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Preparing for a goat show

Preparing for a goat show

You could say that preparation actually starts with our fall breeding buck selections. What conformation features do we want to improve on and what strengths do we want to maintain? We use the season’s comments from the judges as guidelines. Since we’ve been at this for a while, we select bucks that will make as few changes as possible. Ideally, we want one buck to be able to make the desired improvements for each breed that we raise. Since we don’t keep bucks on the premises, this process involves coordination and agreement ahead of time, so that we aren’t looking when a doe is in standing heat.


Once kidding season is over, we work at making sure everyone is well groomed and healthy before training begins. Bottle raised kids are easier to train, but those raised on their dams will come around with practice. We start by training our kids to lead by collar. When they come along readily without rearing, hugging, lying down, getting dragged and so on, we move on to teaching them to set up. There are no guarantees it will work on show day with the debutantes, but the more time spent on training, the smoother things will go. We try to spend short periods every day for ten days to two weeks before the first show just on stops and set-ups. Good behavior is rewarded with a quick snuggle and a few black oiled sunflower seeds, which I also carry in my pocket on show day.


Bathing before clipping saves a lot of wear and tear on blades, so we always start the prep process with baths for all at which time everyone also gets a preliminary hoof trim. We trim for length and soundness first and then make refinements during body clipping. I prefer a low soap shampoo formulated for livestock, over spraying show sheen products on later. A brush wash does a great job of stimulating the skin while getting the dirt out. Everyone gets a treat for being good – because they all were, of course – and gets turned out in the pen to air dry. You can’t clip a wet goat so if I’m pressed and have to do both the same day, I’ll bathe in the morning and clip in the afternoon.


I have several different kinds of clippers so that I can switch them when one gets too hot. Even with lubricating spray and oil, they all do, so it’s best to change things up a bit. I do faces, ears and tails first while my goats are still feeling cooperative. I’ll do all them and then move on to underarms, legs and bellies. By the time I’m starting backs, chests and necks, I’m getting tired of bending. That’s why I leave feet and pasterns until last. I can sit down to finish. It’s best to space fitting over a few days for each goat. They get tired of being on the stand, you get hairy and tired of bending and you both need a break. Black goats in general and some breeds in particular need to be clipped at least a week to ten days before a show to look their best. Even with brand new clippers, some colors look ‘choppy’ until there is some regrowth. We raise Oberhaslis, which shouldn’t be clipped closer than a week before the show. I try to get by with one full body clip a season. That’s partly because of the work and time involved, but also because here in New England, fall mornings can be frosty and I don’t want my animals suffering from the cold during late season fairs. The exception to rule of thumb is my showmanship goat, Kima. She may get a second clipping, but no later than the end of August.


Show preparations mean packing. Even though I’ve been doing this for a long time, I work from a checklist. Feed, feed buckets, water buckets, hay racks, hay in hay bags and a half wood pallet so it is kept off the ground, milking stand and all its parts, tack boxes, pop-up tent, extension cords, stock panels, spring cords, herd signs and pen decorations, and, if we are traveling any distance or are going to be gone for more than two days, my medical bag. This and my husband’s tool box stay with the trailer. Our herd book with health certifications and registration papers stay with me in the cab of the truck. Whew. Think that’s everything. Oh, whites. ADGA show rules state you must show in whites – white shirt, white pants and hopefully not the boots you clean the barn in. And yes folks, it’s happened. We’ve arrived to discover they weren’t packed.


If the goats aren’t going to an agricultural fair, on show day they are typically trailered very early in the morning. To avoid bloat on arrival, they aren’t usually fed until we get there. This sounds harsher than it is; typically they are given hay immediately and half a grain ration on the stand while I handle final preparations. I spot check hooves and clean butts and ears with baby wipes. This is often within an hour or so of normal feeding and milk-out time. If they are going to an agricultural fair where they will be for several days, they typically go in on a Thursday or Friday afternoon and come out Sunday. If that’s the case, then they are on their normal feeding and milking schedule on transport days.


Most ADGA shows we attend are one day marathons. Up and out at 5:30am and home by 9pm, if we’re lucky. As long of a day as that is, the three and four day fairs are actually more tiring. You wouldn’t think it would be a strain to be pleasant to the public for that long, but by Sunday afternoon, one more question about why those goats don’t have any ears or having to stop someone from feeding your goats cotton candy can push you over the edge. At all of these fairs, the exhibitors are responsible for cleaning out and dismantling the show pens before leaving. If possible, I try to move as much of our stuff to our truck as possible so that only the animals and water buckets need to be loaded. This isn’t possible at all fairs. Some will withhold premiums if you break camp too early; however, that’s spelled out in the fair book and you do pretty much what you see others doing. The barn superintendent rules the roost. He/she has the final say on when you may leave. Your health papers will be returned to you when you are clear to go.


For all the work involved, each fall I find myself asking if I want to go through it all again next year. I’ve discovered that once I recover from the season, displaying the year’s ribbon and trophy haul in the barn helps to keep me motivated, as if all those adorable kids weren’t reason enough!


Keep calm and show on!


Lisa Palmer raises Oberhasli and American Alpine dairy goats at JGP Butternut Farm, a small hobby farm in central Connecticut.  A long time animal lover, Lisa grew up on Cape Cod, where she worked for a man who bred race horses and ran a Frontier Town during the summer months.  This has allowed her to add Stagecoach Robber, Indian Guide and Barrel Racer to her resume, which also boasts of more than twenty five years as a landscape designer and installation team foreman.  When Lisa isn’t working, she enjoys showing her goats all over New England and making cheese and killer chocolate gelato from her goats’ milk.  Lisa hopes to start a soap making business soon.  She is also an administrator for The Goat Care Unit, a health care based website on Facebook which currently has over 1300 members.

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