Anke Sieker, a Scottish goatkeeper, writes about what to expect at a show
The goat tent is always one of the major attractions at agricultural shows. Lots of visitors tell me that they grew up with a ‘household’ goat and children asking what the funny things dangling from under the goats’chins are…(*) Types of shows Most goat competitions at agricultural shows are run under the rules of the British Goat Society (BGS) and entail a milking competition in addition to the goats being assessed in the show ring. Classes are for female kids, goatlings and adult females in milk in the different breeds. There is an unusual feature in the goat world in that cross-bred goats, with two BGS registered parents, can be registered in the ‘British’ section of the UK herdbook and then be shown in shows in the AOV (Any Other Variety) class. There are also goat shows, often taking place in agricultural marts, that have additionally classes for male goats (kids, bucklings and billies). These shows, open to the general public on request, are advertised through the BGS. For the prospective goatkeeper, these are the most valuable to visit. It is here, in a much less crowded atmosphere than at larger shows, that good discussions can be had with experienced goat keepers about breeds and breeding, keeping billy goats and raising kids. Assessing the aroma of billy goats close up – even though they are spruced up and in their Sunday best – makes those decisions about keeping males a lot easier… Some shows also have classes for pygmy and/or angora goats, along the same lines as the dairy breeds. Milking competitions Most of the adult females entered into a show take part in the milking competition. Animals will have to be in the showground the evening before and are milked out under the supervision of the steward by a certain time, usually 6.30pm.Very early the next morning they will be inspected by the judge with their full udder, then are milked out again by a given time and the milk yield recorded. Samples are taken for butterfat and protein analysis. The judge will take morning milk yield and ‘full udder’ shape into consideration when judging later in the morning. Evening milk yields are again recorded, another sample taken, and both sets of samples sent off to be analysed. Goats can be awarded a star (*) or a Q* as a suffix to their pedigree name if they reach a certain number of points in a milking competition. These points are calculated using a complex formula; factoring in yields, butterfat and protein content as well as length of lactation. Stars stay with the goat for life and are much coveted. What’s the judge looking for? Inspection in the ring is always a bit nerve racking. I am still a novice at showing, and many competitors have been doing the ‘rounds’ for ever… There is a knack to getting your goat to stand properly – squarely on all four legs – and I am still learning. They are also assessed when walking, from behind and the front, as well as both sides. Straight legs, an even, well rounded udder nicely attached to the belly, a long feminine neck, good overall shape, milk yield and other points are taken into consideration. It is quite difficult to spot why the judge has settled on a particular goat for his/her winner. But even when you are fairly far down to the end of the line, the judge’s comments on your animal are always constructive and should help you develop your herd and breeding strategy. Getting ready With long-coated Golden Guernsey goats, the show preparations are an ongoing summer project. Shortly after kidding, I start again to brush them. After a long winter of not doing this regularly, the job takes several days, as the goats become impatient and there are only so many treats they can have per day. Once the first brushing is complete, a twice-weekly maintenance job is usually enough. About a week prior to the show their feet are given a thorough pedicure. Leaving this to the last day would mean any accidental bleeding would not have a chance to heal. The day before travelling, all the goats have a bath – tied up securely and using warm water in buckets. I have found that a normal (human) 2-in-1 works well for longer coats. The goats are shampooed all over, with particular attention to the backend, udder and feet. My goats do not enjoy the bathing, and it is always a competition as to who gets wetter – I normally win hands down. After a complete rinse the long-coated girls are quickly brushed through again, so that the coat lies nice and flat. Most goatkeepers will rug their girls, but mine are very good at taking their coats back off. I normally take some shampoo to the show to deal with any emergencies. After their bath the goats are kept inside in freshly cleaned out pens until it is time to go. Getting there… Packing the car with the essentials for a show requires an ever-growing list, from water buckets (and bucket holders) to special treats. As it is usually an overnight stay, I also take a tent, sleeping bag and food for me and the human kids. My children like to come with me, and some shows have classes for junior handlers. These are an excellent opportunity for my girls to show off their favourite goat. Most showgrounds provide straw for bedding, but all feed for the animals has to be brought in. My goats are very partial to their homegrown branches of hazel, willow and ash – these will be cut just before take-off and stuffed into the last available space. A reliable trailer is a must but, in comparison to sheep or pigs, loading goats is easy. They just walk in on the lead! All movements to and from shows need documented in the usual way, and all show grounds must have a CPH number. Oh, and not to forget the white coat – the one and only item in our household to get ironed before use… Once arrived, we settle in the goats, find a spot for our tent, and then prepare for evening milking. As goatkeepers are a fairly sociable bunch, after milking a meal in the local pub or a barbecue is often organised. Why am I doing it? There are no financial rewards in showing your goats. It is, at times, quite a bit of extra work. I am usually quite exhausted after a not-so-good night’s sleep in the tent listening to the going-on’s of caprine nightlife. Why am I doing it? I love to take my animals out, to show them off at their (hopefully) best and to compare them to others. It is only when they are all in a line that differences between them become obvious, and you can assess yours against the ‘competition’. However a ‘winner’ only represents that judge’s personal opinion on that particular day, so no hard feelings if you at the end of the line. But a red rosette is always worth it! (*) So what are these dangley bits? They are known as toggles or tassels, and appear on mostly the Swiss breeds, both males and females. Not all goats have them. Their original purpose is not known. They are just hollow pieces of gristle, covered with hair and have no specific function. But the goat kids love to chew them, so they may just be ‘goat dummies’.