Linear appraisal is always a wonderful opportunity to learn about my herd. Last year (2018) marked my sixth year of participation in this program. I have truly been blessed to have one of the most distinguished and respected appraisers visit my herd three times over the past several years. Having someone evaluate my herd in 2018 who remembers my beginnings made this year extra special for me. Each year appraisal has concluded with a discussion of my goals for the herd and reflections on where I've been and recommended next moves for herd development. (pictured are my 2017 Manuka Honey daughters and Ronin)
My appraiser made several positive comments about my herd. These included the observation that I have followed the guidance provided over the years. My herd has improved dramatically since my humble beginnings, as has my ability to manage and present them. That I followed his advice may have been a surprise for him. I'm a stubborn and prideful little human . . . and I have this problem with expectations. When my expectations aren't met (What, you didn't like doe X????) I get noticeably grouchy. Oh, and one other weakness: I hate, hate, hate the learning curve. I prefer to progress immediately to mastery, which is not something that happens for me very often. My apologies to everyone who has had to give me less-than-positive feedback. On the plus side, I am very reflective and when I get past the inevitable period of crabbiness, I absorb lessons quickly.
So, my guess is that he was pleasantly surprised to realize that I actually listened and implemented his suggestions. My 2017 yearlings received strong scores, which left me ecstatic. Moreover, two aged does received final scores of "Excellent." Dill's GA Whiskey Lullaby received the stunning (in a wonderful way) score of 91 EEEE and Dill's GA Fascination scored 90 VVEE. So, what are some of the lessons that I learned?
First, I learned to present my does to their advantage. This had three aspects: handling, clipping, and preparing the udder. Handling isn't rocket science. Using licorice treats as an incentive, I taught my goats to lead and to stand quietly for me. It's hard to evaluate an animal that is fighting the handler, it makes body parts look funky. The other aspect of handling included learning how my goat should stand so that they look their best. The biggest part was learning how high up the head should be so that the neck and back were relaxed. Too low and the shoulders look funky, too high and the back hollows out. You are not allowed to touch the animal to set it up, so I practiced walking and stopping so that I had a feel for what works and the animals knew what to expect. Again, treats help. Goats often resist by dropping their heads as they walk. Teaching them to lead by holding a treat approximately where you want the nose to be helps the animal keep the head up while moving and when at a standstill.
Clipping is also important when presenting your goats. Again, not rocket science. It doesn't have to be a show clip. Just clean them up so that fluff isn't obscuring your goat's natural beauty. It also looks a lot more professional and respectful. Remember that your appraiser has to get through A LOT OF GOATS in one day. Help him or her out by making it easy to see your goat's attributes. Also, trim the hooves about a week before LA. Too close to the LA date and your goat may be walking on sore feet.
Udder prep . . . you guessed it . . .not rocket science. The big mistake that a lot of people make is overfilling the udder. You definitely want a good fill in there, I won't tell you how long, you can figure that out. What you don't want is for it to be hard. A hard, overfilled udder is likely to cause two problems. The first is a grouchy goat, not a good thing when you want your animal to be relaxed while handled. The second is a reduced udder texture score. On LA day, check the udder periodically. If it is getting hard, let a bit out until you can gently touch the udder and feel it give a little. Do this about an hour before LA so that they are comfortable when your appraiser gets there.
Second, appraisers tend to look for consistency in a herd. I'm as bad about this as the next person. I'm a buck hoarder and have does from multiple genetic lines. However, when it comes to making breeding decisions I usually only use two bucks per year. The buck that is used the most is my rock star buck. In 2017 it was SG +*B Algedi Farm MB Manuka Honey VG 88. When my appraiser looked at the 2017 yearling first fresheners, he could guess immediately that they were sired by the same buck. The buck unified my herd.
Third, and this is especially true if cash, time, and/or both are tight. Keep only your very best. Herds grow quickly regardless, so be super selective about what you breed and what you retain. Work on narrowing your doe lines to build quality, consistency, and to improve your ability to make the best breeding decisions. That is where your appraiser can help you. After appraisal, we looked over the animals, including the bucks that were appraised, and discussed next steps. Two yearling bucks were appraised that year, one homebred, one purchased. My appraiser shared that the purchased buck was not as good as my does. Don't get me wrong, he was a VERY nice buck and received a correspondingly strong LA score. But, he would not be able to maintain or improve the quality of my current herd. The appraiser had picked up on a flaw in his back, plus he noted that I dislike "hocky" goats. This little guy was cow-hocked. It wasn't a significant flaw, but I love that my appraiser remembered that one of my goals for my herd was to have openness between the hocks.
Fourth, listen very very carefully to your appraiser's feedback and ask questions. I'm finally getting a handle on rump structure and it's thanks to my appraiser. When he scored a doe well on rump length and rump width, but not overall, I asked why and he explained that it was because she was not as level as desirable from thurl to thurl, a common weakness in Nigerians. It was acceptable, but definitely could be better.
Fifth, take a minute to have a friendly chat with your appraiser. Be courteous of your appraiser's time, but ask about trends in your breed, about management, or any other pressing question you may have. They have a wealth of valuable knowledge. For example, after he appraised my 10 month old buck, Ronin, we talked about how summer kids are often less thrifty. Summer kids are prone to illnesses like coccidiosis, so it is generally best to end the kidding season in April. Ronin received very good scores, but they would have been even better if he had a couple more months to mature.
So what are my goals moving forward? To do justice to my lovelies. I'm blessed to have a rock star, herd improvement buck that is worthy of my girls, +*B CH Algedi Farm JD Shotgun Wedding 5-03 VG86 (VEE), and some young bucks that promise to be Gunner's equal when their times come. During this last breeding season Gunner was used heavily on the senior does, and *B Sierra Aspen PS Panache was used on my junior does.