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British Goat Society article January 2018

Below is an article that I wrote which was published in the British Goat Society journal January 2018.


An Analysis of Pedigree Goat Registrations from 1992 to 2016


Sitting in my library looking at my BGS herd books all nicely lined up in chronological order, I noticed that the numbers of goats being registered is falling year on year. As appearances can be deceptive I decided to analyse the numbers that were registered from 1991 to 2016.

The results are shown below in graph form to help to demonstrate the situation.



I then went on to calculate a realistic estimate of the number of females who are potential breeders (not the actual number of females alive). To do this, I doubled the number of breeding dams recorded for each breed in herd book 141 (2015-2016). This is because goatkeepers generally breed their charges every second year, this estimate also discounts kids, non-breeding goatlings, pet females, senior goats past breeding age, and females not being used to breed pedigree stock. All of the aforementioned are effectively not contributing to breeding more pedigree goats and can therefore be disregarded for these purposes. This leaves us with the figures shown in the graph below.



The Rare Breed Survival Trust has a method for describing the state of each breed, and although the RBST does not assess female numbers in the same way, and does not recognise any but the Golden Guernsey, using their categories the risk for each breed would be as follows:

Saanen                         Critical

Toggenburg                 Critical

Golden Guernsey        At risk

Anglo Nubian             Minority

British Saanen             Vulnerable

British Toggenburg     Vulnerable

British Alpine              Endangered

Combining the information from the kids being registered with the estimated number of breeding dams it would appear that:

The Toggenburg and Saanen breeds have closed herd books, with little or no imported genetics. The numbers are now so low, and have been for so many years, that because of genetic drift they may be considered as genetically separate from their parent breeds. It is therefore too late to import genetics from the continent to save the breeds without causing significant changes to either one.

The British Guernsey, being relatively new and an open breed, is still in a formative stage. It has a healthy parent breed and, despite its small numbers, is fairly safe, so long as the Golden Guernsey continues to thrive.

The British Alpine, despite being an open breed, is in danger of extinction. Unfortunately it is likely to be joined by the British Saanen and British Toggenburg, whose registrations are also collapsing. These three breeds can be resurrected by:

1.                  Changing the basis of registration back from pedigree to appearance (as it was in the early days of the society).

2.                  Introducing unregistered animals from commercial herds.

3.                  Reducing the number of generations needed to enter the breed sections from the herd book.

4.                  Importing descendants of goats previously exported etc.

However, all of these suggestions just mask the situation and do not address the fundamental problem of falling numbers. 

The Golden Guernsey and Anglo Nubian appear to be the only relatively safe breeds, although they should still be carefully monitored.

As part of the analysis of registrations I looked at the numbers of Saanen males being recorded as sires for the last 5 years. There have been approximately only 15 males used in any one year. Very few males have been used for more than one year. This means that most males are generally discarded for breeding purposes before any significant evaluation of their offspring has been made. Consequently males that could offer significant improvements to the breed are lost, only to be replaced with males of unknown value. From a livestock breeding point of view this is nonsensical.

The shows are frequently lauded as the shop window of the BGS, and the decline in shows mirrors the decline in our breeding stock. Whether you blame the decline on CAE testing, government regulations, the rise of the commercial herds, or just the format of the show, we need to take imaginative actions to improve the entries at shows. This would as a consequence, if the 'mirror' assumption is accurate, improve the numbers of the various dairy breeds.

Recent male shows have only had a couple of adult males entered. As a possible suggestion, the BGS could reorganise the shows, distribute them around the country, and organise semen collection from all males entered which could encourage the entry of males which are unlikely to be winners.  It is vitally important, from a genetic perspective, to collect semen from all males, not just the winners, as 'inferior' males may in the long run be more important than their show-winning brothers.

The BGS has already indicated a willingness to pay collection fees for dairy goats, by throwing open the shows to include Boers, Bagots,  English goats etc.; they could create a genetic lifeboat for all. 

As to the female shows, the I.P. puts a great deal of stress on the goats, with them having to stand for up to half an hour, possibly in full sun on a baking-hot day. If only the first two goats of each breed stood, in the same way as the goatlings and kids, for the selection of best and reserve adult female, and for the award of  C.C. and B.C.C.s., then  the stress on the goats (and the judge,) would be much reduced. Non-dairy and English goats could then compete for best in show and breed challenge certificates. 

Much of the criticism of the BGS results from its lack of action to encourage the keeping of non-dairy breeds, this could go some way to securing the dairy breeds' futures and addressing some of those criticisms.

No matter what solutions the BGS choose to adopt to deal with the dangers to our dairy and other goats, it is clear that some action is needed before it is too late.

Peter Oldfield   Penborn Goats