Before we got any livestock at all, we did some research about breeds. For chickens, because they are short-lived and relatively cheap, we have tested a number of breeds, and will probably continue doing so. With the goats, however, we decided early on to keep purebred animals, and only one breed of them. Knowing that we would be producing kids every year, and wanting to be able to sell them for maximum profit, we additionally decided to go with registered animals, which was pricier up-front, but we felt would pay off in the longer term.
We decided on Toggenburgs. They are a breed from Switzerland, and a mountain breed, so we felt they would probably do better in our harsh climate than the desert breeds like Nubians. As well, Toggs are a moderate producer, and we felt that might make them a bit hardier on questionable feed than the high-producing types that need a lot of supplementation. Finally, this breed is noted to be calmer and less flighty than most of the other goat breeds, which we considered a bonus.
As far as breed traits go, the Toggs have been great. Our winters don’t seem to phase them, despite the lack of heat in our barn. They get nice and shaggy, and while they clearly aren’t thrilled about the cold and snow, they don’t seem to be suffering. They produce sufficiently, and have done fine on hay that was lower quality than I would have liked to have given them. They are somewhat flighty (they are still goats, after all), but not too bad, and they are quick to pick up on a routine. We do like the breed.
Unfortunately, while they are fairly popular worldwide, Toggenburgs are not a common breed in our area. When I say that, I mean that there are only four other breeders of registered Toggenburgs within an 10-hour drive of us. Because the breed is not very common here, there is a lot of traffic between the few farms that raise these goats. Unfortunately, that means there is limited genetic diversity.
Now, with breeding goats, you can really only use the same buck for a year or two, before you run into the problem of who to breed all of his daughters to. For instance, we started out with four does and one buck. By this spring, we had our four original does, three does from our original buck, and four bucks from the original buck that were also related to most of the does. We needed new blood if we were going to keep from getting into some significant inbreeding.
We contacted the closest breeder, but their primary buck was the twin of our buck. The next-nearest place didn’t have any animals for sale this year. The two other breeders were the ones we had gotten our original stock from, and everything they had for sale shared at least one grandparent with almost every goat we currently have. Even if we go two provinces over, the few reputable breeders have lines that converge with ours, genetically. In order to find a buck that is completely and truly unrelated to our does, we are looking at going to the Maritimes…we’re talking thousands of kilometers away, and transportation suddenly becomes an expensive logistical problem.
Ultimately, other issues have limited our breeding program for this year, and we decided not to breed the yearling does, which meant we could use a buck we already had. However, the hunt will be on for next year’s herd sire, and we’ll have the same problem every year or two after that.
So, a little word of warning: if you plan to go with purebred livestock, especially registered stock, check into the popularity of your chosen breed in your immediate area, or be prepared for a lengthy and expensive hunt for your males every year or two. While this isn’t enough to turn us off Toggenburgs, it is certainly a headache we hadn’t anticipated.