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Some Reflections on Breeds of Meat Goats by Dr Frank Pinkerton
Even a casual examination of ruminant livestock history tells us that our ‘breeds’ were a creation of men---in the
case of the British beef cattle breeds (Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn), most often rich white men of high social
standing. Later they would be called ‘founding fathers’ and still later ‘elite breeders’. The American versions of
such breeds and others tended to be quite similar in their origin.
In the case of the U.S. Brahman and Santa Gertrudis breeds, oilmen and large cattle/land-holders were the
importers and progenitors, respectively. Similarly, the Boer Goat breed in South Africa was created in 1955 by
men of property who owned collections of goats that had evolved over time in the dry brush-land. In America,
there is considerable uncertainty (now) as to whether our imported Boer goats, arriving in 1993 were truly
representative of the South African Boer goat breed.
The American Boer Goat Association was an eclectic group at its parturition in San Antonio, TX in 1994. I
observed it first-hand with much wonder (at the promises of coming revolution in goat production, at the
exorbitant sums being paid for red-and-white fat goats and embryos, and at the high-dollar, mostly new, rigs in
the parking lots. I was also impressed by the ladies in tastefully selected, revealing western wear, but I was less
taken with the husbands--- booted, belted, and hat-ed to the man, whether they owned an Emu, an Ostrich , or
a cow, much less a goat).
I cheerfully admit that, even in my blue coveralls and matching cap (derigueur), I made a pot-load of money in
the initial Year-of-the-Boer---and lost half the pot its second year. Thereafter, I cheerfully brokered them for
other players with deeper pockets, or more sustainable desperation, for several years. But, I digress…
Origin of Breeds
Readers should understand that, in point of fact, a recognized ‘breed’ came into existence when, and only if, a
few interested and able men sat around a table and: 1) using a blank ledger, first created a Herd Book ; 2) then
arbitrarily decided the phenotypic characteristics of animals deemed desirable for inclusion in the Herd Book,
and thereafter 3) arbitrarily identified/selected the initial ‘foundation males and females’, which were given
‘registration numbers’ as identification into perpetuity..
Such a Breed Herd Book may, in practice, be ‘closed’ or ‘open’. If closed, only descendants of the original
animals selected for the Herd Book may be registered. An ‘open Herd Book’, however, permits subsequent
addition of ‘outside’ animals, sired only by Herd Book-registered males, through a closely controlled process of
‘grading-up’. The original phenotypic characteristics used to denote exclusiveness for registration may, or may
not be modified over time.
All such decisions, of course, were and are at the discretion (some might say, whim) of the original organizers
and their subsequent Association members. The strife and tribulation accompanying such decisions, large and
small, are near endless, but they are, in point of fact, necessary for perpetuation of the breed—and breeders, of
In the early British scenarios, a ‘true-breeding group’ of animals, with similar, easily recognizable phenotypic
characteristics, had occurred by natural selection over time--essentially ‘survival response’) within a particular,
localized, geographical environment. A small cadre of owners of such animals then became collectively seized
with the economic notion to exploit the phenomena of ‘market scarcity’, in essence, to become exclusive
purveyors of this ‘true-breeding group’ of animals. Think here of manipulation and money…then, as now.
Thus it came to be that, in modern parlance, these founding-owners went into executive session, decided to do
the deed, parceled out ‘registration numbers’ to be assigned to those animals initially chosen by mutual
agreement among the in-group members, and, presto, they created a ‘breed’ and, simultaneously, a Breed
Association whose primary function was (and is) to maintain operational exclusivity via control of the Herd
Auxiliary functions of the Association were (and remain): to ‘improve’ the breed, to publicize its worthiness, to
expand its’ numbers (both animals and owners), and to merchandize purebred offspring. Although they
necessarily sold to each other and to novice breeders, the initial breeders’ sustaining activity was the sale of
purebred offspring to ‘commercial producers’ (so as to improve performance/profitability of such herds and, not
incidentally, to encourage continual replacement of purebred herd-sires); it remains so today.
Association, and individual owner, activities in support of these functions, usually described as Breed goals and
objectives, are many, varied, and at bottom, self-serving (as, indeed, they logically must be for perpetuation of
the Association and the breed). Over the years, some Associations have devised specific breed-improvement
programs to identify outstanding individuals and herds.
Unfortunately, the participation by breeders of goats in such programs has been disappointing low. My surmise
is that many purebred goat owners (and, even less understandably, most commercial producers) are in no real
rush to ‘improve’ or to even really ‘know’ the performance of their animals. In such cases, I suppose that no-
news is perceived as being preferable to documenting bad-news. One does, however, concede that voluntarily
shooting oneself in the (financial) foot is probably not a good business practice; don’t ask/can’t tell, anyone?
Breeds of Meat Goats
Readers, repeat after me…there is no single best breed of meat goats because there is more variation among the
individuals within each breed than there is, on the average, between the different breeds.
There are 5 ‘breeds’ of meat goats in the U.S. and dozens more throughout the world. We have, in descending
order of numbers, Spanish, Boer, Kiko, Myotonic, and Savannah. Each has proponents and opponents, and
each has certain traits (either real or imagined) ‘attached’ to it by owners and observers. Given the tendencies of
breed Association members to be men and women of principle and to regard compromise as unprincipled
weakness, there are currently multiple Associations for each of the breeds. (Spanish goats are the exception in
that they are ‘recognized’ by an Association, but one which has no Herd Book for identifying individual goats;
conservancy and expansion of the breed seem to be the major goals of the group.
My own observation is that successful owners of commercial meat goats are convinced that it is the individuals
within their herd that make or break an enterprise---not their breed per se. Only the inexperienced refuse to
concede that there are good and bad goats within all breeds and, furthermore, that the percentages of good and
bad ones vary widely within herds and at different locations, as well as among recognized breeds.
In this context, a good goat is arbitrarily defined as one that has the largest collection of desirable characteristics
(genetic traits) while having the fewest number of undesirable ones. Indeed, this phenomenon is the scientific
rationale for crossbreeding programs in which breeders try to “join” the best traits from two, or more, breeds to
create a “new” and better breed; one thinks here of heterosis (a sort of weird genetic math in which 2 plus 2 =
Within the goat industry as a whole, there are myriad personal opinions about this or that breed (and their
crosses) concerning one or more physical and/or performance characteristics. There is also much argument
about the relative importance (ranking or indexing) of each of these characteristics which, collectively, account
for productivity and, presumably, profitability of individuals and herds.
Such characteristics encompass mature size, conformation, hardiness (adaptability), feed conversion efficiency,
rates of gain, disease susceptibilities, longevity, disposition/ease of handling, “mothering ability”, etc. There is
also much speculative opinion concerning carcass traits (quality, yield, composition, palatability) and also
packer and consumer preferences among breeds and their crosses; however, confirming research is pitifully
But, the trait of paramount economic concern to commercial producers is mothering ability---a somewhat
nebulous term reflecting the doe’s innate (inherited) ability to properly manage herself and her offspring at
kidding and thereafter, as evidenced by ease of parturition, and, especially, timely post-natal nurturing
(cleaning, suckling, protecting, and bonding activities).
However, mothering ability does have certain quantifiable aspects: conception rate, number of kids born, their
birth weights, their survival rate, and, of course, their pre-weaning rates of gain---which are markedly
dependent on the does’ lactation yield (early volume and persistency) and, equally important, her udder
structure/capacity and teat size/shape.
But, logically considered, the best quantifiable “proof” of good mothering ability, regardless of breed, is the
does’ litter weight at weaning time. Note that this figure is a composite term encompassing: kids born, survival
rate, and their growth rate. If your herd routinely demonstrates poor mothering capability, your tenure as a
goat entrepreneur will be limited, depending somewhat on the patience and cash-flow of your spouse.
In any case, all the physical and performance traits described above are, to variable extent, heritable (can be
passed, genetically, from generation to generation). Live conformation/carcass traits and growth rate have
demonstrated higher heritability (.5-.6 out of a possible 1.0) than do reproductive traits (.3-.4). Remember, the
lower the heritability, the slower the progress in improving a given trait.
Certain other breed characteristics such as hair color, color pattern, head/nose shape, horn set/shape, even leg-
set, etc. seem to have rather high heritability. However, these traits seem (to me) to have little to no economic
importance for commercial producers. On the other hand, producers of purebreds necessarily give some of these
traits high priority, primarily, I suspect, for the purpose of sustainable merchandizing. (A trip to a goat kill-floor
is most instructive about which characteristics are of real importance/value to packers, retailers, and consumers;
I recommend it highly).
As I have often told before, personal opinions regarding the one “best” breed of goat for economical meat
production vary widely, sometimes wildly so. Indeed, Pinkerton’s Law states that: the number of such opinions
is equal to the number of the discussants (squared) multiplied by the number of breeds known to the
discussants. But, in point of fact, too little reliable (research-based) data is available to enable analytically precise
performance and cost-benefit comparisons between breeds (and their most popular crosses). Just live with it,
forever and ever, because…
Extensive bureaucratic experience tells me that organized, large-scale, comprehensive research projects to
scientifically compare large, representative sample groups from goat breed populations regarding production
parameters, carcass characteristics, and economic returns will not be undertaken. And, why not, you may ask?
My multiple answers are: cost, logistics, people, and politics.
Just consider the sheer numbers of goats that would be required. How many breeds, how many and which
foundation herds to draw from, how many males and females/breed and their ages; what would be the selection
criteria for individuals, how many years of data collection, what would be the final Index Formula design; how
much land, in which agro-climatic zone; what Institution or Agency is to be funded by USDA, etc. Arrgghh,
Lucy….millions of dollars, thousands of professional/technician man-hours, hundreds of self-interested breeders,
nearly a dozen Breed Associations to placate….it just ain’t gonna happen.
Contrarily, astute producers will perceive, and concede, that any such large-scale investigation, comparing two
or more breeds, would be open to (suffer from) the valid criticism that the individual goats used were not truly
representative of the breeds. Therefore, the results of any such tests would be open to question/interpretation;
tough, but true.
This is not to say, however, that less grand, cheaper, but useful University research and/or demonstration
projects to compare two or more breeds in some respect(s) are not possible. Indeed, a few such projects are now
under way, and I have, with colleagues, conducted others in the not too distant past. With a bit of instruction,
you, too, could contribute (perhaps most conveniently/effectively via on-farm extension demonstration projects?).
What could, might, and needs to happen in the coming years is that numerous on-farm, production-driven
evaluations of goat breeds (and crosses) be carried out by those producers with a concern, not only for their own
bottom-lines, but for the industry as a whole. Such producers would probably have to be soul-mates of one Jared
Elliot, who wrote in1760 in Essays upon Field-Husbandry in New England that:
“Useful Arts are sometimes lost for want of being put into Writing. Tradition is a very slippery Tenure, and a
slender Pin to bear any great weight for a long time….whoever has made any Observation or Discoveries, altho’
it be but a Hint, and looks like a small Matter, yet if pursued and improved, may be of publick Service…I am
sure I should have been glad of such an History of Facts (as imperfect as it is). It would have afforded me Light,
Courage, and Instruction”.
And, of course, participating producer’s evaluations and conclusions, to be widely useful, would have to be
freely shared with interested others in order to achieve industry progress. As one Leonard Lathrop warned us in
1826 in The Farmer’s Library:
“For want of records, much useful knowledge is continually lost. Though many individuals have derived
advantages to themselves from experiments, but few have recorded them. Even those who make experiments
are liable to forget them, so as to give incorrect representation of them when they attempt to relate them”.
I call to your attention to a possible solution to the industry need for reliable breed (and enterprise) information.
A modified version of the long-successful data gathering/analytical system used by the Dairy Herd
Improvement Association could be employed by individual goat producers, at modest cost and small
inconvenience, with assistance from USDA-Extension personnel (who could also provide the necessary element
of “disinterestedness”—no vested interest).
FYI, the DHI program, over the years, identified the genotypic and phenotypic worthiness of hundreds of
thousands of individual cows, outstanding maternal lines, and super-sires within breeds which, in conjunction
with Artificial Insemination Programs, absolutely revolutionized the dairy industry by separating doers from
non-doers. (It has been of considerable value to participating dairy goat owners, also).
But, possibly more to my point, DHI was the driving force that now finds the Holstein breed population
outnumbering all other breed populations combined. They “won the contest” because they produced more
milk, more profitably, in more places.
For meat goat producers, however, adequate milk yield is but a necessary trait, it is not a sufficient trait alone on
which to base selection of individual does. Annual litter weight at weaning time, say, 90 days is the paramount
goat selection trait, but other quantifiable traits could possibly be included in the final evaluation scheme if/as
needed (parasite resistance, hoof hardness, carcass grade, perhaps even a phenotypic trait like apparent
muscularity.). Thousands of such individual records, collected over time and place, could then be partitioned by
breed and crossbreed to identify the “winner”.
For more detail on this possibility, see the article about on-farm performance testing in this Section by Dr.
Richard Browning of TN S U.
But…until this, or similar, program is initiated, all of us remain free to vocalize our goat breed prejudices,
always with more enthusiasm than accuracy, by citing personal experiences, off-farm observations, heresy, and
(moderately sober) conclusions. In the privacy of the internet ether, I would be pleased to show you mine if you
would show me yours—prejudices, I mean….
Principles of Genetic Selection of Breeding Stock by Dr Frank Pinkerton
Early warning: I have only elementary training in genetics, but I do have some basic knowledge about, and
many observations of, applied breeding systems. The information offered below has been reviewed by specialists
in the field who concur with my purposefully limited statements. If you want more detailed information, I’ll put
you in touch with such Learned Ones.
Certain of my Rancher articles have touched on improving goat herd performance through the use of bucks of
superior genotype within the same breed, or by using crossbreeding as a tool to achieve certain improvement in
performance. I, and others, have also made the case for on-farm testing to identify both bucks and does with
superior performance traits.
I have repeatedly urged Rancher readers to recognize that all meat goat breed populations have arrays of genes
that demonstrate both desirable and undesirable influences on productivity, longevity, carcass characteristics,
etc. And, within any given breed, or crossbred combination, individual goats demonstrate their own particular
array of good and bad genes; do not believe otherwise. Contrarily, I recognize that are quite likely appreciable
differences between meat goat breeds for average levels of performance in some quantitative (production) traits,
if we but knew them. To date, we are unable to document such differences because of lack of large-scale
research within a given environment.
This being so, the goal of breeders is to create a herd that will demonstrate a higher incidence of the most
desirable traits and a lower incidence of undesirable ones. Breeders can, of course, realize this goal easiest and
quickest by simply culling known bottom-performing animals, thus mathematically raising the new (but
smaller) herd average for the targeted trait(s). But to make further improvement, breeders must ‘breed-up’, that
is, improve the average performance traits of their keeper stock via genetic selection.
To do improvement by genetic selection, breeders commonly select as herd-sires those bucks that demonstrate
superior performance in one or more of those traits needing the most improvement within their particular herds.
Do remember that the fewer traits simultaneously selected for, or against, the faster will be the rate of
improvement in those traits.
Principles of genetic selection
Two principles are paramount in any trait selection endeavor. The first principle is that the buck must clearly
demonstrate superior performance in a given trait as compared to the doe(s) he is to mate. The difference
between the figures for the buck and the doe is called the ‘reach’—a most crucial distinction for rapid
The second principle, the heritability coefficient (h), is defined as the expected rate of transfer of a given trait
from parents to offspring. Mathematically, perfect heritability is 1.0 (100% transfer between generations). In the
real world, perfect heritability is not achieved, that is, only a fraction (less than 1.0) of the theoretical
improvement in a given trait can be realized within a given mating. Obviously, the higher this figure (h) is, the
faster the rate of improvement will be.
To illustrate these principles, if a Breed A does produced kids with an unsatisfactory (by definition) rate of pre-
weaning average daily gain (ADG), birth to weaning at 90 days, of, say, .4 lb/day, a breeder would choose a
buck which excelled in this trait, say, .80 lb ADG. In this example, the ‘reach’ or superiority of the selected buck
over the does is .40 ADG (.80-.40). The resulting progeny would be expected to achieve an ADG of .60 lb (.80 lb
+ .40 lb = 1.20 divided by 2 = .60). This is the mathematical average (mid-point) between sire and dam (this
calculation assumes perfect h of 1.0).
Unfortunately, the apparent improvement of offspring over dam of .20 ADG (.60 - .40) must be reduced by the
heritability coefficient. For meat goats, this coefficient (fraction) is thought to be about one-fourth (h = .25).
Consequently, the actual improvement achieved by the offspring would be on only .05 lb ADG (.20 x .25).
Adding this figure to the dams’ figure of .40 ADG gives a figure of .45 ADG to be realized by the offspring.
Note that if this doeling (daughter) posting a .45 lb ADG was bred to another Breed A buck with the same .80 lb
ADG, the resulting progeny would be expected to achieve an ADG of .63 (.80 + .45 = 1.25 divided by 2 = .63).
Once again, this theoretical mid-point improvement of offspring over dam of .18 (.63 - .45) must be reduced by
the .25 h to find the actual increase of only .045 (.18 x .25). Adding this .045 to the dam’s figure of .45 ADG
yields a .495 ADG for this third generation (granddaughter).
Notice, too, that the improvement from the original dam to her daughter is .05 ADG, while the improvement
from daughter to granddaughter is only .045 ADG. This declining response rate is due to the decline in the reach
between the two dam/sire combinations. The second sire had the same .80 lb ADG as the first sire in this
illustration. To avoid a decline in reach, the second sire would, of course, have had to have a larger ADG.
The math of rapid rates of genetic improvement dictates ever-increasing sire performance in the selected
trait…hard to find, harder yet to buy, but necessary. Simply put, readers must recognize/accept that the .25
heritability coefficient for this trait is low—ergo, the rate of intergenerational improvement will be slow. FYI, the
heritability coefficient for post-weaning ADG is thought to be .35-.40 (gains are not influenced by milk from
For purposes of simplest illustration, I have used ADG as a single selection trait, but reviewer Dr. Joe Pascal,
TAMU animal breeder, suggests that readers remember that single-trait selection for more rapid growth and
higher weights at a given age affects all measures of growth and weight at all ages because most genes are
genetically associated (linked).
To clarify, genes that increase ADG or weaning weight will also increase birth weight (and possibly dystocia).
Increased birth weight may impact the doe’s ability to carry and deliver multiple births successfully. Also,
selection for increased size, weight gain, or milk yield will increase nutrition requirements. Thus, selection for
these traits could reduce fertility if nutritional needs are not recognized and met.
In addition to ‘reach and heritability’ illustrated above, there is a further phenomenen to be considered, namely,
heterosis or ‘hybrid vigor’, (defined by Webster’s dictionary as “marked vigor or capacity for growth often
shown by crossbred animals or plants—a heterotic effect”). In goat breeding, a given sire and given dam will
usually produce offspring that achieve the average (mid-point) of the parents (in the illustration above, a sire
with pre-weaning ADG of .80 bred to a dam with .40 ADG will (theoretically) yield offspring with ADG of .60 (.
80 = .40 = 1.2/2 = .60).
However, in some portion of matings, the offspring will exceed by some measure the expected parental average
for a given trait. To illustrate, heterosis would alter the mating outcome thusly: .80 + .40 = 140/2 = .70 ADG for
the offspring. The heterotic effect (‘gain’) is calculated as .70 - .60 = .10 divided by .60 x 100 = 16.6%. This 16.6%
improvement would be due to genetic heterosis. As laymen, you and I use the phrase, hybrid vigor, to describe
this heterotic effect, or ‘bump’, we see when a particular mating excels its expected parental average. (Caveat:
this bump is also subject to reduction by the heritability phenomena described above).
And, before you call, I can’t remember why and precisely how heterosis occurs; but, it does…indeed, the
commercial swine and poultry industries are built on this very thing. The Brangus and Santa Gertrudis cattle
breeds were created by capitalizing on it, as also various breeds of sheep. And, who among Southerners has not
seen tiger-striped (brindle) Braford (Brahman x Hereford) herds demonstrating hybrid vigor, particularly in
In point of fact, those of you doing Boer-Spanish propagations or using Kiko, Savannah, or Myotonic bucks on
Spanish, Boer, and their crosses are also employing heterosis to good effect. Caveat: the degree of heterosis
achieved between crossings is influenced by the degree of ‘relatedness’ of the pairs involved. To cite a cattle
example, Brahman (Bos Indicus) crossed with Angus (Bos Taurus) will exhibit more heterosis than the ‘black
baldy’ (Hereford x Angus, both of which are Bos Taurus).
My thought is that Boers, Savannahs, and Kalihara goats are somewhat related, while Boers and Kikos are less
related and both are the least related to our (traditional, unmixed) Spanish goats. Though precise figures are
unknown, our most popular commercial cross is undoubtedly Boer-Spanish, but there are increasing numbers
of Kiko-Boer, Kiko-Boer/Spanish and, early on, certain Boer-dairy crosses were tried. Savannah-Spanish crosses
and Myotonic-Boer crosses are present in small numbers. The earliest crossings in the Southwest were Nubian
and other dairy bucks on Spanish does.
Readers should understand that hybrid vigor can also occur between matings within the same breed, more
frequently and most obviously so when the parents are very distantly related. In my youth, the term, ‘nicking’,
described such ‘out-crossing among certain cow families’ within the same breed. I now know that this was the
crossing of divergent, highly in-bred lines; in fact, it demonstrated ‘relief’ from too much ‘inbreeding
depression’. Some of our imported Boers from New Zealand demonstrated serious inbreeding due to the limited
number  of original sire lines available; subsequent imports of unrelated males has alleviated much of the
Serious caveat: some may think that hybrid vigor can be exhibited only when mating goats from different breed
populations, while others may think that hybrid vigor occurs only if an offspring exceeds both parents in a
given trait. Not so, on both accounts.
Moreover, all should also remember that crossing two goats from different breeds, both of whom are poor
performers (in this or that trait), will produce offspring that are also poor performers, the occasional heterosis
notwithstanding. Plainly put, pore-ass Boers plus pore-ass Spanish or Kikos or Myotonics will yield pore-ass
crossbreds; in goat breeding, as all else, one can not get something for nothing.
My colleague and frequent reviewer, Ken McMillin, reminds that certain traits in meat goats vary in their levels
of heritability and in degrees of heterosis. For example, certain reproductive traits are only lowly heritable (.10 - .
25), but are highly heterotic (exhibit much hybrid vigor). Production traits (growth rate, feed conversion
efficiency, and carcass traits) are moderately heritable (.40 - .50), and moderately heterotic, while meat
palatability traits are highly heritable (.60 - .70), but are lowly heterotic.
Thus, breeders may use crossbreeding to markedly improve fertility traits; contrarily, maximum progress
improving palatability of meat is most easily made by selecting sires and dams (within or between breeds)
which have demonstrated unusually high ratings for palatability.
In the forgoing paragraphs, I have simplified my examples/illustration by writing of one buck/one doe matings,
but, in the real world, a buck covers many does/season, each with its own array and levels of performance traits.
Statistically speaking, 2/3s of the does will cluster closely around the mean (group average for a trait), but the
other 1/3 will be ‘outside’ (half above and half below the cluster). In estimating genetic progress in this or that
trait, one necessarily uses a doe group-average to estimate the average reach to be realized by using a particular
buck, all the while knowing that the actual reach will be some, or a lot, different for each individual doe. Again,
one lives with it.
And here, yet another caveat: such calculations assume that one actually knows the buck’s performance level for
the chosen trait; unfortunately, this is too frequently not the case. It is not difficult to determine his birth weight
or his pre-weaning ADG or even his post-weaning ADG. But, going beyond these measurements is increasingly
difficult. For example, to know the pre-weaning ADG of his daughters and sons requires identifying, weighing
and recording activities; to know post-weaning performance would require further weighing and recording in
similar circumstances. To determine the litter-weight at weaning of at least a representative sample of his
daughters, though very valuable, is also time-consuming. To sample offspring (wethers) for live and carcass
grades would be an even more costly and time-consuming endeavor.
In point of fact, one simply does what one can in evaluating a buck prospect…a lot of ‘looking’ (phenotypic
appraisal) and, to the extent possible, genotypic assessment via records (of performance or pedigree). Thereafter,
one pays, takes possession, chooses does for the mating—and hopes. Proof of one’s ‘selection expertise’ comes
only in the years to come, and then only if one measures and records offspring performance to document one’s
sagacity—or luck of the draw.
To sum, making genetic improvement in one’s herd is always slow, and it can be uncertain; nevertheless, the
only real option is identify and take home a portion of someone else’s long-term breeding program. Barring a
sell-off or a forced dispersal, the cost would be high, but time and circumstance may dictate such a strategy; all
such decisions rest on cost-benefit analysis.
Dr. Richard Browning of TnSU suggests that readers should not overlook the effect that environment can play
on genetic evaluations. Because we do not raise animals in constantly optimal conditions from year to year,
producers must recognize that environmental fluctuations (climate or management changes) can hinder our
ability to observe true genetic change in the short-term. Consequently, it takes time, patience, and relative
consistency of management practices to see, and realize, appreciable genetic change in a herd; this is
particularly so in small herds.
Crossbreeding Meat Goats: Theory and Practice by Dr Frank Pinkerton
As usual, I field producer questions on a variety of subjects, among them interest in crossbreeding programs and
which breed might be considered superior for this purpose. As readers know, I am not a geneticist, but I have
heard much about—and seen many— such farm-level programs; indeed, my own herd was crossbred by
design. I now share some thoughts, if not validated wisdom, on this industry phenomena.
As I have earlier described, each of the five breeds of meat goats have both ‘good and bad’ genetic and
phenotypic traits in various, near endless combinations. I also made the point that, while combining breeds in
pursuit of the best collection of superior genes was the rational basis for commercial beef, swine, dairy, and
poultry industries, few documented experiences with crossbreeding of goats had been generated or shared.
Many of you have tried crossbreeding as a part of your management program for slaughter kid production and
perhaps for ‘creating’ desirable show stock for Youth Programs. Currently, the most popular cross seems to be
Boer X Spanish, but Kiko, Savannah, and Myotonic sires are being increasingly used on Spanish, BoerX, and on
each other in pursuit of the ‘perfect goat’ (as always individually defined).
When I retired in 1993, I intended to develop a crossbred animal that would ‘fit’ with my resources and also sell
for a premium over local goats. My concerns were hardiness, fertility, size, and muscle mass. I elected to start
with a base herd of Spanish doelings—then available at about $50/head at weaning.
FYI, such goats were the progeny of centuries of uninhibited conjoining of original dual-purpose immigrant
goats from Mexico (courtesy of the original Spanish Padres and Conquistadores acting as importers of goats as
well as Agents of God and the Spanish Crown). These small-framed goats were selected via survival-of-the-fittest
technique within the prevailing agro-climatic environment and among ever-hungry owners and the occasional
bandito in pursuit of really cheap meat.
I selected, by eyeball, from a reputable breeder of long acquaintance, a set of such goats and brought them from
dry-west to wet-east TX. I then chose two small, but very muscular ‘TN Fainting Goat’ sires (now called
Myotonic) from a herd where I had just finished an on-farm evaluation/demonstration project measuring
prolificacy and growth performance of dozens of their progeny over two kidding seasons.
My game-plan goal was to combine hardiness of the Spanish and muscularity of the TN goats, and thereafter to
cross them with the best Anglo (dual-purpose) Nubian I could find so to impart size and milk yield. However,
the Great Boer Goat Happening intervened and I decided to pursue this opportunity for introducing ‘exotic’
For a decade, these Boer-crosses were a documented success at my place in that I achieved much of my original
goal for increased size, carcass merit, and fertility. I did find that they did not seem to appreciably improve as I
got beyond 3/4B X 1/8 TNx1/8 Sp does. Most of my 4-H buyers chose the ‘TN wethers’ (both 1/4 and 1/8
models) which were wide-loined and thickly muscled, but somewhat short-coupled (many would have been non-
starters in the current 4-H pursuit of lengthy, lamb-like wethers (I call them corn-dog goats—wiener on sticks,
but that’s another story for another time).
Note that I had a defined plan-of-action, equipment, record-keeping system and sufficient base numbers to get
started. I also had the money/facilities (thanks to you taxpayers and frugal parents) as well as the courage to cull
as needed. Producers wanting to initiate a crossbreeding program but without such requisites are at a hell of a
disadvantage. An employed and understanding spouse, determination, and eyeballs are wonderful things for
breed development projects, but articulated goals and objectives, as well as pencil, paper and scale, are also
necessary adjuncts for long-term success; don’t start without them…..
It has been my good fortune to recently consult with an even better prepared enterprise. With their permission, I
now share with you the game-plan (as paraphrased by me) of Lawyer/businessman Robert Stanton and his
bride of several seasons, Mary (published author of mysteries and gourmet cook—pours lovely toddies, too).
Their operation is just east of Rochester, NY…plenty ground, plenty facilities, plenty snow, no
underemployment, and, with over 500 does, much opportunity for learning--and character enhancement, too.
Their Website is goatbridgefarm.com and the email is RJS6222@aol.com; phone Bob at 315-521-1666 or
manager, Jeff Kron, at cell 585-993-6226.
Goat Bridge Farm Game-Plan
To create a ‘specialty breed’ of meat goat (to be called the Empire Goat) specifically tailored (via crossbreeding,
evaluation, and selection) to meet the economic and environmental needs of commercial producers selling into
the northeastern urban markets.
To disseminate, at negotiable prices, such crossbreds to those producers wishing to have the advantages of
‘designer’ does (and bucks) without having to incur the time, hassle, and expense of developing them.
To establish a base herd of Spanish females for crossbreeding.
To procure purebred Savannah and Kiko sires for producing F-1 and F-2 crossbred
To produce, evaluate, and rank, via head-to-head evaluative procedures, optimum combinations of two- and
three-way crossbred goats as measured by productivity, market response, and economic returns.
Update: beginning in 2009, Stanton will add Spanish bucks to produce full-Spanish kids to meet the recent
surge of interest in conserving and utilizing the breed for commercial purposes—in the northeast as elsewhere.
To achieve the first objective, we located in 2005/06 a large herd of Spanish-type goats owned by Elgin and
Shirley Pape in the TX Hill Country. We chose them on the recommendation of The Goat Man (aka Dr. Frank
Pinkerton), who had, for many years, selected Spanish breeding and slaughter stock from this herd for his
University research projects and demonstration activities (and, upon retirement, for his own foundation stock).
The Pape herd was established in the early sixties and had 1300 does by the late-eighties. At that time, the herd
was ‘closed’ and sires were thereafter selected from within (and rotated among) the seven ranches. The breeding
program used was, essentially, ‘breed the best-to-the-best and ship-the-rest’. Consequently, the herds became
moderately inbred and thus more consistent in genotype and phenotype (very desirable for cross-breeding and
For economic reasons (Germanic parsimony?), production inputs were kept to a minimum, while barren does
and does with poor mothering ability, bad udders/teats, poor legs and feet (no foot-trimming ever), and
insufficient size were continuously ‘selected-out’. Currently, the annual doe replacement ranges around 20%.
Land availability and predator pressures plus family circumstances have, in the past few years, reduced the
herds by nearly half, thus increasing selection pressure even more…do-good or de-part, as it were.
In 2002, at the recommendation of Dr. Pinkerton, purebred Savannah bucks from the herd of Canadian-born
Brian Payne were selected from his NC location and bred to a substantial portion of the Pape Spanish does, all
managed under identical, harsh conditions. The crossbred kids demonstrated increased vigor at birth, grew
more rapidly, had better conformation, and drew better market response than their all-Spanish cohorts; so say
the auction tickets.
This program was expanded over the years via additional Payne bucks, and in ‘05/’06 Stanton purchased over
100 of these SavXSp doelings in to evaluate their productivity in upstate NY. (They apparently acclimated well,
and preliminary results are quite encouraging).
To achieve the second objective, we purchased Savannah bucks in ‘05/’06 from the Payne herds (by then in
CT/TX). While there are relatively few purebred and crossbred Savannahs in U.S. as yet, we chose this breed
because it was developed in South Africa under very harsh conditions—cold winters, 12-15 “of seasonal rainfall,
only brush/browse vegetation, no nutrient supplementation other than mineral mixes, and minimum
management and labor input.
‘Natural selection’ was the Savannah norm; survivability and mothering ability were the keys (too few kids
weaned, no profit, no tenure). Over the generations, animals of exceptional hardiness with appreciable scale/
body capacity and utilitarian udders became paramount; most were all-white with darker pigmented skin.
(Savannahs should not be confused with South African Boer goats though both they and Kalahari Red goats
probably have common ancestry indigenous to the Veld area).
We also purchased purebred Kiko bucks from the herd of Dr. An Peischel, Extension Goat Specialist, TSU-
Nashville, who had purchased, in the mid-eighties, NZ stock (on-site) to establish her private herd in Hawaii
and, later, CA. Her current herd has been ‘closed’ for years and, among other excellent traits, has not required
deworming for a decade.
Kiko stock, purebred and crossbred, have continued to demonstrate, in a variety of U.S. locations, the original
selection criteria used in establishing the breed. The paramount selection traits employed were survivability,
adaptability, and maximum reproductive efficiency in a forage-only environment. Other desirable traits
sought/realized were hoof hardness, structural soundness, and tolerance to parasites.
Because color and color patterns were, and are, irrelevant to productivity, no goat was culled for this reason.
Similarly, little attention was paid to conformation and apparent ‘meatiness’. In NZ, numbers and weights of
kids weaned/litter were, and are, considered more important (economically) than ‘final carcass grade’ per se.
To achieve the third objective, we designed our initial breeding program to compare SavXSpan and KikoXSpan
crosses and also 3/4SavX1/4Span back-crosses. This will continue, and we are now initiating production of three-
way Sav X Kiko-Span and Kiko X Sav-Span crosses, as well as upgrading to 7/8 Savannahs.
Central to these breeding programs was the development and routine use of a specially designed computer
program for tracking pedigrees and evaluating doe and kid performance in the entire herd, within season and
across years. This program is our basic management tool for it permits us to compare/rank all animals—
absolutely crucial to our selection process.
Depending on prevailing economic circumstances, available numbers and stage of progress, we expect to retain
the top fourth or so of the doeling crop each year. We intend to sell for slaughter the bottom fourth or so of the
doelings plus all wethers and any does falling below acceptable performance levels, as then defined. The
remainder of the doelings will be offered for sale to producers. Our preliminary thought is that producers
buying females from us could cross them with a ‘terminal sire’ and sell all resulting offspring as slaughter kids.
Contrarily, the better doelings might be retained by producers for breeding to their buck/breed of choice.
University geneticists typically urge against the practice of breeding crossbreds to crossbreds because it may
promote diversity rather than consistency among the offspring. However, if fierce selection is practiced within
such a program over sufficient time, highly productive, and ‘stable’, genotype/phenotypes can be achieved. We
intend, eventually, to do this very thing, thus eliminating the need for additional replacement bucks or more
Spanish females. (We will, of course, be positioned to offer young sire prospects with known pedigree and
documented performance to producers considering a cross-to-cross program).
Although Boers and BoerX kids are said to be preferred by some packers in the NYC metro area and at the New
Holland, PA auction, our preliminary experience, via sales to a custom-slaughterers, is that our crossbred kids
are selling at prices and weights/day of age comparable to the BoerX animals on offer. Buyers of these goats for
the institutional trade easily distinguish between hanging-carcass grades, but can not distinguish between
(skinless) breeds of goats. (Consumers are likewise ‘breed-blind’, giving preference to ‘meaty’ and light-colored,
Selection of foundation animals for creating/sustaining the Empire Goat breed
There are certain genotypic and phenotypic traits of meat goats necessary for acceptable productivity and
carcass quality. We have identified and prioritized them for use in our selection program. As our data set
expands, we will construct an index scheme to reflect such priorities. As we see it now, our chosen traits, in
descending order, are:
Litter weaning weights: (adjusted for age-of-dam at kidding, for sex of kid, and for litter size).
Reproductive efficiency: yearlings and does must have twins (or triplets) and must kid every 11-13 months
thereafter (as scheduled). Keeper females must also kid unassisted at first parturition and thereafter. Females not
conceiving within a 45 day exposure interval will be culled.
Rates of daily gain: the correlation between pre-weaning adg (birth to 90 days) and post-weaning ADG
(weaning to six months and beyond) is known to be positive (provided nutrition is not limiting during either
Management considerations: females (and sire prospects) must demonstrate acceptable leg and feet
conformation and also evidence of hoof hardness. Foot-trimming in excess of twice yearly will be a cull-defect.
Females (and sire prospects) must, initially, require de-worming no more than thrice yearly (with time, twice
We will select our keeper bucks for preliminary use from among top-performing, older does and also consider
the prospects’ own performance traits. Thereafter, they will be progeny tested as quickly as possible and then
enter the long-term breeding program if/as circumstance so warrant. Particularly rigorous selection pressure will
be applied as the herd is ‘closed’ to outside animals. At that time, we anticipate that initial selection procedures
will identify elite buck prospects among those whose daughters are in top-ten performance groups and whose
dams are also top-ten performers.
Sun Ranch, Bowling Green, KY