CULLING IN A MEAT-GOAT HERD
"Healthy," "hardy," and "adaptable" are adjectives that must be descriptive of goats in a meat-goat herd. Unlike humans, there are no EMS services, doctors, or hospitals "on call" for the weak and infirm; if not culled, they will spread illness and attract predators to the herd. Each goat must function at its optimum every day of its life in order to survive, thrive, and not be a risk to the rest of the herd.
How does a producer decide who and when to cull? The following list is in no particular order and may leave something out that is important to your unique situation. Conditions and needs vary from location to location. Some of these categories overlap.
1) Age and Sex. Pasture/forage-raised meat goats tend to *peak* at six to seven years of age. Udders on breeding does begin to show wear and tear from briars/bushes and from nursing multiple kids. Males usually have shorter lifespans than females A a six-year-old male goat is middle aged; his teeth are beginning to wear down and he finds it more difficult to feed himself on forage. The rougher the conditions, the younger they should be culled.
2) Hooves and Legs. Goats must be able to travel over much territory daily as they forage/browse and keep up with the herd. Staying with the herd means protection from predators. Bad hooves make this impossible. "Bad" hooves include overgrown feet and claws that are too soft. Goats with weak pasterns (the part of the leg above the hoof's fetlocks) will not be able to survive on forage. Weak pasterns may be attributable to White Muscle Disease and can sometimes be remedied by giving injections of selenium and vitamin E (BoSe).
3) Udders and teats. Pendulous udders and bulbous teats are difficult for newborns to grasp and nurse. Multiple pregnancies resulting in litters of kids are very hard on pliable udder and teat tissues. Udders that are sagging and/or have poor attachment to the body are prone to injury as the goat walks over varying kinds of terrain daily. Mastitis (infected udder) is usually incurable and recurs with subsequent kiddings (chronic), making it a cull factor.. A doe with a damaged or torn udder should be culled.
4) Teeth and Mouth. Goats have all four sets of permanent teeth usually by four years of age. After that, teeth begin to buck outward, spread, and wear down from years of grasping and tearing plant materials. A goat with worn-down teeth can't feed itself and will starve to death. An overbite or underbite prevents the goat from properly grasping and efficiently grinding its food because its teeth are out of alignment.
5) Body Conformation. Pelvic structure is important for does to kid easily. Hips that are too narrow make for difficult delivery of kids. A large body barrel is important for carrying multiple fetuses. In both females and males, a sizeable rumen is a sign of a good digestive factory. (A goat with a big rumen is not a fat goat.) A doe who has problems kidding over and over again should be culled.
6) Non-Breeders. Both males and females who do not breed on a recurring basis should be culled. This obviously includes hermaphrodites (goats with both male and female genitalia).
7) Poor Mothering Instincts. Does that are not interested in nursing their kids don't belong in a meat-goat herd. Sometimes bottle babies who grow up to become mothers exhibit this behavior, never having been dam-raised themselves. This is just one more reason to never have bottle babies.
8) Low or No Milk Output. Occasionally a doe kids and has no milk. Sometimes the problem is nutritional. Some diseases (Caseous Lymphadenitis, Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis, mastitis, abortion diseases) reduce milk production. If the producer determines that the doe is genetically a poor milker, cull her.
9) Recurring Kidding Problems. A doe who consistently needs assistance in kidding should not be kept in the herd. The producer will lose production when does on pasture produce weak or dead kids or themselves die in childbirth.
10) Abortion Diseases. Each producer must decide how to handle abortion diseases in the herd. Since goats are the poor step-children of the livestock industry, many illnesses/diseases have not been well researched and medications have not be developed specifically for goats. Producers must either use off-label products or nothing at all. Many abortion diseases fall into this category. Oxytetracycline 200 mg/mL is the drug of choice in most cases. The producer may consider the costs, both in time and money, to be prohibitive and instead choose to cull the does affected. Because the various abortion diseases which affect goats are transmitted in so many different ways over which the producer has little to no control, this writer does not believe that severe culling will resolve this problem long-term. Such constant turnover presents its own risks -- the producer will cull some does that possess desirable characteristics and will further risk the introduction of new diseases via new goats into the herd . Aggressively addressing the issue with medicines and improved hygiene should result in a herd of does with improved resistance to the organisms. Example: Preventatively injecting pregnant does with Oxytetracycline 200 mg/mL every 40 days from breeding until birthing and efficiently and properly disposing of infected placental materials are essential steps towards reducing abortions..
11) Internal Parasites. Maintain records so that parasite-tolerant goats can be retained and wormy and coccidiosis-prone goats can be identified for culling. (There is no such thing as a parasite-resistant breed of goats.) Parasite-tolerance means that the goat can tolerate a certain level of internal parasites and still function effectively. Assuming that the goats are not overcrowded and pastures are rotated every three weeks (the life cycle of a stomach worm), parasite-tolerance is a trait that can be passed from generation to generation (heritable trait). Depending upon dewormers and coccidiosis medications to control internal parasites will not result in a parasite-tolerant herd. Instead, the producer will have a herd of goats whose internal parasites have developed immunity all classes of dewormers.
12) Unthrifty. Goats that do not maintain body weight/conformation and are always too thin should be checked for internal parasites. (A goat with visible ribs is too thin. A thin layer of subcutaneous fat should cover the ribs.) Sometimes these goats are heavily infested with worms or coccidia oocysts or might have Johnes Disease. If unthrifty goats cannot be turned around quickly, cull them.
13) Slow Growers. Some producers cull because they consider the growth/weight gain rates to be sub-par. A variety of factors unrelated to the breed or cross-breed can affect growth rates: worms, coccidiosis, inadequate nutrition (overcrowding leading to lack of forage/browse), and un-identified chronic illness to name a few. Inexperienced producers may incorrectly conclude that the goats need to eat more grain concentrates for faster weight gain. Not true. A goat can only process so much feed into muscle and bone; the rest goes to deposit fat and exit the body via waste materials..
Some breeds are historically known as slower growers than others. This writer does not view this condition as a drawback. There are many different markets for varying liveweights of slaughter goats and the demand so much exceeds the supply that the meat-goat producer should be able to sell his production without difficulty. The keys to profit are to know your market, breed for your market, and keep input in the form of feed,labor, and medication to the minimum.
14) Disease Tolerant. There are some goats who are simply not healthy animals. For a variety of reasons, their immune systems can't handle the stresses that goats encounter daily. For some reason -- sometimes never discovered -- they are illness prone. Give such a goat a chance to get well and adapt; if it can't, cull it. It is a threat to the rest of the herd.
15) Culling for Incurable Diseases: Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL), Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE), Johnes Disease.
CL is manageable in meat-goat herds. See this author's article on Managing CL with Formalin on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com. Colorado Serum will soon have a CL vaccine for goats. Remember that goats must be negative for CL for it to work. If a goat has multiple CL abscesses, it should be culled; that goat probably got a very large dose of the bacteria and will be a recurring problem.
CAE usually isn't a problem in meat-goat herds, because animals destined for slaughter generally don't live long enough to display full-blown symptoms.
Johnes Disease -- a chronic wasting disease -- is hard to diagnose and is thankfully apparently not wide spread in meat-goat herds. When all else is ruled out, test for Johnes. If contagious Johnes (yoh-knees) is in the herd, the producer has a serious herd-wide problem and needs to cull heavily and immediately.
16) Number of Offspring Born. Some producers cull for single births. Many first-time mothers have singles -- particularly when they are young. It is God's way of protecting their young bodies from too much demand on them. Give the doe a second chance.
This writer finds triplets and quadruplets to be less desirable than singles and twins. Most does struggle to feed three or four kids. Bottle babies are cost- and time-inefficient for meat-goat producers. Twins are the ideal. Studies have revealed that twins bring the most money to the bottom line.
17) Non-pigmented Hairless Skin. If the producer lives in climatic conditions where the sun's rays are very strong, pink skin is prone to melanoma (skin cancer) -- particularly on tail webs. Unless caught very early, skin cancer is impossible to remove. Sometimes it is not cost effective to remove regardless of when discovered.
18) Guard Hair. In very cold climates, guard hair is essential to keep the body warm.
19) Overly Aggressive/Difficult "Keepers." Bucks and does that are overly aggressive are dangerous animals. All goats need a certain level of aggressiveness in order to survive. Outright mean goats will injure or kill other goats in the herd and should be culled. Goats that repeatedly jump fences and gates make the producer's job more difficult and can destroy carefully-established breeding programs.
There are pros and cons to almost all issues involving culling. Each producer must evaluate his own needs and make decisions that fit his goals.
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All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.
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