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Kentucky Breeders Using Buck Tests as a Tool to Improve Their Herds

by Christina Morris - KGPA

Overall #1 buck at West Virginia this year.
Diamond's Hulk - Photo courtesy Jared Dennison in Kentucky

Data. What is it and what is it good for? Oxford Language defines data as “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.” Data is important in all facets of life, including most professions and areas of labor, including farming and raising livestock. In meat goats, data is the driving force in the decision making to improve the herd and meet the goals that have been set for the operation. Many meat goat breeders collect data such as birth weights and 90 day, or weaning weights, so that they can calculate the individual’s average daily gain (ADG). They use this data to determine whether or not to cull, or send a kid to market, instead of retaining them as seed stock. Meat goat breeders want well built, fast growing kids that make market weight quickly. Many breeders also collect data such as FAMACHA scores that utilize the color of the interior eye lid to determine barber pole worm load by the level of anemia. Fecal egg counts are another data point that can be considered when determining parasite resistance in a goat. The better a goat tolerates a parasite load the healthier they will be. Some breeders also collect data on doe weight versus amount of kid weaning weight, udder and scrotum size and shape, 150 day weights, number of kids birthed, etc. All of this data is used to help producers make decisions that hopefully lead to improvement in their herd and meeting their production goals.

Photo courtesy Christy Mulhall

One other way that several producers across the country, including several in Kentucky, acquire valuable data is to take part in the “Buck Tests”. Two buck tests that are currently taking place each year are the West Virginia Buck Test and the Oklahoma Buck Test. This year the WV Buck Test began on June 13 and ended on August 15, with producers picking up their bucks August 19-22. What is a “buck test”? The West Virginia Small Ruminant Evaluation Program explains in their information packet that “this program was established to provide producers an unbiased evaluation of economically important traits in young bucks using a common environment.” To do this, the university program takes young bucks from across the country (at this time mostly Kiko breeders take part), and provides all the same variables in order to compare the data collected. The bucks in the WV Buck Test must have been born between January 1 and March 15 of the current year, raised by their natural mother, and weigh at least 40 pounds at the time of drop off. The consignor must also pay a nomination fee per buck. The university provides a clean slate for each individual buck to begin the test by taking a fecal sample on arrival, deworming them with levamisole,and lastly taking another fecal on the first day on-test. This also allows for the efficacy of the dewormer regime to be calculated. Bucks are also treated for Coccidia, given a foot soak, and vaccinated for Enteroxemia, Tetanus and Soremouth upon arrival. On the first test day all bucks are administered 5,000 H. contortus larvae orally. The WV Buck Test places bucks on daily feed rations for the entirety of the test, and feeds in groups according to breed and age. During this time they collect data, including fecal egg counts every two weeks, weekly FAMACHA scores and weights, and ADG. At the completion of the test, all bucks are given an ultrasound for loin eye measurement and fat depth. At the end of the test the data is calculated to determine finalized data for fecal egg count, gain, and REA. Bucks are then ranked based on each individual area and an overall score. According to West Virginia University, the purpose for this program is to “provide producers an unbiased evaluation of economically important traits in young bucks using a common environment.”

Photo courtesy Jared Dennison in Kentucky

Several of our Kentucky meat goat breeders took part in the WV Buck Test. Some of these breeders have taken part in buck tests for as long as 15 years. Combined, Kentucky breeders have sent well over 200 bucks to buck tests over the years. (This number is only based on the breeders that took part in the WV Buck Test this year so this estimate is most likely low.) No matter how many years experience they have taking part in buck tests, all of our Kentucky breeders had bucks that performed well in at least one of the measured areas and they each gained knowledge that will help them improve their herds. We would like to recognize these seven farms: Jarred Dennison, Kendall & Dana Barnes, Tyler Glasson, Christy Mulhall, Ramzee Miller, Kevin and Rachel Barron, and Bobby [or] Joe Murphy. Of the 197 bucks that took part in the test, 35 were from Kentucky and of those, 19 performed in the overall top 50 percent, with four making it into the top ten! The following table shows how the Kentucky bucks performed in all areas measured. (Data provided by Scott Bowdridge, Ph.D., WVU Division of Animal & Nutritional Sciences).

These breeders are working to improve their meat goat herds and will use the data collected to base future decisions. The five Kentucky farm operations that responded to a questionnaire, agreed that fecal egg count (FEC) was one of the most valuable data categories in the test. Christy Mulhall gave a reason to support this trend saying, “Since goats struggle with dewormer resistance, it is imperative we find parasite resistance genetics.” In addition, Jarred Dennison stated that it's “ different for each farm depending on what that farm needs. ADG [average daily gain] is always important as faster gains means quicker time to market. REA [ribeye area] scores help improve the grading scores making more money per pound. Lower FECs means better parasite resistance and easier keeping animals. All are important.” Tyler Glasson said that ADG is the most valuable category to him because, “when producing meat animals, you want offspring to get to market in an efficient amount of time with little input. The other categories, especially FEC, ensure that the fast growing animals have the stamina and capabilities to make it to market.”

Photo courtesy Christy Mulhall

When asked how they use the data from the buck tests on their farm, Kendall Barnes responded that he uses the “top bucks that are balanced on the data points as herdsires” and Dennison responded that he uses “the data along with on farm data to help in selecting animals and blood lines to retain and breed back to.” Similarly, Christy Mulhall stated that she uses the “data and compare[s] it with my kid crop and see how they compare to bucks at the challenge…and keep diversifying my herd with other breeders top performing bucks.” Each breeder uses the data in deciding which kids to retain and to plan future breeding pairs.

The questionnaire asked breeders what they wished meat goat breeders knew or understood about participating in the buck tests Murphy, Barnes, and Dennison responded that balance is key, that the top performing buck isn’t always the best herdsire and that this data is just one tool to be used in improving a herd. Mulhal gave a word of advice, saying, “Comparing [your] bucks at home with the buck sent to the challenge should give a producer a better indication of how their bucks compare to bucks all across the country.”

Some breeders may be hesitant to take part in university run buck tests due to concern that their bucks may not be one of the top performers and everyone will see that data. The buck tests are not designed to be a competition. There are no winners or losers. Every breeder that takes part in the test is a winner because they receive valuable data that can positively influence their operation if used to carefully select breeding stock within their herd. When asked what advice they had for breeders contemplating taking part in the next buck test, all breeders agreed the benefits are well worth it. Murphy responded, “You don't know the quality of your goat's until you test.” Barnes stated that “Most breeders that have been in it awhile know not every cross will do well. Just have to use the data you get to see which direction you need to take your herd,” and Dennison reiterated that stance by saying, “Some animals do well some do not. Learn from the data you receive and work with it to better your program.”

All breeders that take part in buck tests need to be commended. As meat goat breeders, our goal should be to wean the best kids possible for our farm and situation. Even if you can’t take part in a buck test, you can still conduct on farm data collection for the areas that most concern you then use that data to make decisions to guide improvement in your breeding program. You can’t reach a goal if you have no plan and your plan must start with data. Like Glasson says, “You have to start somewhere. You can only improve if you know where that improvement is needed.”


Christina Morris and her husband, Jason own and operate Blessed Acres Farm in Crofton, KY where they breed registered and commercial Kiko goats as well as registered Akbash LGD. Christina currently serves on the KGPA BOD and as an alternate for the AKGA BOD.

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