This article by breeder Andy Law was first published in Rare Breeds NewZ, February 2022

Kiko Goats in New Zealand

Andy Law

Kiko does and kids
Kiko does and kids on Andy and Claire Law’s farm in Taihape, New Zealand

Our involvement with Kikos began some 25 years ago when I contacted Garrick Batten, the founder of the breed, to ask where we could get some from. The breed had been developed in the 1980s with selection of 100 does from a pool of 10,000 feral does and genetics from good dairy bucks. The original selection was based on feet, fertility and growth rates; non-commercial criteria such as colour were not considered. The breed was internationally recognised and initially flourished, then came the collapse of the New Zealand goat boom. Garrick was left with very good genetics that nobody in New Zealand wanted. Some American investors swooped in and purchased the bulk of the central herd which were shipped off to the USA. Some semen and a small number of live animals were retained in Nelson.

We were lucky enough to be able to tap into the remaining genetics and work with Garrick for a decade in a small group breeding scheme. There have been ups and downs – for example, a sire whose offspring all had terrible feet despite his own good feet – but we think steady progress is being made. Culling hard and often is important.

In the USA the breed has become popular with both life-stylers and commercial farmers, acknowledged for hardiness, fertility and productivity. In university-based trial work Kikos have regularly outperformed all other breeds, both as purebreds and crossbreeds, producing more kids to higher weaning weights with fewer health problems. Today there are three competing American breed societies and a multitude of studs selling Kiko genetics. The ultimate marketing tool appears to be being able to state that a goat is pure 100% New Zealand genetics (without any American contamination!).

Unfortunately, about half the American breeders value looks, show ribbons and cups above production, which leads to a culture of pampering. Also many of the American “studs” are very small, five does and a buck don’t allow for a lot of genetic selection and improvement. Goats need to be able to thrive with minimal inputs, eating weeds and paying their way. Foot trimming, heavy drenching, barn rearing and grain feeding all blur a goat’s true ability to cope with normal conditions.

We farm north and east of Taihape on four blocks, about 800 hectares all counted. Our land is high altitude with cold wet winters, snow is not uncommon. This makes for a good testing ground for feet and hardiness/vigour. Goats that thrive here generally will do well anywhere. Our climate makes a strong maternal instinct important. Kids are small, fragile and prone to hypothermia at birth so having a mum who kids under cover, licks them dry, feeds them and can count can be the difference between life and death. One year we had a heavy spring snowfall and found a maiden doe who had kidded overnight fussing over her twins. The snow around the kids was all tromped in by her constant good mothering.

Our goats have to survive as second-class citizens most of the year, rotating behind other stock cleaning up seed head and weeds. Kids get two drenches, then are expected to cope with the worms; any that can’t are culled. Feet are never treated, animals with poor confirmation and/or persistent lameness are culled. We have never had to assist at a birth and does that can’t produce weaned offspring are culled also. Breeding bucks have to be twin born and reared with above average growth and no foot problems, all other buck kids are castrated and eventually slaughtered. The remaining bucks are weaned onto a different block from the does and kids – 25 kilometres prevents any unwanted pregnancies. Once at the buck block we leave them alone to thrive or fail among their older brothers. After a year the survivors are ranked on feet and growth, more culling takes place and the final few might get to meet some does.

We sell a few breeding bucks. The market could be a lot bigger, but most farmers aren’t interested in spending money improving their ferals when next month they might be on the neighbour’s farm getting mustered and sold. Thankfully, there is good demand for goat meat, it tracks along between mutton and lamb and is preferred by many ethnic groups.

Our biggest problem is the lack of other good flocks to trade genetics with. Last year we swapped two bucks for ten good does from a station that has used Kiko genetics in the past. Line breeding is the polite way of describing in-breeding and we don’t want to go there. Like any rare breed we need as wide a genetic pool as possible.

A few years ago, we decided to focus on red Kikos, not because they are any more productive, but simply because we like the colour. Most of our retained bucks are now reddish and a good proportion of the does. This doesn’t mean a good black or white animal would be discarded, simply that our preference is for the reds. There is a range of patched colours and animals with Alpine type facial stripes as well.

Kikos are as intelligent as any goat. Ours are well used to bikes, people and dogs. They are slower to move than sheep as does with kids are inclined to continually face off against a pushy dog. A lot of the time I simply open a gate and curiosity will quickly draw the flock through. Less time and drama for all concerned. Like deer they will hide their kids for the first few days if possible. As the kids grow they pick a sunny, dry nursery area where they will congregate to play and lounge around while the does graze further afield. Often there will be fifty kids all hanging out together.

Like most goats Kikos are browsers rather than grazers, they instinctively select from the top the sward rather than pushing in deeper, and they like variety, a little of this and a little of that. They won’t focus on a particular weed and completely destroy it, rather slowly reduce it. Californian thistles, for example, can take three seasons to control with numerous visits until finally the root system runs out of energy and dies off.

Kikos aren’t the prettiest goats, but they are pretty productive. We haven’t regretted choosing to farm them yet!

Kiko does
Some of the Laws’ Kiko goats.
Text and photographs kindly supplied by Andy Law.

 Kiko Breed page 
 Origin of Kiko Goats  
 Kiko Goats in the USA  

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