Posted in Uncategorized

Molding the Future – with Soap!

Overalls Knowledge

The near year gets farmers itching for the coming year’s
produce. Gardener’s pour over seed
catalogs. Livestock farmer’s dream of happy healthy babies, and in the goat
world some of us dream of show wins. But I’d like to put out an idea – what if
your goat show didn’t give out ribbons of acetate that will never break down,
even melt with noxious fumes if they burn?
What if you gave out “Functional Art,” pieces for awards? For those of us who farm to lower our carbon
footprint, Surfing Goat Soaps is another way to do that, with awards made of

For those who show goats, we’ve got lots of goat molds;
sheep raisers I’ve got your winning sheep award! Horsey people? What about a rearing steed? Or a child and
pony? Or even a driving pony with a wicker cart? Cat fanciers we’ve got cats for you…

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Posted in care, Goats, health, Uncategorized

Tough Little Hay Burners

040.JPGI see a lot of posts from people worrying about their goats in the winter. I want to set their minds at ease.
I live in a place where expect 25 below zero every winter, and usually get it at least once. I have had does deliver in these temps and in most cases, these are my strongest kids. My kids that come in the warmer weather aren’t as growthy or strong as my winter kids. I don’t know why, but I’ve seen it consistently in my 23 years of breeding.
Goats are native to most parts of the world, though not in North America. They are found in the Swiss Alps and the deserts of Pakistan. Even in the desert the nights get very cold, though not usually a moist cold. Those beautiful horns and ears are part of dispersing their body heat so they don’t overheat in the summer. That should tell you how efficient they are at producing heat from their little hay burner rumens.
If goats live in a sheltered place, out of the wind and moisture, they will hide their noses and keep the air warm that comes into their lungs. The last two nights it has been more than ten degrees below zero here in Northern Massachusetts, and my barn is at least ten degrees warmer than the outside. Why? Because of my little hay burning goats.
We have more goats than I would usually put in a pen, but given the winter, and that they can go outside most of the time if they want, we decided crowding them would help them keep each other warmer. It’s been working. Today, the sun came out. We got above zero, and my goats willingly went out into the snow to stretch their legs and soak up some solar heat.
The big struggle with goats in the winter is keeping water available. We all struggle with it. It’s really important that they get that liquid so they can keep moving food back and forth through their ruminant system. They don’t need more grain due to the cold. They need more hay. What they don’t eat will act as an insulation layer. Goats don’t waste hay. They just repurpose it to ways that we might not prefer.
When goats are wrapped in jammies, or sweaters or coats, their natural cashmere wool is deterred from growing. Their hair sticking up is a way of trapping warm amid their fur, but if it’s covered, they can’t do that. It may look cute, but it’s really unnecessary if your goats are generally healthy. If your goats are weak due to illness, then that extra layer is very helpful, and makes sense. But please don’t try to turn them into humans. They aren’t, and if we give them the tools they need, they’ll keep each other warm.
Lastly, a word about heat lamps. I do use them, but only for very newborn kids in very cold weather. My lamps are suspended from chains attached to the ceiling, in such a way that we can raise them as the kids get stronger, encouraging them to gain their own strength.

One spring, many years ago, I had a doe deliver a set of twins that were not very hardy. It was a damp, cold May day, and the two lamps that I had on them weren’t enough, so I clamped another one onto the stall door. Thank God we had a webcam in use, because by the time I walked the 25 feet from my barn to my house, Jewelyet had knocked the heat lamp into the shavings. I got into the house, checked the camera and saw the smoke! I ran back out, pulled the plug on the lamp, scooped up the shavings and the lamp and threw them into the snow and slush, and the barn was saved. Without that camera, I would have lost all my animals, hay, shavings and the building. That’s why my lamps are now suspended on chains, attached in such a way they can’t touch any wood.
Sometimes in our attempt to do our best, we do too much. Nature got goats through the Egyptian and Chinese dynasties, the French and American Revolutions, and all the way to present day without jammies and heat lamps. We love our goats because they’re smart. Let’s give them credit and help them take care of themselves, instead of trying to take over that responsibility more than we have to. We’ll never get it right like a Mama-Doe can, so we should watch and learn instead of trying to teach.

Okay, back to my blanket, because I don’t have a hay burning rumen.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Struggle with Horns


I don’t really want to repeat myself, but I’m going to risk it here. I just saw a post for them umpteenth time looking for a “Blue eyed, tricolor, polled buck with ADGA registration.”  While that person may find the buck she’s looking for, and she may have a herd in front of her that meets her goals, how does it help the breed?

Each of us who breeds Nigerian dwarf dairy goats have a responsibility beyond our pocketbooks and happy places. Our work will either build, or subtract, from the strength and perfection of the breed.  The goal of the breeders of this goat has always been to develop a “down sized” milker that presents a miniature version of a dairy goat.  That is not a statue of a goat, but a living, breathing, functioning dairy goat.

While management is important in a herd, in my opinion, the goal should be about herd health, not owner ease. Yes, I want my goats to be healthy and able to produce on less than optimal feed, because like many others, my pockets are not endless.  But learning to disbud was part of my learning curve, good and bad, not eliminating a trait from the breed.  Horns serve a purpose for goats, and yes they are a pain, literally.  But a goat is worth more than show time in the ring. I strive to disbud my animals, even my bucks, but I have come to accept that testosterone will always win.  I am not willing to risk the health of my boys in order to make sure that they never grow scurs.

I learned from a great goat man how to disbud, but I don’t like to be the “bad guy.” So when I was given the chance to pawn that off on someone else who offered to do the nasty work, I let him. That choice resulted in a dead kid, No Horns, but dead kid.  That person misrepresented his abilities, and my willingness to avoid the unpleasantry of a disbudding, cost that kid a lot of pain for many hours because the man who did the job wouldn’t not fess up that he didn’t know what he was doing.

After that catastrophe I let vets do my disbudding, only to watch my bucklings sit in a box for 2o minutes while the vet tried to minimize pain, but increased his stress levels intensely, only to have the worst scurs I’ve ever seen, result.  I’ve had bucks “dehorned” by vets, only to have them lose the tops of their heads, heal up, and grow horns back. So now I do my own disbudding and accept that there are bucks that are just so virile they are going to have scurs.

Why don’t I and the vet, use anesthesia during disbudding? Because for me, every shot is a chance for an adverse reaction.  Because I want to know right away if there’s a problem and that’s shown by their coordination, their reaction to pain, their willingness to get back to their mother. If I had reacted more quickly when that little wether didn’t bounce back to his mother. If had called a vet instead of “an experienced goat man.” If I had just trusted myself, he would not have gone untreated for 10 hours.  I could have given him a cold compress, Banamine, even aspirin, instead of what I did, which was trust a liar when he said “some goats are just wimps.” With anesthetic I wouldn’t have known about the brain burn, and he probably would have died anyway. I was new, back then, and I’ve learned a LOT, but there’s always  more to learn.

My feeling is that the bucks are not here for showing off in a ring. They are here to make babies. I don’t mind showing bucks, but I expect a judge to accept a scur, unless it is life threatening.  Why? Because I want strong virile bucks where the focus on was the milk, not the head.  I don’t milk the head.  I don’t birth horns. I can deal with the horns/scurs if I have to, as long as I have healthy, milking generations of a line, to build a breed.

I don’t care about eye color either, because I don’t milk eyes.  I also don’t milk color.  This goat breed is a breed of livestock, with a purpose, to make milk and babies.  I collect figurines of goats, in my house, but I don’t collect live goats in my house. I think people who are going to breed goats need to decide whether they want to collect figurines or animals. If they want me to help, or to buy from them, they had better be producing healthy, milking animals.  I don’t need “china” animals in my barn. I need strong ones.

If we focus on exterior qualities of our animals, the remaining gene pool will be geared town those “pretty things,” in cushy “goat houses,” sweaters, and jumping on everyone and everything.  If we focus on the production, conformation, personality and health of our animals then we will  be building a strong breed for the future. It’s going to be rough enough with climate shifting all the time. We need resilient animals, not pampered ones to survive. Let’s keep our gene pool diverse, within the herdbook, not focused on the image of the goat, but on their function.  Please think about that when you’re choosing your breeding stock. Do you want breakable or strong? Real or aspiring?

By the way, the buck pictured here is Hames & Axle’s YR Atlas, who combines the genes of Rosasharn, Gay-Mor, Jobi and Leighstar lines, one of the few animals that brings these diverse lines together. He is a cornerstone for this herd, scurs and all. Here is one of his daughters. He’s serving us well. Thank you boy!


Posted in Dairy, health, History, Nigerians

Gene Pool, What is That?

When the Nigerian dairy goat became an official breed it started with establishment of a herd book.  Herd books are lists of all the registered animals that are recognized by that registry as purebred.  Most herd books are eventually closed, meaning that no additional animals are supposed to be bred into the breed, or the resulting animals are considered “grade.”  These animals’ genetics are considered the “gene pool” that is allowed to be used in developing and refining a breed.

Initially the International Dairy Goat Registry, (IDGR) was the registry of record.  The organization has changed their name to the International Goat , Sheep and Camelid Registry.   At that time, in the 1980’s they did not promote shows or production programs, so those who had such interests contacted the American Goat Society (AGS).  The Nigerian dwarf goat was accepted into AGS Registry in 1984 and the herdbook was set to be closed in 1987, it was kept open until 1992, to allow for sufficient genetic diversity. The first animal registered with IDGR was Bullfrog Alley’s Johnny-Jump #2, owned by Mr. Robert Johnson, bred by Mrs. Bonnie Abrahamson of Utah.  AG#1F animal was a doe named Wright’s Pansy, owned by Francis Wright of Indiana.

In 2005, after many years of struggling, the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) accepted the breed, using the herd book that AGS had created, and utilizing their breed standard as well. During this developing time the original stock, some of which had been registered as Pygmies, or excluded from the Pygmy registry due to their color, were crossbred with many other breeds.  The term “Admitted on  Appearance,” based upon photographs that were examined by the Breed Committee, and affidavits that stated the animals’ height and parentage.  Eventually some bucks were accepted based upon progeny, meaning that their offspring stayed within bounds, and represented a “breeding true,” of the genetics.

All of this contributed to the genetic diversity that the Nigerian Dairy goat should be based upon.  While the breed stabilized we occasionally saw an occasional doe who “pushed the stick,” and goes overheight at shows. The height standard has always been a struggle for the Nigerian buck because it is based upon the Pygmy standard, a goat breed that is meant to be round shouldered and heavily boned and meated while the Nigerian is meant to be “sharp” with long bone pattern and dairy style rather than heavily set.  Meat goats convert their food to bone and meat, while dairy goats should convert that food to milk and cream.  When breeding for a more dairy animal, there should be some room for refinement and growth that coincides with sexual dimorphism – male goats are bigger than females.  But there is no accepted difference other than a meager 1 inch, which can be effected by seasons, hormones, even terrain.  The drive to remedy this problem is an ongoing one, with a great deal of fervor on both sides.

But since ADGA accepted the Nigerian there has been a significant change in the stature of tbe does, and their conformation, which is not consistent with the goats that built the breed.  That is why I am concerned, and others are too, that some animals that were not in the herdbook were used in certain breeding programs.

Many years ago, after ADGA accepted the ND, there appears to have been an influx of new genes into the breed.  Dozens of ND breeders petitioned ADGA to investigate the changes seen in the ring at that time, but the ADGA board handed it over to the ND Breed Standard committee, and nothing was done. I was one of the people who petitioned that ADGA use DNA testing to make sure we were seeing purebred animals, but the rumor mill took over, law suits were filed and threatened, and nothing happened.

The chief breeder who was being investigated has since passed away, but that herd name has now infused throughout the ND gene pool.  Recently ADGA posted the Elite Doe list for 2018, which is based on DHIA production rankings, out of the Top 30 does, the 99% percentile does, 6 of the does are listed as “having ADGA Disqualifying traits.”   That’s 20% of the Top ND’s.  While it doesn’t specify what the trait is, overheight is the most common fault seen in the breed.

The Elite Buck list is much smaller, the buck in 98% percentile, found in 11 herds, is designed as a “having disqualifying trait,” which may be overheight as well.  For the total Elite buck list, with 21 bucks listed,  5 if those buck are listed with an “*”, the symbol used for that disqualification notation.  Those bucks are found in 24 DHIA herds, out of a 89 herds. That is just less than 26% of the herds effected by these bucks.

I am not against the use of overheight animals for production. I consider myself a farmer more than a breeder, so I value production.  But I do also care about the standard of our breed, and the overall health of the breed.  I think we need to conduct some serious study about the the effects of these increases on individual health, herd health, and the strength of our breed going forward.

So, when we look at the gene pool, we need to look to more than just the parentage. We need to look at the ancestry going backward, and start some DNA collection, as ADGA is now doing, to see where changes happened and when.  The changes that were made have most likely been stayed by the new buck DNA requirement, but we need to look beyond the Elite Doe, Top 10 lists and Superior Genetics list, and who’s getting the wins.  Our judges need to look at proportion, and our breed clubs need to look at the goat as a whole, which is not as easy as studying DHI lists, as most herds are not being tested, so that isn’t a sufficient sample. This isn’t about “goat politics” but about keeping a healthy, sustainable breed going forward, which seems to have been lost by a lot of breeders who are now chasing titles, rather than working toward an ideal Nigerian dairy goat. I hope people will join in this effort.

Posted in conformation, Dairy, Future, History, Nigerians, Style, Uncategorized

When is a Dwarf a Dwarf?

When the term Nigerian Dwarf was coined it was with the intent to create a miniature version of an Alpine dairy goat.  I don’t think it was meant to represent a full sized body on small legs, but to be a proportional miniature, which meant an appropriate sized head, udder and legs, complete with the “wedge” shaped body found in dairy goats. That wedge-shape, “in curving thighs, ” and strong topline were important in building the breed.  But what I am seeing now is far from that.

Let me show you an example from my own herd. I will only use their call names so I don’t hurt anyone, but these are a dam daughter from the development of Hames & Axle:

Splish Splish804


Splish in the above photo is three years old, while Chamisoul is just a yearling here, but she is same doe that is on the cover of this site. Look at the strength of her brisket.  Splish is nothing to sneeze at in the body capacity department, but Cham has more length of body, and as she aged, she developed her dam’s spring of rib, but over a longer back.
This is Chami’s sire:
So you can see where she got some of her traits. She has become the foundation of our herd, but how would she do in today’s show ring? The fact that she is 12 years old now and still looks sound and not much different that she did when she was 5, is what I’m breeding for – a healthy, long lived goat.  Is that what is being developed now?  I’m asking, because I don’t know.

The breed has grown so fast in recent years, social media is pushing color and eye color more than conformation and production.  As a breeder I feel that I need to try and promote a healthier view of the breed, comment and let me know what you think. Thanks.

Posted in Uncategorized

What Am I Worried About?

In recent years I’ve seen more people having problems with the general health of their Nigerian dairy goats.  I’ve been wondering whether it’s due to climate change? or changes in feed needs? or loss of hardiness? or just bad luck?

I know this winter/spring’s kidding season was a tough one here at Hames & Axle Farm. We lost a lot of our first group of kids, due in part to temperature swings in the air around them. We live in the Massachusetts’ hills of Central MA, where it is commonly cold, which is a blessing when it comes to controlling parasites.  But this January, February and March we saw swings of 70 degrees on one day and below zero temperatures the next. Air went from dry and cold to wet and warmer, and it seemed that even the does were having a problem figuring out how to care for their kids.
Did anyone else this?

I also saw deformities in kids that I’ve never seen before. I had two does deliver kids without ever passing fluid first, leaving dry deliveries with mal-presented kids. One of them had a set of triplet bucks all with deformed jaws and non-descended testicles. This is a doe that has routinely been a easy kidder. She had an unusual amount of amniotic fluid, according to my vet. Personally I think it looked worse than it was because she hadn’t passed any before the kids started emerging, but another breeder I know had a similar situation with excess fluid and deformed kids. Is that a food issue? a fluke? How can I avoid this in the future?

This is just a start of the conversation that I’d like to have about the health of Nigerian dairy goats. What have you  been seeing?  Let me know, please?


Posted in Uncategorized

The Changes in the Breed

When I first learned about the Nigerian Dwarf goat breed it was through the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC.)  They were are rare breed that was being developed from pygmy goats, or so I thought.

The goal of the breed was to develop a miniature version of an Alpine goat, with proper conformation, but balanced. They were called a dwarf goat rather than a pygmy or a midget because they were intended to be smaller versions, but with the same comparative conformation of the full sized breeds.  They differed from pygmies in their dairiness, and the length of bone.  The breed has come so far since then, but I’ve been worrying for awhile now what direction they were actually going in.

The purpose of this blog is to encourage conversation about the Nigerian dairy goat, and try to promote the health of the breed for the future.  I’ll be covering all sorts of things, but PLEASE, participate in the conversation.  We do not all have to agree with each other; after all we all love goats.  But we do need to respect each other, deal from facts and experiences, and not fall into name calling or disrespect. I do not want this blog to be mine alone, but I do want it to be a place for civil discourse.

Some of the issues addressed here will not be “proveable,” but they will be a pause for thought. The 2018 ADGA National Show showed some trends in the breed that were a far cry from where the breed started from.

This photograph was taken by Katrene Johnson of Unicorn Farms in New Jersey, of Gladys Porter Zoo Usiku.  Compare her with the 2017 ADGA Champion, with a photo taken by Stephen Pope at
GPZUsikuHow much change do you see?

Can you see the dairyness that was discovered in Usiku and her cohort?  How has that been refined in the last 30 years?

If you have pictures that you’d like to seen included in this conversation, please obtain permission before using them, but if you can get that permission, please send them to me.  I can be reached at  Please refer to the Blog in the Subject line, so I’ll make sure it doesn’t get Spam Filed.  Let the conversation begin!