Okay, so you want to buy a goat.....how do you choose a good one? Just what does make one goat better than another, anyway?
(Like my entire website, this page will always be a work in progress - as I find pictures of really good or really bad conformation I'll be posting them, so check back from time to time.)
When you're shopping from websites, and the animal you're interested in is pictured in show stance, always ask the owner for a recent 'pasture pose' picture. "Just go outside and point the camera at him" is the idea. Goats who are freshly clipped look dramatically different from unclipped ones, and a smart handler can make a goat with poor angularity look great just long enough to take that pic. This is especially important with chamoisees...when you shave a buckskin-colored chamoisee you usually end up with a charcoal colored animal...."hey, that's not the goat I paid for! Mine was kinda sooty-black!" So to avoid disapointment, confusion and hurt feelings, get a pasture shot before you leave home.
For starters, you need to remember that wether you milk yours or not, the Nigerian Dwarf is a dairy goat, and every aspect of it's conformation is involved in deciding how much milk that goat is going to produce in her lifetime. I know it may sound odd but even the angle of her ears can be an indication of wether or not she is going to be a good milker. We'll get into things like defining 'dairy character' later, but for now just remember that your goat has to be able to withstand the work of jumping up and down from a milkstand while carrying the weight of a full udder and an unborn kid - wether she ever actually does it or not - year after year after year. She can't do it as safely or for as long if she has poor conformation.
One of the first areas I look at is her back....she should have a long, level topline with a long, wide, flat rump, and her withers should be noticeably higher than the rest of her back. Her spine supports the wieght of her entire body, and if she's got a swayback (which we goat folks refer to as "a dip in her chine", the chine being the area directly behind her withers) she's already showing weakness. A steep rump can cause kidding problems, and so that's one of my biggest bugaboos....I hate steep rumps.
The next thing I look at is the length of the goat's body. This admittedly overfed buck is noticeably longer than he is tall.....loooking at the area under his belly, the open space formed by his legs, belly and the ground is a long rectangle. This is good. (Very good, as a matter of fact.) A doe has to have room in her body for growing babies, stomach and lungs as well as all her other vital organs, and the longer she is the better as it means the babies won't be crowding her lungs and stomach.
p.s. Don't let your goats get as fat as I let Pierre get...it's not any healthier for them than it is for us. That doesn't mean they should be skinny, with every rib showing - just nicely fleshed. You should be able to feel ribs but not see them, and they shouldn't look pot-bellied like Pierre here unless they've just eaten.
Here is an example of good angularity, somethng you'll hear judges harping on constantly - with good reason. A dairy goat shouldn't be carrying a lot of excess flesh - that's for meat goats. The area of the thigh should be as incurving as possible, like Highwayman's is. WORD OF WARNING : do NOT mistake being underwieght for good angularity. (Gee, thanks for telling us that, Deb ...so how do we KNOW???) Look at the animal's shoulders. You should never be able to see a goat's shoulder blades. Yes, you can see the bone move at the top of the shoulder when they walk, and you can see the point of the shoulder just like on a horse. But you should never, ever be able to see the shoulder blade itself. Also feel the rump. You should be able to feel the pelvic bones but they should clearly feel 'covered' in flesh...if it feels more like there's nothing but skin between your hand and the goat's hip bones you need to get some feed into that goat. (A goat that's too thin, even if healthy otherwise, stands a very good chance of dying during cold weather simply because it doesn't have enough body mass to keep it's internal organs warm enough to function. A dairy goat should look like a human athelete, trim but solid - not a human supermodel!)
Here's another good example of excellant angularity...and by the way both these bucks were just standing in the pasture when I snapped these. A good handler can make a goat with poor angularity look really good - another reason for asking for unposed pasture pics before you send money.
Anyway, My Tae here also shows another very important trait - depth of body. From the area right behind his front legs, known as the heartgirth, to his hindlegs, his belly slopes down. If you measured him, he'd be thicker around in front of his hindlegs than he is behind his frontlegs. If you picture a long triangle, the skinny pointed end would be on his shoulder and the wide base would be on his butt.
Again, this allows more room for babies in a doe and is a very important trait.
And so here's a doe who has it. Lots of it, as a matter of fact. Rainbow inherited her late dam's incredable depth of body, and she just keeps getting deeper evey year.
Another important point is for the goat to be wide at the hocks, like this boy is. The area at the top of the groin, where the udder is attached in the doe, is called the escutcheon. The escutcheon should be as wide as possible, ideally shaped so that you could easily fit a bowling ball in there. If the goat's hocks are narrow and close together, you simply can not have a nice wide escutcheon. And a nice wide escutcheon is important because that's the foundation of the udder.
This lovely lady is Lost Valley KW Fit'n Temptation, and Amy and Audrey Kowalik gave me permission to use her picture to explain just what a good dairy goat is supposed to look like from the rear. See how wide apart her hocks are? They leave plenty of room for her udder, and while she doesn't have a true bowling-ball escutcheon it is very wide and open, with an excellant area of attachment for her udder. She has little white marks on either side of her udder right where it connects to the rest of her body, making it very easy for me to explain just what good udder attachment looks like. If you imagined the udder was a clock, hers is attached from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock.....awesome!!!!! The more snugly that udder is attached to her body the less likely it is to be injured by it's own wieght flopping around as she moves.
This doe also has excellant teat placement, meaning they point straight down to the (imaginary) milk bucket, and excellant medial suspensory ligament....usually just refered to as 'medial'....and meaning the ligament that forms the 'cleavage' between the two halves of the udder. You want to see a nice dip there, like she has, not a huge canyon or a flat surface....or worse yet, having the floor of the udder (area between the teats) actually hanging below the teats. Such an udder is much more likely to break down over time. An udder like Temptation's will last as long as she does.
And while we're looking at her from this angle, let me point out that both her back feet very clearly point straight ahead...you can tell by looking at her dewclaws. You don't want a goat who's feet toe in or out, again because they'll be much more prone to lameness as they grow older.
"But Debbie, these are all pictures of grown animals and we're buying babies! How do we know what to look for in a kid?"
Well......that's harder. But look at the parents, the older brothers or sisters if there are any. And remember to be patient. Kids, just like human youngsters, very frequently go through stages where they're all knees and elbows, so to speak. Their front and back legs usually grow at different rates, so one week they're uphill and next week they're downhill. Give 'em time, good food (but not too much of it) and plenty of room to romp, and they'll grow up beautiful.
This little girl, MoonDance, is 3 1/2 months old, and you can already see that she has nice depth of body. Junior does frequently look like fawns rather than goats, very slim through the body, and while it's pretty it's not correct. If she has depth this nice as a baby, she should have magnificent depth as an adult.
MoonDance also shows another point that is very easy to overlook...she has good extension of brisket. Her legs look like they come out from UNDER her body, not glued on to the front of it. Meaning that she has a chest...one of the most common flaws in Nigerians is that the neck extends down into the front legs in a smooth unbroken line. You want a definite chest that extends out past the front legs a little, like MoonDance's does. While we're in that area, look at her elbows - they're tucked in nice and tight against her body, not all flopped out at an angle.
You want tight elbows, as that makes the whole front end assembly stronger.
Here's an example of a weak chest...there's no 'bump' in front of her front legs, just a smooth line from neck to knees. In the show ring, if everything else between this doe and the one above were absolutly identical, the judge would place this one second because of her weaker chest. So if you've got a goat who's just gorgous but never quite takes that championship, go look at her chest. Might be why.
Okay - let's look at two does from my herd. Both are in show stance, and about the same age. And both have won their age groups - one winning Reserve Champion Jr Doe, the other Grand Champion Jr doe. Both these does were bred by and are still owned by me.
Chrisi Bell, on the left, is a very nice doe.....Rainy Day Woman, on the right, is a much nicer doe. Let's see why.....for starters, Rainy is much longer-bodied, and is more uphill (meaning her withers are higher) than Chrisi is. Her rump is more level as well, although Chrisi actually has slightly better angularity. Where Rainy really shines, though, is her front end assembly. Here you can clearly see that nice extension of brisket I've been talking about, with the legs clearly coming out from underneath the body, whereas Chrisi almost completely lacks that extension and has a smooth line from neck to knees. Her legs look like they were glued onto the front of her body. Another way to describe it is that Rainy stands over her feet, while Chrisi stands between them. Being junior does, neither one really has very good depth of body, though Rainy does better here as well.
BREED CHARACTER : Let's talk about that for a minute. What exactly is 'breed character'? Well, it's how you know that the long-bodied, short-legged, floppy-eared doggie in the window is a Bassett Hound, not a Daschund. It just means that the animal in question LOOKS LIKE the breed it's supposed to be. Nubians are suposed to have Roman noses and long, bell-shaped floppy ears; Alpines are supposed to have flat faces and erect ears; LaManchas aren't supposed to have ears. A Nigerian should look like a Nigerian Dwarf Goat, a true miniature dairy goat. Simple, right? Weelllll....yes but not always.
You see, when the breed standards were written, those doing the writing were wise enough to leave a little leeway in their descriptions to allow for both personal taste and genetic health. When everyone is breeding the exact same body type then everyone is usually breeding the exact same bloodlines and you end up with horribly inbred, unhealthy animals. Besides, not everyone likes the same style - some like their goats a little more rugged looking, some a little more elegant. If you show much, this can make you a little crazy sometimes as one judge prefers "power bucks" while another likes them so dairy as to be almost - but not quite - feminine. And, of course, by unwritten law, you always seem to be showing the wrong type buck! The truth is that you can take two different animals who's scores add up to the exact same number of points on the judges' scorecard, and have them look nothing like each other. This may be a bit frustrating but it is vastly more healthy for the breed as a whole than a set of cookie-cutters stamping out carbon-copy goats.
But all these body types have certain things in common that declare to the world that they are indeed Nigerian Dwarf Goats. Erect ears, flat to slightly dished face, dairy in character, height under 23 inches, and legs no longer than it's body, usually noticably shorter. This last point is especially noticable when you compare Nigerian Dwarf kids to say Alpine or LaMancha kids. Nigerians don't have to reach that far to find the teat. Mom's teat may be less than 6 inches off the ground, and long legs in a kid would be a real drawback. On the other hand, taller does = higher teats = taller legs in standard breed kids. In all my website browsing, magazine and book reading, farm visiting and show attending since I fell in love with Nigerians I have never seen a genetically pure, 100% purebred Nigerian Dwarf kid of either sex under 8 months old with legs that were longer than it's body. You won't find this on any scorecard and I've never seen it written anywhere, but go websurfing yourself for a while and you'll see what I mean. A Nigerian Dwarf, when viewed from the side, should be horizontally rectangular to square in outline. Meaning that while they may be as tall as they are long (you occasionally see wethers with this shape and it's usually one of the reasons they are wethers instead of bucks) they should never be taller than they are long and in fact the longer they are the better. One of the nicest things any judge has ever said about one of my goats was to refer to Rainy Day Woman as "this little freight train", a compliment on her wonderful length of body.