Intensive Kidding Systems
The Angora goat is capable of producing a high kidding rate and this is important for genetic progress, for mohair production and for animal sales. If intensive kidding increases the survival rate of kids to a point where it overcomes the extra cost, such systems should be encouraged. The additional advantages include the very accurate identification of kids and the ability to easily cross-foster kids to gain the best survival of the more useful kids.
An additional concern is that of breeding weaker animals. Clearly, preventing natural selection from acting to kill off weaker kids provides a selection pressure against survivability. However, in-so-far as farming is an artificial environment exploiting artificially selected characters under conditions which suit the breeder/farmer, natural selection processes might not be considered a high priority. Unfortunately the environment rarely provides a constant and appropriate selection pressure anyway. Cold snaps, rain, fox attack etc often account for all the kids born in a period, resulting in no selection at all. Alternatively a good spell allows all animals to survive.
Most breeders will already be using some form of intensive kidding or housing system. The question comes down to whether or not such systems can be scaled up to handle numbers required for commercial mohair production. Great care must be exercised here. It would be easy to assume the need for large scale farming and conclude that intensive housing of thousands of does at kidding would be impractical.
In practice, flocks of not more than 1000 animals are more realistic. Typically, such a flock might have 4-500 kidding does and such numbers can be handled in several good sized sheds with say two people working during the critical fortnight from week two to week four of the kidding period. Staggered mating might seem a solution to intense labour requirement and shed requirements however, experience shows that staggered joinings don't always result in staggered kidding.
What might we be dealing with? In my somewhat reduced kidding program last year some 306 does were put through an intensive kidding system. This involved housing at night and supervised kidding with an attempt to bring in individual does before they kidded. All does and kids were penned for 1-3 days before moving to creche mobs.
Twenty three does proved not to be pregnant but 423 kids were born from the remaining 283 does and 25 kids died from unavoidable reasons (half of these were genetically unsound and the rest were either too small to survive or died from misadventure).
A dry doe rate of 7% is close to the long term barren rate of 9% reported elsewhere. The kidding rate was 149% (per doe kidding) resulting in a weaning rate of 138% (per doe joined). This was achieved with 140 single births, 131 twin births and 7 sets of triplets. The twinning rate was therefore 46% (a little low) and the triplet rate was nearly 3%. Generally these results are consistent with other years.
The question which cannot be answered is:- "How many would have survived under a paddock kidding system?" This would depend in part on the time of year, the prevailing weather, and level of fox and crow control and the amount of "natural' shelter. Estimates vary from 60% to 90% for paddock weaning rates but there are very few published accounts of actual working systems.
Are the additional 65 kids per hundred does worth the effort ?
Intensive kidding systems range in complexity and capital inputs from a fully housed flock in single pens for the whole kidding period, to open compounds with either pens for does and kids under temporary shelter or drift kidding to collect does and kids each day. The rule would seem to be:- Do what is necessary to achieve a desired result. Eliminate the weakest link in the system. Since most does kid during day light hours (some maidens take a bit longer an kid in the evening) housing the flock at night might not be necessary but a dry camp would seem essential.
Inputs involve feed supply, surveillance, labour to catch and pen mothers and kids, skill to identify non-suckers etc and to take appropriate action, pens and shelter costs, and control of mud, faeces and bedding material. Adequate creche paddocks is also essential to hold the next stage after housing.
Kidding outside in "extensive" conditions can be appropriate but issues of stocking density, predators and climatic conditions still impinge on weaning percentages. Many does kidding at once in a small paddock can produce a disaster in kid mismothering and natural shelter can harbour foxes just as well as prevent exposure.
The decision to use greater inputs and intensive management on a large scale ultimately depends on the cost and the value of the kids which survive. In that sense, every situation is different and so there is never going to be a single answer; no right and wrong. But my conclusion is that the goat is not a sheep, the conditions and biology are different, and the potential weaning rate much higher so the benefits of intensive systems are worth the effort.
Managing the kidding sheds.
It is possible to develop a floor of "deep litter" over a gravel base in kidding sheds. It is essential to keep floor dry but with the use of judicious amounts of straw, a shed will last for the 6 weeks or so of kidding. As moisture accumulates bacteria act to gradually break down the material and (possibly) generate some heat though not to the extent seen in poultry sheds. Indeed, the level of ammonia build-up is sometimes a concern and a reason why sheds should not be totally enclosed. In wetter years the floor may become wet and even "sloppy" and must be abandoned before reaching this stage.
Pens to hold does and kids may make up one side of a shed and it is useful to have two rows with a lane about 1m wide between them. This allows for easy catching of does and penning. Pens should be used alternately so fighting or protective behaviour is not too intense. Does should not kid in these pens because of the excessive fluid and dampness which would build up. With judicious use, pens do not require cleaning and new does and kids can follow after a day or so, or when necessary.
If pens are made from 1.2m panels they can all be removed to facilitate the occasional clean out of the shed. This might take place every 5 years or so, depending on how much straw is added to the floor and how much microbial activity occurs.
© 2000 D.L. Stapleton