June 2007
Featured Articles

Performance Evaluation for Goat & Sheep Producers

By Robert Spencer

Goat farming is a form of livestock production and should be run as efficiently as possible. To determine production efficiencies requires basic documentation and tracking of individual animals.

With a little bit of time and effort, basic record keeping can be utilized to evaluate individual livestock performance to compare it to herd average. Cumulative data and calculations facilitate performance evaluation that serves goat farmers in determining production efficiencies.

This type of analysis is something cattle and swine producers have been doing for years. Documenting the performance of each animal’s production, reproduction and health status within a goat operation provides producers with insight of how to improve their operations in the future. Performance evaluation analysis along with a little bit of common sense will improve farm management skills.

Basic recordkeeping begins with a notebook and a concept of how the producer plans to organize the acquired information. Some of the categories a producer needs to keep in mind for various aspects of performance evaluation will include: animal identification (to know which animal is being documented), pedigrees (sire and dam), performance records (kidding rates, etc.), health records (health issues) and kidding information (birth weights, gender, weaning weights). All this information has the ability to evaluate strengths or weaknesses of individual animals and allow for inner herd comparisons. The information documented on a notebook can later be transferred onto a computer spreadsheet for further examination and validation.

Individual animal identification is fairly simple, with several options. Goat farmers who choose to register their animals tend to use tattoos for individual animal identification. Farm id is tattooed in one ear, while a unique animal id goes in the other ear. This type of id is not easily read without constraining the animal, so other options such as a plastic ear tag or plastic chain with an id tag may be more practical. Plastic id tags can be readily verified from a short distance. These tags come in different colors, sizes and are generally stamped with sequential numbers. Blank tags are also available whereby a permanent marker can be used to write some sort of id information.

Pedigree information is important for several reasons. To register offspring a producer must have pedigreed documentation regarding sire and dam. Tracking sire, dam and newborns serves for evaluating which genetic crosses may or may not result in overall improvement, which is based upon visual confirmation and grow-out rates of offspring. Pedigree information and the ability to register animals is the difference between having meat goats or brood stock and show animals. A good meat goat may sell for $5 to $100, but a good brood nanny or herd sire may readily sell for several hundred dollars.

Performance records serve to evaluate individual animals and provide the ability to compare performance of one animal to another. This type of evaluation/comparison is probably best done on a computer spreadsheet. Breeding and estimating kidding dates are aspects that need to be documented. If a doe does not kid as expected, fertility (buck & doe) may come into question. If the doe prematurely loses her offspring or does not take care of them, this should be documented. Also note if the doe is a first time nanny and/or how many times she has kidded. Always document how many kids each nanny delivers, their gender and note their birth weight.

Recording birth and weaning weights for each kid is essential for further analysis. Documentation of birth weight, weight at time of weaning and age at time of weaning are utilized to calculate individual performance regarding the amount of weight gained per day from the time the kid was born until weaning age; this calculation is known as Average Daily Gain (ADG). Knowledge of ADG per animal identifies which kids are gaining more or less than others and may reflect back upon dam and sire.

Once a producer has this information they can calculate the ADG for the herd and compare it to individual ADG, then go on to calculate a ratio for herd comparison. This information can be compared from year to year to show if herd production is improving or not. (See the table below for an example of ADG performance evaluation.)

Note the ADG once converted from ounces to pounds varies from .24 (just under ¼ pound daily gain) to .62 (well over ½ pound daily gain), which is a substantial variation. Based on information seen from other experts, ideal ADG ranges are from .33 (1/3 lb. daily gain) to .50+. Any animals that fall within the range should be considered as desirable, any with less than .33 ADG might be considered as a cull animal and any with an ADG greater than .50 should be considered as prime breeding stock.

To some the ADG ratio may seem unimportant but upon closer examination it serves as an important tool. It allows comparison of each animal’s ADG to the ADG herd average. Note the herd average is .45 and the ADG average for each animal ranges from -21 percent to a +16 percent. Negative being undesirable, positive is desirable; and the smaller the number, the closer to the average ADG of .45. This type of analysis serves as a more in-depth culling tool and when compared annually should demonstrate continued improvement.

Health records are valuable because they readily show which animals have health problems and which tend to be hardier. Health problems include anything that requires frequent medical treatment, repeated services of a veterinarian or reoccurring problems with parasites. Any animal requiring repeated special attention needs to be considered as a potential candidate for culling. Unless an animal is very valuable (value being a relative term), its value will not off-set the cost of frequent health care.

Documentation of kidding information is important for several reasons. (1) It shows which nannies are productive and what they tend to produce. Any nanny that produces twins is a keeper, anything else (single, triplets, quads, and etc.) requires closer evaluation. A first-time nanny that produces a single kid should be given a second chance, her reproductive system may not be fully developed the first time and only able to produce one offspring. (2) Any nanny that has kidding complication may need to be considered for culling. Losing a nanny and her kids due to birthing problems is not worth the value of the animal. (3) Documenting the gender of offspring may reflect on the traits of the herd sire. For example, based on the number of doelings born versus the number of bucklings born on my farm each year, I can say my herd sire tends to produce sixty-five percent females and thirty-five percent males. I raise brood stock so that is desirable; if I raised meat goats that could be undesirable. (4) Record-keeping verifies productivity of each nanny. If she is not producing offspring on a regular basis (every eight months to a year), a farm operation is being shorted on potential animals and income, and the animal is a financial burden. An unproductive animal should be evaluated for culling.

Documenting the actual performance of goat production, reproduction and health issues provides producers with a good understanding of potential opportunities for improvement. Developing and utilizing a record-keeping system will allow goat producers to gather animal performance data. The data collected can be used to analyze individual animal performance and compare them to herd average.

Traditional livestock producers have successfully utilized performance recording and genetic evaluation programs, but this is something new to many goat producers. To improve production efficiencies it is essential you learn to document and utilize data collected. Such efforts will allow tangible evidence which will facilitate improved production and management practices.

Robert Spencer is the Urban Regional Extension Specialist, Lauderdale County Extension Office, Florence, 256-766-6223, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..