Monday, March 23, 2009

No such thing as a free goat...

As we went to goat shows and saw the truly beautiful animals being shown there, I began to appreciate the elements that made up that beauty, and I began to see what 'dogs' our goats were.

Of course we just wanted goats for milk, so what did it matter?

What we had failed to appreciate in the beginning was the small issue of the need to breed milkers every year so they would continue to produce milk.

The normal cycle was annual: Starting at a year, a young doe had her first kid. That meant she was bred at 7 months. She would produce milk for the next 10 months, the last three of which were when she was pregnant with her next batch of kids. After that her supply diminished to almost nothing, and her owner would dry her up and give her a rest for the last two months before the next batch of babies was born a year after the first. 

Let's say she has her first kid or kids on March 1. She is then in milk until the following Jan 1, and gets a rest until the next March 1 when she has a new batch of kids. She would have been bred on Oct 1.

Some few goats can produce for more than 10 months, but the rule of thumb is that they need to be 'freshened' every year. 

The by-product of this freshening is baby goats. One the first year, two or three or four or five thereafter. 

In a dairy with 5 milkers, that would mean something like 15 babies, half doelings.

Newborn does can be raised to make more milkers, sold to someone else for that purpose, or eaten. Newborn bucks generally must be eaten, though some are sold as pets.

Leaving aside the unfortunate young males, there are usually still more little does than a dairy needs to replace the mature milkers, who produce well for at least 5 years.

So they need to be sold. And if the dairy is a business, they need to be sold at a profit, or at least at break-even.

So this is the situation we faced: we had many small does, and it would have been great to pay some of our bills by selling them. 

And of course our goat-people friends were trying to do the same thing.

And that's where shows came in. It was a place to show off one's gorgeous goats, and it was a place to get ribbons that proved the goat was gorgeous.

And after a few shows I realized we did not have gorgeous goats. Nice ones, milky ones, but not good-lookers. 

It could be argued that the looks of a goat have nothing to do with the ability to produce milk. But it's not so: each aspect of a great-looking goat has to do with the ability to produce. These traits define dairy-goat beauty.

So when we didn't win ribbons, we didn't sell goats.

A lot of our first goats were very low cost, or FREE. They made good milk. They didn't win ribbons. They made as many babies as other goats, and they ate as much as other goats. We just couldn't sell their babies.

And that's when I realized there's no such thing as a free goat.

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