Improving Fitness in Meat Goat Herds through Better Genetic Management

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2013: $230,000.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2017
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Richard Browning, Jr.
Tennessee State University

Annual Reports


  • Animals: goats


  • Animal Production: parasite control, livestock breeding

    Proposal abstract:

    Meat goat production in the US is emerging among small-scale operators. Fitness (i.e., reproduction and health) is often less than optimal for efficient herd performance. Fitness problems may be linked to inadequate genetic management within the prevailing production environment. A moderate to low input management system is important for meat goat enterprise profitability. The rising costs of livestock inputs make it more important to enhance the ability to goats to perform under limited resource conditions. One way to do this is through better genetic decision-making. This involves the appropriate selection and use of available breeds for a given set of production conditions. Better genetic decision-making also includes the use of tools to aid in the identification of genetically superior or inferior breeding stock within a herd or breed to make selection and culling efforts more effective. The Boer breed influence is most prevalent in the US goat inventory. Recent observations suggest that Boer does have relatively inferior fitness levels compared to Kiko and Spanish does under moderate-input pasture management conditions of the southeastern US. Similar studies are needed for Boer crossbred does. Producers are seeking to enhance Boer herd fitness through crossbreeding. New breeds such as the Savannah are also generating interest. Over three years, Boer crossbred and Savannah crossbred does will be compared to parental Kiko and Spanish purebred does for fitness traits on pasture typical of small farms in this region. Performance recording among meat goat producers has been lacking and is restricted to disconnected herd evaluations. An interactive outreach effort will be conducted to stimulate on-farm performance testing and enhance genetic evaluation in meat goat herds using a web-based genetic evaluation management tool for breeding value generation. The use of breeding values has long been commonplace in the other ruminant livestock sectors (beef and dairy cattle, sheep, dairy goats), but has not been strongly pushed among meat goat groups. Information generated will help small-scale, limited-resource producers make better genetic and general management decisions in their herds. Many of the input costs associated with meat goat management (feed costs, herd health costs, replacement animal costs) are inflated by poor genetic decision-making leading to increased management needs to compensate for unfit genetics that are a poor match with the prevailing production environment. This will lead to increasingly unsustainable meat goat enterprises given the escalating input costs that are not matched by increased market goat prices. Herd productivity and profitability would be enhanced by better genetic management. Small- and mid-sized limited resource farms that define the meat goat industry would become more competitive in fulfilling the growing consumer demand for goat meat largely satisfied by imports.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research objectives include evaluating Boer F1 and Savannah F1 does for birth to weaning reproductive performance and annual health-related indicators. Gastrointestinal parasitism will be the primary health focus. The crossbred genotypes will be compared to Kiko and Spanish straightbred foundation does. Outreach objectives consist of educating meat goat producers on enhancing doe herd performance through better doe evaluation, doe breed selection and performance recording along with implementing a web-based genetic evaluation program for meat goat herd performance testing. Over the course of three years, expected research outcomes include significant differences among the dam genotypes for reproductive performance and health indicators. This project will generate original information to enhance the existing knowledge on meat goat genetics. Research results will be used to increase awareness among producers on how Boer and Savannah germplasm may be viable options for pasture-based southern meat goat production. Impact is anticipated in both the seedstock and commercial sectors of the meat goat industry. Better doe herd genetics and associated fitness levels should serve producers well in improved herd performance and long-term sustainability through greater herd productivity with reduced management inputs. Reproductive output is closely associated with meat goat profitability. Reproductive management can also impact genetic evaluations. The seminar sessions on reproduction management and genetic decision-making are anticipated. Seminars and associated training activities will encourage producers to adopt practices such as scheduling controlled breeding seasons, using marking harnesses to monitor doe reproductive activity, recording breeding/kidding dates, and implementing a whole-herd performance testing program for better animal selection and culling decisions. After the dissemination of research results, seminar offerings, and initiation of the across-herd genetic evaluation program, producer feedback will determine if the long-range goal of enhancing meat goat production is accomplished. It will be some time before real success of the project will be known. Success is defined here as a sustained change in livestock production practices (e.g., modified reproductive management, altered breed utilization, consistent/sustained performance recording). In the long-term, it is expected that better genetic decision-making will lead to fitter meat goat herds that are more productive and(or) requiring fewer management inputs.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.