For the first two days of life kids are kept warm in the farm kitchen of Fox's Pride Dairy Goats. Bottle-feeding and bonding continue in the barn and later in an outdoor pen with shelter.
Photos by Kathleen Hatt unless otherwise noted.
Like Mary's little lambs, Briana Lafoe's kids follow her everywhere she goes. By the time spring is over, her troop of Nubian, Lamancha and Saanen kids will probably number around 55. From the moment they are born, Lafoe and her grandparents, Daniel and Mary Fox, begin readying kids for the show ring. Following Lafoe is part of that preparation.
Bonding, bonding, bonding
"Bonding with your animal - it's the most important part of showing," says Lafoe, a veteran of more than 19 years in the ring. Now just 21, Lafoe first entered the show ring with her grandmother at the age of 18 months. At age 3, she showed her first baby goat. Through years of 4-H and during her college days at the University of New Hampshire, Lafoe has remained in the ring as a participant and, more recently, as a judge.
At Fox's Pride Dairy Goats, bonding often begins the moment kids are born. On nights when kidding is expected, Lafoe checks the barn every two hours for newborns. She cleans new kids, touching them all over. Then she allows the doe to lick her hands, further strengthening her bond with the doe. She carries new kids into the kitchen where bottle-feeding begins and they are kept warm the first two days of life.
Bottle-feeding continues in the barn three times a day for a week. After the kids are moved from the barn to a sheltered outdoor pen, Lafoe bottle-feeds three times a day for the next four to six weeks. Kids also have available a lamb bar self-feeder (a container with nipples evenly spaced around the side). Whenever she enters their pen, kids jump on Lafoe, seeking stroking, scratching and cuddling. They follow her wherever she goes and seem quite certain that Lafoe, the source of all food and attention, is their mother. Bonding continues to develop even after the third month, when bottle-feeding has been reduced to once a day and kids are eating mostly hay and grain.
As early as 1 month of age, kids can leave Fox's Pride and go to new homes. New owners will have time to bond with their kids over the following two months as they continue bottle-feeding.
Who's to show, who's to go?
Knowing each kid's pedigree and breeding is a major factor in deciding which of the kids will stay in Mont Vernon, N.H., at Fox's Pride Dairy Goats and which will be sold to new owners as show prospects or family pets. A review of show win records dating back to 1968 is a major factor in the decision. Careful naming aids record-keeping. The first name of show goats is their herd name, Fox's Pride, followed by the name of the family line, usually a theme such as Gypsy or Pepper. Last is the individual's name, such as My Girl or Temptation. "We try to stay with our naming scheme so we can tell who's related to whom," says Lafoe.
Dressed for the show ring in tan pants and a white shirt, Briana Lafoe holds her Nubian doe's thin metal collar as she presents her to the judge.
Photo courtesy of Briana Lafoe.
"We watch as the kid's body grows, paying particular attention to the traits listed on the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) conformation scorecard," says Lafoe. "By knowing what each trait is worth, we can decide at 1 to 2 months whether or not to keep a kid."
Among the traits they look for are wide and straight rear legs and straight forelegs. They also look for kids that are level along the back line. For Nubians, longer ears are a desired trait.
Training for the ring
Every kid born at Fox's Pride is potentially a show goat, so all are treated as such from the moment they are born. "We show all the goats we keep," says Lafoe. Training for the ring is basically a four-step process:
1. Beginning the moment they are born, kids are rubbed all over so they grow accustomed to being touched. This not only begins the human/goat bonding process, but also prepares the goats for examination by show ring judges.
2. Between the 7th and 10th day of life, all goats are disbudded, a show ring requirement.
3. At 3 months, a relatively thin metal chain collar is put on each kid for the first time. "We never use a choke collar, and we never ever leave the collar on in the pen," says Lafoe. Leaving a collar on a goat is asking for trouble. In the show ring, Lafoe prefers using a thin, shiny metal chain to accentuate the goat's long, lean neck, a valued trait. "We add an extra link to the chain so it is not tight," says Lafoe.
4. After kids are accustomed to the chain, Lafoe begins leading them around by the collar. She walks each kid individually in and out of the pen. Walking kids out of the pen accustoms them to new places, while also teaching them to walk with her. While she is walking, Lafoe takes time to stop each kid and accustom it to staying still. She also holds up its head and puts the kid's feet in show position (front feet straight and square under the withers and rear legs wide and behind them), much as a judge would do when examining an animal. Lafoe's goal is to have each of her kids trust and obey her.
Grooming for the ring
Preparing upwards of 30 goats for each show takes a carefully orchestrated two weeks of work. Lafoe can no longer spend the 30 or 40 preshow grooming hours she lavished on each of her 4-H goats. Fox's Pride kids as young as 3 months and does upwards of 10 years are prepared for about eight shows a year in New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Bucks are included in only one or two of those shows. "Bucks are harder to show, and we don't usually show them. In the ring, I have to hold them by both collar and untrimmed beard so that they don't pull me," Lafoe explains.
Grooming goats for shows, which in the Northeast run June to mid-October, begins with a buzz cut. Hair is shaved to one length all over the body. "It's better to shave black does about a week before the show so the hair grows a little and looks shiny," says Lafoe. "White does, on the other hand, look better with shorter hair and should be shaved a day or two before the show." Milkers should also have the hair trimmed from their udders. Lafoe uses a surgical blade to do the job. The last shaving of the season, the one for October shows, is done in September, allowing time for a new coat to grow before cold weather. Hooves should be perfectly shaped and cleaned.
Grooming takes about one and a half hours per animal, except for Saanens and any other white or very light goats who may need more time for a preshow bath. "We hose them, suds and scrub them, and hose them clean. It's a process goats appreciate about as much as cats do," says Lafoe. "We sometimes use baby wipes instead," she adds.
It's show time!
Show days begin as early as 3 a.m. Up to 30 does, a combination of milkers and dry animals, are loaded into trailers timed to arrive about two hours prior to the show. Just before being led into the ring, goats are given a final touch-up grooming.
Because she shows in almost every class in every show, and because her grandmother often helps run the event and is not available to show, Lafoe sometimes depends on colleagues in the goat community to show some of her animals. She is grateful for this assistance, and the friendship, tips and help of other show participants.
Although it might appear to be a beauty pageant for goats, the purpose of dairy goat shows is to select goats that are both sound and productive. Showmanship is part of 4-H shows; other shows are conformation only. Showmanship includes fittings (grooming of animal, its ears, teeth and under tail). 4-H shows may also include conformation, packing (where goats wear a backpack and go through an obstacle course) and costume classes.
Judges decide how goats are to be presented in the ring. Participants generally walk clockwise with the goat between the showing person and the judge. When switching sides, participants should walk in front of their animals. Training should accustom goats to this move so they do not spook in the ring. Some judges prefer that animals be lined up head to tail, others side by side to make it easier to compare mammary systems. According to AGDA guidelines, the mammary system should be "strongly attached, elastic, well-balanced with adequate capacity, quality, ease of milking, and indicating heavy milk production over a long period of usefulness." To help judges see these traits, Lafoe suggests that dairy goats be full of milk, but not uncomfortably full. "If they have too much milk, goats will arch their toplines," she says.
After looking at animals, judges examine each animal to evaluate bone structure and udder. For bucks, judges feel the ribs, since rib spacing indicates good dairy goats. Finally, show officials compare the tattoos of winning champion, reserve champion, and best of breed with their papers.
People showing dairy goats at AGDA events should wear tan or white pants and a white top and closed-toe shoes.
Hundreds of ribbons hanging in the barn attest to Fox's Pride Dairy Goats, and Lafoe's, show ring success. Several more bags full of ribbons await display. "We may have to build a bigger barn to hold them all," jokes Lafoe.
Beyond the show ring
Facebook postings alert the world to the success of Fox's Pride Dairy Goats, and requests to purchase herd members come from all over the planet. Some of the farm's most recent goat shipments were to Canada and Bermuda. "Facebook is the best tool ever invented as far as business goes," says Lafoe. "Facebook is much easier to update than a website. During kidding season people watch as news of each new baby is posted. We may have as many as 20 people at a time watching the site."
When not in the show ring, Lafoe is busy studying to become an AGDA-licensed dairy goat judge, a goal she hopes to accomplish by 2014. Meanwhile, the goats are busy year-round making milk. The farm sells "all-natural milk" (a term they prefer to "raw"). Mary Fox makes goat milk fudge to sell at farmers' markets, and cheese and yogurt for their own use.
To help introduce children and adults to goats and the advantages of goat milk, Lafoe has developed a PowerPoint program. She contacts libraries, asking them to host her presentation, and with her go two or three young kids for children to pet.
Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Farming. She resides in Henniker, N.H..