The following article was written at the request of the New Zealand Rarebreeds Society and was published in their January 2012 newsletter.
Nubians: Crossbreeding with a Purpose
When I was eleven, I was taken by my mother to visit some new friends who lived in the Exe valley near Bickliegh in Devon (UK) They had a gorgeous old rundown farmhouse and ran a beautiful herd of Anglo Nubians. It was there that my love affair with goats began. I joined the family on many outings to shows and fell in love with my first goat friend (Goat) Zillah. This tri-coloured Nubian doeling followed me around the show grounds, free of collar and lead and we had a fine time together.
Many years came and passed before I found goats again and during those years, I always felt something was missing in my life.
Well now, with my own herd of goats and having been officially diagnosed with Caprine Obsessive Disorder (a term coined by my psychiatric nurse husband to describe me!), I can now say that my life is complete!
And so to the point of this article: crossbreeding with a purpose and why:
I am not sure exactly how many Nubians there are in New Zealand but I know there are not that many. My first Nubian doe and Nubian buck came from completely different sources but their paperwork showed me that they had the same father. I would think this is quite common especially in the South Island and with such a tiny gene pool available, very inbred animals are inevitable. This is the case with so many rare breeds.
This is not to dismiss inbreeding out of hand. Managed inbreeding, in the form of line breeding, can be a valuable tool in increasing hybrid vigor and other positive attributes and this is something I am also planning to try in the coming years. Line breeding, it seems, works particularly well when animals have previously been crossed out (up graded) with another breed, as is the case with my herd.
One of my main aims is to increase resilience and to improve overall stamina in the goats I breed, which brings me to how I got started on this path and to the subject of ‘The Nubian versus the Cold’:
It is my experience that Nubians dislike the cold (and wet) intensely. When I got my first doe in milk, she was a purebred Nubian who I purchased from a breeder in North Canterbury. It was the middle of winter and the first thing I noticed about her was how she suffered so badly from the cold…so I naturally bought her a coat. The Boer does I had at the time didn’t seem to have this problem due to a fluffy winter undercoat they possess.
There is no doubt that Nubians love the heat and the sun. The New Zealand climate, particularly in the South Island, is often not hot and sunny! They do not grow a fluffy undercoat in winter like other breeds and they are so sensitive to the cold, that they can develop frostbite on their pendulous ears, which were originally designed to act as a cooling device in their desert ancestors. A friend and fellow breeder goes as far as sewing woolly socks together in which she encases the ears of her most vulnerable goats in very cold weather! The lack of fluffy undercoat just serves to exacerbate this and other problems. Cold causes weight loss and also compromises the immune system leading to illnesses such as Pneumonia. Prior to coating, Jilly would be shivering badly on frosty mornings at milking time.
Providing a coat for a Nubian in cold weather is all well and good and exactly the right thing to do but would it not ultimately be better to breed an animal, where possible, that did not require a coat in the first place?
I decided that perhaps if I bred Jilly with a buck with a nice winter coat, that her kids may have a winter coat and could be hardier in other ways too.
A breeder I knew had an English buck that I decided to put over her.
I was quite happy about the cross as I figured that an English (Anglo) buck plus Nubian doe would give me a goat that would still essentially be Anglo Nubian – this seemed to make sense, so I tried it.
The resulting kids were nice, semi true to Nubian type, with winter undercoats and good hybrid vigor… but small. The English side didn’t do much for the udder or teat size either!
A year and a half later I bred these kids with a Nubian buck with a much better result but these goats were still on the small side.
At about this time I helped run the Dairy Goat Association stall at the Rare breeds Auction at Willowbank in Christchurch. I was amazed that nearly every person who came to chat was looking for Nubians. This spurred me on.
What I was really looking for was a larger goat that looked like a stunning Nubian (long ears, a coat with lots of colour and beautiful sheen, arched nose etc). A goat, to all intents and purposes, that conformed to Nubian breed standard but was hardier, had better milk yield and tolerated the cold much better that the average Nubian. If a goat like that could be produced through strategic crossbreeding, then other people could benefit by owning them too!
So I decided to try the larger- framed goats. I put my registered Nubian buck Harry over a half Nubian/Saanen/BA doe I had acquired as well as a couple of Toggenburgs and Saanens. What a success!
The half Nubian doe produced triplets including a ¾ doeling who in November last year won the Judges Choice Cup at the New Zealand Dairy Goat Association Club Show in Christchurch. I was delighted, especially since the judge was a Nubian breeder from the North Island. I assumed I must be doing something right!
I am now completely convinced that strategic crossbreeding, (crossbreeding with a purpose), can indeed offer a huge amount in terms of genetics and overall hybrid vigor and could be the way forward for some or our rare breeds in this country.
What could be better and more positive than breeding an animal for its all round ultimate benefit, whilst retaining its defining traits and enhancing characteristics it is lacking?
My favourite book on goats was written in the early 1900s and is called “The Book of The Goat” by Henry Stephen Holmes Pegler who, by the way, lists Nubians in his chapter on crossbred goats. He is very much in favour of crossbreeding and states: “ From my own experience, … I do not consider that for practical purposes a pure specimen is always the best…There is no doubt that by a combination of the Nubian and Swiss breeds…handsome animals and splendid milkers are to be obtained. There can be no doubt that the chief advantage gained by the crossing of breeds is the introduction of absolutely new blood, and the effect of this is quickly observable in improved stamina and more abundant milk flow.”
(P. 44 The Book of the Goat; Containing Full Particulars of the Various Breeds of Goat and Their Profitable Management. Henry Stephen Holmes Pegler)
It seems that strategic crossbreeding was popular with breeders, in the UK at least, in the early part of the 1900s. And thank goodness! It did, after all, create the Anglo Nubian, which would not have existed if it had not been for crossbreeding. In fact this breed of goat was created from crossing an assortment of different breeds of which the Nubian and English goats were ultimately only a small part.
In conclusion, it is still early days but I am delighted that this simple approach to crossbreeding with very clear aims is beginning to show the results I had hoped for and I am full of excitement for the future. I would welcome visits from anyone who would like to see my herd in person and talk to me more about what I am doing. I for one do not see crossbreeding with a defined purpose as being anything but beneficial to my favourite breed of goat…the wonderful, the adorable, and very special … Anglo Nubian.