Introduction to the Genemaster™ Program

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Maximizing Production by Harnessing Hybrid Vigor

Alternative Breeding Strategies for Boer and Kiko Goats

The Genemaster™ Program

Background

Since the arrival of the Boer and the Kiko goat in the United States the primary emphasis has been on the breeding of purebred animals (whether by natural mating or embryo transfer) and the upgrading to purebred by using registered purebred males over Spanish and Nubian base females. As a consequence of high retail prices and a single minded pursuit of purebred status to satisfy the undoubted breeders' market that then existed, few animals have been offered for slaughter in commercial circumstances. In fact, virtually no purebred Boer or Kiko goats are currently being run in truly commercial conditions with the result that performance figures are significantly skewed by excessively intense management and a predilection for pen feeding. Both factors have combined in the case of the Boer goat to ensure that it is almost impossible to determine what the purebred Boer is capable of in commercial conditions in the United States.

Research by Texas A & M has been conducted on the crossing of fullblood Boer males over Spanish females, a cross which it was anticipated would substantially increase the meat producing potential of Texas' large population of Spanish goats. While preliminary results indicated that gains made were not likely to be commercially significant, further research has suggested that in fact modest improvements may be expected by the judicious crossing of Boer and Spanish goats. This research has, however, concentrated primarily on weight gains and there has been little consideration of the adaptability of the Boer goat to Texas range conditions.

Research conducted by Goatex Group LLC in New Zealand has investigated the coupling of the desirable meat characteristics of the Boer goat with the hardiness, low management inputs and high meat yield of the Kiko. At this time the company is embarking upon a substantial crossbreeding program to confirm on meaningful populations the results achieved in its limited scale trials.

The Boer Experience

Since its introduction to New Zealand quarantine farms in 1988 the Boer goat has been watched with considerable interest by New Zealand meat producers to see whether its promise would be fulfilled in commercial pastoral conditions. With their release from quarantine conditions in early 1993, Boers have been farmed by a small number of competent goat farms throughout the country in conditions ranging from the subtropical north to the subantarctic south. In keeping with New Zealand farming practices, these animals have been grazed on developed pastures, predominantly rye grasses and clover.

There has been no supplementation, save that normally given to New Zealand's sheep flocks: hay, grain, standing greenfeed or brassica crops in areas affected by severe winters. There is no housing of commercial livestock in New Zealand and the animals have been subjected to standard New Zealand management regimes.

The following observations summarize the New Zealand farmers' experience with Boer goats:

  • management inputs have been substantially greater than anticipated. While livestock prices have remained high these could be justified but with a falling breeders' market (purebred females of breeding age are anticipated to fetch less than $US300 in the current sales season) and an approaching reliance on a slaughter only income, management costs must be reduced to a level no greater than that of sheep
  • female fertility has been impressive but there have been instances of infertility in males with some males displaying lack of libido. This may have arisen from lack of stringent selection for stud sires: the culling rate for males has not been as rigorous as it might have been because of the apparently insatiable demand from the North American market
  • females enjoying elevated hierarchical status within the social group may tend to dominate the attentions of the male at mating to the detriment of lower ranked females
  • females have generally required levels of shepherding at parturition in excess of the that accorded to sheep flocks. While dams have exhibited good maternal response when bonded to their offspring, the first twelve hours of life can prove critical to the survival of the dam's issue
  • high birth weights relative to other breeds of goat have tended to mean that newly born kids do not exhibit the vigor required to ensure their unaided survival if climatic conditions are less than ideal at the time of their birth.
  • females have ample milk to satisfactorily rear multiple offspring. Multiple nipples and bifurcated nipple clusters have not significantly impeded suckling nor the dam's ability to deliver adequate nutrition to her offspring
  • all adult animals (and more particularly juveniles and kids) appear to display a susceptibility to internal parasites (especially haemonchus contortus) on a par with Angora goats. In New Zealand, during periods of parasite prevalence, both Angoras and Boers may require drenching every three weeks. This is generally considered to create management costs which mitigate against economic commercial production
  • in areas of rainfall exceeding 25 inches per annum there is a propensity for animals to develop footrot and footscald. Hoofcare tends to be an ongoing problem in some animals. A predisposition to clinical conditions of the hoof is a prime culling parameter on New Zealand farms. Boer goats have generally been found unsatisfactory in this regard, although certain bloodlines have been noticeably free from foot faults
  • all animals are placid in nature and are easily handled in sheepyards
  • growth rates are generally good but juveniles and kids are adversely affected by drought, parasitic depredations and seasonal stresses occasioned by restricted feed intake. In addition, during periods of high growth all stock requires significant supplementation of trace minerals

Many of the above factors, coupled with returns for goat meat substantially below US prices, have led commercial goat farmers to question the viability of purebred Boers as a diversification option on New Zealand farms.

 

The Genemaster™ Program

Goatex Group LLC has embarked on an extensive analysis in New Zealand to determine the most profitable mode of management for the production of primal cuts and carcasses of goat meat. It has identified a carcass in the weight range 10-12 kgs as being potentially the most profitable for the following reasons:

  • with correct management of purpose bred goats this weight is attainable for the minimum management inputs hence minimum costs
  • purpose bred goats correctly managed can deliver the target carcass weight at weaning or soon thereafter
  • a premium attaches in some markets to animals of this weight which are milkfed and are slaughtered at weaning
  • carcasses of this weight deriving from purpose bred goats come from young animals with consequent tenderness and minimal numbers of carcasses condemned during the meat inspection process
  • young animals of this weight tend to have higher cutting percentages - that is, they have more meat relative to carcass weight than older animals of the same weight
  • target weight carcasses from young animals tend to have a greater degree of fat cover than those of older animals

With these factors in mind, Goatex Group has been striving to produce an animal that will maximize returns for the farmer by producing a premium product at a minimum cost. To this end the company has been crossing Boer males with selected Kiko females to produce trial lots of animals. The company now has F3 animals on the ground and preliminary results indicate substantial gains over either contributing breed.

In the New Zealand situation, male Boer goats fed on pasture attain an average weight of 51.3 kg at 365 days of age. Kiko males, drawn from a much smaller population (but run in similar conditions) attain an average of 52.4 kg at the same age. The difference between the weights is not viewed as significant and may simply reflect variations in selection pressure and population size.

In a trial breeding program conducted in 1993/94 Kiko/Boer cross males attained the same weight on average at 296 days, over two months earlier than the purebred groups. While the commercial significance of such hybrid vigor is apparent, the most significant factor involved was that the 90 day weight (that is, the weaning weight) for the crossbred males was 1.86 kg greater than for fullblood Boers and 1.71 kg higher than for purebred Kikos. Since each female in the trial reared twins this may be projected as a net gain of 3.57 kg of 90 day liveweight per female bred. The company reproduced the trial for the 1994/95 breeding season with results that replicated the earlier findings as to weaning weight.

The 1993/94 and 1994/95 trials were conducted with straight crossbred animals - that is, 50% Boer and 50% Kiko blood in each animal. During the 1995/96 trial the company focused on animals carrying the desirable 3/8 Kiko:5/8 Boer blood ratio. The purpose of the trial was to monitor if any discernible rate of attrition of enhanced growth rate occurred in the F3 trial group (3/8:5/8) relative to the F1 (half blood) and F2 (threequarter blood) trial groups. On the liveweight recordings at 90 days the enhanced growth rate has been maintained. The weaning weights of the trial group ranged around the averages accomplished in the previous two years to a degree not statistically significant. The trial on F3 animals was repeated in the 1996/97 season with results that were not significantly different.

 

 

But enhanced weight gains alone do not tell the full story. Cutting trials have demonstrated that the F3 trial crossbreds on average yielded more meat per carcass than a fullblood Boer but slightly less than a purebred Kiko. The carcasses tended to the lighter bone structure of the Kiko while retaining the heavier muscling of the Boers and displayed the leaner fat configuration pattern of the Kiko. In addition, the crossbloods displayed considerably greater vigor than fullblood Boers and browsed in a manner comparable to Kikos. The trial group was unshepherded at parturition and displayed no birthing, bonding or rearing problems save for a single instance of umbilical hernia. Color of the offspring was generally a white body ground with light brown head but there were instances of pure white, some particolored and three solid colored animals. There was a distinct reduction in color in the F3 trial group.

The results of these trial programs have proved so promising that Goatex Group has styled the resulting animals as Gemenasters and is fixing the enhanced performance by moving to a 3/8-5/8 cross. The company believes that such a cross will breed true thereby giving rise to a truly purposebred meat goat which will provide the basis for the economic commercial production of goat meat.

The 1995/96 trial allowed Goatex Group to carry out some investigative work as to the extent to which the resistance to internal parasitism characteristic of the Kiko manifests itself in the hybrid animal. This was accomplished by comparing fecal egg counts from a group of fullblood Boer kids with fecal egg counts of animals in the F3 group. While the Boer kids produced counts in the average to high range, the F3 animals were in the average to low range with four animals returning zero counts in a fourteen day testing interval. These results are of a very preliminary nature and further testing will be undertaken to confirm the apparent trend.

Goatex Group has recognized since the inception of its development program the immense economic impact of internal parasitism, both in terms of costs inputs of labor and anthelminthics and constraints on production through impeded rates of growth. Selection of Kiko males has always focused on resistance to internal parasitism, normally on the basis of fecal egg counts. Continuing research by animals scientists in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world has now identified genetic markers to distinguish parasite resistant animals from their peers which should further enhance the basis of selection for this trait. In addition, there has been developed in New Zealand a rapid blood screening test which measures the degree of immunity of goats to nematode infestation. The company is to avail itself of this technology in the 1997/98 season.

The Texas Genemaster™

In the Texas situation the Genemaster™ may have a significant contribution to make in the development of a truly indigenous meat goat for the southern states of the US. There are currently substantial numbers of Boer, Boer/Spanish and Boer/Nubian females in Texas and the neighbouring states. Ranchers may adopt either of two strategies for the production of animals that will permit the production of animals from which low cost/high profit meat may be derived.

Those with fullblood Boer females may elect to mate them with purebred Kiko males to produce high producing offspring which in turn may be mated to produce Genemasters™. This approach permits threefold returns:

  • cull animals may be slaughtered at a young age for enhanced meat returns
  • until such time as the breeders' market is satisfied, a premium will attach to Kiko/Boer cross animals of either sex since the Kiko registry permits registration of Kiko/Boer crosses in its percentage register
  • by taking advantage of the early maturity of the crossbred, the generation interval can be shortened and 3/8:5/8 Genemaster™ bred from the second generation.

In addition, it is likely that demand for Boer females in crossbreeding programs of this nature will lead to the maintenance of retail prices for Boer females. The strictly limited supply of registered purebred Kiko males will ensure that Kiko prices will be maintained and even enhanced.

For those with Boer/Spanish and Boer/Nubian percentage cross animals (whether half, threequarters or seven eighths) the opportunity exists to breed either to a pure Kiko male or to a Genemaster™ sire. In either event the inclusion of Kiko blood will enhance the browse conversion capabilities of the offspring with the resultant increase in meat returns relative to management inputs. Judicious sire selection by breeders mindful of the intended outcome of their breeding program may permit the breeding of Genemasters™ from percentage stock.

Breeding Strategies for Genemaster™ Development

It is envisioned that Genemaster™ breeding programs will fall into two categories: those whose aim is the production of a limited number of males for use as terminal sires with females returned to the nucleus herd or provided as show goats for 4H or FFA; and those who wish to move to significantly Genemaster™ infused herds with an ultimate aim of ranching three eighth/five eighth Texas Genemasters™ in a commercial situation. In either scenario the breeder will wish to establish the program he is to follow to produce Genemasters™ from the animals he currently has available.

  • Step One: the first step is to breed a fullblood Boer to a purebred Kiko. Since the number of fullblood Boers in the US far outweighs the number of purebred Kikos, the obvious step is to mate a Kiko male to a Boer female. But note that this mating is not obligatory: the mating of a purebred Kiko female to a purebred Boer male is equally valid. The aim of the exercise is to produce animals that are 50% Boer and 50% Kiko. Do not castrate the best males born: you will need them later in the program.
  • Step Two: the second step is to mate a 50% Boer/50% Kiko animal to a fullblood Boer. The prudent breeder will put the best registered fullblood Boer male available over a 50/50 female, but the program will work equally as well with a 50/50 male over a registered fullblood Boer female. Whichever route is chosen it is imperative that the best animals available be used: don't expect the best results from scrambling together the leftovers from other breeding programs. The aim of Step Two is to produce animals that are 75% Boer/25% Kiko. Don't castrate the best males born: you may need them later in the program.
  • Step Three: the third step is to mate a 75%Boer/25% Kiko animal to a 50/50 animal. It is immaterial whether the male or the female contains the higher percentage of Boer blood: the aim of Step Three is to produce animals that are 3/8 Kiko and 5/8 Boer. This is the Texas Genemaster™. This animal has a greater degree of genetic stability than the animals produced in Steps One and Two.

(A caveat regarding Step Three. One should be aware that in an environment where breeder demand and elevated prices have driven breeding programs for purebred goats, inadequate selection pressure may have been exercised in the selection of breeding males. Accordingly, a prudent breeder would ensure that whether a male or a female contains the dominant 75% blood employed in Step Three, investigation is undertaken to ensure that the animals contributing the 75% Boer blood (that is, the parent and grandparent of the animal used) are demonstrably sound and productive since their influence is disproportionately high in the resulting get. This is particularly significant if the animal used is a male since its influence is likely to be considerably more prolific than a female.)

  • Step Four: the 3/8:5/8 animal deriving from Step Three should be mated to another 3/8:5/8 animal. The offspring may then be used as a terminal sire in breeding programs with Spanish or part bred goats of other breeds, or returned to the nucleus herd for the breeding of further Texas Genemasters™.
  • In considering bloodlines for employment in a breeding program as outlined above, the usual conventions regarding linebreeding and inbreeding are applicable. Each breeder will have their own particular view as to the applicability of the strictures regarding such matings to their own programs
  • Registration of Genemasters™
  • Refer to the AKGA website Constitution for current requirements for Genemaster™ registrations.
  • Postscript
  • The development of the Genemaster™ goat is a progressive move to make available to range producers an animal which will provide reliable economic returns with low management inputs. With the development of an indigenous purposebred meat goat, Texas and the southern states will be positioned to take advantage of the window of opportunity that is opening to meet the unsatisfied demand for goat meat in the continental United States.

© 2015 Graham Culliford.  Reproduction prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.