Paternity Testing for Promiscuous Goats

Who's your Daddy? No seriously, I need to know...and it's sooooo hard to tell with these fuzzy little faces staring back at me!

Ellie Belle (one of the newest additions to our Arapawa herd) recently kidded adorable twin bucklings (see below; aren't they precious?). Within two hours of their birth, one of my original does, Maggie, then gave birth to another set of twins, a doeling and buckling! Winter kiddings are not ideal here in Connecticut, especially UNEXPECTED ones, but Phil (our herd sire) busted through two gates this summer to visit his lady goat friends and well, the man works fast! 

Twin bucklings, Goose (left) and Maverick (right) with mama Ellie, peeking behind them

After that crazy Saturday (December 28, 2019), it occurred to me that Phil was NOT the father of Ellie's kids. Basic math calculations made me realize her pregnancy hadn't happened on my farm. Ellie, her mother Bess, and several other Arapawa goats were rescued by a Pennsylvania animal sanctuary in March 2019. It was an owner-surrender situation wherein they could no longer be cared for and needed relocation. Working in conjunction with The Livestock Conservancy  and my fellow Arapawa breeder and friend, Chad McCarthy of Urban Ark Conservation, Chad was able to rescue and rehabilitate the herd, with Bess and Ellie Belle arriving at Newbury Farms on September 29, 2019. The gestation period of a goat is approximately five months (145-155 days give or take, depending on the breed), which meant Ellie "got it on" with a mystery buck the end of July 2019. With two potential bucks as the main suspects (Forrest and Stormy), and no clear-cut physical traits as to which might be the "Baby Daddy," this creates an issue for me! 

Forrest, giving Sami (Ellie's younger sister, tan doe), a healthy sniff before breeding

Stormy, the second possible sire, of Ellie's twin bucklings

Forrest, pictured here as a young buckling in 2018

Not only do I work to conserve this ultra-rare and critically-endangered breed of goat, but I'm an active breeder and board member of the Arapawa Goat Breeders Association (AGBA). Every kid born on Newbury Farms gets registered with our organization as there are approximately 206+ live Arapawa goats currently living in the USA. Yes, that's correct...only 206 documented live goats in the entire country!! Each delightful, little fuzzball counts, and knowing the breeding lines and history of each goat is critically important to our conservation efforts.

So what's a goat farmer to do? Thank goodness for advances in modern-day science! Although the AGBA is not currently collecting genetic samples from all of our US population (that's in the works in the near future), genetic testing can be done TODAY! Paternity testing is conducted using hair samples taken from the bucks in question. Thanks to the University of California-Davis Veterinary School, these easy-to-obtain samples can be mailed in to their animal genetics laboratory and compared with my kids' DNA! 

How do you collect a genetic sample?

Sounds kinda complicated, right? Not at all!!! First, locate an area on the goat's body that contains coarse fur. Here are the recommended areas per UC-Davis: "coarse, longer hair often found over withers, chest, rump, tail, back of hind leg, poll, or fetlock." This is because coarse, longer hairs will likely have larger root balls, and that's where the good stuff is found! DNA is then extracted from the root ball, analyzed, and subsequently reported. When compared to the other samples taken (from the two possible sires), my kid's sample will be matched against theirs, hopefully providing an answer to this barnyard mystery! Take a peek at a few photos below of how I collected the sample from Goose, one of Ellie's twin bucklings. 

Using pliers to pull at least 20-30 hairs from this buckling's shoulder for genetic sample

Maverick, Goose's twin brother and my "helper" as I bag the hairs for genetic testing

 

Want more in-depth information about goat genetic testing? Check out UC-Davis' website at https://www.vgl.ucdavis.edu/services/goat.php for more details regarding Parentage/Genetic Marker testing, as well as several other genetic/health tests offered by their diagnostic lab. Have you ever done genetic testing for your herd? If so, I'd love to hear more about it! Comment below and be sure to follow along with us on Instagram @newburyfarms and Facebook: Newbury Farms LLC to find out what the DNA evidence concludes!

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