Notes from Windward: #70


The New Buck in Town

October 31:


     It's fair to say that building diversity is one of keys to developing any sustainable program; I'm delighted to report that we now have a new buck just in time for the fall breeding. His name is Barabus, and here's the story of how he came to Windward.

Barabus fresh from the Toppenish auction


     When we first moved to this property, there was a weekly livestock auction in The Dalles, some thirty miles away, and we often scheduled trips to town to coincide with sale day. The number of animals passing through the selling pen decreased year by year, and we were sad to that the auction had to close its doors a few years back. Nowadays, the livestock sale closest to Windward is in Toppenish, WA.

     The breeding season for goats and sheep is triggered by decreasing day length and the onset of fall weather. Left to their own devices, the sheep and goats would do their annual mating in September or October, but with a five month gestation, that would risk having lambs and kids being born in a snow storm. When that happens, it's not unusual to lose both the mother and the newborns.

     That wouldn't happen in the wild since these animals have evolved to migrate down into the low country to give birth, and then back up to the high country during the summer heat. Because they're now constrained to a given piece of land, we ensure a greater survival percentage by delaying breeding until the first of November thereby delaying the birthing until the beginning of April.

     One way that diversity manifests itself is in hybrid vigor; the more distant two animals are genetically, the more likely their offspring are to be strong and vigorous. But like most things in nature, there are counter-balancing principles that also need to be considered‒in this case the principle of Reversion to the Mean.

     The greater the degree of genetic separation, the greater the likelihood that the offspring will revert towards towards their ancestrial forms. The result is that the breeder has to maintain a balance between these two forces by occasionally bringing unrelated, but not too unrelated, genes into the line.

     One goal of animal breeding is to work towards developing a line that is particularly suited to one's land base, feeding program and goals--what's known as a landrace.

     The two lines we're working with to develop our own landrace would combine Nubian milk production with Boer meat production.

Becca and Alison are pure Nubian
note the size of Becca's udder


     Attempting to milk dairy goats year-round will burn them out prematurely, so we're careful to dry our does off in the fall and wait for them to freshen in the spring when they kid. That allows their bodies to rebuild their reserves before starting another lactation cycle.

     One of the reasons we're interested in developing a Nubian-Boer cross is that Boer goats are able to breed year round. Having a line of goats that can be bred both in the fall and in the spring would enable year round production of milk for the kitchen. While milk can be frozen or stored in the form of cheese, it would be more efficient to have a milking herd that produced half as much milk for twice as long.

after the sale, Barabbus waits for loading


     From the standpoint of getting the milk flowing again, it doesn't matter which buck freshens a doe, but the qualities of the sire go a long way towards determining the characteristics of the kids produced, which translates into whether those kids are likely to be retained in the herd. A well run goat herd, or flock of sheep for that matter, triples in size each year. That means that in order to sustainably graze our land, each fall the kids that best conform to our criteria will be kept, and the remaining two-thirds will be harvested.

     Going into this breeding season, Leo was our senior buck. The problem with Leo is that he had the same mother as Becca and Alison; they're full-blooded Nubian, while Leo is half-Nubian and half-Boer. While that's the sort of blend that we're looking for in a doe, using Leo would result in does that were three-quarters Nubian and only a quarter Boer. Not what we're looking for.

     Since the winter rains are shutting down much of our outside work, we decided to take a chance and head to Toppenish to see what sort of animals were coming through the livestock sale these days. It's late in the year, and our hope was to find a senior buck who's out-bred his usefulness in his home herd, and had been sent to the sale.

loaded up for the trip home


     When we arrived we were delighted find a handsome mature Boer buck waiting in the sale pens. Each livestock auction has its own sequence, and at this sale, goats are sold last, so we settled in to watch the sale of calves, horses, pigs and sheep. Finally, it was time for the buck we were interested in to enter the sale ring.

     The fellow we bid against was there to buy goats for butcher, so it was a considerable difference in outcome at stake for the buck. Since we wanted him as a stud, we were more determined bidders than those who just wanted to invite him to a bar-b-que. While we ended up paying a bit more than I'd hoped, we prevailed and paid much less than if we had tried to buy a buck of this quality from a breeder. Given the buck's last minute reprive, it seemed reasonable to tag him with the name Barabbus.

     Loading Barabbus into the work truck went smoothly, and the end of the day found us heading home with our new herd sire.

     The next morning found Barabbus hanging out in the northeast corner of the winter pen, the corner closest to the pen the does are in. He was calling out to them in a very gentle voice; time will tell if that's his normal voice, or if he's just lost his voice from too much talking during the stressful journey from his former home to the sale yard.

     The arrival of a new buck did not go unnoticed especially by Leo. Morning found him straining to get a glimpse of his competition.

Leo checks out the new buck


Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 70