Record keeping and the use of measurement
Permanent identification of all animals is absolutely essential in order to correlate data. All the records and fleece results in the world are useless if they cannot be related back to the animal from whom they came. Various forms of identification are available such as ear tags, horn branding and tattooing. Some goats seem to be able to reject ear tattoos, and horn branding requires expensive initial outlay for equipment, it is time consuming to perform and impossible in the newborn kid. For these reasons, ear tagging is the most common method of permanent identification. Different systems are adopted by various growers depending on how much information they wish to be able to discern from the ear tag. Many growers who run stud and commercial flocks use a different system for each group.
In earlier days, foundation stock were given a tag indicating that this was the starting point in the flock. For example, yellow tags were used on all foundation stock whether they were feral, bred-on or other breeding. Thereafter, their progeny were tagged according to the chosen system. Some growers use a certain colour tag, denoting year of birth eg. blue =1999 drop. Others use an age mark on the ear and use the colour to denote the generation of breeding so that a yellow tagged doe only ever has red tagged progeny, indicating first generation.
Tags may also be used in other ways such as to denote the sire group a doe was running in. Colour Leader tags are very useful for this purpose such as in a flock where all goats are not individually identified. Therefore, a group of does with plain brown leader tags may have run with a particular sire and their progeny can be given the same tag. In this way, the progeny of sires may be followed through their lifetime as a group.
In stud herds where pedigreed records are maintained, more information may be required in a tagging system. Many breeders use sequential tag numbers as the kids are born. These tags are purchased directly with the numbers written on them. An alternative is to write the number on the tag as the kids are born. Thus, 9 can be used to denote 1999 drop, the dam's number may be used on all her progeny, an A or B will indicate a member of a twin pair. For example 9-103 A is a twin born in 1999 whose mother is 103. The colour of the back tag may also be colour coded to indicate the sire.
This system allows identification of superior dam and sire lines at a glance, which pass on their good conformation and fleece characteristics to their progeny. Some people use the ear or size of the tag, to indicate sex. Breeders with a registered ear mark may choose to denote sex that way e.g. males on the left and females in the right ear.
The ACGA has adopted the sheep ear tag eight colour system in conjunction with its own alpha system:
This system is not mandatory.
Records. To ensure progress within a herd intensive records are also essential. It is imperative that all information pertaining to any one animal, both performance and progeny, be recorded and kept updated. Reference should be made to these records regularly and an analysis made on an animal's individual performance as against the herd average. Consistent recording standards are important if animals are to be compared, especially over a number of years.
The most suitable method of storing goat records is on a computer for fast retrieval of individual and group records. Ideally, the data should be placed in a programmable data base format to facilitate flexible sorting of data and to enable calculations to be made on the data, such as group averages and, especially, selection indices (see Goat Note "Breeding Cashmere in Australian Goats".
Alternatively, or in addition, a card system may be used for each animal so that for a given doe, for example, there is a record of her own birth data, shearing and fleece data and kidding performance over successive years.
Monitoring criteria should always be based on goat characteristics necessary to the commercial viability of the operation (down length, diameter etc.) rather than on features of no economic importance (horns, head shape, ears etc.). Commercially important features of cashmere goats, which should be monitored and compared, include total fleece weight, down weight, yield and length, micron, uniform coverage and colour, physical size and weight, conformation, buck and doe fertility.
Data from individually recorded animals. Birth date and shearing records are of prime importance. The type of information that may be collected at these times is given in the examples below.
Birth Data Example.
NOTE: Birth coat may be scored for type eg. straight or curly.
Fleece Data Example.
Note: Down length (DL) is measured on the neck, midside and rump of the animal, according to the Wollongbar method, and the average of these is taken.
Recording commercial herds. In commercial flocks, where individual animals are not measured, recorded or identified, it is still possible to maintain detailed records on their performance and monitor flock progress. During shearing, a careful tally should be kept of the animals shorn in each group and fleece class. The fleece results for these groups can then be tabulated.
In all these records, it is important to compute records for all animals in the group, including the low producers or does that may have shed at shearing. In this way, when low producers are culled, the figures will reflect the increase in average production.
Through the year, a record is kept of other performance details:
These results allow close monitoring of an age group, or mob from year to year. In the above group, the dry does would probably be culled in a commercial situation, or if weaners, allowed a second chance. Identification such as a plain coloured leader tag or horn painting with a distinctive colour, allows these dry does to be followed in consecutive years. Weaning percentage has a very important role in the number of animals available to select from in the following years, and it is unwise to keep animals, (despite high fleece production) that cannot rear a kid in two consecutive years. Changes in diameter with age, fibre distribution and down weights can be compared between age groups and year-to-year, in animals running on the same property. A seasonal adjustment may be necessary if some animals have gone through hard conditions, or drought, in their lifetime, when being compared with another group that have not been stressed.
To ensure that progress is being made within a herd, it is essential to use objective fleece measurement. The amount of testing will depend on the grower. Visual fleece assessment is also useful and can be compared with objective measurement to identify gross test errors, and to fill in the gaps for non-tested animals. Breeders with experience backed by test results may become adept at assessing diameter on a consistent basis as to super-fine, fine, and over. With some practice and the use of a simple ruler to measure down length, it is also possible to rank the animals for down production with some assurance. (see Goat Note "Breeding plans using feral goats"). This may be used as a screening technique to reduce the amount of testing required, so that the top 20% of a group can then be objectively measured. This technique is effective when large variations in down production are evident, but it will not be effective once the herd becomes more uniform.
In assessing yield visually, allowance should be made for long and short guard hair. Generally a long guard haired animal will not have the obvious appearance of down as does with short hair. It is important to compare a doe's fleece results with those of her progeny. Many feral does may not produce a high weight of down themselves, but have an ability to produce progeny with much higher weights when joined with a cashmere buck. Minimum measurement such as diameter and total fleece weight will be very useful in ranking the does in a herd.
As stressed elsewhere, it is essential that full objective measurement of all sires is carried out. Without the use of measurement, breeders are working in the dark, regarding their fleece production. They need to be aware that genetic progress is impossible unless they are using genetically superior animals. Many of the animals tested will not be used in the herd, and should not be sold for breeding purposes. Only rigid culling to retain the top performing bucks of the male drop will ensure maximum genetic gain.
© 2000 A.C.G.A.