Saanen Goats

Episode 89
For the Love of Goats

Saanen Goats featured image

In today’s episode, we are talking with the oldest Saanen breeder in the US about these gentle giant of the dairy goat world. If you’ve ever looked at the American Dairy Goat Association’s Top Ten list for milk production, you’ve seen his goats.

Scott Hoyman of Caprikorn Farms has been raising Saanens for more than four decades along with his wife Alice. He talks about why they originally chose Saanen goats and why they went on milk test. He also talks about how ADGAGenetics.org can help you to choose more productive goats for your herd, as well as herd sires that are more likely to improve milk production in their daughters.

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Transcript – Saanen Goats

Introduction 0:03
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann 0:18
Today’s episode is brought to you by Goats 365, my membership program for people who are living with, learning about, and loving goats, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. Basic members get access to six courses covering housing, fencing, parasites, nutrition, and health, as well as things like composting goat manure and the basics of starting a goat-based business. Premium members also have the opportunity to attend live online meetings via Zoom to talk about goats every month. Visit Goats365.com to learn more.

Deborah Niemann 0:53
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. Continuing on with our series that we’ve been doing on all the different breeds of goats, today we are going to be talking about the Saanen dairy goat. And, we are joined by one of the oldest—if not the oldest—Saanen goat breeder in the United States, and that is Scott Hoyman of Caprikorn Farms. Welcome to the show today, Scott.

Scott Hoyman 1:18
Thank you for having me.

Deborah Niemann 1:20
So, I’ve been doing my best to find people breeding these breeds who’ve been doing it for a really long time. And, I thought I’d been doing pretty well finding people that have been, you know, breeding a specific breed for 20 or 30 years. But, when I found you, I really felt like I was an underachiever with the rest of them, because you have been breeding Saanens since the 70s, I think you said?

Scott Hoyman 1:42
1976

Deborah Niemann 1:44
Yeah, so that is a really long time. Can you think back to 1976, and why you picked Saanens instead of another breed?

Scott Hoyman 1:55
Well, we had a… Let’s see. We were city kids. So, we were part of the back-to-the-land movement. I’m so old that I predate hippies; I’m actually something called a beatnik. And there we were, in suburban Washington, D.C., desiring to get back to the land and having no idea what we’re doing with farming. So, let’s see. We got some geese; we got a cow. Pigs. Some point, the subject of dairy goats came up. So, we got a couple Nubians. They cost $50 each—I guess that would be maybe $200 in today’s terms. And I don’t know, the descendants of the Nubians didn’t do well for us. We had an Alpine, and it didn’t happen to do that very well for us. We finally stumbled onto a Saanen, and was probably the third or the fourth Saanen before we were amazed at how much milk we got, so we just ran with what was working for us.

Deborah Niemann 3:01
So, what exactly makes a Saanen a Saanen? Like, how are they different from all the other breeds?

Scott Hoyman 3:08
I happen to have in front of me an issue called Saanen Roots written by Allan Rogers, copyrighted in 1981. And Al basically says the ancestral Swiss home of the Saanen goat is in the—guess what? Saanen Valley! And this area is 3,500 to 6,000 feet in elevation. Of course, that’s in Switzerland. So, you’re dealing with very steep slopes here. And, what accidentally developed was a kind of a rangy dairy goat that had springy pasterns, long and lean, and also a very hardy goat that could survive the winters. The winters were vicious. So, there was only 19 importations. They started in 1904.

Scott Hoyman 4:03
There’s a lot of controversy about “the purebred Saanen.” And, in order to be a purebred Saanen, you had to descend from one of the imports. But, the importations actually came from different parts of the country of Switzerland—and later we’ll talk about England and Germany—and some of those parts had a lot of color. Well, today, the American Dairy Goat Association, which is the largest registry association in the United States; we also have the American Goat Society. In order to be registered as a Saanen, you’ve got to be white.

Scott Hoyman 4:44
So, the importations occurred between 1904 and 1922. In the early 1900s, they called them “Saanens,” but the Swiss never had a continuous, like, 50- or 100-year registry for purebred Saanens. And I think Al says it best: “When Americans began to demand certificates of pure breeding, the Swiss, always very export conscience, were most willing to oblige. It is assumed that this was still via the method of inspection.” In other words, if you were a Swiss person that claimed you have a Saanen dairy goat, it wasn’t because you had a pedigree from the mother and a pedigree from the father. It was because an official committee of Swiss people said, “Oh, yeah, it looks like a Saanen to us.” That’s where the first wave came from.

Scott Hoyman 5:44
Now, everyone thinks the Saanens came from Switzerland, and that’s sort of true, but in fact, at least half of the Saanens that came to America came from England. The Dutch people are great dairymen. I sell more Saanen bucks than anyone in the country, and very often, the person buying will have a Dutch name. So, the Dutch bought from the Swiss, the English bought from the Dutch, and we bought from the English. And the English Saanen was a completely different revolutionary kind of Saanen. Instead of having a long and lean and rangy with springy pasterns look, you had a more, like, squared away, broad, powerful… Somebody described it as similar to a Jersey cow. But Al feels that it was really beneficial, because since there were only the 19 importations, and my best guess was that only 122 Saanens were brought into this country. So, what you got is a very small gene pool, and when you have a small gene pool, you get inbreeding. When you get inbreeding, you get animals that don’t perform well. So, these big, thick, powerful Saanens coming in from the lowlands really rejuvenated the Saanen breed in America.

Deborah Niemann 7:13
So, I looked at the ADGA database, and I saw that right now, there are 1,974 goats that are registered with the herd name Caprikorn. And, I’m sure that that is only since ADGA became computerized. Do you have any idea how many goats have ever been registered from your herd? Since the beginning?

Scott Hoyman 7:35
I don’t have any idea. But, we’re cutting back now. I’m selling really good dairy goats at a really low price to get the volume down. And, what supported the herd was cheese sales. And in COVID, we lost interest in the whole cheese sales thing. And, our Number One cheese seller left the farm. So, without enough cheese sales, there’s nothing to do with the milk. And therefore, I’m basically cutting the herd in half right now.

Scott Hoyman 8:10
But, to answer your question, we were having 200 babies a year. So, you have 200 babies a year, for 10 years, then you’ve had 2,000 babies—now, they don’t all get registered. When a boy is born, there’s two possibilities. Possibility Number One is that if the mother has achieved something in the way of official dairy herd recordation, then the boy is going to be sold. And, he’s going to be sold on the average for more than the doe kid. But, if it’s a first-time mother who hasn’t had a chance to show what she can do, then he’s going to the sale barns, so he’s not going to be registered.

Scott Hoyman 8:38
So, out of 200 babies, the 100 females will definitely be registered. But in the early days, none of the buck kids were registered, because in the early days, our milk was insignificant. It took years and years and years and years of keeping the top milkers and letting the lower milkers go until we got to the top of the heap in terms of milk production. So, I don’t know. If you said that 130 got registered over the past, like, 15 years, I don’t know what that would be. That would be around 2,000 registered Saanens.

Deborah Niemann 9:29
Yeah. So, go all the way back to the 70s, and it’s 10,000 or something. Like, it’s a lot of baby goats.

Scott Hoyman 9:37
For example, in 1978, we probably had six babies.

Deborah Niemann 9:42
Mm-hmm.

Scott Hoyman 9:43
Then, by the 80s, we were probably up to 30 to 40 babies. And I owe it all to my wife. I’m the face of the Caprikorn herd when we get to sales, and people coming up to me at the shows, but the fact is that most of the work has been done by my wife. Her name is Alice L. Orzechowski. I want to give her mad props, because each baby is a genetic lottery. So, by eliminating the ones that don’t make as much, and breeding together the son of a great milker to a great milker, on the average, the milk will go up. But, some of those children will be inferior. It’s three steps forward and two steps backwards genetically to move up in milk. And, if you have a lot of babies, then you have a lot of genetic lottery tickets. And if you buy a lot of lottery tickets, you’re more likely to hit the lottery than somebody who only buys one.

Deborah Niemann 10:51
Yeah, exactly. I know what you mean. Many years ago, I bought a buck whose mother was Number One on milk test. And none of his daughters… I mean, they were good, but you know, not as good as grandma. So yeah, that’s the fun of genetics, that you just kind of keep playing with that year after year.

Scott Hoyman 11:12
I’ve got something I can share with your listeners that’s very important in that respect. The difference between what I’m going to call “phenotype” and what I’m going to call “genotype.” So, if we have a mother that’s Number One in milk test, 80% of that fact is management. Only 20% of that fact is genetics. And, that is agreed upon by calendaring and going back hundreds of years. So, when we are shopping—and I assume at some point, most of your listeners are gonna go shopping. What we want to buy is genetics. We’re not necessarily going to have great hay; we’re not necessarily going to milk twice a day at 12 hour intervals; we’re not necessarily going to have good weather. The same goat in Mississippi or Alabama will only milk about 60% of what the same goat would do in Montana, or… There’s a reason Wisconsin is the dairy capital of the world; it’s cold! So, what we want to do is to get to genetics.

Scott Hoyman 12:19
And, the way to get to genetics is a fabulous tool that ADGA very rarely refers to, and that tool is called ADGAGenetics.org. And, if we go on ADGAGenetics.org, and we tap on the mothers of the prospective buck kids that we’re thinking of buying, and then we tap on something called “production eval,” thae computer hands us a bottom line number on the next screen called “percentile.” And, the way the USDA set it up, the bottom percentile is a 0 and the top percentile is a 99. So, you can have a breed leader… There was a Saanen breed leader in the last five years that was 30th percentile. What that means is, if we took 1,000 Saanens and put them in exactly the same circumstance, at exactly the same age, 700 of those Saanens would have out-produced our Number One breed leader. So, most strongly do I advocate ADGA genetics and shopping by the means of the percentile.

Scott Hoyman 13:36
But, the computer gives us a second number, which is really beautiful. And that number is called “REL,” which stands for “reliability.” So, for example, one day Katie—who is now a vet and excellent judge, but she was a kid at the time—she’s was working for me, I said, “Katie, flip nine coins. What did you get?” She got eight of one and one of the other. Now, we all know that coins will come up fifty-fifty. But, she just proved that eight out of nine coins come up… I don’t know whether it was tails or heads. So, she had a low reliability. We need a lot of official DHI tests, in a lot of different herds. The REL is a beautiful number—and I won’t do any more numbers—because it tells us just how much can we depend on that.

Scott Hoyman 14:32
So, if you find a doe out there, and you want to buy her son, and it’s got REL of 30, you don’t know what’s going to happen. That means that that doe was on test for, like, 6 months or something, and that very few of her relatives were on test. If you can find one… It would be extraordinary to be able to find one that has an REL of 80. That would mean that she was on test for her entire life, maybe seven lactations, and that she also had daughters that were tested and sons of those daughters had had daughters that were tested. So basically, as a rule of thumb, you would want the high 40s, or the low 50s. So, it’s so simple.

Deborah Niemann 15:22
This is really good information to have, though. And this is so much better than what I did. Because, it was like back in 2005. And so, I was just looking at websites, you know, and it was like, “Oh, this doe was Number One,” and you know, I could buy a buck out of her this year. So, “I’m gonna do that, because I want better milk production.” Like you said, I mean, that’s kind of like flipping a coin just a couple times and saying, “Oh, look, this proves it’s always gonna be heads or tails.” So, you know, yeah, she was Number One, but there’s so much more to look at. So, this is really fascinating. Like, I know now that ADGA Genetics is there, but like you said, I don’t think most people understand how they can utilize it to their best advantage, especially when choosing herd sires. Because, you know, they say “the sire is half your herd,” so.

Deborah Niemann 16:15
So, you have goats on test, on the top ten list, really milking great. So, you could talk a little bit about when you got started on milk test and why you decided to do that?

Scott Hoyman 16:28
That’s an excellent question. I think it’s probably because Alice and I met in an accounting firm. So, we’re numbers people. Now, with official DHI test, I can have 10 shows a year without having to trim their hair, and put them in a trailer, and take them to faraway places. And it’s something we trust. See, when you go to a show, and you’re a grand champion in ring number one, and you’re 10th out of 10 in ring number two, you don’t trust the process! How can these two judges be so different, one hour apart?

Scott Hoyman 17:13
Whereas, at the moment, I’ve got only 15 milking yearlings, and they’re all about the same age. When that tester leaves, and he gives me the printout of how much each goat in the herd gave, I’ve had my show for the month, and I trust those numbers, and I adjust my prices accordingly. The dairymen on the average will buy the cheaper ones. So, by default, the ones that make the most milk will stay and multiply. And then their children will be an array. Some of them will do really well; some of them do really poor. But on the average, we do, about every year, we get a little more production, a little more production. Long way from the 2 pounds a day we used to get when we started. We actually would weigh the milk with a hanging scale, and add it up at the end of the month. But we don’t have to do that anymore thanks to DHI.

Deborah Niemann 18:15
Yeah, I was gonna ask you that, because I’ve seen pictures of goats from 50 years ago or whatever, and the udders are not as big and stuff. And so, I was wondering what you’ve seen in terms of, like, improvements since you got started?

Scott Hoyman 18:29
Oh, that’s an excellent question. There’s been a huge improvement in conformation. Milk is moving up by about… If I had to make a wild guess, 20 pounds per year. So, if the breed average of a particular breed is, say, 2,200 pounds now, then 10 years ago, it was 2,000 pounds. So milk is not moving up that far. But confirmation is radically better.

Scott Hoyman 18:59
There were a couple of young breeders that came to visit me and ask questions, and they shared with me that they had some old semen from the “good old stuff.” So, I whipped into the library and brought out a picture. Wow! The good old stuff is butt ugly! It’s got sloping rumps. It’s got straight back legs. The shoulders are loose. The pasterns are… They’re walking on their dew claws. So, we made a tremendous amount of progress in conformation. We’ve created a virtual goat through the show system. The original scorecard was built around “what’s going to last.” Lifetime. Goats cost a lot, so we wanted it to last for a long time. So, in the 70s, what you had is goats that looked really good at the summer doe show, but by the time the fairs were over in September, they weren’t milking at all. There were very, very few people that were on official DHI before then. So, we had accidentally bred what I call “summer spurters.” Now, that’s been improving radically now, though. DHI is the bomb!

Scott Hoyman 20:22
Goats are either on test or they aren’t. And if they aren’t, you may as well breed for show, because you can’t breed for milk. For starters, you can’t determine the butterfat and the protein percent. I speak in terms of pounds of milk, because it’s easy to explain. But, if I have a Saanen that’s doing 3,800 pounds, and she’s got 3.4% fat, and she’s got 3.3% protein—which is as high as Saanens go. Then that’s making more cheese for me than a Saanen that’s got 4,500 pounds. 700 more pounds sounds like a lot more. But if the 4,500 pounds can very well be 2.1% fat and 2.7% protein, she’s not making as much cheese. I need the cheese, because I need the money to buy more goat feed so I can have more goats!

Deborah Niemann 21:20
Yeah, exactly. We were on milk test for eight years. And, that was the thing I really liked about it. There were goats that were here because I knew, like, “Oh, even though it doesn’t look like she’s making a lot, she’s giving me more pounds of fat.” And we were using our milk to make cheese. So.

Scott Hoyman 21:38
Here’s something I can say nice about the Nubians and about the Nigerian Dwarfs: When someone looks at just the milk, of course, the Saanens look much better. But, if you take that lower milk figure and multiply it by a higher fat percent and a higher protein percent, then there’s a different story.

Deborah Niemann 22:01
Yeah, exactly. So, specifically talking about Saanens now, if somebody is thinking that they want to goat that has a lot of milk, the Saanen is definitely up there. Like, pretty much you always look at, like, the top two breeds in terms of just fluid milk production; Alpine and Saanen go back and forth every year between who’s the top, who’s making the most. So, Saanens are definitely a good choice for somebody who just wants a lot of fluid milk. Is there anything else that makes Saanens really good for somebody, like temperament? Or their personality or anything?

Scott Hoyman 22:35
That was a leading question, Deborah. You know it’s temperament.

Deborah Niemann 22:38
I know! Yeah, you’re right, I was totally leading.

Scott Hoyman 22:40
At any dairy, we’ve only got room for so much space, you know? It’s not so true in the South, where you can have open housing. But, when we’re talking to real dairy states—like Minnesota, Wisconsin—they’re contained in the winter. And, you know, “Okay, these people can have 150 milkers.” And that’s why the Saanens are superior to the Alpines, because if you can put 150 Saanens in that facility, you can only put 125 Alpines in there, because Alpines fight! Whereas Saanens don’t fight.

Scott Hoyman 23:18
And I’ve never read this anywhere. I’m sure there’s an article about it; I’m sure there’s hundreds of articles about it. We come to personality! Hello! I am a very intense, high performance, excellence-oriented, A-type person, and so is my wife. Now, when you got somebody that’s that mentally unstable, you need Saanens, because they’re so laid back. So, there’s a personality fit there. When I was in college, I thought that your personality was formed by the external factors. That you were born with a certain set of genes, but whether you were hyper or whether you were laid back or whatever was a product of your environment. That’s not true. A personality is an inherited factor. I use four Excel spreadsheets, which tie together, and one of my columns is “friendliness.” If you’ve got identical milk, fat, and protein to one of your herd mates, but you’re friendlier, you get a higher rating, and you got a higher price, and you’re more likely to stay, and those girls are more likely to leave.

Deborah Niemann 24:35
Yeah. One of my very first memories of Saanens, when we were very new to goats, was because my daughters wanted to show, so we did the show thing for a few years. And, there was a lady in our area who was raising Saanens, who was quite old. I don’t think I ever knew what her age was, but she walked with a cane. And, when she was ready to take her goats into the show ring, she would just put her cane against the wall, hold a goat, and I mean, the goat was amazing. It was like a therapy dog. Like, they were so calm and gentle and everything. And I mean, it was just totally reliable and predictable and very easy for her to handle, even though, you know, without the goat, she walked with a cane. So that, like, got sunk in my head very fast. Like, “Wow, that is a mellow breed of goat.”

Scott Hoyman 25:25
If the Saanen breeder has a bad day, all he’s got to do is walk out amongst his Saanens the end of the day, and they’ll chill him out. In practical terms, after a while, when a Nubian was screaming at 2:00 AM, I’m not getting out of bed. Whereas, if a Saanen is screaming at 2:00 AM, I’m getting out of bed. There’s a definite problem here.

Deborah Niemann 25:50
Yeah.

Scott Hoyman 25:51
And I don’t like to get out of bed!

Deborah Niemann 25:54
I totally agree. I don’t like getting out of bed, either. So.

Deborah Niemann 25:59
This has been a really great conversation. And, you know, I meant to mention this earlier, but when we talked before, you talked about how many goats you’ve had on the top ten list, and I did not write that down. But I’m sure you remember.

Scott Hoyman 26:12
I don’t know how many we’ve had. I know that we’ve been fortunate to have more top ten does than anybody else in the American Dairy Goat Association records, because I have all the top tens going back. There used to be so few dairy goats on test that the yearbook would publish all of the records from all of the Saanens on a single page. So, it wasn’t hard to make top! You had one out of the five best ones.

Scott Hoyman 26:43
But once again, what I want to emphasize to anyone who cares about increasing their production is top ten: is production. So the USDA program is fabulous; it filters out the management and gets to, “What’s the doe gonna do in your herd?” That’s what you want to know. “What’s the buck going to do in your herd?”

Deborah Niemann 27:08
This has been so interesting, and I cannot believe that you thought you wouldn’t have enough to say to last more than a few minutes. Because, it has definitely been fascinating today. Thank you so much for joining us.

Scott Hoyman 27:21
Thank you for having me. And happy goating to everyone!

Deborah Niemann 27:27
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!

Saanen Goats

2 thoughts on “Saanen Goats”

  1. I started with Kiko goats, I had no intention of getting into dairy at all. I figured if I wanted milk from a goat I could just pick one of my Kikos. Well, I was offered a Saanen at a really good price because her owners were moving, and she was bred. Her kid ended up being stillborn and I was stuck with this well-endowed dairy goat that I had to milk twice/day and gave WAY more milk than I could even dream of using! I decided to get a bottle calf to put on her. Worked like a charm! During this time I realized that her butter fat was rather low, but my Kiko’s butter fat was noticeably higher. I bred my Saanen with my Kiko buck and she successfully kidded a set of twins, a buck and a doe. I am looking forward to eventually breeding her daughter to see if I get decent (without being over abundant) milk production with a higher butterfat content. And by the way, the daughter is a sweetheart!

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