Boosting production and profitability by improving goat genetics

Improving the genetic quality of their livestock will help Ontario’s dairy goat farmers be more profitable and may open doors to new markets too.

To help farmers move their herd management to the next level, Ontario Goat received an investment from the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (CAAP) to launch GoGen. This three-year pilot project is focused on herd health protocols and breed evaluation through registration, milk recording, young sire testing, genetic evaluation, type classification and assessment of artificial insemination use.

“These breed evaluation tools already exist in the dairy cattle industry but needed to be adapted to meet the needs of dairy goat producers,” says Kevin Weaver, GoGen project co-ordinator with Ontario Goat. “Through GoGen we’ve been able to bring them all together into a single integrated program for the dairy goat industry.”

The project includes approximately 2,000 goats on 12 Ontario farms. Participating farmers are required to register and type-classify all does, as well as record their milk production. All data collected during the evaluation is uploaded to so genetic evaluations can be calculated. It is also shared with other pilot participants and across the industry to help set benchmarks for all dairy goat herds.

As a result of the project, the milk recording service for goats has been redeveloped and computerized to offer lower cost testing to producers. Through development of an all-breed classification system for dairy goats, animals can now be classified four times per year with timely, efficient reporting and at a lower cost than before. As well, a new data exchange system has been developed that links all breed evaluation data so that it can be shared and used by all service providers.

“Information gathered on-farm can now flow through for breed evaluation and back to producers. Ultimately, participation in GoGen will give dairy goat producers the information they need to make better management decisions,” explains Weaver. “In dairy cattle farms, data has shown a direct correlation between genetically superior animals and higher profits and through GoGen, this is now available to dairy goat producers as well.”

Oxford County dairy goat farmer Ian Mayberry signed up his 200-doe herd to be part of the GoGen pilot so he could take the next step in herd management and improve his production. He also wanted to be part of the project’s health protocols for Caprine Arthritis-Encephalitis (CAE), a debilitating disease that affects goats’ mobility and production.

“Milk recording adds another perspective to the value of your milk. It’s based not just on volume but also on quality, such as fat and protein content. With the information in the database, a farmer is able to better select the genetics he’d like to retain in his herd,” says Mayberry. “This project helped us accelerate the opportunity to use these tools in a quick and user friendly package. Along with increased production, GoGen also helped us substantially improve our herd health through CAE testing and eradication. Issues caused by respiratory related illnesses, particularly in the younger stock, have been reduced to nearly zero percent.”

The CAAP investment was keying in enabling Ontario Goat to develop, research and implement GoGen and Weaver says the project would not have been possible for such a small organization to undertake without the ability to access funding through the program. In addition to supporting the growth of Ontario’s dairy goat industry, these improvements may also open future domestic and international markets for goat genetics.

Investment in this project was provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program. In Ontario, CAAP is delivered by the Agricultural Adaptation Council. More information on GoGen is available by contacting Ontario Goat at 1-866-311-6422.

View the GoGen project summary video on YouTube

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