with a pair of does, and when they are bred raise 1 or 2 kids to slaughter each time while share-milking, raising up females as needed to be future milkers. Apart from the kids being raised to slaughter I would hope to have no more than 2-3 "core" goats at one time.

And just to throw in another consideration, I have 3 little children and hopefully more in the future, so my inclination in that regard is a smaller-statured goat that won't accidentally walk right over a roaming toddler - I don't know, is that a concern?

Any suggestions that come to mind for breeds that are suited to our climate and forest-forage plans? I often find myself wondering if New England is at all compatible with raising goats without micromanaging, since the environment here doesn't really mimic conditions from any of the places where goats historically originated... Would love input on that.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Many people have been raising goats in New England for many generations. I suspect that the best goats for New England will not be breeds, and will not have names that you can look up on a list. They will be mongrels: Herds with mixed genetics that resulted from the survival of the fittest in New England.

I'm pretty sure that, someone you know, knows someone that is raising those types of goats, not only in New England, but close to you. I'd recommend asking around. Get the word out that you'd like to get in touch with "The Goat Lady". I know that's gotta be her name, and everyone in town calls her that... Hard to look up in the phone book though. Every goat lady that I have ever known also kept chickens and sold eggs...

Then once you get local landrace goats, I recommend that you keep the tradition going. Swap stud services or lambs with the neighbors that are also growing locally-adapted goats.
 
Em Kellner
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Great idea, thank you! That makes a lot of sense to me and I hadn't considered it before. Everyone I know around here chooses breed goats and then spends a huge amount of energy and more money than the goat can possibly be worth feeding them, keeping them contained, and paying vet bills. I will start looking out for The Goat Lady!
 
Katy Whitby-last
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Location: North East Scotland
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One thing to consider is what you want to use the milk for. If you are wanting to make cheese you will want a breed with higher butterfats. If you want a large quantity of milk then a Saanen type would be best. I have British Toggenbergs and they have never mown down my little ones - they are fairly placid. Temperament is very definitely inherited though so you may want to check out the parents of any stock that you are interested in. One of my girls would never make a show goat but she is lovely and calm and cuddly so a perfect family goat. If your ground is very hilly and rough then a lighter weight goat will cope better with the terrain. Also consider ease of milking - if it is a small goat with tiny teats milking can be quite a challenge.
 
Em Kellner
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If I had my choice then definitely I would go for the higher butterfat! I'd love to do cheese, butter, yogurt, the whole deal - but I also consider the amount/type of dairy we consume an easily adjustable variable, whereas the climate, the type of forage available, the terrain are not, so that's where my mind was going.

Thanks for mentioning about lightweight goats and hills, that makes a lot of sense and we do have a few steep slopes - although thinking that way it might make a good natural barrier for a heavier goat, hmm...

And that's good to hear about your Toggenburgs not plowing down children! Always a good quality in my book, ha! We'll definitely be spending time with the goats/parents before choosing to get a feel for temperament.
 
Katy Whitby-last
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The other thing I forgot to mention is to make sure that any goats you get are disbudded so that you don't have the risk of horns at children's eye level.
 
R Ranson
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A landrace goat acclimatized to your area is going to do a whole lot better than a specific breed. Although if you fall in love with a breed or are interested in preserving one of the endangered varieties, there is no reason to avoid a specific breed. I'm exceptionally partial to the Oberhaslis myself, for their ease of care, calm personality, consistent quality of milk. They are a duel purpose, very old, very endangered breed. I think we have 25 in Canada now, up from 7 a few years ago.

What's really important to consider when getting goats, is that the quality of care matters a whole lot more than the actual breed. My primary goat guru has Saanens that produce on average a gallon and a half of milk per day, with a higher butter fat count than any other breed standard. This is exceptional! This particular goat guru is consulted by Veterinarians around the world regarding goat care, and I'm so very lucky to live in the same town as her. Her success is due primarily to her mineral and feeding programme, but also because she's been breeding this line for over 40 years. She never stops learning, and when she does research, it's actual research - not just reading a few books, but actually experimenting with different handling techniques and mineral programmes by separating her herd into control group, &c.

All milk and duel goat breeds can make exceptional cheese - breed is less important than care.

This takes us to the first thing you need to do if you are considering thinking of getting goats (or any large livestock): Find a guru! Find one you trust. Look at his/her flock and see if the animals look lively, calm (not the opposite of lively), curious, alert, &c. Ask your would be guru about things you've read about goats and their care. If your guru disagrees with what was written (which is likely if they've been at it a while) then ask them to explain why - if they can offer support for their point of view, then this is a good sign.

Having a guru that is in your area will not only help with developing your goats nutritional pattern but also save you buckets on vet bills (mostly through prevention, but also by teaching you when to panic and call the vet, and when it's just one of those goat things).

Next step - Find a vet that will actually work with goats! This is not easy in most parts of the world.

From the OP, I don't know if you've realized this yet, but goats do not need to breed every year to produce milk. A goat, given proper nutrition and milking schedule can produce milk for many years before needing to be freshened again. My guru has gone for 8 or more years between freshening, although my herd, I plan for 3 to 5 years. My plan is to eventually average 2 or 3 girls, then give each one a year off before breeding again. Given the right nutrition (I seem to be repeating myself here) it can be easier on the animal to give milk a few years than to birth a new kid every year. Also, when the goat is pregnant it will stop producing milk... the longer you let it dry up, the more energy it will have for making the kid.

Nutrition: Know your local minerals excesses and deficits in your land. Regional is a good start, but an investment in your actual soil mineral profile will go a long way to keeping your goats healthy. Whatever your management practices, you will need to supplement minerals and feed; however, looking at your goals and that you asked on Permies forum, I think the book for you would be Pat Coleby's Natural Goat Care. Her focus is in managing the pasture/feed crops - by ensuring the food the goats eat is the most nutritious, you don't need to supplement as many minerals. Different mineral deficiencies cause different ailments in animals - sort of, exactly like humans - for example, Selenium deficiency is the primary cause of infection, especially udder infections. Copper is suppose to be excellent to prevent parasites... and so on and so forth. By adding or not adding certain things to your land (avoiding petroleum based fertilizers for example), Coleby says you can drastically alter the amount of nutrition available to the goats. Please note, she's writing for Australia, so if you live elsewhere, it's important to know your local mineral issues. Her information is in depth and includes the background of why she says what. With just a little common sense, what she writes can be adapted to anywhere in the world.


All this about nutrition and care is well and good. But you asked about breed, so I'll end on a few of my personal observations.

Saanens are good milk and taste, but can be a bit intelligent for a beginner goat keeper.

Nubians are the loudest creature you could possibly own, and I'm not entirely certain their good qualities make up for the noise they make. Even 1/8th Nubian will make one heck of a racket when unhappy. If you were where I am right now, you would be hearing what a tempest of sound a 1/16th Nubian can create. The only upside of them, is that it pisses off my neighbours who are right arses and deserve to learn that farms make noise (the neighbours started it and did far worse to us). But if you want to stay friends with the people next door, maybe consider a different breed. (I'm a wee bit predigest against Nubian goats mostly because of the noise - they actually do have good qualities, I'm told).

Oberhasli and Oberhasli Grade are by far my current favourite. They have a gentle voice and gentle nature. Excellent meat and milk. Oberhasli Grade and Oberhasli Experimental are basically goats with Ober genetics in them, but don't match breed standards. Maybe they aren't enough Ober percentage in their parentage, or more likely they are simply the wrong colour. Being born the wrong colour usually means that the otherwise healthy goat gets to spend the rest of it's life in the slaughterhouse. One option is that you could rescue a couple like this, then breed up for full breed status.

Those short little goats so popular at petting zoos: Personally these can cause a lot of trouble, not because of the goat themselves, but because of illness they get at the petting zoo. The local petting zoo is responsible for a pandemic of goat illness in our area. What happens is that the petting zoo accepts all sorts of farm animals from all sorts of farms without doing health checks on the animal first. Then people pet the sick animals, then pet the mini goats. Mini goats get sick, but don't show it right away. When the mini goats grow up into adult mini goats, then they get sold to new farmers... new farmers don't know the regular diseases goats get, so they don't look for the symptoms... problem spreads! and so on and so forth.

There is a lot to be said for hybrid vigor when considering where to start your herd.

Basically, when you get your goat - be very picky. Buy only from a trusted source. Whether you are new to livestock or have 40 years under your belt, when you buy your critter, spend at least half the time accessing the farmer. Ask them questions, challenge their knowledge, &c. Buy the farmer, not the livestock. A great quality animal can be damaged beyond hope with the wrong care.

This post is long enough. If you want my full opinions on fencing and buying, let me know. But right now I have a noisy goat-ling to feed.
 
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