By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
Goat arthritis and production goals topped the reason four goat producers keep or cull goats for their dairy goat herds.
Emily Franken of Teeswater, Willem Vendrig of Walton, Dave Passhier of Blyth and Michelle Bowering of Ilderon made up a panel of producers who provided insight into their culling style at Grey Bruce Farmers Week Goat Day held in early January.
First to speak, Emily Franken is the manager at Frankhaven Dairy Goats, where they milk 700 goats. The former dairy farmers had a steep learning curve making the switch and learned culling is a way of life when managing goats. Emily said the farm culls heavily on buck, keeping only the “top of the line” males. The rest are moved to the market pen because “I will not keep them in my herd and I will not sell them into anyone else’s herd either.”
However, one of the biggest reasons for culling is Caprine Arthritis Encephalitis (CAE), a debilitating, progressive and contagious disease in goats that leads to lameness, paralysis, pneumonia, mastitis and weight loss in goats. “As soon as it gets in their shoulder and hips, we ship them right away,” said Emily, revealing 70 per cent of herd culls are a result of CAE.
Other reasons for culling in the Frankhaven herd include culling goats that only get pregnant seasonally as they are attempting to create a year-round milk production and encourage does to kid off-season. “As we keep culling for does that don’t catch year round, we hope offspring of the other does are better at coming into heat during the off season.”
Willem Vendrig said his family started milking goats in June 2017 and he also does most of the herd culling based on CAE. Though they also cull for production, having a young herd means they are trying to grow numbers and genetics will be viewed more closely once the herd grows.
“Temperament is also an issue. There is always one goat you want to strangle sometimes, so they tend to go,” he said.
The Vendrigs put some effort into staphylococcus aureus testing in an attempt to improve milk quality and weed out goats with infectious issues. In the end, he felt the costs of the testing was not a good return on investment as only three percent of the herd tested positive and were culled.
However, he also administered the California Mastitis Test in an effort to detect goats with high somatic cell counts (SCC). “When you have high SCC counts, as few as five goats can cause issues so we did this test and felt it was a cost-effective way to fix the problem.”
Dave Passchier is co-owner of Par-Chier Farm outside of Blyth where he farms with his parents on 200 acres of land. Currently milking 1,100 goats in a rotary parlour, they have technology to automatically identify and record milk production data on each goat.
Their barn is designed as one large pen with all lactations of goats mingling together. Computer feeding allows high-producing goats to access more feed.
The Passchiers have a duration milking herd, meaning they milk does two to three years before rebreeding them. They cull based on each does’ milk production and ability to thrive in the duration system. “Our culls are based on a combination of milk production and feed costs so that we end up keeping those more efficient animals,” said Dave. Other culling considerations include breeding and health issues.
Michelle Bowering was the only member on the panel to have a CAE-free herd, which changed her culling practices dramatically. “It took us a lot of years and expense to get that way,” she shared. They are a closed herd to protect their CAE-free status.
Production is the primary reason Michelle culls goats. Any doeling that produces under 2.5 litres or any does producing less than 3.5 litres per day is culled. Milk components are also considered so if a doe produces over five litres of milk but only averages 1.6 per cent for butterfat, she may also be culled.
“We also cull for feet and legs and udders. I do not like the long udders,” admits Michelle. “I just like coming into the parlour and seeing all nice, little udders.”
Since all the does are fed the same ration, fat goats are also culled as they aren’t efficiently transforming feed into milk production. Any goats with twisted hooves, “go quickly”, said Michelle.
She admits that culling practices change over the years, depending on what the farm goals are that year. When they did have CAE, disease was a major culling point. Once it was eradicated, they could focus on production, udders and feet and legs.
During the group discussion, other culling points were raised:
“Before we built our new barn, we did not have as much technology and a lot of culling was based on visuals. However, with technology you learn that the does you thought were high producers, are not always as good as you thought,” said Dave.
Emily shared that they use manual milk metres on their farm to test for production. “I complain about them a lot because I want a new parlour with technology to keep our production numbers current and to create benchmarks. That would make culling easier,” she said.
“We have a lot of issues keeping ear tags in goats,” said Willem. “We had all new ones and I think 50 per cent are now missing again.” Finding a good management software is difficult because they are all based on dairy cow herds, he added
Age and Older Goats
The average goat age of the Par-Chier herd is around five years, said Dave. “We have a few that are eight years old but none that are 10.”
Since Willem and family started their herd in 2017 with young stock, their herd isn’t very old. “We tried to learn goat farming in steps and we knew kidding for doelings is easier,” he said.
Emily said they try to breed for longevity and do have a doe in their herd that is 17 years old. “She is a beauty!” laughed Emily. Does stay if they are healthy but once they are at the age to have issues, they are routinely culled.
Michelle: “We average 3.4 litres a day. I would like to see it higher but that’s what it is.”
Willem: “We feed Total Mixed Ration (TMR) and are not feeding pellets right now, we are averaging 2.2 litres per goat. We used to feed more pellets but we find when we don’t push for that extra litre, we have less issues as the goats are healthier with shinier coats. Hopefully, it will improve longevity.”
Emily: “We average three liters across the year. As we kid out year-round more regularly, our production should improve. Also, we put in more preventative measures for CAE, we won’t have to cull good milking goats due to disease so that should increase milk production as well. Getting up to 3.5 litres is our three-year goal.”
Dave: “We average 3.3 litres a day.”
Culling can be a difficult process and for Willem, there was a time when they kept goats with health issues in an attempt to cure them. He has since learned that that rarely works and it’s best to cull decisively.
Dave recommends dairy goat producers set herd health and production goals with a mind of where they want to be in five years. Then, give yourself some grace when the ups and downs of the dairy goat industry itself makes survival more important than goal-setting.
Keep an eye on your butterfat, advised Michelle. Production is important but you can’t just make decisions based on volume.
Emily repeated Dave’s advice that goal setting is key. “You have to strive to meet your own goals when building a cull strategy,” she said. “What is an issue in your goat herd may not be an issue in another person’s herd.” ◊