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Breed Standards

Updated: Jan 15, 2023

Elizabeth Henning

What is a breed standard?

A breed standard is a specific description of an animal with characteristics that make it different from others of the same species. In genetic terms this is referred to as the phenotype, or characteristics that can be observed or measured. ADGA currently recognizes nine breeds of dairy goats: Alpine, Guernsey, LaMancha, Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian, Oberhasli, Saanen, Sable, Toggenburg. Some dairy goat breed standards are based on color patterns (Oberhasli, Saanen, Toggnburg), some on ears (LaMancha, Nubian,) some on size (Nigerian Dwarf.) All have breed-specific disqualifications that relate to color, ears, size or combinations of such.

Who determines breed standards?

When an individual or a group has interest in developing a breed, they put together a list of descriptors that make it unique. For ADGA to consider including a breed in our registry, there are several requirements that must be met. The proposal must come from a recognized breed organization with a Constitution/Bylaws and current officers. Also required is a proposed breed standard, the history of the development of the breed, statement of its uniqueness, and proof of existence of at least 100 animals born within the past 10 years that have a minimum of four generations meeting that breed standard. In other words, animals that exhibit and whose offspring inherit the breed standard.

When a breed standard is defined, it also usually includes a description of the traits that would disqualify an animal from being recognized as an example of the breed and accepted for registration in the herdbook. For example, a buck kid with anything other than "elf" ears cannot be registered in the LaMancha herdbook; a black Oberhasli buck is not eligible for the Oberhasli herdbook.

How are breed standards used in evaluating dairy goats?

In many other species, such as dogs, each breed standard describes the "ideal" representative of the breed. Since ADGA adopted the unified scorecard used in evaluation of all dairy goats in shows and type evaluation (Linear Appraisal,) all breeds recognized by ADGA are evaluated using the same description of the "ideal" as defined in the scorecard. As part of the scorecard, a section of the General Appearance category includes evaluation of breed characteristics along with definition of the ideal head.

Head & Breed Characteristics - clean-cut and balanced in length, width, and depth, broad muzzle with full nostrils, well-sculpted, alert eyes; strong jaw with angular lean junction to throat; appropriate size, color, ears, and nose to meet breed standard. ADGA Guidebook 2022, pp. 151-152.

What this means is that ALL dairy goats are evaluated in accordance with the unified scorecard, not as individual breeds. When judging or evaluating dairy goats in Linear Appraisal, the degree to which an animal meets breed standards is generally impactful only when that animal exhibits a breed-specific serious defect or disqualification. The "Head and Breed Characteristics" section of the senior doe scorecard is allocated 5 points out of the 35 designated for General Appearance; 14% of the GA category and 5% of the total for evaluation of a senior doe. The section is given more weight in junior does (18% of GA category, 10% of total) and bucks (14.5% of GA category, 8% of total.)

These "weights," however, include head structure as well as breed characteristics. Since the goal of ADGA's scorecard emphasizes function, correct head structure will take precedence in show placings and type evaluations over faults in meeting breed standard (other than breed-specific disqualifications.)

The goal of the Unified Scorecard is to aid in the selection of the type of dairy goat that can function efficiently over a long productive lifetime. ADGA Guidebook 2022, Bylaws XVIII, p. 150.

As an example, a Nubian buck with a dished face would have a very serious defect. When compared with other bucks in a show who exhibit the correct breed character in the nose, he would be faulted. However, if he was the most structurally correct buck in

all other areas of the scorecard, he could still be named GCH, as breed character comprises only 8% of the total evaluation. In linear appraisal, he might be assigned a score of Excellent in General Appearance and Excellent overall but would be assigned a Miscellaneous Code of 70 for having an incorrect nose for the breed.

Why are breed standards important?

If a person's goal in breeding dairy goats is to breed animals that milk well and live long, productive lives, regardless of how they look, maintaining breed standards may not be important. For those of us who enjoy and wish to continue to improve a specific breed, it is extremely important. Breed-specific defects, and, ESPECIALLY, disqualifications should be rigorously avoided in any breeding program that focuses on breed improvement. Continuing to use non-conforming animals in a breeding program is a recipe for disaster in future generations. By continuing to conform to the required phenotype, we increase the chances that future generations will conform. We cannot "see" genotype. A serious defect or disqualification may be just as easily genetically transmitted as that high, wide rear udder we all covet. It may not appear immediately, but it is still there.


Elizabeth R Henning, Chair, ADGA Linear Appraisal Committee

Last winter's Linear Appraisal Summit brought several recommendations to the Linear Appraisal Committee, Appraisers, and the ADGA Board of Directors. One of those recommendations was to eliminate the "exact" measurement and recording of height for all animals. During my 25 years as an appraiser, this was a trait often singled out for inconsistency among appraisers, concern with use of measuring device, problems with fidgety animals, and concern with appraiser safety when getting "up close and personal" with unruly animals. All of these factors, but particularly inconsistency and appraiser safety, provided the basis for a change in measuring procedure. ALL animals will still be evaluated for conformity to breed standard, just as we do for Nigerian Dwarf animals at shows. However, an exact measurement will be recorded only if overheight for Nigerian Dwarf (assigned Miscellaneous Code 82) or underheight if 48 months and older for standard breed (assigned Miscellaneous Code 83.) Those concerned about height genetics should watch and ask for documentation of height status through Linear Appraisal reports provided to herd owners at the end of each linear appraisal session.

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