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It’s dairy goat show season! No sooner were the cucumbers planted, than our trowels were traded for clippers, and we found ourselves driving around Northern California to the first two goat shows of the season.

The most important item to pack of course, the goats!

The most important item to pack of course, the goats!

The only thing I think we were missing on the farm truck last time we packed it up for a show was a sign that says “Lotus and Minnie – World Tour“. I swear, there are days that I feel more like a roadie, than a farmer. Thankfully, to date, nobody has requested an autograph from the girls though. Besides, that would just go to Minnie’s head.

Even for just two goats, show season does involve a lot of preparing the goats for show, organizing the house for surrogate farm-sitters, farm sitter training, packing and unpacking of trucks, pitching tents, grooming goats, and packing up gear again.

We've been preparing for show season for a few weeks, starting with baths...

We’ve been preparing for show season for a few weeks, starting with baths…

Minnie is not particularly fond of bath time

Minnie is not particularly fond of bath time

But then again, neither is Lotus!

But then again, neither is Lotus!

With shows each of the last two weekends, this fortnight, quite honestly, has been a blur.

Then the clean goats get really short hair cuts to get rid of the last of their winter coats

Then the clean goats get really short hair cuts to get rid of the last of their winter coats

The first show of the season was the North Valley Dairy Goat Association (NVDGA) show, at the Tehama County Fairgrounds, which is a four ring show, with four different judges. We took the girls to this same show last year, where both Lotus and Minnie each earned a first place position in the ring.

This is the second time the girls have been to the NVDGA show

This is the second time the girls have been to the NVDGA show

This show was very well attended this season, and there was a lot of very strong competition in the ring. I honestly don’t envy the judges, with so many beautiful does in the ring, and so many things to evaluate for each goat, it can’t be easy. Lotus got off to a slow start at NVDGA this year.

Lotus waiting for the show to start at NVDGA

Lotus waiting for the show to start at NVDGA

There can be some differences in how one judge will place a goat in the ring, compared to another judge, but this year all the judges seemed to be in general agreement as far as Lotus was concerned.

Poor Lotus...

Poor Lotus…

Lotus is a powerful looking doe for her size, and is always commended for her body capacity, and this year her udder capacity and “will to milk“, all characteristics that in my mind should be highly valued in any sturdy dairy animal. However, for the purposes of placing in the show ring, the judges typically seem to favor a more graceful and refined, feminine-looking doe, over one with Lotus’ general, stronger, appearance. We saw that this last year as well. Some judges loved her appearance, others didn’t give her a second look.

Lotus doesn't quite have the same refined appearance as Minnie in the ring

Lotus doesn’t quite have the same refined appearance as Minnie in the ring

However, Lotus does have tremendous will to milk, and udder capacity for a doe her age. At peak lactation she was producing 4.8 pounds of milk a day. For a first freshener, you simply can’t knock that sort of performance in the milk pail! We’ll see how Lotus does during the rest of the show season this year, but I expect where she may fall short on the pageantry front this season, she’ll excel in the milk barn during her Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) evaluation next year, where milk yield, milk composition, and quality, are all evaluated. I’m very excited to see those evaluations next year, as I’m already impressed with the yields we’re getting when making cheese. Our last batch of feta produced 2.5 pounds of cheese from a single gallon of milk!

We have no complaints about milk. This batch of feta yielded more than twice the amount of cheese than we expected

We have no complaints about milk. This batch of feta yielded more than twice the amount of cheese than we expected

The conformation feedback from the judges in the show ring though is helpful, especially for breeding, and selecting bucks to breed her to.

Show season isn't over yet though

Show season isn’t over yet though, and the competition in the ring has been fierce

Clearly we don’t want to breed Lotus to a too powerful looking buck. I’m already curious to see how her daughter, Mariposa Lily, will mature this year, and how Lily herself will look once she’s in milk.

Lily is more petite, and feminine in her general appearance, than Lotus was at her age

Lily is more petite, and feminine in her general appearance, than Lotus was at her age

Minnie also got off to a slow start at NVDGA. Before she entered her first ring she seemed completely overwhelmed with all the activity around her. Goats and people everywhere, children running right past her, or riding their bikes within inches of her and startling her. She was NOT happy!

Minnie waiting for her turn in the show ring

Minnie waiting for her turn in the show ring

To take the edge off, just before the first show ring, I took Minnie for a jog around one of the remote parking lots in an effort to help her burn off some excess nervous energy.  That’s the problem with the farm here, it’s so quiet, that events like this probably seem like pure chaos to the goats.

The first judge that Minnie saw didn’t like her at all. I expected that she might have some trouble placing well this season as we’ve been struggling to keep weight off of Minnie this spring, and she honestly doesn’t look her best at the moment. Maintaining a dry yearling, and a lactating doe in the same barn, is a lot of extra work if you don’t want your yearling to get fat on all the lush alfalfa hay that’s around for the milking doe.

All season I’ve been juggling hand-graining Lotus, so Minnie can’t eat the grain. At night I’ve been keeping them separated so Lotus has free access to alfalfa hay, while Minnie is offered only orchard grass, but Minnie has had some access to alfalfa during the day…and she’s quite the chow hound! Once our herd grows more it will be easier to separate, and feed does, by milking status, but right now if I separated them both full time, the whole neighborhood would hear about it!

As Minnie doesn't have the energy demands associated with producing milk this year, we have to be careful with her diet

As Minnie doesn’t have the energy demands associated with producing milk this year, we have to be careful with her diet

Minnie’s performance improved when she entered the second ring though. It felt like we were walking around the ring forever while the judge carefully evaluated each goat in ring 2. Finally the judge pointed to Minnie, and directed her to the head of the line up. Different judges have different methods in the ring, so at first I wondered if there was any significance to Minnie being pulled out first. Sometimes judges will just pull out some goats early in their evaluation so they can compare them side by side.

After the initial sorting though, the judge made a couple of changes to her line up, leaving Minnie standing at the head of the line. Despite a few extra calories this spring, Minnie still managed to win first place! Minnie was commended for her length of body, which has always been one of her key attributes, her long neck, and her graceful, refined appearance, and levelness, both while standing, and on the move. Minnie’s first place win in her class then gave her the opportunity to compete with the other first place does from the other age classes in the grand champion round for that judge.

Fortunately, by this time, Minnie was starting to settle down, and more willing to walk calmly around the ring during the final evaluation. The goats are lined up in age order during the grand champion round, so nobody really knows what the judge is thinking until the winner is announced. Needless to say we were thrilled when Minnie was selected as junior Grand Champion!

Castle Rock Minerva wins her Grand Champion junior leg!

Castle Rock Minerva wins her Grand Champion junior leg!

Dairy goats can only win one junior (dry doe) Grand Championship. To become a permanent Grand Champion she will need a total of three championship wins. One leg can be earned as a junior doe/dry yearling, like Minnie, but the other two wins must be earned as a doe in milk, so Minnie’s win at NVDGA now means that Minnie is retired from the show ring this year, and can just put her hooves up for the remainder of the season.

Lotus has more shows though, and we’re hoping to show her daughter too later this season, but this last weekend we attended the Redwood Empire Dairy Goat Association (REDGA) show.

With the stress of travel, and the hot weather at the first show, Lotus was a little off her game the week prior to the REDGA show. Her milk production dropped 25% by the time we returned from NVDGA, her appetite was off, and I really questioned taking her to the REDGA show. She was healthy, she just didn’t seem happy.  By the end of the week though her production was coming back up, and unlike the first show, REDGA at least was closer to the farm, and closer to the coast, so the weather wouldn’t be as hot at least. Yes, these goats did originate in West Africa, but these two spoiled goats are very much acclimated to coastal California!

Driving up to REDGA from the farm, we decided that driving directly through San Francisco was probably our best option. As it was Memorial Day Weekend, Bay Area traffic would be bad everywhere, so why not go through the city. This meant that the girls had their very first trip through San Francisco, by Golden Gate Park, and across the Golden Gate Bridge!

North tower of the Golden Gate Bridge

North tower of the Golden Gate Bridge

When we got to the north side of the bridge, we stopped for a few minutes at the vista point as it was a beautifully clear afternoon, and the bridge wasn’t obscured by fog. As popular as the bridge was with the tourists, Lotus and Minnie seemed to be very popular too! It’s probably not every day that a truck pulls up in that parking lot with dwarf dairy goats in the back!

San Francisgoats, Lotus and Minnie, just after crossing the Golden Gate

San Francisgoats, Lotus and Minnie, just after crossing the Golden Gate

Holiday weekend traffic was quickly getting worse though, so we made our stop brief, and headed on to the show.

Lotus didn’t udder up very well the first day at REDGA, and placed a little lower than we’d hoped with the first two judges. She seemed to settle in well that evening though. Her appetite picked up, and by evening milking she seemed much more relaxed.  The second day her udder looked a little better, and she subsequently placed better in the lineup with both judges that day. One of the judges was a judge who had seen Lotus last year, before she was in milk, so I was especially interested to hear what that judge had to say about Lotus this year. The judge explained that Lotus’ placement (4th) in that class was because her udder was “overly capacious for a first freshener“, even though she commended her capacity overall.

Lotus being shown at REDGA

Lotus being shown at REDGA

At shows the last two weeks we’ve heard a number of whispers behind us, including “wow, look at the udder on that dwarf goat“, and some people have come up and simply told us directly that Lotus has an impressive udder for a first freshener, or they ask her age, and you see their jaw drop when we say she’s a “yearling milker“. Of course, Lotus did have the advantage of having had triplets this spring, and the number of kids born directly influences milk production.

At least this year, her udder even after 5 or 6 hours in milk exceeds that of some does that have been in milk for twelve hours or more, so by the time Lotus is in milk that long, she really stands out. Although her capacity, from a milk-yield perspective, is a good thing in the milk house, it’s likely that some of the judges are considering her capacity as a negative factor in the ring as a first freshener.  There may be concerns about how well her udder may hold up over time, especially as milk yield tends to increase over the first few lactations, and that’s a valid consideration. Of course, only time will tell us over her subsequent freshenings, but her dam was also an excellent producer as a first freshener, and her sire’s dam handily placed in top ten during a one day milk test, so Lotus does have some very solid production genetics behind her.  Next year though, if she only had a single kid, she could look completely different.

Show season isn't over yet!

Show season isn’t over yet!

We’ll be interested to see how Lotus places through the remainder of this show season though, with other judges, and I’m already excited to see how she’ll look as a second freshener next year!  In the meantime her kids from this spring are growing like weeds, but more about them in the next post.