I used to think people who showed goats were um…interesting.
Even though I spent my days milking & caring for my own goats, I could never understand the appeal of shaving them down and walking them around in front of a judge.
In the past my focus has been to breed goats for milk & to raise up the friendly kids with the best personalities. It wasn’t until I encountered a tricky problem with carpal hyperextension in a few of my goats that I felt a desire to learn more about what type of body structure makes a healthy goat.
(Carpal hyperextension is a devastating issue that can pop up in any herd, and although a few have found some reversal when they’ve corrected diet or upped their mineral supplementation, most have found no improvements and decided that it’s best to “cull” or remove it from their herd completely. We decided to stop breeding that line and castrate/spay those involved so even accidental breedings couldn’t occur.)
What is “body conformation” & why should we care?
Body conformation is a term used to describe the ‘body structure’ or ‘correct appearance’ of an animal. I used to think it was all for aesthetics & show — like, congrats for winning an award for having a pretty animal, but why should I care, you know?
However, when it comes to goats, there is an important reason why we should care about body conformation. A goat with correct stature will live longer, deliver kids easier, feed their kids easier, utilize their feed better, and have less joint issues or other structural weaknesses that can cause pain & shorten their lives.
So, as I make my foray into the world of showing goats & caring more about their body conformation, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far with you. Most of what you’ll find online will use all sorts of terminology that often leaves a beginner overwhelmed. So, today I’m gonna give you the run down in simpler terms — so we can get to what’s important — those goats of ours 😉
Parts of a goat (trust me, you’ll need this)
To be able to analyze and discuss a goat’s strong & weak parts — you gotta memorize the parts of a goat. I’ve highlighted the most important ones that we’ll be going over today.
1. General Appearance
***For the sake of keeping things simple, we’re going to focus on a doe’s (instead of bucks) body conformation. While in many ways bucks are judged similarly, there are a few more things to look for, so we’ll cover that in another article***
A term I heard often when watching the ADGA 2021 Dairy Goat Nationals online was “smooth blending” or “harmonious blending”. This is in reference to a doe’s general appearance. When looking at your doe, does she blend well from the shoulders to the legs and from the hips to the hocks? Or does she have shoulders that stand out or look separated from the body? Is she graceful when she walks or does she sort of schlump along? These are all things judges are looking for in their general appearance.
HOW IT CORRELATES TO HEALTH: A graceful doe is a doe with a high potential for a long life of good health. As does age, they will naturally lose some of their general appearance & condition — so it’s important to have a graceful & smoothly blended doe from the start because it helps make sure she has a long, healthy life.
EXAMPLE of a poor General Appearance:
EXAMPLE of a excellent General Appearance:
The pictures above are from my friends Jon & Tierney Kain from Hillaire Farm and host of Ringside: Dairy Goat Podcast. Referring to general appearance he said “This first picture is one of our first doe kids born on the farm from our first year…we didn’t invest too heavily into our bucks then. Second picture is a doe kid from this year related to both our bucks who both have national champions or reserve national champions in their pedigree.”
2. Head & Neck
What we’re looking for here first are large, bright eyes with a nice broad muzzle & open nostrils. We definitely don’t want an overbite or underbite, or a narrow/weak face.
HOW IT CORRELATES TO HEALTH: Large nostrils indicates a good respiratory system & less likelihood to suffer from fluid retention in the lungs in changing weather. A broad muzzle & strong jaw means they can consume large quantities of feed easily and chew long stems of hay or forage in the pasture easier.
EXAMPLES of a poorly conditioned Head/Neck:
EXAMPLES of an excellent Head/Neck:
For this example I’m gonna use our very own doe, Wolf Tree MR Tatum. When we showed her in the summer of 2021 as a Junior doeling, the judge noted that she had an excellent head & neck with broad nostrils.
The back & the rump are referred to as the “topline”. What we’re looking for is a top line that is near level, with an upward slope towards the withers & neck, and a very slight rump angle. We’re trying to avoid sagging in the loin or chine.
HOW IT CORRELATES TO HEALTH: The back must be strong since it supports the muscles which carry the weight of the digestive system and kids during pregnancy. The back also protects the disks & nerves in the spine, so a more level & strong topline is desirable for the longterm health of the goat.
EXAMPLES of the ideal topline (first image) along with some poorly conditioned toplines:
This year while watching the ADGA 2021 Nationals, I was paying close attention to those toplines since it’s something that I want to improve in my herd. Our Tatum so far looks the best in my opinion as far as her topline goes. See how the doe on the left blends a bit smoother from the withers to the neck compared to our Tatum? That’s something we’re hoping to improve in our herd. Tatum is pretty good, but the doe on the left is a bit more ideal:)
4. Legs, Feet, & Pasterns
When looking at the back legs from behind the doe, we want a nice wide stance — one that has plenty of room for a capacious udder. (see “A” in image below)
Rear legs that are too close together or “cow-hocked” may push the udder forward or force it to hang at a side angle, which can weaken the rear udder attachment or increase the chance of an injury to the teats. (see “B” in image below)
The opposite — bowed legs — will put more pressure on the hocks & pasterns, making your doe weaker and prone to injuries. (see “C” in image below)
HOW IT CORRELATES TO HEALTH: Having enough width ensures your goat will have a strong stance & walk properly. Poor leg structure can weaken the muscles of the legs and eventually the shoulders & hips.
EXAMPLES of ideal legs/pasterns along with some poorly conditioned legs/pasterns:
Our Tatum has a nice wide stance and correct pasterns — something I’m hoping she’ll keep for a long time.
5. The Mammary System
The mammary system consisting of the udder & teats are the most important part of a milking goat. When you’re in a show, the judge will choose the goat with the better udder when there’s a close placing. The udder should be strongly attached in the front that blends smoothly with the belly (as opposed to hanging down in the front away from the body) The rear udder attachment should be high and wide, making a nice upside down “U” shape at the escutcheon. The teats should be a convenient size for milking and placed squarely on the udder instead of too far out or too close in.
HOW IT CORRELATES TO HEALTH: A goat with healthy attachments and teat placement will be less prone to injury and will be able to more successfully feed their babies.
EXAMPLES of the mammary system along with some poorly conditioned mammary systems:
For some real life examples, I thought I’d share one of my favorite farms, RZ Acres. Amber consistently breeds for quality mammary systems and I am so excited to see our little RZ Acres girl, Daphne’s, udder.
6. The Teats
A good-sized teat means everything to the milker, so there’s definitely an ideal for that as well. If you’ve ever milked a goat with tiny teats, you know how important this small part of the goat truly is.
7. The Udder Shape
The udder shape determines its capacity, strength of attachments, and how prone it is to injury.
8. Dairy Character
Dairy character indicates how well the goat utilizes feed to produce milk and butterfat economically rather than meat or fat. We see good dairy character in the sharpness of the shoulders, prominence of the hip & pin bones, flatness of thighs and general openness throughout. The skin should be fine textured, loose and pliable. The shoulders should lay smoothly agains the chest wall and withers forming a tight junction at the top.
HOW IT CORRELATES TO HEALTH: The shoulder has a strong affect on how your goat walks and moves throughout it’ lifetime. Ease of movement shows that it can support its weight, absorb shock, and walk with confidence. Weak shoulders cause excessive fatigue, which shortens its life.
EXAMPLES of good dairy character along with some less desirable dairy traits:
For a perfect example of dairy character — we’re gonna go with the Grand Champion winner of the 2021 ADGA Nationals, CH Wood Bridge Farm 22K Gold! She is simply stunning!
9. Body Capacity
Capacity refers to how the doe is built from ribs to rump, often called the barrel. A shallow or short body is less likely to be a high performing milker since they will eat less feed and produce less milk.
Our Wolf Tree Fern has some seriously good body capacity and she definitely has been able to eat more feed and produce more milk because of it!
I hope this gave you a good overall view at what we’re looking for when we’re trying to achieve “the perfect goat”. Body conformation & structure is SO important to the health & longevity of goats, and I’m so excited to work on improving my herd in the coming years.