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Conformation Basics


Form Follows Function  


Why do we care about conformation?  All we want to do is have a goat that gives milk, right?


Dairymen for hundreds of years have recognized that certain characteristics of form, or conFORMation, can be reliable indicators of that ability.  They have found that a big barrel, well attached mammary system, strong muzzles and faces, and correctly angled front and rear legs are always present in animals that are able to milk well and have the strength to maintain that prodution over many years.


Other characteristics collectively known as 'dairy character' and 'general appearance' have been shown to nearly always accompany this ability.


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**Photos and additional discussion will be added as time allows - check back often.

Front End

Dairy goat does should exhibit femininity without frailness in their heads and necks while bucks should correspondingly be masculine about the head and neck.  Both should have heads that represent the character of the breed they represent.  They should have jaws and muzzles that are broad and deep, to allow efficiency in food gathering and mastication.  A shallow jaw is an indication of lack of strength.

Necks should blend in smoothly to the wither and shoulder, with tight ligaments that hold the bone structure in alignment against the ribcage.  The brisket should be deep, with ample room for heart and lungs, extending well forward of and below the elbow.


It is important that the bone structure that holds up the front of the animal be straightly aligned, with the leg bones directly under the shoulder assembly.  This will prevent breakdown of the front end as the animal ages.  

Lower legs and toes should point straight forward, without twisting, so that the leg swings straight ahead as it moves and doe not exhibit a paddling motion.

Strong medium length pasterns will provide shock absorbsion which limits wear and tear on the joints.  Excessive length of pastern causes the foot to rock back increasing strain on the lower leg and increased maintenence (hoof trimming) to keep the animal comfortable.


Link - Heads


The midsection or barrel is important, since it is where the animal carries the weight of rumen and offspring, and therefore needs to be strongly supported. 


This is accomplished through the structure of the backbone and ribcage, and the connecting points between the front and rear ends. 


Backs should be straight, with ribs that arch out away from the centerline of the body.  This increases body capacity, allowing greater room inside the body cavity for a large amount of the food that eventually becomes milk. 


The ribs should be long, flat rather than round in cross section, and angled increasingly towards the rear flank.  The flank area itself should be deep, which completes what is known as the dairy triangle; the wedge shape desired in not only the side view but other aspects as well which will be discussed later.


Link - Toplines - Link - Body Capacity

Rear End

The pelvis and rear legs are especially important since they carry the most weight and need to be correctly aligned to be most efficient and last for the life of the animal. 


The pelvis should be smoothly blended into the loin, and both should be as wide as possible.  The angle of the pelvis should be fairly level or horizontal, rather than steep, as this will allow more area for attachment of the udder ligaments underneath.


Rear legs should be wide apart in a natural stance with the cannon bones vertical to the ground, from the side as well as from the rear.  There should be great width between the pin bones which will carry down through the thurls and escutcheon underneath and provides the room the udder which needs to be securely attached to the body.


From the side, the cannon bones should be placed directly beneath the pin bones of the pelvis, forming a straight vertical line and optimal weight bearing.  Rear legs should not be placed too far behind the animal (sickle hocks) due to over-angulation which results in increased strain during normal movement. 


They should not be too straight in alignment (post legged) since this does not allow enough shock absorbsion through the rear leg structure which will contribute to breakdown of the pasterns and joint problems later in life.


Link - Legs and feet - Link - Rumps


The mammary system needs to be strong, well attached and capacious.  It must be easy to milk, with teats that are easy to grasp and easy to express.  It must be located well up out of the way of the feet and legs as well as ground obstacles that can cause injury.

The ligaments that attach the mammary to the body and which hold it tight include the medial suspensory, the side ligaments and the foreudder attachments.  These ligaments must do their job for the life of the animal, without breaking down over time.

The medial suspensory ligament divides the udder into two halves and supports it in the center through it's attachment to the pelvis.  It is responsible for the cleft between the halves, and also can contribute to the degree that the teats point out to the side.  It must be strong enough to support the udder floor.

The side ligaments should extend as far as possible from back to front along the sides of the udder.  They keep the udder snug against the body and out of the way of the movement of the legs.

The fore udder should be tightly attached to the belly, as far forward and as smoothly as possible.  Udders lacking adequate foreudder attachment develop the weakness of a pocket in the front which almost always leads to more breakdown over time.  Foreudders that connect to the body abruptly or without forward extension limit the overall capacity of that udder.

The escutcheon is the framework from which the rear udder hangs.  It should be high, wide, and in the shape of an arch, not an upside down V.  The width is necessary because it provides a stronger anchor for the ligaments holding the udder in place and because that width will continue downwards, creating greater capacity or storage room for milk.

The udder ideally should be placed in such position that one third of it extends in front of the rear leg, and one third of it extends behind the rear leg when viewed from the side.  Udders which are not long from front to back lack maximum capacity. 


Link - Discussion   Link - Discussion

General Appearance

General appearance refers to the combination of the structural aspects of the animal plus other observations such as dairy character, smoothness of blending of the body parts, freedom of movement as the animal walks, harmony, and health condition.  In the show ring it can make the difference between a first place and a second placing.



Link - Discussion

Dairy Character

Dairy Character consists of those qualities that have been observed to corralate with enhanced milk production over time.  Dairymen have made these observations for many years and they hold true for both cattle and dairy goats.

Thin, pliable skin; widely spaced, flat ribbing; a feminine appearance in does; fine shiny coat; deep but not coarse muzzle; a deep barrel increasing towards the rear; angularity; and of course a well attached, capacious mammary system all contribute to dairy character.


Link - Discussion


Angularity refers to the dairy triangles, and the sharpness of line visible in dairy animals and which contrasts with the round, thick aspects of form common in meat animals.


There are several dairy triangles visible when observing animals from different points of view.  The most obvious is the triangle visible from the side, with the animal in profile.  She should be long and level across the top, deep in the rear flank, with the underline rising from the rear to the elbows.  This is the first dairy triangle or wedge shape.


The second is the triangle visible when viewing the animal overhead and from the rear.  The head forms the point, while the body increases in width smoothly from front to rear.  The hips and hind legs forming the widest part and base of the wedge.


The third triangle is that formed from the rear, by the framework of the hind legs.  The top is the tail head, where the shape increases in width as you eye travels down towards the ground, where the legs and feet complete the sides and base.  Great width is needed here as this is where the mammary is placed. 


Link - Discussion   Link - Discussion    Link - Discussion

Body Condition

Body condition while not part of conformation itself, plays a part in the general appearance of the dairy animal.  Animals that carry too much weight are not putting their resources into milk production, but rather depositing the extra nutrients as body fat.  Those that are too thin are producing milk at the expense of their own needs, and should be supplemented.


It's important for managers to be aware of the body condition of their animals in order to balance the cost of overfeeding with the nutritional needs of their animals.


Link - Discussion

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