Showing Dairy Goats: What Judges are Looking for and Why

Showing Dairy Goats: What Judges are Looking for and Why

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Whether you acquired dairy goats with plans to show them or not, the characteristics that make for a good show goat often make for a good production goat, too. Understanding what makes a winning show goat is helpful to understanding what makes a good, long-producing dairy goat.

It is true that dairy goat shows do look a bit like goat beauty pageants with everyone decked out in dairy whites, their goats groomed to perfection parading around in front of judges with ribbons and prizes for the winners. But in this case, that beauty equates to functionality.

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The four main categories that are being assessed in a mature dairy doe show are:

  • General Appearance
  • Mammary System
  • Dairy Strength
  • Body Capacity

General Appearance is probably the most “pageant-like” quality that is being evaluated as it does include attractiveness, femininity, and a graceful walk. But it also includes strength, length, and smoothness of blending which are qualities that make for a better producer over time of both babies and milk.

Mammary System is of obvious importance when it comes to a dairy animal of any kind. According to the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA), the judge is looking for a system that is “strongly attached, elastic, well-balanced with adequate capacity, quality, ease of milking, and indicating heavy milk production over a long period of usefulness.” Who wouldn’t want these qualities in their milk parlor — shows or no shows?

Dairy Strength refers to the angularity and openness of a refined and clean bone structure. In other words, we want to see that the structure of this goat is strong enough to support the hard work that comes with producing babies and milk year after year, but with evidence that the bulk of the doe’s energy production is being put toward making babies and milk.

Body Capacity is a great way of saying we want the doe to have enough room to hold lots of babies. As a doe matures and has more babies, her body capacity should increase. That widened midsection that many a human woman dislikes as she ages is celebrated in the dairy goat world!

In addition to these traits that judges are looking for, there are also some things they specifically DON’T want to see. An animal that is too thin to the point of being unhealthy may get disqualified. Blindness and permanent lameness would also disqualify a show goat for obvious reasons. And extra teats often referred to as double teats, are a disqualifier and problematic for milk production in general.

Milking Competitions

While the four categories discussed so far refer to conformation, there are also milking competitions associated with showing. ADGA has a program where does can earn a “milk star” by participating in an official milking competition. These competitions have very specific rules and evaluate the quantity of milk, the period of time since the last kidding, and the amount of butterfat. There are two ways to obtain a milk star (which is listed on the doe’s registration papers as *M).

  1. A One-Day Milking Competition or
  2. Participation in ADGA’s Dairy Herd Improvement program (DHI).
Nigerian doe in the show ring.

The One-Day Milking Competition takes place at a designated ADGA show and consists of the does being milked three times: once the evening before the competition and then twice on the day of the competition. The competition milkings are then evaluated for volume, percentage of butterfat, and number of days since kidding with points being assigned accordingly. If enough points are received, that doe will receive a *M designation on her registration papers.

The DHI program requires participation in a 305-day milking period with milk being weighed and evaluated once a month throughout this timeframe. In addition to the chance to earn a milk star, herds in the DHI program also can receive other breed leader designations.

Melanie Bohren of Sugarbeet Farm in Longmont, Colorado raises Nigerian Dwarf and Toggenburg dairy goats and participates in the Milk Star Program as both a participant and an evaluator. She says that the benefits of participation include “getting objective feedback on your doe’s production, increased marketability of your goats, and it can also help inform breeding decisions.”

Many county and state fair goat shows also do some kind of milking competition including those based on volume as well as those that reward the speed at which the exhibitor can milk the goat. These may not qualify a doe for a milk star but are still a fun way to compete and get some feedback about your doe’s milk production.

So, some of the reasons that people choose to show their goats is to get feedback on how their animals stack up in the dairy goat world. But there are other benefits to showing as well. From a species perspective, the competition to win at shows has led to the cultivation of an improved selection of dairy goats in the United States. From a personal perspective, showing is a great way to network with other breeders and learn from them about best practices, genetics, and more. It’s also an excellent tool for developing poise, work ethic, and communication skills for youth who participate, especially through the showmanship classes which are geared toward youth and reward their knowledge and handling of their animals.  My own kids gained so much confidence from their years of showing, even just at the county fair level.

One of the shortcomings that I find with the registered goat show system is the fact that only registered purebred or recorded grade breeds can participate. While it’s understandable that a registration system is the best way to preserve the specific desired traits and genetic history of a particular goat breed, in practice, crossbreeds are often hardier, more disease and parasite resistant, less expensive to purchase, and in general, can make excellent choices for milk production. These goats should still have the many physical traits and characteristics that are rewarded in the show ring, even if they aren’t eligible to win any prizes. Fortunately, most 4-H programs and county fairs allow the showing of crossbreeds so these owners can still get feedback on how their animals measure up.


Melanie Bohren of Sugarbeet Farm in Longmont, Colorado

Originally published in the July/August 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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