Genetics

Achieving desired production and profitability targets within a farmed goat breeding enterprise is influenced by genetics.

Genetics defines the production potential of a goat. Using the best available genetics allows producers to potentially improve the goats' contribution to enterprise profit. Important profit drivers that relate to animal performance are set by the 'genetic makeup' of the herd.

Although goat genetics cannot improve non-animal production factors, such as pasture and grazing management they can complement these aspects of enterprise management eg through more efficient feed utilisation and growth rate.

Genetics can also determine whether producers are able to achieve a particular production target, such as a heavier carcases or a particular muscle score. In other situations, genetics can change the way producers manage the herd, such as reduced need for supervision at kidding, as well as reducing operational costs.

Selecting goats

When selecting goats, producers should focus on what they are trying to achieve. Selecting the best goat genetics can involve a combination of visual assessment of conformation and structure as well as genetic assessment.

Characteristics or traits to consider for does and bucks include:

  • Fertility and propensity for multiple births
  • Ease of kidding and mothering ability
  • Growth rate
  • Frame size
  • Conformation
  • Carcase and meat characteristics
  • Temperament
  • Physical characteristics
  • Milk volume and composition
  • Fibre characteristics

Estimated breeding values

Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) allow producers to evaluate an animal's genetic potential for a range of traits that directly impact on the profitability of the goat production enterprise. EBVs are calculated based on the pedigree and performance data of a sire's progeny and family in relation to a range of traits.

EBVs are available for:

  • Growth/weight
  • Carcase
  • Reproduction
  • Worm egg counts.

Having identified the traits that are important, producers should look for breeding stock with high EBVs for the desired features. The number of goats with recorded EBVs is currently very small. The demand for EBVs is expected to increase as the goatmeat market becomes more sophisticated and clear market signals are passed back to producers, particularly those supplying the domestic market.

KIDPLAN

The program responsible for the calculation of EBVs in the goat industry is called KIDPLAN.

KIDPLAN:

  • Assists in ranking goats in terms of the genetic potential and value that they can bring to a business.
  • Provides EBVs for a comprehensive range of production and product quality traits for growth, carcase merit, reproduction and disease resistance, allowing the accurate selection of animals.
  • Is flexible and allows producers to develop a measurement program that suits their breeding objective.
  • Allows the selection of goats with superior EBVs that have the capacity to make more money for commercial producers.

Indexes

Breeding objectives usually require a combination of traits to be considered during selection. To assist in this process and weight the traits in order of importance, selection indexes are used to give a combined EBV. There are two indexes available for goat producers - the Boer Goat $Index and the Carcase Plus Index.

The index that best suits an enterprise depends on the particular breeding objective. If, for example, a producer's goal was to supply nine month old meat goats to the domestic restaurant trade, the Carcase Plus Index would be appropriate as post weaning weight, fat depth and eye muscle depth would potentially be important profit drives. Conversely, maternal weaning weight and the yearling traits recorded in the Boer Goat $Index would be of little use. These on the other hand would be valuable to a stud breeder.

Ongoing genetic improvement

Genetic improvement is not a quick fix and is something that must be pursued over generations of livestock. Flexibility must also be retained to allow the breeding objective to be modified to reflect long-term market signals.

Reproductive management ensures that the desirable genes that have been selected are transferred across generations. Important areas to monitor include fertility, propensity for multiple births and growth rates. In addition to this, the ability of the doe to successfully rear kids and provide sufficient milk supply to support high growth rates is also an important consideration.

Animal husbandry procedures, such as classing and culling, allow producers to identify and remove goats that do not contribute to the ongoing genetic improvement of the herd and, therefore, the profitability of the enterprise. Selection may be based on visual faults in conformation and structure, the inability to demonstrate desired reproduction traits, such as high fertility and milk supply and a lack of performance against genetic traits identified through EBVs.

Genetics and reproduction are only a small, but increasingly important, part of the goat production equation. Good business planning and management as well as nutrition and animal health, welfare and husbandry are also important considerations in maintaining enterprise profitability.

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