Brian Holck was introduced to goats the way he said others have been: through his children. A couple of his sons liked goats. One bought feeders; the younger one still living at home purchased does and was raising kids. There were times when the boys were busy and Holck would fill in doing goat chores.
“I guess I took a liking to them from the beginning,” he said. “I bought two Savanna bucks in 2014 and started my own herd.”
Neither son is still on the farm, but Brian has become the family goat herder. He raises commercial meat goats and works with crossbreds on his farm near Ruthton, Minn.
“I have primarily Savanna and TexMaster,” Holck said. “Right now we’re running a herd of about 75 does. We’ve been as low as 45 and as high as 130 does. For our size operation, what we have for buildings and can raise for feed, around 75-80 does has been about right.”
This year he kidded in the nasty weather of late December and in January into February. That’s not his usual choice, but came about as the result of a test. He raises his replacement does and thinks he is close to raising his own bucks.
“I had left my young bucks in with the does last year,” Holck said. “When the bucks get big enough they’ll start breeding the does. Part of it was to see if I’m raising good enough bucks so they can do the job, and they apparently did. I’m always tweaking things and trying different things; but I’d like to stick with a spring kidding.”
Now that he has seen what they can do, he won’t leave the young bucks with the does this year. His usual timeline is kidding late April and into May. It’s not as tough on the mothers or on the kids.
“[With spring kidding], you have the grass coming in pasture so when the kids get old enough and follow moms, they’re out on the nice grass. It’s a lot less stressful and a lot less work.”
Gestation is five months or 150 days, so it is possible to kid three times in two years.
“I don’t push that hard,” he said. “I go for one kidding a year. I can leave the kids on their mothers three to four months and then get them weaned off.”
In six to seven months they reach market weight, around 60-70 pounds. Then they go to the sale barn. Lately he has been selling at Jackson Livestock Auction. The buyers represent processing plants in the east, where the goats are shipped for processing.
“I can market anywhere from 100-150,” Holck said, “depending on how many does I have and what my kidding percentage is. I normally average 1.6 or 1.7 for percentage. We’ve had singles, twins are common. One year a third of my does had triplets, which sounds good because it raises the average, but it takes a good doe to do that. They can have triplets, but to get that set of three raised to weaning, that takes a bit. You’ve got to have a good mother; the feed has to be there so they milk enough. Myself, I’m happy with a good twinning percentage.”
He prefers to “group kid.” When he started, each doe was penned up before she kidded; but that was a lot of work and a lot of handling. If everything goes well, he lets them run with the whole group.
“Once in a while I may have an issue,” he said. “Does may kid in two different spots, or one kid wander off and doesn’t get bonded up with mom right away, so I have to pen them up just to make sure she takes care of both.”
Last year, and the year before, a doe had quads. He did pen them up and treated them a little better, making sure they got the feed to produce the milk. Fortunately, both weaned off their set of quads in good shape. He kept some of last year’s quad kids to be does this year.
As already mentioned, Holck no longer buys does. He said he started with a “hodge-podge” — buying does at different places, mostly Boer-crossed does. He had done his research and wanted Savannas because he learned they had good maternal instincts. But people weren’t selling — and when they did, they wanted a high price. That’s when he bought his first two bucks — Savannas — and decided he could raise his own.
He later purchased a TexMaster buck and crossed him onto the Savanna-cross does. Holck keeps two or three bucks and rotates them in and out of the herd. He holds back a couple that look good to see how they develop, and occasionally buys one to bring in some new bloodlines.
He’s not breeding for a certain percentage breed.
“My thing is just trying to breed a good meat goat, regardless of what the breed is,” he said. “Savanna and TexMaster happen to be the two breeds I work with. The herd I have now is a mix of both and I know the percentages are going to vary. Some of the does look Savanna, white with the dark pigment. And I have others that show TexMaster. Those are multi-colored, red, white, black, different colors. You can see both types in my doe herd.”
The idea that goats will eat anything is overblown. ”They are kind of fussy about what they eat,” Holck said. They just happen to have a wider-ranging diet than most ruminants, and have a preference for roughage.
“Left to their devices, their diet would probably be closer to a white-tail deer than to a cow,” he said. “I turn them out on pasture and they eat the grass, but if I turn them into the trees, they don’t go for the grass. They go for the leaves, the low-hanging branches. The more woody stuff, forbs, more brushy stuff is their preferred diet.”
In the winter he feeds them a good mix of grass and alfalfa. They really like the protein-rich alfalfa, he said.
The coming Easter season is one of the best times for the goat market, Holck said. It is usually a little lower in the summer, but picks up again in the fall coming into Thanksgiving and the December holidays.
Whatever the market, Brian Holck likes his goats. His sons have moved on, but he’s not leaving goats behind any time soon.
You can contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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