Article first published in Goat Rancher magazine, Jan and Feb 2022 issues
The Great Savanna Goat Breed-up Project, Part One Abstract:
Just when you think you know it all about goats and goat management, a new idea comes along that you just cannot pass up. Lately, the stable (and increasing) prices for meat kids-for-market has gotten the attention of people, many of which are thinking about getting into goats or expanding their current goat operation. If you are like us, you have been raising goats for a fair bit and been flat out amazed at the demand for meat goats and market kids; and perhaps, like me, you are also wanting to “up your goat game.” I am not talking about getting into high priced show wethers or fru-fru show goats of any sort. Just regular folks wanting increased value and profits at a modest level. We are going to achieve this by breeding up our own high-percentage Savanna herd and offer premium replacement doelings and Number 1 market kids. Why breed up? A buck or two I can afford to start with, nannies and bucks I cannot.
We have been raising goats since we bought our first pair of Spanish wethers in 2004. That was followed the next year with three doelings and a buckling and shortly after the does kidded, we moved our farm from Virginia’s I-95 corridor to the Missouri Ozarks.
Asking for advice on “how to move goats” was how I came in contact with Dr. Frank Pinkerton. He patiently explained to me what we could do (since we did not have a livestock trailer) and using his suggestions we were able to transport the now dozen-head of goats to the new farm over a two-day trip in the back of two pickup trucks without a problem. Frank and I have been fast friends ever since.
Our Ozarks farm is 80 acres, mostly in woods. We have two main “grazing” fields, 12 and 9 acres, three paddocks between 2 and 4 acres each, the south field includes the driveway and woods is 18 acres and the upper half of the property is all woods, with a bit of natural glade top. We practice management intensive rotation grazing which I have described in an earlier Goat Rancher article, and we also run the goats with our Irish Dexter cattle. We have cut our own hay in past years but in order to increase stockpiled forage in the summer and autumn months, we have begun to buy hay off the farm. We do not “creep feed” as a rule, but offer grain as a reward to the goats for gathering up in the pens to be worked.
Our first major expense was to replace all perimeter and inner grazing area barbed wire fencing with woven wire cattle fence. 4×4 goat fence is used on the “interior” fences. (Big mistake- we should have used goat fencing for the perimeter as well, but that is hindsight.) Using electric wire we can keep most goats’ heads out of the perimeter fence and they are trained to three strands of electric twine for subdivided grazing.
A pole barn was built for hay storage and tractor, a later pole barn erected for dairy goats, and much work done to upgrade the old existing pole barn on the property for the meat goat herd. We built three moveable 8×12′ “goat sheds” on skids and have since anchored two of them by adding cattle panel awnings covered with used billboard material. The awnings increase the covered area of each shed.
The most recent project was running an underground electric supply line from the main power pole up to one barn and a breaker box, then underground again and up to the “dairy barn” to its breaker box. Lines also run to the squeeze chute and troughs with outdoor receptacles for plugging in trough deicers. We are handy and do most of the work ourselves.
Those first goats were Valera Spanish and for several years we focused on breeding and selling only Spanish goats. We definitely had a niche market and while Spanish goats are wonderful, I was always very envious of the kid prices for Number 1’s at the sale barns. Not every buckling is born a herdsire and we would get pinged pretty hard back 10 years ago when we took the kids to market. We tried crosses with Spanish, Kiko, Myotonic, Alpine and Boer bucks. Each kid crop was ok enough, but not exactly what I was looking for. A couple years ago we tried a pair of unpapered buckling brothers who were “mostly” Savanna. They looked like Savannas, we were told they were Savanna, but you can’t go by looks alone. The offspring from the pair of brothers were very uniform in build, color and stocky. More importantly, those replacement doelings and bucklings for market kids brought excellent prices.
Sharing this with Frank, he suggested we get into Savannas a bit more serious, as high percentage registered Savanna doelings could add more value and justify the slightly higher price of our replacement kids. All we had to do was get a registered buck or two and breed up our own herd of Savannas, be very choosy on the goats we held back, and maintain good records.
**Part Two **
According to Dr. Frank, in order to insure success of our endeavor and remain on track with our own personal goat herd improvement program (GHIP) we have to do the following:
·Keep detailed production number data for each goat including health records and weights
·Cull out any goat who has obvious flaws, bad behavior, breeding-kidding-mothering issues
·Hold back the top 20-25% of the doelings for our own “breed up” replacements
·The bottom 25% of all doelings and all half-blood bucklings go to market
·Doelings that grew better than the ones we sold with the market kids will sell as replacement doelings, bringing $50+ more per head above our usual price as we will have data detailing their birth and weaning weights, average daily gain, data on the thriftiness of the dam, etc.
We visited several Savanna breeders in our area and purchased our bucks from Victor Golden Valley Savannas. Great people, highly recommend. As a nod to Dr. Pinkerton, we named the two registered bucks “The Goat Man Special” and “Lil Frank.” That is where we are now- running two registered full blood Savanna bucks with our Spanish, Spanish-Kiko, and dairy females.
Dairy Goats (all ADGA registered): 5 adult nannies, 4 doelings
100% Spanish: 11 adult nannies
Spanish-Kiko and other crosses: 12 adult nannies, 6 doelings
Savanna bucks: 2
We culled 1/3rd of the herd “hard” in 2021 and sold off or gave away any adult goat who had not had twins the past two kiddings or had some other issue (multiple teats, spookiness) that made them less desirable. Lil Frank was assigned the 10 doelings and Goat Man Special covered the 28 adult nannies. Dairy girls will begin kidding in mid-January and the bulk of the nannies will kid in March.
This is a long range plan in action. It will take three kiddings to go from 50% (½ Savanna), breeding these doelings to the other buck for 75% (¾ Savanna) then returning back to the first buck and breeding these offspring for 88% (7/8 Savanna). Other non-related Savanna bucks will no doubt be required down the road, but by starting with two bucks we can already have two groups of 50%’ers from the current herd of 38 does. I figure half of our herd or more could be comprised of the new Savanna crosses (in various percentages) in just four years.
Out of 38 nannies and doelings, we will just for simplicity assume a 150% kidding rate of 57 kids, and if half are female that gives us 28. Going by the top 20-25% rule, we will keep back only 5 or 6 doelings that are 50% Savanna each year as our base. That is it. The cream of the crop for us, a dozen or so very nice doelings for sale as commercial breeding stock, and “lesser girls” will go to market with all the bucklings. Obviously, once we start getting into higher percentage kids and we keep some of those top-growers back as well. The herd will increase as long as nannies perform well enough to justify being retained. We do not have the forage to run more than 50 or so head with our current “forage only” management plan. Those who stay will be the best we can we raise.
We will not even bother holding back any Savanna buck kid as “herdsire material” until we get to the 15/16 or 31/32 level, and won’t be for several years. We should know by then if our culling and selective breeding program has the results we desire: excellent growth in kids, good mothering does, highly marketable wethers and just as important- parasite tolerance.
It will be interesting to see how our plan works and if it will bring us the results I anticipate. However, ANY goat operation though will benefit if a GHIP is followed. (How many times has Dr. Frank preached that? “How can you say you have good goats if you don’t have the numbers and data to prove it?”) Keeping numbers and data on our goats, taking the weights, culling out those who don’t pull their own will take our herd from “being pretty good” to being a premier source for breeding replacements and marketable kids. Once kids hit the ground and we have some numbers to share, I will update the project for interested Goat Rancher readers.