golden guernsey and pygmy goats. Largest culinary herb garden in UK, mint, lemon balm and chive national collections, veg plants, goatkeeping and self sufficiency courses


This is a copy of an article submitted to the GGGS Oct 2011 journal


It is usually accepted that there are 3 main methods of breeding,  line breeding and out crossing.


These methods refer to the way in which livestock are mated... inbreeding is the mating of immediate relatives i.e. mother and son,  father and daughter, brother and sister.etc.  Line breeding tends to be cousin to cousin.... a diluted form of inbreeding if you like, and finally out crossing...the mating of totally unrelated stock.  Each method of breeding has its uses. 


Just to confuse matters, it is possible to inbreed whilst out crossing, and some experts consider line breeding  not to exist at all!!!


I realise that some may find that difficult to accept, so just to really put the cat amongst the pigeons,consider the following statements:-


Faults exposed during inbreeding are good.

Without inbreeding there would be no breeds of goat.

The generally accepted method of breeding goats- outcrossing can  destroy the genetic value of a goat.

Champion goats, if they are created by out crossing are of no value to the breed, and can actually harm a breed.

The potential introduction of the 'coefficient of inbreeding' to the BGS grassroots system is a waste of money.

Small herds should breed in cooperation with other herds.


The principal of breeding I always follow is simple. Always look where your stock is starting from, where you want it to go, and only try to change one characteristic at a time. Small improvements are sustainable over the generations, large changes are not. A breeding programme should be worked out over 10 or more's a slow project, which, with goats can take a lifetime.


I believe that Miss Milbourne saved our breed from extinction, and as such her opinions of what the breed should be are important. Without the privilege of speaking to her, it may be surmised that she was keen to produce a relatively large (in island terms) goat with good milk yields, of high butterfat, which could milk over a prolonged lactation. From a cosmetic point of view she looked for a true golden colour and hated the 'flicked up ears' which she regarded as a fault introduced by using an Anglo Nubian male . 


So, as I  think her opinions are important, the ultimate aim of my breeding programme is to produce goats that have excellent conformation with good milk yields (ie capable of winning stars in milking comps., or over 1000kg if milk recorded). Hair length is unimportant, but maintaining colour is, as is the animals temperament. Goldens are rightly famous for their friendliness.


In order to reach my breeding goals, I have adopted 'line breeding' as the breeding method of choice. I usually keep about 10 females and 3 or 4  males,  this allows me to select appropriate combinations based on conformation and pedigree. I do not bring in 'fresh blood', (but would do so if I thought the herd needed it). I do not concentrate on preserving male or female bloodlines, as each only represents half an animals genetic makeup. However the preservation of those bloodlines is part of this breeding method.  I am trying to create a genetically unique family. By line breeding I am reducing the genetic variability of my stock, but because of genetic drift my herd can increase the genetic variability of the national herd, thereby improving the overall genetic health of all Goldens. I am very strict on which offspring I keep, removing any stock I am not happy with. I never sell my best stock. I started with 3 females and 1 male, all subsequent generations being bred from these 4 goats. If I had a choice I would not breed my British Guernseys in this way, being happy to outcross an open breed to take the short term advantage of hybrid vigour, when I would be looking at the individual goat not the family group. An open breed (like the BG) can concentrate on producing excellent individual goats, as the GG can provide the long term genetic resource.


When it comes to selecting males, it is clear that show results, or appearance alone are not sufficient for choosing one.  The male may appear to have all the attributes you are looking for , but if he is the result of 'outcrossing' then he will not necessarily pass on those qualities to his offspring. So you will need to look at his pedigree as well, if he is line bred then he would be a good choice, whether he is related to your stock or not. If he is related you will, in effect, carry on with the line and hopefully the offspring will maintain the features of the sire. If your dam is unrelated then you will have lots of hybrid vigor, from a sire which is not carrying so many hidden  recessive genes, so you have a good chance of producing a better individual goat. Some breeders argue that the appearance of the male is irrelevant, and selection should be on the basis of the appearance of his female ancestors. To a certain extent I agree, but it is always possible the male has inherited all the  'wrong' characteristics rather than the 'right' ones. Line bred males will cost more at stud than ordinary males, ours for instance are priced between £50 and £75, but you are paying for generations of selective breeding, so as such they are not so expensive? 


So that is the simplified bones of how I breed but others have different methods....


Without in any way expressing an opinion as to the rights and wrongs of the matter, there has been considerable controversy generated with regard to the importation of Dutch Whites into the UK Saanen breed, and it could be instructive to look at what has happened within that breed, to see if we can learn any lessons for our own.


Confusion arrives right at the start of the breed in 1922, when it was named 'Saanen', when in fact the foundation goats were 'Dutch Whites'. The UK Saanen was bred as a separate breed for the next 70 years when another Dutch White was imported to join the national herd. Since then there have been several importations of Dutch Whites. Some Swiss Saanen genetics were imported, but generally were unused or the offspring died out.


The UK Saanen has never been a numerous breed, so from the outset it went through a genetic bottle neck similar to that of the Golden. As a consequence the genetic base of the breed was small, and with intensive selective breeding for showing, it  experienced significant genetic drift from the parent breed. In effect the argument about whether the UK Saanen is derived from Swiss Saanens or Dutch Whites is irrelevant as the genetic drift would be sufficient for  the UK Saanen to be regarded as a separate breed.

The introduction of the genetics from the continental breeds would produce significant hybrid vigour in the first generation offspring of those matings.

The gardeners amongst you will be familiar with the term 'F1' . F1 plants are bred from separate parent strains (breeds) to produce plants which, because of hybrid vigour, are more vigorous, taller, stronger , better than either parent strain. The downside is that  F1's, unlike their parents, will not breed true, and the offspring of the F1, the F2 generation, is frequently discarded as its characteristics are unpredictable and usually poorer  than the F1 or the original parent stock.    

In the Saanen the hybrid vigour of the first generation  (F1) offspring was clear, beginning in the 1990's with superb individual goats such as R203 Timyon Elle Q* Br Ch.   The Saanen, as a breed, has had regular 'injections' of continental genes since then, giving rise to some exceptional goats, but has the price of individual success been at the cost of the UK Saanen being destroyed as a genetically separate type of white goat? 

It might appear that individuals have sacrificed the good of their breed for personal glory in the show-ring, but before you come to that conclusion, remember your school days and Robert Bakewell. He lived from 1725 to 1795. He was the great improver of livestock, ranked alongside Jethro Tull and Turnip Townsend. He may even be considered the greatest breeder of livestock that has ever lived, he developed the New Leicester sheep, the breed claimed to be infused into virtually every native breed of British sheep. He was  unrivalled in the breeding and showing of longhorn cattle. His revolutionary breeding techniques literally changed the face of livestock breeding around the world. His methods are similar to those being used by some of those self same Saanen breeders.


 So, is the importation of continental bloodlines creating a new improved breed of Saanen? Is the Saanen evolving, instead of stagnating in a genetic deadend? or should the uniqueness of the UK. Saanen have been preserved?


I hope this  little observation of the Saanens will make clear some the differing opinions any breeding programme will generate, so be prepared, selecting stock for breeding is difficult enough, whatever choices you make will always be open to critisism by others, just as I am sure this article will be critisised. 


There is a science to breeding livestock, but many experts admit that having an 'eye' and pure luck are equally important. Good breeding is a combination of science, art, and luck! 


On a final note, breeding can only go so far.  In New Zealand  a university arranged to raise 10 calves from the top performing herd in the land, they also raised 10 from the worst. Having raised all 20 together, to calving, all treated exactly the same, they returned 10 now milking cows  to each of the two herds. Each herd received a random mix of cows, some from the top herd, some from the bottom. All the cows returned to

 the top herd still out milked  the cows in the bottom herd, even the cows that had originally been bred by the bottom herd, it did not matter where they were bred. Management is a significant factor in milk yields. The same applies to goats, there is a tendency to look at the pedigree of an animal and blame that for all the goats shortcomings, but how a goat is looked after is equally important and should not be ignored.  


Recommended reading:-  


 Evolution by Douglas J Futuyama. This is part of a level 3 Open University honours degree course, a bit technical in places, but includes the latest thinking on natural selection.

 Fream's Elements of agriculture, only a small bit of this book covers breeding but includes a simple overview. 

 Agriculture the science and practice of british farming ,  by Watson and More.. Includes a good bit on Mendellian inheritance.

Robert Bakewell and the longhorn breed of cattle by Pat Stanley A fun read about the the great man and an interesting look at the history of a different rare breed.

Breeding and improvement of farm animals by Rice, Andrews, Warwick , Legates,  An excellent, if technical read, a little dry in places but worth the effort.