What I Look For in a Dairy Goat: The Udder
I’ve had goats for 10 years now and I have developed a better “eye” for what I am looking for in a dairy goat. This isn’t to mean that what I am looking for is what everyone is looking for. For example, I prefer larger teats for easier hand milking but does actually lose points during classification if their teats are over the dwarf standard (which I think is too small for my golden standard). There may also be differences based on what you are going for with your herd… Milk production only or show only or a range in between. I am, before all else, a “modern homsteader” who had goats for dairy to feed my family. So production is most important to me. But I’m not interested in a doe who had poor conformation either because poor conformation leads to the inability for the doe to be able to maintain a larger udder /higher capacity. Pretty much all of the traits you want to see in a dairy goat, comformationally, add to longevity of milking. They may not mean high production though. Today I want to walk you through what a good mammary is, in my opinion.
You can pay to have your herd classified by a trained judge. They will follow a score sheet that will give your goat points based on the ideal dairy goat conformation. This is a very useful tool and can help produce lovely show quality goats. It doesn’t mean they have high production though. And in a dwarf goat you need high production if you plan to milk them, or else why bother? Classification is a useful tool in combination with milk production.
More information on classification here:
https://www.goats.ca › 2020/05DOC
Canadian Goat Society Classification Manual
Milk test program
Goat breeders can participate in the milk test programs in Canada. This involves recording production of does by weight and butterfat content either as a one day test or over weeks or months to follow productivity and how fast or slow it decreases following peak production. This is a useful tool to look for when purchasing goats. It isn’t super common yet in Nigerians in Canada but some breeders have participated in the one day test. This gives buyers an idea of what the doe is capable of producing. The purpose of the official milk test is to give breeders a standard to follow for comparisons. Breeders can do their own recording of production too, unofficially.
More info on milk teating here:
https://www.goats.ca › 2020/04PDF
Obviously, the perfect goat is the ultimate goal. But you don’t need to have perfect goats to improve your herd. And it’s not likely you will ever have a whole herd of perfect goats, or even one for that matter. It’s all about knowing what to improve on and what each of your bucks do, genetically. It’s more important to have superior genetics in your buck who you know passes them on. The perfect looking buck doesn’t always pass on the perfect traits. Or, crossing one buck with one doe won’t necessarily mean you get the same results when you cross that buck with another doe. So my advice is to look for as close to perfection as you can get in a buck, then keep him long enough to have freshened out 3 or 4 daughters to see how they look. Do they improve on the dam? Does the buck fix the things that are wrong with the dam? Is he routinely improving his daughters? You may find that your buck improves his daughters over the dam in specific areas and this is useful for matching your future breedings. If your buck is inconsistent or is consistently doing somethign undesirable, give him the boot. He has much more power over genetics in your herd simply due to the number of babies he contributes to yearly, compared to the doe.
So, when buying a buck, it is VITAL to know stats. How much milk does his dam produce? His grand dam? Do they maintain production for months? You will need to see pictures of his dam and his granddam, bagged up, to get a better picture of his genetics. Even better would be to see a picture of his sisters. If the breeder can’t produce the information then you are investing in a question mark so move on.
For does, i can see some things right away in a first freshened udder. Some things can improve over subsequent freshenings. For example, if the doe has poor attachments, a low udder height, lack of width in the rear, orifice size, loose shoulders, a dip in the chine etc.. these don’t improve over time. I sell those does. Some things can improve over time: capacity, teat placement and size, medial, width of udder etc. The doe has to look promising as a first freshener, and should be producing AT LEAST 1 liter a day for me to retain her.
So. What do all these terms mean? How do I know she looks promising?
Rear attachments keep the udder high need to be good enough to support a full udder. A wide escutcheon, (marked in purple on the diagram.) or an upside down “u”, give room for a full udder, and the attachments keep it in place. You want to see it attached all the way around the “u” part, as pictured in purple. Poor attachments result in a saggy udder.
Good udder height mean the distance between the top of the udder and the vagina is small. (As seen in diagram in purple) This keeps the udder in place and prevents it from sagging too low. You don’t want an udder that is lower than the hocks of the goat or it will be dragging on the ground eventually.
Width between the pinbones gives space for a full udder and can affect ease of birthing. Too narrow is not what you want. (Seen in red on the diagram)
Teat placement is important for ease of milking and for ease of access for the kids to nurse. Ideally, teats will point straight down, not out to the sides. A strong medial (orange, in diagram) helps keep teats in place and supports the udder.
Teat size and orifices
I like bigger teats on goats. I don’t mean blown teats, but teats that are easy to milk, with large orifices (opening in the teats) so the goat milks out fast. Goats will smaller teats aren’t ideal for milking so I generally sell those and breed for teat size and orifice size. Again, a high udder keeps udder from being too low, and good medial suspension keeps teats in place. Too low can mean damage to the udder.
When you milk out a doe, does her udder compress nicely? Or does she still look like/feel like she needs to be milked? Ideally, the udder will “shrink” significantly when the doe has been milked. The skin will be soft and pliable, not firm and heavy feeling still. A nice dairy texture to the udder makes for easy milking and higher capacity, as the udder can hold more milk, because it isn’t largely udder tissue. You can sometimes predict udder texture if the goat has loose, “dairy” skin on the neck (you will see the folds of the skin somewhat).
The side view diagram:
You don’t want a flat udder at the back. Generally you want to see one third of the udder at the front of the legs, 1/3 behind, and 1/3 at the back. Teats point down Ideally, instead of forward, (or backwards! Eek!). You want to see a smooth front atrachment, not a steep one, or one with a “pocket” between the stomach and the mammary. If you can get your fingers in between the belly and the mammary you have a “pocket”. It’s more common on high production does when they are very full. Again, a good fore attachement helps support the mammary.
There is a lot more to conformation than just the udder, and I will list some references for that. But today I have dug into what I look for in the mammary of the goat because the mammary is, to me, the most important part of the goat.
Disclaimer: i am NOT an expert. You can take courses to learn how to judge conformation without getting your license for a fraction of the price and learn a lot more than I know. One day I would like to take the course!
Note that the photos I am using are my own. I have had neither the best nor the worst goats. I’ve pulled udder pictures I have taken over the years to demonstrate some of the udder characteristics I am looking for in a dairy goat.
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