I started keeping a chart of dam lines as a visual aid when decision-making. The chart is based on one that I found on the Buttin’Heads website (https://www.buttinheads.com/nigerian_dwarf_does.htm). Tom Rucker’s chart is a good model because of its simplicity. Too many dam lines tend to muddy the water genetically. There are too many variables to consider when making breeding decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not there yet. I’m still in the editing process.
Editing a herd is a long-term process if done with care. My first edits, many years ago, were based on quality. Does that did not meet my chosen baselines for milk production and LA scores were sold. I’m past that stage now. The genetics represented in my herd are all genetics that I am very proud to have gracing the farm.
Now I’m in the process of narrowing my genetics to build consistency. For example, I recently sold a truly lovely doe who had tremendous potential, Dill’s ROR Scuttlebutt. She did very well in Linear Appraisal, has a sweet temperament, is milk stand trained, and is an easy kidder. She’s also going to be a powerhouse milker when she matures. But, she represented a doe line that didn’t fit my current vision for the herd. You see, I have a vision in my head, and when I sit in the paddock and look at the herd, animals that don’t quite fit create a dissonance. Skutts, despite being a truly wonderful doe, didn’t fit that vision.
How narrow is my vision? Shockingly narrow. The crystallizing moment was after the appraiser looked at my three Manuka Honey daughters (approvingly), then asked if they had the same sire. Yes, they were all sired by SG Algedi Farm MB Manuka Honey ++*B VG 88. These three does represent my core HOMEBRED dam lines. So here’s an example of what it might look like over two generations.
/ Owlhaven P Adele (2018 doeling by Placido)
Owlhaven MH Sugarland (2017)
\ Owlhaven SW Amaranth (2019 doeling by Shotgun Wedding)
I also have two exceptional (remember, keep the best of the best) does, that were bred by other farms, whose kids I’m retaining for now. Those does are SGCH Castle Rock Owl's Clover EX90 VEEE (retained SW Octavia by Shotgun Wedding) and Dill's GA Whiskey Lullaby 4*M EX91 EEEE (retained SW Watermelon Martini by Shotgun Wedding). And I have another doe, Castle Rock Tempest, who I am still evaluating. I try not to rush the process.
Over time, one or more of these dam lines will drop out of the picture when/if they fail to perform as well as the others. That’s okay. Following advice shared by Ellen Dorsey, sell the bottom third of whatever you have (implied: no matter how good). My goal is to get down to no more than three (top-performing) dam lines.
ON BUCK HOARDING
By anyone’s standards, I have a lot of bucks. Several years ago an AGS Classifier said that I have a “monogamous herd.” It’s true. I have eight bucks - and next year I plan on retaining a Panache son and a Gallant son as insurance.
Every year I have to resist the temptation to use three or more bucks in my breeding plans. I even feel mildly guilty for the bucks who aren’t being used that year. Then I come to my senses. Why is this a problem? Imagine linear appraisal two years down the line, when I am evaluating the first freshening offspring of those bucks. If I have one FF by buck A, two by buck B, and another one by buck C, how do I check for consistency in offspring? How do I determine if a buck is passing on a particular trait (good or bad) if I don’t have offspring from multiple does to compare?
So, the strategy that I keep coming back to, over the last three years, is to use no more than two bucks per season. Last breeding season I used Shotgun Wedding almost exclusively. The reason is that he is an aged buck and proven, so I wanted to prioritize adding his genetics to my doe herd. I used Panache on a couple of junior does, but that wasn’t enough for me to do a proper evaluation of his abilities as a sire.
This coming season I’m going to be using two sires again, Gallant and Panache. I’ve hoarded seven Shotgun Wedding daughters and two sons, so he can rest this season.
So why do I keep so many bucks? First, in the greater scheme of things bucks age and can go sterile fairly quickly. Moreover, opportunities to buy truly proven bucks are rare, and when they do arise, that buck is usually aged. Manuka Honey was sterile by the second season that I owned him. Knowing that now, would I have changed my mind about buying him? No, buying him was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my herd. Second, animals sometimes die prematurely. I lost two outstanding bucks to freak accidents. Third, bucks out of the very best does can be difficult to acquire. When I see something that I can imagine using in the future, I’m going to snap him up because I may not have another opportunity for that particular genetic combination. Finally, when they aren’t being used for breeding, my bucks are in charge of weed abatement for approximately 3 acres. And they do an excellent job!
My decision-making process is multi-step.
First, I run the inbreeding numbers (COIs) in Kintraks. I try to keep it around 10% in ten generations. However, if I am breeding for a buck that I’m planning on retaining, I may go as high as 20% in ten generations to concentrate desired traits. That is the case with my Clover x Panache breeding. It represents the Tupelo Honey/Zenith golden cross. My plan is to retain a buck and doe from that breeding. A littermate is the best approximation of a buck’s genetics, so freshening a littermate sister will give me a preview of the buck’s genetic potential. Anyhow, that was a bit of a birdwalk away from the COI discussion . . . lol.
After I narrow potential breedings based on COI (Coefficient of Inbreeding), then I look at linear appraisal scores for planned sire, dam, and grandparents. Traits can skip a generation, so the grands are important! Another outstanding resource is the sire’s progeny function in ADGA genetics. ADGA.org also has excellent reports in the subscription report section. I like “progeny performance” and “doe family performance.” To avoid having to go down these rabbit holes multiple times, I keep a spreadsheet where I track linear appraisal data for all viable matings.
Anyhow, that’s my way of doing things. I hope that you find some of this information useful.
Wishing you the best of luck this breeding season!