Oct 27, 2009

Goat breeds at Swede Farm

Six years ago we were still living in the city. We were hoping and dreaming of a move to country property, though, and we planned to get goats. One night as we sat in bed reading and planning our move I handed a book on dairy goats to Tim with the admonition for him to read breed descriptions and chose our breed. He read the descriptions...Nubian, LaMancha, Nigerian Dwarfs and the "Swiss breeds", Toggenburg, Saanens, Alpines and Oberhasli. It didnt take long for him to hand the book back and say definitively "LaMancha". Why? The description included the statement that they were some of the easiest breeds to handle, quiet and eager to please. He said "We already have eight (at that time) children, we don't need our animals to talk back to us as well!"

We did start with LaManchas. We were blessed to have a well known LaMancha breeder live less than a mile from the property that we eventually found and we got our first goats from her. Sabine, the LaMancha pictured in this post is the daughter of our first LaMancha, Nyla. We also learned that although you can read generalizations of different breeds, the truth is that goats are individuals and like any other individual within a species there are wide variations. Furthermore each breed's fans will argue and debate 'til the cows...er...goats come home about the merits of their own breed and the downside of the others.

So--a disclaimer--the breed descriptions to follow in this and subsequent posts are general. I mean no slight to any breed. I am also not a historian with attention to nuances of detail regarding breed development. I am merely sharing a snapshot of life at Swede Farm, with the goats that live here. And as such, the goats are guaranteed to be fairly neurotic, breed aside, simply because they live here.

LaManchas are the only full-sized breed of dairy goat that was actually developed in the United States. They are believed by some to be descended from goats left here by the Spanish during the time of the conquistadors and their explorations. They give generous amounts of milk--not as much as some of the Swiss breeds, but more than the Nubians or Nigerians. Their milk has slightly lower butterfat than the Nubians but more than the Swiss breeds and they milk--boy do they milk. Goats have a lactation curve and will often taper off, sometimes quite dramatically, in preparations for the time when they will have another kid. In our experience, LaManchas tend to have longer, more even lactation curves and if not bred, will often milk through for more than 10-12 months. One of our first LaManchas milked for 2 years as a first freshener (first time mom and milker) and when she was dried off in preparation to have her second baby after two years of milking she was still giving almost 4 lbs, or 1/2 a gallon a day. They are said to be more affectionate and quiet and easier to handle. They come in all kinds of colors and patterns. The biggest difference seen is that they look like they have no ears! I contend that they have ears, they have ears like we do! Our ears don't hang past our shoulders or stick up above our head, they are small and neat and stay close to the side of our head--as do LaMancha ears. They do look odd when you are used to more traditional breeds, but they quickly grow on you and the babies look like teddy bears!

An interesting aside--it seems to us in our experiments with breeding that the small ears are actually the dominant trait. That was a surprise. But here on Swede Farm, if a LM is bred to a goat with more traditional ears, you are more likely to get the LM ears than not.

Now, we have had LM with the traditional quiet, pleasant personality. Nyla, our first LM was like that and Sabine, above, is very similar. But we have also had LM that are noisy and pushy and some that are way too timid for their own sanity here at our place. But one thing that interested us--we had heard that certain other breeds were often aggressive with other goats. In our experience, of the breeds that we have here, LaMancha, Nubian, Alpine and a smattering of experimentals or recorded grades (crosses between other breeds), it is more likely to be the LM that is aggressive towards other breeds. Particularly when it comes to food and especially when it comes to ears. They are known here for causing trouble on the milkstand by finishing their food, looking around, seeing that the Nubian or Alpine adjacent to them in the line-up has more food and grabbing their ears to try to gain access to their food.

But LaManchas were the first here and they have been the recipient of most of the attention when it comes to careful planning of breeding and bloodlines. It is the LM that I have found myself collecting compulsively over the years and LaManchas that I enjoy showing the most in shows.

Next up...Nubians.

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