The Toggenburg breed of dairy goat. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Dear daktari, I wish to venture into goat farming. I am not sure whether to produce for meat or milk but I know I want to start farming goats on a large but organised scale. Kindly, I need the key considerations while selecting what to buy as my foundation stock. I wish to select the best goat for my farm so that I can quickly grow my farm with superior goats.

[Kato Emmanuel, Namanga]

Thank you for the question. Small stock farming has many advantages. The turnaround time is short, it relatively easy to manage small stock and you can have many goats on your farm compared to cattle. Any successful livestock farming venture requires that you start with the best foundation breed. You must start with goats with desirable traits based on your final goal – your target market preferences.

If it is a breeding goat, meat or milk producer the desirable traits will play an important part in bringing this to fruition. So how do you go about this?  There are a number of techniques that can be used by the farmer while selecting a foundation stock. I will use a case study of breeding goats since you indicated that you want to quickly have many superior goats produced on your farm. 

Edwin Palapala in his Makhokho farm in Ikolomani subcounty [Chrispen Sechere. Standard]

Observation

This is simply how the animal looks. Emphasis should be on the anatomy of key organs. For the females, the wedge feminine appearance should be the first check. A breeding doe should have nicely placed ribs which are an indicator of good volume – hence can accommodate more feeds and kids. This translates to more milk and good kids. The udder should be firmly attached to the body and have two teats each per udder quarter. Avoid pendulous (hanging down loosely) udders. The external genitalia should be well developed.

The buck should show masculinity; the head should be broad with a strong muzzle and the chest broad. The scrotum should be well-formed with two equal size testes. Sperm production is related to the circumference of the testicles with those with bigger testicles producing more sperms than the normal size.

Visible splits on the scrotum between the two testes and overly pendulous testicles should be avoided. On palpation, the testicles should be smooth and free of bumps and lumps.

Avoid single testicle, testicles that are too small, abnormal or diseased testes, and excessive split in scrotum. The teat structure of the buck should also be reviewed as the buck has a large impact on the herd if his daughters are retained on the farm.

Performance and Breeding Records

When records are available, they form a very good reference point when selecting your foundation stock. Records and visual examination go hand in hand. Records give a glimpse into the animal’s past performance which certainly informs its future performance.

Visual observation may not. Parameters like birth weight, dam, sire, number born per dam, birthing difficulties, weight at weaning are critical in determining future performance. Growth performance records can aid the producer in animal selection and culling (removing from the herd).

Goats are prolific animals that will naturally mature and be fertile at six to seven months. Females should show evidence of having kidded by the age of two years.

Genetic Evaluations

Genetic evaluations are currently used in heavily commercial farms in developed countries. But it is worth noting that use of genetic evaluation programmes is important in making sound genetic improvement decisions.

Most genetic evaluation programmes are managed by large breeder associations. Breeders collect individual animal performance measures and submit it to the breeder association managing the programme. The information submitted from an animal and all of its relatives can be used to predict future offspring performance. This is precision at work.

What are the market preferences?

If you are doing goat farming for commercial purposes it will be good to find out what the market preferences are. This might determine the breed selection.

[Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and the Head of Communications at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO]


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