Evaluating Your Milking Doe

Published on Tue, 04/18/2023 - 12:40pm

Evaluating Your Milking Doe.

 By Jennifer Bentley - ISU Extension and Outreach Dairy Field Specialist.

Showing dairy goats can be a rewarding experience for those interested in goats or for the most seasoned breeders in the industry. It is a great networking tool to learn more about the industry and aids in learning what an ideal dairy goat should look like for longevity and productivity in the herd. Even if showing is not something of interest, evaluating physical traits for functionality of the herd over time can assist in recognizing how well genetics have been transmitted to offspring and the potential for making genetic changes based on herd performance.

The American Dairy Goat Association provides a unified scorecard that is used during judging shows to evaluate animals based on general appearance, dairy strength, body capacity, and the mammary system. The eight breeds recognized by ADGA for shows include Alpine, LaMancha, Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, Sable, and Toggenburgs.  You can access the scorecard here: https://adga.org/adga-shows-scorecard/.

Categories are weighted differently depending on the class of animals being judged including senior doe, junior doe, or a buck. For this article, the focus will be the senior doe classified as a lactating or dry female goat who has had kids before. A senior doe is judged based on the following: 35% general appearance, 35% mammary system, 20% dairy strength, and 10% dairy capacity. Let’s review each category further.

General Appearance (35%)  
It is important to become familiar with a dairy goat body frame. While a meat goat shows more frame and muscling, a dairy goat will be just the opposite with fineness in bone structure and more udder capacity. Evaluate the goat for overall health; does she appear to be healthy with eyes alert, checking for any symptoms of sore mouth or unusual lumps around the jaw, ear, and neck.  The condition of the hair coat is another way to evaluated general appearance; is the hair coat smooth and shiny or rough and ragged? Take note of feet and legs; are the hooves trimmed and even?

General appearance on the scorecard is defined as “An attractive framework with femininity, strength, upstandingness, length, and smoothness of blending throughout that create an impressive style and graceful walk.” It includes stature, breed characteristics, front end, back, feet , and legs. Each breed will have specific characteristics matching the ears, colors, and patterns to fit the breed.  For all breeds, carrying a body frame evenly with a smooth transition starting at the neck and opening into the ribs allows for body and rumen capacity. With the withers being the highest point, look for a straight back along the topline. Width from the hip to the pin bone with a slight slope is a positive trait that allows for ease of kidding.

Overall appearance should include a doe that is able to kid easily, carry herself with a strong and smooth body that can provide longevity in the herd with multiple lactations and good milk production.

Mammary System (35%)
The mammary system on the scorecard is defined as “Strongly attached, elastic, well-balanced with adequate capacity, quality, ease of milking, and indicating heavy milk production over a long period of usefulness.” Evaluating the mammary system includes the udder support system, the fore and rear udder, the teats, and the overall balance and symmetry of the udder. The medial suspensory ligament is the seam that divides the two halves of the udder.  The two halves should be balanced and look the same. Without a strong support system, the udder will not hold up, resulting in more of a swinging udder.  A strong fore udder attachment that blends from the belly to the udder and finishes with a rear udder that is wide and high will reduce the chances of injury and mastitis. Teats that sit below the hocks can increase the risk of injury and mastitis. Teats should also be similar in shape and size and not touching to allow for efficient milking and comfort of the doe.

Dairy Strength (20%)
Dairy strength on the scorecard is defined as “Angularity and openness with strong yet refined and clean bone structure, showing enough substance, but with freedom from coarseness and with evidence of milking ability giving due regard to stage of lactation.” Strength and angularity help to define a milk producing goat. Smooth transitions without a lot of excess skin from the neck into the shoulders, withers, brisket, and into the ribs can provide the strength she needs to maintain a sound body structure.

Body Capacity (10%)
Body capacity encompasses many of the above categories and defined on the scorecard as “Relatively large in proportion in size, age, and period of lactation of the animal, providing ample capacity, strength, and vigor.” A dairy doe is a very compact animal, so maximizing her body capacity is important. A wide chest with legs that stand chest width apart, help to stabilize and support her body. Her body will look like a barrel, big enough that she can eat a lot of feed, strong enough to handle carrying one or more kids, and help her to produce lots of milk.

Body Condition Scoring and Milk Production Potential
Body condition scoring is another important tool to utilize to ensure dairy goats in lactation do not carry too much extra flesh and allows her to remain healthy and comfortable for lactations to come. By routinely monitoring body condition score, this can then lead to conversations with your nutritionist or veterinarian to effectively monitor your feeding and herd health program that can significantly impact the longevity and production performance of the herd.

Goats come in many shapes and sizes and if you raise goats, know that no two goats look or act the same. Whether in a show ring or in the dairy barn, we can analyze overall herd performance objectively using the ADGA scorecard. But realize body condition and genetics are important, too.

Milk production potential is a product of body characteristics, body condition and genetics.  Two does that might look quite similar could possess a 100% difference in milk production potential.  Good quality genetics, especially if commercially selling milk or breeding stock is of utmost importance. Thus, evaluation of bucks for natural breeding or Artificial Insemination (AI) is paramount to milk productivity, health performance and financial profits. Thus, body conformation, body condition and genetics play a key role in successful goat herds for milk production potential and herd health.