- Kendra R. Shatswell
"Get Better Does"
Recently a breeder told another “Get better does.” It wasn’t directed at me, but the comment stuck with me. It wasn't meant to be so harsh; it was just that the goats needed improvement in the physical "milkable" department to the point they were not working for their new owner. The following is not directed at whomever said it…it was simply the statement that got me to thinking! I am definitely one that could “get better does.” But I don't.
I could cull VERY hard and keep a MAYBE half dozen out of my 16 Kinder and Miniature LaMancha doelings and does, then go buy just a few better quality does of each breed. Heck, I could just sell everything and start over with the very best few I could afford.
But I don’t. Not to say that I haven’t sold or processed some that were less than ideal. They’re all less than ideal in some aspect. Believe me – I can pick them all apart, some more than others. I KNOW they all have faults. I know they all need improvement, some more than others. A couple are downright homely, bless their hearts. So why am I playing the long game? Why am I taking so-so does and waiting a year or two for kids then another year or two for those doelings to mature and freshen – if I even get doelings – to see if I have improved anything? Honestly, part of it is stubbornness. These are the does and doelings that I started with. I will bring in the bucks necessary to improve their faults. It is a challenge. In the mature does, I KNOW their faults, already. I don’t have to try to piece together what I know about a doe from a breeder, if I were to go out and try to buy the best I could afford. Some breeders can give you TONS of info on a doe, but that is never quite the same as owning her. It is some of these little things that are important to me. A huge one is parasite resistance and resilience. I keep track of this one here. Not many breeders do. Hard to go out and buy a doe that ticks that box. Why do I keep track of that? Because those traits are moderately heritable. Because those blood-sucking little bastards don’t give a rat’s ass if your doe is a finished grand champion 8 pound milker or a homely 2 pound milker. There are some very nice herds I will not buy from because their parasite management practices do NOT mesh with mine. Anthelmentic resistance is serious – I won’t jeopardize my herd by bringing in parasites resistant to the dewormers I use.
Secondly, my goats must goat. There is BARELY any flat ground here. It is ROUGH. It is STEEP. I cannot change that. Goats gotta get their goatie butts out there and BROWSE and GRAZE. I absolutely try to feed them the best that I can, taking into consideration lactation, number of kids, age, pecking order, pasture quality…all those factors that make a doe or doeling need a little extra groceries. But they aren’t what I would call coddled. There is no free buffet of alfalfa, especially not year round. There is no 24/7 creep feeder. There is no feeding more than 4% of your body weight in grain. I don’t just toss them out there and say “survive” either. You can raise goats either way. I am just somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. There are some herds I won’t buy from because I am afraid those beautiful (sometimes too-fat) does would fall apart the first hot summer they had to hoof it up the rough slopes. I’ve yet to see a Kinder or Miniature LaMancha herd that raises goats on ground more physically demanding than mine. That’s why I like that I’m keeping does or doelings that were born here, or acquiring young does or doelings that have time to adapt. The two older Kinder does I brought in a few years ago did alright adjusting to the terrain, but I could tell it was sure a shock to them at first. The ones that were born here travel all over the place – up and down and across the ridges, sprinting and bucking and playing down the hills, sliding in the shale in the wooded hill. It is just easier on them to grow up here in the hills and rocks rather than a flat, lush pasture. By the way, the bucks have it the easiest. Their main pasture is by far the smoothest and is not so steep. Their summer digs is steeper, but not very rocky. All but one of the bucks I’ve owned was brought here at a year old or younger, and I think it has helped them not fall apart. Finally, "Best" "Better" "Good" "Poor"- these are all open for interpretation. My "Better" might be your "Poor." My "Good" might be your "Best." I judge a goat on so many things besides just conformation and production - I've mentioned a couple already. A few more big ones for me: Is the goat enjoyable to be around? Is she a good mother? Does she have good milk stand manners or does she always need a refresher? So, I am building the herd with well, my herd – the does I started with and their daughters. Instead of only buying the best does I can find, I have brought in exactly one Kinder doeling and one miniature LaMancha doeling in the past two years. Instead of bringing in does, I’m trying to bring in the best bucks I can afford, the ones that will compliment my does the best. It may take me longer to improve what I want to improve, but I am okay with long-term goals, with steady improvements borne of hard work and time. Like I said, I like KNOWING my does, especially their flaws. So, no, I am not going to “Get better does.” I am going to breed for my idea of "better" does and enjoy the work.