Judging dairy goats — here’s what to know


One of my favorite barns to hang out in during livestock shows is the goat barn! Goats are so silly and fun, they come in so many shapes and sizes, and they always have big personalities. No two goats may look and act alike, but we can judge all dairy goats the same way.

For judging dairy goats, we use the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) unified scorecard. We judge goats on their general appearance, dairy strength, body capacity, and mammary system. But we give these categories different weights depending on if we are looking at a senior doe, junior doe, or a buck. The main difference in judging the three is that only senior does are judged on the mammary system.

A senior doe is a lactating or dry female goat who has had kids before. A junior doe is a young female goat who is older than six months, but has not yet had any kids. A buck is an intact male goat who is a year old or more. In most shows, all of the attention is on the senior does, so let’s dive into how to judge a senior dairy doe!

General Appearance

For a senior doe, the general appearance is worth 35 percent of the whole score, but it is broken down further into the stature, breed characteristics, front end, back, and the feet and legs.

A good stature means that the doe stands with her withers slightly higher than her hips, and that she is long and tall throughout.

Breed characteristics obviously vary from breed to breed, but you consistently want to see a wide muzzle with a well sculpted jaw and eyes, a lean transition to the throat with no extra skin, and ears, colors, and patterns that fit the breed standards. The front end of the goat begins at the withers, and you want to see smooth blending all over. The point of the elbow should be set tightly against the chest, the shoulders should be smooth and transition seamlessly from the neck to the ribs. The back is an important part of the general appearance. It needs to be strong and straight, with the withers as the highest point. From the hooks to the pins, you want a slight slope downward, this is for ease of kidding. The feet and legs should be flat boned and strong throughout. You want the chest of the goat to be wide, and the legs to be chest width apart, and all her toes should be pointing forward.

If the goat is proportional, big, and looks strong and smooth, she has a good general appearance. You want a strong goat so that she is able to have kids each year and be a strong milker for many lactations. The perfect goat should have a body that will last a long time, she should have the ability to have kids with ease, and she should carry herself smoothly.

Dairy Strength

Dairy strength is worth 20 percent of the ADGA scorecard, and it is concerning the bone structure and the leanness of the goat. You’ll start at the neck and look for a long neck free of excess skin, that blends smoothly into the shoulders, withers, and brisket. You want to see the withers blend into the ribs, and the ribs should be long and wide. The body of the goat should be big and look like a barrel — that means she can eat lots of food to help her produce lots of milk. You also should evaluate the flanks and thighs for excess skin. Dairy goats in lactation shouldn’t carry much extra on them.

The perfect dairy animal needs to have a lot of room in her belly so she can eat a lot and produce a lot. Her body also needs to be strong so she can handle carrying her kids and producing milk. She should have a body that allows her to move comfortably for years.

Body Capacity

The body capacity of the goat is worth 10 percent of the ADGA scorecard, and it’s all about the chest and the barrel of the goat. You want a wide chest on the goat, with her legs standing chest wide. She should have a wide spring to her ribs and a big round barrel.

I’m sure many of us have seen the funny pictures of the huge pregnant goats who require a wide load sign … that’s not the ideal goat. Of course there is some forgiveness for the big pregnant goats, but the ideal goat has the body capacity to carry her kids without bulging out past her ribs.

Mammary System

Finally the mammary system, which is also worth 35 percent of the ADGA scorecard. The mammary system includes the udder support system, the fore and rear udder, the teats, and the overall balance and symmetry of the udder.

The support system includes the medial suspensory ligament, which is the seam of the udder that holds it up and creates a cleave between the halves. The fore udder needs to be wide and full, but blend smoothly from the belly into the udder. The rear udder should be wide and high, the higher the udder is attached, the higher the teat ends will sit. You don’t want to see the udder come too low, as having the teats far below the hocks increases her chances of injury and mastitis. Overall the udder needs to be uniform and balanced, with both halves looking exactly the same. The teats should be identical, and point straight down or slightly forward, and they should not be touching. The ideal udder promotes ease of milking, and it should promote comfort and have room to grow.

Unfortunately there aren’t a ton of practice videos out there, but one reference that I love is a guide put out by Prairie View A&M Cooperative Extension. Not only does this guide go over the ADGA scorecard, it covers breed characteristics, defects, and disqualifications, and tips on giving reasons in a judging competition. But don’t worry, judging the goats isn’t the hard part — the hardest part is keeping them in their pen!

Elizabeth Maslyn is a Cornell University student pursuing a career in the dairy industry. Her passion for agriculture has driven her desire to learn more, and let the voices of our farmers be heard.

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