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Bigger is not Always Better

Have you ever seen the ads in Goat Magazines of breeders showing their breeding buck and exclaiming "He weighs 350 + pounds." Have you ever wondered why that may be important. When we first started in the boer goat business, we visited a well known breeder and got some very valuable information from them. We had heard that their bucks were not known for getting very much larger after they reached 18 months old and we asked them about that. They said "The most important weight gain time is from 3 months to 12 months. After that, it is of little value in the meat goat industry today."  They explained that the main market for slaughter animals is between 3 and 12 months. No one is looking for 2 year old goats weighing 300 pounds at this time.

This brings up a very important part of breeding meat goats. You need to understand and focus on the REAL market for the animals. This year we attended the ABGA judges training class taught by some South African breeders. They said there was a lot of additional work to do on the Boer breed and I asked if they meant breeding them to be bigger animals. They told us if you want to raise LARGER animals, you should be raising cattle because bigger is not always better. I now fully understand that trying to JUST breed larger and larger boer goats is not the most important thing to be focused upon. You must ask yourself "Why would bigger be better?"

Lets look at an example of the overall result between having animals at two different weights and we will focus on the does. We have some adult does that weigh around 140 pounds and a few that weigh 240 pounds at the same age.  Lets create two example herds with Herd A being made up of 100 adult does each weighing 140 pounds. Herd B is made up of 100 adult does each weighing 240 pounds. We believe that the most important thing to consider is the total weaning weight of kids per doe. In this example, we will assume each doe in both herds have twins and have a total weight of 140 pounds (or 70 pounds each) at weaning age of 3 months. That is a decent weaning weight to have. If a doe weighing 140 lbs weans 140 lbs of kids, she is 100% efficient. This is calculated by dividing the doe's weight into the total weight of the kids. If we have the does of Herd B also wean kids of 140 lbs., then she is only 50% efficient. 140/240 = 50%

Now the important part of this is trying to get as much quality goat meat as possible from the land or feed available. Lets assume that an animal needs to eat 2% of their weight in food to maintain their current weight. This food can be browse in the pasture or feed purchased.

Herd A (140 average weight)

Herd B (240 average weight)

140 x 2% = 2.8 lbs per day required per head

240 x 2% = 4.8 lbs per day required per head

2.8 x 100 does = 280 lbs. per day of feed required

4.8 x 100 does = 480 lbs per day of feed required

4.8 lbs - 2.8 lbs = 2 lbs per day difference in feed requirements.  

That means you can nearly feed two 140 lbs does for what is required for one 240 lbs doe.

If you have unlimited pasture or feed, this really does not matter. However, if you are focusing from the business view, this must be considered. What can make a difference is if the larger doe has larger total weaning weights. For our 240 lb doe, she would have to have twins that weighed 120 lbs each at 3 months or triplets each weighing 80 lbs at 3 months. If the 140 lb doe had triplets weighing 80 lbs each, that is a much better deal.

What is the best size and weight for an adult animal? We have no idea what that is and we can't answer it until we start focusing on measuring the efficiency of our does. In the book "Meat Goats - Their History, Management and Diseases" by Stephanie & Allison Mitcham, they write "Considering the breeds available, the potential exists to develop a meat goat that is too big and too productive for the environment in which it has a competitive advantage. Therefore, it is imperative that breeders identify a production system appropriate for their environment, then develop a goat that effectively performs in it."

The second part is related to how fast the weaned kids grow over the next 9 months. The performance test conducted so far show that some top quality animals can gain close to a pound a day over certain periods. We have an objective that our buck kids  be between 180 and 220 lbs at 12 months old. It is important to track and see if there is any difference in the weight gained from does that are heavier. If the weaning weight is not much different and the kids don't gain weight any faster, you need to ask yourself why you are looking for bigger and bigger animals.

We will focus on maximum total weaning weight of all the doe's kids and greatest initial weight gained  rather than the size of our adult bucks and does.