I think we all love to look at a Kinder that’s chunky with lots of width, but how do we tell how much of that width is structural and genetic and how much is related to the level of condition they are in? Understanding a bit more about this question can help us avoid buying a goat based on its width alone while ignoring conformation negatives. It will also help us not to pass over a goat that may not currently show a lot of width but has great conformation over all, meets the Kinder goat breed standard, and is likely, if body condition is improved, to develop that lovely chunk and width we’re looking for in a dual purpose goat.
Lately, I’ve seen a number of goats posted that seem to show a lot of width and folks comment that it’s “structural width,” but I beg to differ and here’s why. I have a lovely mother and daughter from a lovely line of Kinders. They both tend towards meatiness, hold their condition well except for a while when feeding large numbers of babies, and generally are lovely examples of dual-purpose goats. I’ve got photos that show front ends that you could drive a bulldozer through and photos that show the very same goats looking almost narrow. We’ve collected some photos showing the same goat showing vastly different amounts of width to illustrate this point.
Think about it a moment. Let’s think of humans, for example. Let’s imagine two young girls, both slender, who while growing to childbearing age eat differently and end up at different levels of body condition. We wouldn’t expect the one who weighs more to give birth to babies who carry genes for a wider bone structure, right? We wouldn’t expect her babies to be genetically/structurally wider just because the mother has consumed more calories than needed and is carrying extra weight on her frame, right? Now apply this principle to goats. That chunky two-month-old kid you’re considering is not more likely to produce babies of great width just because she’s a little butterball from getting more milk and grain than that other kid in the herd whose mother is feeding quads or producing less milk. In fact, her extra fat makes it more likely that you’ll miss seeing structural flaws if your eye is untrained. Just as we need to avoid “color blindness” (the propensity to be attracted to a goat’s color and not notice its structural flaws) when assessing goats, we also need to avoid “condition blindness” (the propensity to think that a fat little buckling is going to bring the genetics for width into our breeding program).
Extra body fat at any age will tend to smooth out how a goat looks and help hide some flaws. It can be a mistake to think that a herd of fat goats is closer to the dual-purpose body style we’re looking for in Kinders. A better way to judge where a goat is on the meat/dairy spectrum is looking at substance (thickness) of bone, whether leg bones and ribs are more flat (dairy) or more round (meat), and paying attention to proportions of body parts. Long necks and long legs tend to indicate a more dairy body type, while blockiness of body, meatiness of hind end, shorter neck, and thickness of bone indicate the meat end of the spectrum.
When we compare kids at different farms, it’s important to pay attention to how they are fed. Bottle-fed kids who are fed as much as they are interested in drinking will look fatter and wider than dam-raised kids who are often getting less milk. Remember, if a doe is capable of giving a gallon of milk a day and you take a half gallon at morning milking, that leaves only a half gallon to divide among her kids for the rest of the day. It’s no wonder that bottle fed babies sometimes grow faster and fatter than dam-raised babies do. Don’t think that the bottle-fed baby who shows that chunkiness now is necessarily more capable of bringing width to your breeding program than a dam-raised baby who perhaps isn’t as chunky now but might actually carry more genetic width to pass on to her/his offspring.
So how do we avoid misjudging width when buying a goat? Try looking at the parents, ask about feed amounts, look at older siblings, etc. Yes, there are some herds that have all ages in a higher level of condition than is optimally healthy, and their high condition can give the impression that these are meatier goats, but think it through and look at the body proportions, bone substance, etc. Expect herds that are on dry lots eating out of mangers all year to look different than goats that are walking out to pasture and back, avoiding bugs, and constantly on the move.
Maybe looking for width is something we do partly because it’s easier to assess than other aspects of correct conformation are; but if your goal is breed and herd improvement, it’s going to help more if you can assess all aspects of conformation rather than chunk factor alone. Yes, we want width, but extra condition can be mistaken for width, and mistaking extra body fat for meatiness and correct conformation won’t help us reach our goals for our herds.
By Kathrin Bateman
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