Article Index "Meat Goat Breeds and Breeding Plans" Article Index

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By: "Terry A. Gipson"
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    "All animals are equal but some are more equal than others."
      -Altered 7th commandment of Animalism
        Animal Farm, George Orwell, 1946

In the broadest sense, all goats are meat goats. Every goat that goes to the sale barn, regardless of breed, is eventually slaughtered for human consumption. However, certain breeds that are better suited for meat production than others. In this section, these meat-type breeds and their production characteristics will be examined.

Meat Goat Breeds

The Boer goat of South Africa owes its name to the Dutch word "boer" meaning farm and was probably employed to distinguish the farm goat from the Angora goat imported into South Africa in the 19th century (Teh and Gipson, 1993). The Boer goat was probably derived from indigenous goats of the Namaqua Hottentot and of the southward migrating Bantu tribes with a possible infusion of Indian and European bloodlines (Casey and Van Niekerk, 1988). The present-day, improved Boer goat emerged in the early 20th century when ranchers in the Eastern Cape province started breeding for a meat type goat with good conformation, high growth rate and fertility, short white hair, and red markings on the head and neck. Since 1970 the Boer goat has been incorporated into the National Mutton Sheep and Goat Performance Testing Scheme, which makes the Boer goat the only known goat breed routinely involved in a performance test for meat production.

Feral Goatstock from Australia and New Zealand
A large population of feral goatstock exists in Australia and New Zealand, having arisen from goats introduced by Europeans during colonization. Little is known about the ancestry of these goats except that they evolved under natural selection in the hot, arid interior of Australia and in the humid, mountainous regions of New Zealand. These feral goats have been routinely harvested for worldwide meat export. Recently, selection pressure has been exerted on these goats for their cashmere-producing potential and for their enhanced meat-producing potential. Estimated numbers of feral goats in Australia range from 300,000 to 3,000,000, with a most probable number of 700,000 (Johnson, 1985).

The Australian Kiko meat goat has been developed over two decades of intensive selection from Australian feral goatstock and imported dairy breeds (Batten, personal communication).

The Nubian, also known as the Anglo-Nubian, is considered a dual-purpose goat breed used for milk and meat production. This breed was developed in England from Indian, African and European breeds of milk goats and has been in the US since the turn of the century (Hall, 1987). They have become the most popular breed of dairy goats in the United States, with over 100,000 registered breeding stock.

The Pygmy goat's origin lies in the Fouta Djallon Plateau of West Africa, where it is known as the West African Dwarf Goat (WADG). It found its way to North America as a by-product of the slave trade in the 18th century. In its native West Africa, the WADG is the dominant goat breed and is used almost exclusively for meat production (Devendra and Burns, 1983). Currently, there are over 30,000 registered Pygmies in the US.

The Spanish goat is a meat type goat found primarily on or around the Edwards Plateau of central Texas. Until recently, these goats were kept mainly for clearing brush and other undesirable plant species from pasture lands. There have been obvious infusions of dairy and Angora blood in many Spanish herds but no organized attempt has ever been made to use them for milk or mohair production. In recent years, the escalating demand for goat meat and the expanding interest in cashmere production have focused attention on the Spanish goat. Current estimates of the Spanish goat population is around 300,000 head (Paschal, 1990).

Several Spanish goat producers in Texas have been intensively selecting for increased meat production for the past several years. From information obtained from these producers, these "selected" Spanish goats appear to greatly outperform the ordinary Spanish goat used primarily for pasture maintenance.

Tennessee Wooden-leg
The Tennessee Wooden-leg goat has several aliases including "Tennessee Stiff-leg", "Nervous Goat", "Fall-Down Goat" and "Fainting Goat". These goats suffer from hereditary myotonia. When these goats are frightened, they experience extreme muscle stiffness causing extension of hind limbs and neck. In this startled state, if unbalanced, the animal will topple over like a statue or will stand immobile until the attack, usually lasting only 10-20 seconds, passes. Little is known about the earliest history of this breed except that in the early 1880's a man appeared in Marshall County, Tennessee with a sacred cow, three nannies and a billy in tow. These four goats suffered from fainting spells and were purchased as a curio by a Dr. Mayberry who propagated the breed. The inheritance of myotonia appears to be autosomal recessive and therefore can be alleviated through selection. The population of Tennessee Wooden-leg in the US is small (informally estimated to be around 3,000 head).

Other Breeds Several breeds are less suited for meat production than those previously listed. These include the Angora, high-producing cashmere goats and dairy breeds other than the Nubian. The Angora is a small-framed breed known for its fiber production. This fiber is called mohair and is used in many textiles. Another fiber produced by goats is cashmere. Generally, the smaller individuals of these breeds produce the finest fiber, which brings a higher price than the coarser fiber. Also, high-producing fiber goats generally have smaller litters than other goats. A largeframed animal that produces twins or triplets routinely is a desired trait for a meat producing goat. Thus, selection for meat production and for fiber production is antagonistic.

Other dairy breeds include Alpine, Saanen, Toggenburg, Oberhasli and LaMancha. The former four breeds are European in origin and are collectively known as "Swiss" breeds in the US. The Swiss breeds have been intensely selected for milk production. The LaMancha is a descendant of goats brought to the New World, specifically California, by early Spanish explorers and Catholic missionaries. Although selected for milk production, it has lower milk production than the Swiss breeds. Two major complaints from producers about using dairy breeds or the infusion of dairy blood into goats used for meat production are the problems of pendulous udders that become bruised and damaged by rocks and brush under extensive management and the problem of teats too large for successfully raising kids on pasture.

Production Traits
The four key traits that should be considered in a meat goat enterprise are adaptability, reproduction, growth rate and carcass characteristics.

This trait is the most important of all the production traits. If an animal's ability to survive and reproduce is impaired by the production environment, then the profitability of that enterprise may be greatly diminished. The goat has proven to be perhaps the most adaptable of all the domesticated livestock and survives in a wide range of environments worldwide. However, when taken out of one environment and placed in another, it does not always realize it production potential. Angora goats imported into Sahelian West Africa performed very poorly due to the harsh environment (Wilson, 1992). Alpine and Saanen dairy goats imported into India performed only slightly better than local breeds under a stall management system (Devendra and Burns, 1983). Therefore, we might expect Spanish goats to perform differently in the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia than they do on the Edwards Plateau of central Texas; or Boer goats to perform differently in North America than they do in South Africa. Adaptability is a lowly heritable trait because natural selection has already reduced the genetic variability. Thus, adaptability will respond slowly to selection pressure but only if selection for the desired traits is practiced within the production system.

Dr. Maurice Shelton (1992), a world renowned sheep and goat specialist from Texas, recently stated at an international conference that "In animals kept primarily for meat production, reproductive rate is the single most important factor contributing to the efficiency of production." Reproductive traits of interest in a meat goat enterprise would be conception rate, kidding rate and the ability to breed out of season.

In general, goats have a high reproductive rate with conception rate not being a problem. Several studies have shown that even though twins and triplets have lower birth and weaning weights and have slower growth rates, they produce more total weight of kid weaned. Thus, prolificacy, defined as the number of kids born per doe, is an important reproductive criterion. Goats that have evolved in the temperate zones on the world tend to be seasonal breeders. Females come into estrus in the fall with anestrus occurring in late spring. This breeding pattern does not always coincide with the optimal marketing period of weaned kids. On the other hand, goats from the tropics are non-seasonal breeders and kid year-round. This desirable trait of non-seasonality should to be incorporated into a meat goat enterprise.

Growth Rate
Growth can be effectively divided into two periods: growth before weaning or pre-weaning average daily gain (ADG) and growth after weaning or post-weaning average daily gain. A high pre-weaning ADG not only reflects the genetic potential of the kid but also the mothering ability of the doe. In some production systems, kids are sold at weaning and therefore post-weaning ADG is of little importance, while in others, kids are sold as yearlings or older and post-weaning ADG becomes an important production factor.

Carcass Characteristics
Carcass characteristics of interest are dressing percentage, ratios of lean:fat:bone, and anatomical distribution of muscle. Generally, the dressing percentage of goats is around 50%. As an animal grows, it tends to increase the percentage of fat in the carcass, decrease the percentage of bone while the percentage of lean stays about the same. The portions of the carcass with the largest muscle mass are the leg and shoulder; however, these portions tend to decrease, percentage-wise, as the goat grows.

Of the four production traits mentioned, only carcass characteristics are not readily measurable on the farm. With good record keeping and a set of scales, the meat goat producer can collect the information needed to measurably increase the productivity of his/her meat goat enterprise.

Several reproductive traits and pre-weaning growth rate can be combined into an index to give a measure of productivity. Using the following equation,

Productivity Index = conception rate x litter size x

survivability to weaning x 365/kidding interval x

(birth weight + pre-weaning ADG x age at weaning

and the estimates in Table 1, an index score was calculated for each breed mentioned in the previous section plus an "idealized" meat goat breed. Several assumptions were made in the calculation of the index. The goat is a very fertile animal and little information on conception rate was available; therefore, conception rate was set to 90%. Survivability to weaning was assumed to be equal for all breeds at 90%. A constant age at weaning of 80 days was used in the calculations.

It should be noted that the estimates of reproductive traits and growth rates have been made in different environments and times. Therefore, the index scores should not be used as an exact measure of productivity but as a relative measure that may or may not change should the different breeds be compared in a common environment. Also, the estimate for kidding interval may not adequately reflect seasonality. Many breeds are only exposed to a buck in the fall and not at other times of the year. Thus, seasonality has not been adequately assessed for the majority of these breeds.

Productivity index scores are found in Table 1. The scores ranged from 40.9 kg for the hypothetical "idealized" meat goat to 14.2 kg for the Spanish goat. Of the actual breeds, the Boer ranked the highest (1 kg = 2.2 lb).

In general, larger does produce larger kids but larger does also have a higher dietary requirement for maintenance and reproduction than do smaller does. Therefore, another index score was calculated to account for the variation in mature body size of the does among the different breeds. The efficiency index was calculated using the following equation,

Efficiency Index = Productivity index

Mature body weight3/4

and are also recorded in Table 1. When adjusted for body weight differences, the Boer still ranked the highest of the actual breeds but the margin was considerably narrowed. The Pygmy goat due to its small size was nearly as efficient as the Boer. It bears repeating that these figures are mostly conjectural and well-designed experiments must be conducted to adequately compare these breeds.

Several goat breeds are potential meat producers but some are lacking in some aspects of performance and others have not yet been tested in the North American production system. Producers need to emphasize adaptability and reproduction as the key traits for a meat goat enterprise. Growth rate and carcass quality are also traits of economic interest. More scientific research is needed to thoroughly assess the productivity of the different breeds.

Literature Cited
Casey, N.H. and Van Niekerk, W.A., 1988. The Boer goat. I. Origin, adaptability,
performance testing, reproduction and milk production. Small Rumin. Res., 1:291-302.

Devendra, C. and Burns, M., 1983. Goat Production in the Tropics. Commonwealth
Agricultural Bureaux, London, 184 pp.

Hall, A., 1987. Nubian History. Hall Press, San Bernadino, CA.

Johnson, T., 1985. The Australian feral goat.
Goat Note B1/1, New South Wales Dept. Agric.

Paschal, J.C., 1990. Prospects for developing a meat goat industry in south Texas.
Proc. of Spanish Meat Goats: An Alternative Enterprise in South Texas, July 13-14,
Texas A&I Univ., Kingsville, TX.

Shelton, M. and Willingham, T., 1992. Management of reproduction in the buck and doe under extensive conditions.
Proc. of VIII Reunion Nacional de Caprinocultura, October 14-16, Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico.

Teh, T.H. and Gipson, T.A., 1993. Establishing an industry for meat goats.
Ranch Magazine, 74(6):14-19.

Wilson, R.T., 1992.
Goat and sheep skin and fibre production in selected SubSaharan African countries.
Small Rumin. Res., 8:13-29.

About the author: No information about this authour is currently available.

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