The Gentlemen's Club

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(Stachys, at about 3 weeks)

Today Stachys and Hemp enter the monastary. They are the youngest of the boys and at 8 weeks plus, it is time for them to leave their Moms. Stachys is just about 8 weeks, and at that point, could conceivably start breeding his sisters and his Mom (he's *huge* too - I need a current picture - he was a singleton and has gotten all of Mom's rich milk, plus Jessie's, ummm...circular physique). Hemp doesn't have that problem - he was wethered last week, but he'll be going home soon with a new family, along with Basil (who with brother Goldenrod moved up with the bucks two weeks ago when he passed the critical age shift). So Hemp and Basil need a little time to bond.

We hadn't planned to keep Stachys, but he turned out to be such a stunning goat - more than we ever expected when we were first focused on his innate cuteness (if one were to make a stuffed toy based on a nigerian dwarf, he would be it). He's large, powerfully built, with great genetic and a solid body type that if we ever raise for meat production, would really improve the breed. He's gorgeous, and so we're going to keep both Stachys and Basil until next year, and see how they grow out and fit with our breeding plan. This brings us to a total of four bucks in the gentleman's club, besides Tekky, our infertile doe who hangs with the bucks.

We're keeping two (although we will eventually winnow down to one) of Frodo's sons because Frodo is on the older side for a buck goat - the bodily stress of going into rut means that the boys live at most 7-9 years, and Frodo is six now. His genetics are astonishing - his mother Goddess is first in the nation among Nigerians in all three milk production categories: total milk production, protein and butterfat, and one of his daughters is in the top ten in each category. He's also a gentle, charming, easy to handle buck - and temperament is an inheritable trait. We don't want to lose Frodo's wonderful genetics prematurely, so just in case, we need his sons. But we also have every intention of keeping Frodo happy and healthy for a while.

We have two barns on the property, both quite small. The one nearer the house is a converted garage, with separate areas for poultry, kidding, and goats. At the top of the hill that leads up to our big field, there's a stable, built by previous owners for their horses. It is here that the gentlemen live, with fenced pastures that move regularly.

The reason the boys live up the hill is, well, male goats don't smell that great. During most of the year, it is a mild, musky ripeness, not unpleasant, but instantly recognizable (as Eric once said of Asher, after picking him up "Oh, you've been hugging Frodo!") But come late summer and autumn, well, it gets pretty intense. The boys also increase their attractiveness to goat maidens by peeing on themselves, which doesn't help. One generally doesn't want a buck goat right next door.

Now at this stage, our gentleman's club is rife mostly with the young and the pubescent. Only Frodo is fully sexually mature, but his ummm..essence is sufficient to infuse the entire community with a ripe goaty scent.

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(Frodo having a snack with Tekky)

Our other buck is Cadfael, who we acquired this summer. Cadfael's lines aren't quite as impressive as Frodo's, but his Mom's udder is spectacular, and his Dad comes also from amazing milk lines. He's smaller than Frodo, which is good, also. Frodo's daughters will meet Cadfael for the first time in February.

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(Cadfael peeking out from behind Tekky - he's bigger now too!)

Add in Goldenrod (the kids picked the name and we loved it for a buck!), who is Bast's son - Bast's Dad is Frodo's nephew, so he's a tight linebreeding on Frodo, and we've high hopes for him as well:

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Tekky doesn't seem to get pregnant - she's been in with a buck now constantly since March and no signs of babies, so we've assigned her permanent wether status and she seems happy up there with her buddies. She's Selene's daughter, and Selene produces the most charming, personable goats in the world - she's everyone's best friend. We needed a "wether" up there anyway - that way, when some of the boys are out doing their job, we have someone in with the others.

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(Coming through the rye!)

It is a surprisingly happy family up there, although all the boys, let's just say would be much happier left to run with the does. Frodo is particularly anxious to get on with the important business of making more goat babies, but since we don't want any babies before May, he's got to wait. We periodically let the boys out to browse a bit, and during those periods, the younger bucks go off and eat, leaving Frodo standing outside the fence that contains the girls, expressing his ardent passion for them in his inimicable, smelly way. We're pretty sure he'd starve to death if we'd let him stay there.

Half the reason we let them out is to browse, but the other half is because I love watching the joy with which the boys (and Tekky) run down the hillside. Frodo is older and slower, but the dancing and leaping that the boys do when they are free to roam and rejoin (even through a fence) the rest of the herd is fun to watch.

For all the scented disadvantages of the bucks, they are charming creatures in their own way, and after our experiences with drive-thru goat breeding (largely unsuccessful) it became absolutely evident that we needed to start our own gentlemen's club. And emerging from this process is the very beginnings of our plans for how to create low input, multi-purpose goats suitable to backyards.

My hope is to obtain some angora goats in the spring, and for next year, begin also breeding nigora, which is a fiber/milk goat that has yet to be fully standardized, but which has a lot of potential.

For this year, Frodo's stuck in the Gentlemen's club until called out in December to revisit the senior does - Bast, Jessie, Arava, Maia, Mina and Selene. Cadfael will get his turn come February with the girls born this summer: Meadowsweet, Calendula, Poppy, Licorice and Marshmallow. Goldenrod and Stachys will be left to grow some more and show their stuff.

I like to mention to people that we're running a Gentlemen's Club on the property - small scale agriculture needs some sexing up. I do try not to mention the smell, though.

More like this

He's large, powerfully built, with great genetic and a solid body type that if we ever raise for meat production, would really improve the breed.

I don't get it. If you value large size, with a powerful solid body type, why don't you raise full-sized goats?

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 21 Oct 2010 #permalink

darwinsdog: I'd guess that a dwarf variety with the muscle-bulk of a full-size goat produces meat more efficiently than a full-size goat, because the larger goat has to waste more energy and bulk on the framework to support all that bulk.

Plus there is the aim - expressed in this article - of creating "low input, multi-purpose goats suitable to backyards", which definitely requires dwarf goats. A full-size goat can be as big as the largest breeds of dog, jump over fences, and unlike dogs will actively attack any plants it comes across (a dairy goat we kept on our orchard died from browsing avocado leaves, which we later learned is one of the few things poisonous to the breed). Keeping them small means keeping them controllable, and they also make cute pets, which will make people more accepting of them.

Wazza pretty much gets it - what I want is a big, solid Nigerian Dwarf. You know how you can have a "big" mouse - for a mouse, and it still doesn't mean you have an elephant ;-). I don't think it seems so strange that I'd want increased hanging weight *in addition* to the other benefits of the ND.

I don't raise full sized goats because NDs are actually more efficient users of land and pasture - they produce more milk for their body size, with higher protein and butterfat than any other breed, they are easier to fence than larger goats (you can keep them behind a 4 foot fence) and they are suitable to the future - ie, providing high quality protein in urban and suburban areas largely on marginal weeds and brush that right now go to waste. Larger goats simply require more space, having higher fencing costs and aren't the direction we're going in - I'm particularly interested in urban and suburban agriculture and how those areas are going to contribute to local food production, so this is a natural fit for me. Someone else might want different goats - I just can't do everything.


Ed, it is more of a laziness thing. Goats also really don't like to get wet. And I'd have to do it regularly, since they keep secreting more stink ;-). It simply doesn't bother me enough to bother, and it will fade as the season passes - that's why they live up the hill ;-).


Hadn't Sharon also said that she didn't want the greater milk yields of a full-sized goat, because a lot of small households that didn't plan to make cheese would find it wasteful? Low input, smaller yield (and increase the number if you want more milk!) seems sensible for most families. Or am I mis-remembering?

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 21 Oct 2010 #permalink

I'd guess that a dwarf variety with the muscle-bulk of a full-size goat produces meat more efficiently than a full-size goat

No, Wazza, the contrary is true: larger goats produce meat more efficiently than smaller breeds, for several reasons. Your second paragraph explains the appeal of dwarf goats. They are less efficient meat & milk producers but in certain situations may be the only option if one wants to keep goats at all. Sharon, however, lives in a rural setting where full-sized, more efficient grain & forage to meat/milk converting animals are practicable.

Have you tried bathing goats..?

Buck scent stimulates does to ovulate, Ed. It's possible to cauterize the primary scent glands on the head when disbudding but there are secondary scent glands located behind the legs and elsewhere on the body, that would be difficult to locate and remove/disable. Even if it was possible to remove all scent glands, buck goats urinate & ejaculate on their undersides and beards, to produce scent. This behavior is called "enurination" and is another source of pheromones that stimulate ovulation in does. It would be a nasty and constant effort to wash bucks so that they didn't smell and all this effort might result in reduced yield in one's kid crop.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 21 Oct 2010 #permalink

DD, I missed that part of Wazza's comment - nope, dwarves aren't the best meat varieties. They do have some advantages, though - they are small, which means that if you don't have refrigeration, you can probably eat one among your neighbors (also doable with full sized kid goat, of course) and if what you primarily want is maximum milk production and backyard scale, you may be (as we are) comfortable with trading off some meat production for other purposes.

I have room to raise larger goats, but I'm more interested in the project of bringing small scale animal production into cities than I am into maximizing my land base. The other non-inconsiderable issue is that it is way cheaper to fence my goats than it would be with big ones.


Really, you can sum up everything I have to say on this subject by simply observing that all animal breeding - and breed choices - involve trade-offs. Around me, the market for lamb is much better than for goat, and I'm much more interested in the meatiness of our sheep than in the meatiness of our goats. At the same time, I think it is reasonable to assume that eventually there may not be much of a wether market, and that we'll be butchering our extra males. Might as well have them have as good hanging weights as possible - moreover, it isn't just the weight - it is the fact that Jessie (Stachys's dam) *keeps* her weight over the winter, while still continuing to fill the pail. Imagining a future of smaller inputs, heavier wethers are good, but even more important is the ability of a doe to support her body first, and then produce milk - I don't think, in an era of shorter rations and lower inputs, that the best goats will come from does who milk all their weight off, but those who can keep some for themselves.

But again, trade offs - I can imagine circumstances in which I'd want full sized goats, or primarily meat goats, and ways of approaching my livestock projects that would make them useful. For what I do and want to do, however, this is what I'm going at.


Wouldn't the smell of buck goats be a big disadvantage for backyard stockholders and their neighbors? Or would they keep only females and wethers and do "drive-by" breeding in an urban setting?

It might be practicable to make some sort of buck-in-a-can scent that could induce ovulation, or try to breed for less smelly but still fertile males, if there's any significant variation at all. /brainstorming

Ye Gads, Sharon. You have a much stronger stomach than I do -- my friends breed goats and I can't even be in the area this time of year because I start heaving. That smell is AWFUL.

I'm a sheep person I guess. They too can live off less than ideal land, and you still can get milk/meat/fiber. I wish babydoll southdowns did better in the heat, I might be more tempted to get one. It would be great fun to walk my sheep to the empty lots for grazing!

Back when I had goats, I got a new angora buck who had horns over 3 feet long. He was a bit aggressive. One day we were out in the pasture feeding the goats and sheep. This involved splitting a 100 pound sack of cotton seed cake into two sacks, then carrying them around in a circle sprinkling a line of cake on the ground. My father was a big man, maybe 275. When he was getting one of the 50 lb sacks out of the pickup, my billy butted him behind the knees. My father sat down on the billy's head, with the 50 lb sack in his lap, and pitched cake out of the 50 lb sack by hand. When he finished, maybe 15 minutes, he got up and let the billy up. That billy was reformed, lost his aggressive ways, by the experience.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 21 Oct 2010 #permalink

Jim, that would be another reason I like small goats ;-). Although our boys are actually very, very sweet and non-aggressive.

Susan, that's funny - I guess tolerances are very different, because I certainly don't think it is stomach turning at all. I find it strong, but not really horrible - just a little smelly. But lots of things on farms are a little smelly. I like my sheepies too, but they don't have the personality thing going for them ;-). I have a friend with babydolls, and I'm not that excited by the fiber - she's a big felter, but I'm not, and as a spinnable fiber, it has some limits. But they are awfully cute!

Pteryxx - well, most people with only a few does won't want to keep a buck anyway - so most urban dwellers would probably rely on a couple of regional buck owners. It just doesn't make economic sense to keep a buck all year round and feed it unless you have a minimum of 5-8 does, which most backyard folks won't.

In a low energy situation, I'd imagine buck service emerging from folks on larger lots, or you could do what sheep owners often do - keep a buckling, who will be able to breed by 4 months, and then butcher him after the breeding season. They don't get smelly until fully mature around a year (actually, they aren't fully mature until 18 months, but that's probably hair splitting.)


Sharon, I love the literary (Frodo, Cadfael) and botanical (Stachys, Calendula) names you gave these goats!

Hi Sharon,

I'm sort of curious. Do you think that Peak Oil awareness and raising goats (if you have the space) go hand in hand?


By Steve in Hungary (not verified) on 21 Oct 2010 #permalink

Hi Sharon, lovely goats! I was wondering if you could help me out. I've been trying to locate Nigerian dwarf goats here in Europe, but haven't had any luck so far. The dwarf types here in Hungary are called "Cameroon", they look a lot like Nigerians but don't seem to be good milkers. I've tried to get in email contact with the NDGA, but never got a reply. Would you have any ideas where I could turn to, just to verify if this type is available outside the US at all. Thank you.

One of the oddities in Victorian rural novels is that it's often a duty of the clergyman to keep the parish bull. I expect the vicarage often had the best fences, but still!

Zsanett - I'll ask around - can you send me an email with your address and a little more info about where you've looked, and I'll cast around here in the US!


I've only ever milked full-sized goats (I used to keep LaManchas) so how are the NDs to milk? I'm envisioning itty-bitty-titties but since I have small hands that might actually be an advantage.