by Wendy Komancheck
"Nubians are noted for butterfat and protein production. This is very beneficial in the process of cheese-making," said Cathy Soult, president of the Pennsylvania Dairy Goat Association. She and her daughter, Gwen, raise Nubian goats at Wayside Acres Dairy (www.waysideacres.com
) in Newport, Pa.
"This breed can be raised for meat production, and also may be crossed with meat-type goats," Soult explained. "This breed tends to have multiple kids at each birthing, and the kids are usually smaller, which makes birthing easier."
Linda Spahr, animal science educator for Penn State Extension in York, Pa., noted that Nubian goats are a hardy breed. Spahr agreed with Soult that Nubians have a high butterfat content in their milk, which is good for making cheese, and it is also ideal for making soap and body lotions, as well as for drinking the milk.
Return on investment
"Like any dairy animal, sound nutrition, a good parasite control system and adequate housing are all needed," Spahr said. "High-producing Nubians will need a higher level of protein to sustain body weight, but Nubians are very easy keepers and maintain their body weight well, even when milking heavily."
For a good start in raising Nubian goats, generally a farmer needs one buck to service about 15 does.
"The bucks are smelly during the rut and can be dangerous. If folks are just starting, I'd encourage them to start with a small herd of five to 10 does, make arrangements to borrow a buck for the first year, and then decide if you want to stay in business. If five does have twins and triplets, your herd will increase to 15 to 20 animals in one season," Spahr explained.
Spahr's advice: Look into a doe's mouth before you purchase her. Spahr noted that Nubians have bad mouths, meaning there's a tendency for their bottom jaws to jut out.
"Make sure when buying breeding animals that the top teeth and the bottom teeth come together, and the top of the bottom jaw doesn't jut out past the other."
The Nubians that you buy should also have healthy feet. Spahr explained that Nubians can weigh up to 200 pounds, and that weight puts a lot of pressure on the goat's pasterns and hooves.
Spahr said, "If either of the pasterns is weak or the hooves are flawed, it can cause an animal pain. Then they won't walk or stand to be bred or milked, and will need to be culled from the herd at a much younger age than goats with good feet and legs."
Additionally, she noted that the breed has a history of foot problems. The most common foot problem in Nubians is toe spreading, where the toes either spread to the side or split. Toe spreading leaves the skin open to infection.
Spahr's rule of thumb for picking a buck: "Always breed for the ideal."
According to Spahr, some breeders think that a flaw in their doe, such as a right-leaning nose or a weak loin, can be fixed by being bred with a buck that has a left-leaning nose or an extremely high groin.
"That isn't the way genetics work," she explained. "The ideal buck is one that is structurally correct, has good feet and legs and a good personality. He should have sound production behind him in his pedigree. In the above case, you would breed a buck with a straight nose, and after several generations you should have your problem corrected."
Two Nubian kids and their mother.
Nubian labor and birth
Nubian does gestate for five months, and they make it clear when they're in labor. In the first stage, you can tell a Nubian mother is in labor when she starts building a nest. She may talk to her kids by turning her head back and bleating. She is both restless and friendly during this stage, which can last from one to 24 hours.
In the second stage, the water bag starts to present. The doe will lie down and prepare to push. According to Spahr, this stage should not last more than four to five hours.
For the third stage, the doe is pushing and attempting to deliver the kid. Spahr said that in most cases the mother won't need your help, but you should be there in case she does.
"Make sure you have on a plastic breeding-type glove, or at the very least have lubricated your arm with K-Y Jelly or something similar. Don't use dish soap or anything harsh," Spahr said.
The typical Nubian labor lasts from one to two hours for prime age does, and 24 hours for maiden or older does, whose muscles are weaker.
Nubians are known to have twins and triplets. This is an area where the doe may need some assistance from you in helping her clean up her kids while she continues giving birth. However, you need to know when to back off from helping her.
"A good manager is making sure all the kids are born without any of the water bag still on their faces. Clean off the face, and if the doe has multiple kids, you may need to help her clean them off, depending on the temperature. The doe needs to clean her babies to bond with them, so don't take them away unless you absolutely have to. Make sure all of the kids get colostrum [first milk] as soon as possible, and make sure there is no mastitis," Spahr said.
The breeding process is seasonal; you breed does in the fall, and they will kid in late winter or early spring. Spahr said the herd's milk supply will start to dwindle in the late summer, signaling that it will soon be breeding time.
"There is technology available that will help owners bring goats into estrus so they can be bred, but it may not be something a new herd owner wants to invest in until they go through a season or two," Spahr said.
According to Soult, compared to other dairy breeds, Nubians are not difficult to raise.
"Their lactation curve is shorter, and the quantity of milk is sometimes less than other dairy breeds. They do tolerate heat better than Swiss breeds," Soult explained. "There are some genetic issues involving Nubians. One of them, beta-mannosidosis, affects newborn kids; they are unable to rise and have flexed front legs and straight back legs."
Soult also mentioned G6S, another genetic disease that leaves kids unable to grow. The only way to resolve these issues is to have DNA testing done.
Overall, Nubians can give you a nice start to a dairy goat farm. You probably won't produce enough milk to make cheese and other products right away unless you add more to your herd or mix your herd with other breeds of dairy goats. However, by starting out small, you can discover if raising Nubian goats is a good idea for you.
A member of the Garden Writers Association, Komancheck writes about the green industry from her home near Ephrata, Pa. Contact her at email@example.com.
Photos courtesy of Phil Cassette.
Is your interest piqued about Nubian goats? You can learn more about the breed by contacting the American Dairy Goat Association at 828-286-3801, or visit the association's website at www.adga.org. Other helpful links include www.goatconnection.com and the discussion group at www.cybergoat.com/NubianTalk.
Two-day-old Nubian kids.
A Nubian doe giving birth to twins.
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