Market Goat Showmanship - 1/18/2012by Carole Pontious on 10/31/13
By Phil Myers, IBGA Certified Senior Judge
*Editor's Note: Phil Myers has judged many shows from the county fair level to the national level throughout the entire United States.
The market goat project has been for years and remains one of the fastest growing youth projects through 4-H and FFA. Despite this fact, there are varying opinions and limited local knowledge in many areas of the country about preparing and showing wethers. What follows is a consensus of the opinions I have gathered from other judges and exhibitors across the United States at shows I have judged. My own experiences with goats and other species have also helped to form the subsequent article. As always, be sure to check on and adhere to the show rules of your own county, state, or independent show.
After selecting the wether or doe to be raised and shown and planning the feeding program, it's time to begin exercising the animal. The best way to break a goat to lead is using a traditional lamb halter. The goat's head is shaped differently than a lamb's so be sure to keep the cross of the halter slid well up the bridge of the nose to prevent cutting off its air supply. Using a halter to teach a goat to lead is done in order for the convenience of the individual who will be exercising it. The halter allows the young person to run with the goat much more easily than a chain, which is used for showing. Exercise should be started a minimum of 45 days prior to the show date to train the animal and firm up the muscle.
When the exercise program is commenced, also begin working with the goat to teach it to brace. The idea is to push the goat backward with the knee in the goat's chest to get the goat to push back. This is done to cause the goat to "flex" in human terms and give the judge a firmer handle. Bracing must be practiced in advance of walking into the show ring as most goats need to be trained not to simply back up. Unlike in a lamb show, the exhibitor should not necessarily brace his/her wether through the entirety of the class. Only when the judge is coming to handle must the wether be braced. When on a profile, it is up to the individual as to whether or not they prefer to brace. Some goats look better on a side view when they are pushing, while others do not. Remember that the front legs should always remain on the ground even when bracing for the handle. Most meat goat judges want the wethers braced but if the judge asks for them not to be, then comply. It's easier to show a wether without bracing that has been trained to rather than trying to teach one to brace 5 minutes before the class starts.
As the show approaches, hay can be removed from the regular diet approximately 7-10 days prior to the show. This gets the "hay belly" off which is critical in wether classes. Hay or roughage can then be fed on an as needed basis for fill. The animal should look filled out and fresh but without a big middle. Market goats need to be slick sheared 4-7 days before the show. The most efficient way to do this is with clippers that would be used for market lambs. Most fitters use Lister or Premier clippers with a "fine", "medium", or "cover cote" blade. Surgicals and Super-surgicals are too close. Leave the hair below the knees and hocks. The end of the tail can be squared off like a paintbrush. The shearing process should be preceded by a wash and dry job.
The actual show ring basics are the same for goats as with the other major species. Keep on the opposite side from the judge, set the feet out on the corners, and keep the head up. Those three things alone are about 80% of it. Dress code calls for jeans or slacks, a collared shirt, and boots or close-toed shoes. All white is not appropriate for showing market goats. Only outdated show officials and fairboard members still call for meat goat showman to participate in this dairy goat tradition. The goat should at all times be between the showman and the judge. Keep the head up and coming out of the top of the shoulder. Always move calmly and comfortably with or around the goat. John Wooden's famous quote of, "be quick, but don’t hurry" applies to setting feet. Set them quickly out on the corners each time you stop, but don't rush and look hurried. The front legs should be set slightly wider with a goat than they would be with a lamb. The rear legs should be set wider than the fronts and far enough back to get the goat's top down without stretching it too far. When the goat is set and the judge approaches to handle, let the chain slide down the neck and grasp the goat like a lamb with a hand on either side of its neck/head. After handling, pickup the chain and reset the feet.
Market goats should be shown with a chain. A nylon dog collar or leash is not an acceptable substitute for a serious showman. The chain should be long enough to allow the showman’s hand to easily fit between the chain and the head of the goat. However, the hand should be close enough to the head to maintain control of the animal. The flat chains with a hoop at each end that are intended to slip down themselves and choke the animal are not recommended. The best thing to do is purchase a metal dog chain at a local pet store or tractor supply. The "medium" or "fine" chains with the smaller links work well. Using pliers or bolt cutters, modify the chain to make one continuous circle with a few spiked links to go under the throat. These spikes distribute pressure more evenly and are actually more humane than the smooth chains. Adapt it to your own liking through trial and error.
The entire project should provide a fun learning experience and not become a drain on the youth. Goats have big personalities and are for the most part easily trained. With practice and a little perseverance, any junior exhibitor can achieve success with this project. Good luck this summer!
Pictured above right (red shirt) is Phil Myers judging the 2011 IBGA National Junior Show.