December 2009
For What It's Worth

Genetics - A Trick or, A Treat?

All of us are familiar with Halloween and the tradition of kids going door-to-door and yelling "trick or treat" in hopes of getting candy. If they do not receive any candy, there is always the possibility they could pull some kind of prank on the solicited household. Livestock genetics and Halloween have much in common; both can offer surprises, sometimes tricks, sometimes treats. While I am by no means a geneticist, one thing I enjoy about raising goats is trying to improve the overall quality of my herd by utilizing bloodlines or genetics having a known history for producing quality animals. During my previous six years of raising goats, I have been able to make overall improvements in the quality of my herd; but last year and this year, I have experienced a setback in the quality of my herd offspring. Using the same herd sire each year and knowing the track record for my does, my demise can be attributed to the herd sire. This experience has been a major disappointment.

Keep in mind there are two basic concepts in reproduction: genetics which are considered potential for improvement or problems; and heredity which is "what you see is what you get," or the result of genetics. Too many times I have seen goat producers put stock in genetics or registration papers with total disregard to taking a close look at the buck/buckling or doe/doeling they intend to buy and their parents, siblings or offspring. Or, they buy based on a farm name with total disregard to quality or lack of.

Two years ago, I decided it was time to switch herd sires. In my case, I bought a herd sire whose top side (buck bloodlines) had a proven history on several farms and in the showring. I used him on half my does last year and had a high mortality rate (40%) and low birth weights (7-8 lbs). I wrote that off as him being young and a first-time breeder. On the other half of my does, I used an older buck I had been using for three years. He always gave me strong, healthy kids and satisfactory birth weights (8-10+ lbs). However, I decided to sell the older buck and keep the young one – a decision I would regret many times over several years. This year was even worse. That same young buck, now three years old and the sole herd sire for this year, gave me the same high mortality rate (40%) and low birth weights that ranged from five to seven pounds; a major concern. Needless to say, he no longer resides on my farm.

Looking back on things, I made two mistakes: (1) keeping and using that buck for a second year and (2) not looking closer at his registration papers. While he had a strong top side (many bucks I have personally seen and admired), all brood stock on the bottom side were unknowns, which is where I suspect my genetic variables came into play, and the offspring became a hereditary disappointment. But then again, all of us are familiar with the old adage "hindsight is better than foresight."

Oops, There Goes Profits


My other sharing point is something some may have experienced—losing money when selling a goat. I recently made arrangements to sell half a goat to someone; it was an older doe, so I had her processed into ground meat.

By the time the sale was completed the final product broke down to four dollars per pound for the ground meat and $4.50 per pound for the ribs, a price I was very proud of until I did the math. The live weight of the doe was about 150 pounds, the hanging weight was 75 pounds, and the total weight of the finished products was 30+ pounds (20+ pounds of ground goat and two nice big slabs or ribs, or ten pounds of ribs). By the time everything was sold I had about ten pounds of ground meat left in my freezer.

Initially someone might say $4 per pound for ground meat and $4.50 per pound for ribs is a darn good price. Take a look at the table and see what you think.

The value placed on the doe is based on her value as brood stock; market value as an older meat animal might be $.75 per pound if lucky. I had her for three years and she gave me two kids (not good). We won’t go into health care and feed costs; it was time to cut my losses. Keep in mind all figures are approximations, but as you can see the $9 return per animal is probably not worth quitting one’s day job. Also, the extreme travel distance to find a custom processor is typical when trying to have a goat or sheep processed.

These two stories are typical situations, learn from my mistakes and avoid duplicating them. It is a good thing I like raising goats, and don’t mind losing money. My accountant once told me, "You don’t want to make money farming; profitability would result in paying more taxes."

Robert Spencer is a contributing writer from Florence.