On our farm we have chickens, ducks, goats and a cow. Hands-down the chickens are a favorite of the kids, but the goats are my soft-spot. I love their personalities and all their little stubborn quirks. And around this time of year-when summer is starting to wind down and fall is in sight- things start to get a little interesting in the goat pasture. The does start coming into heat and the bucks go into rut and we start keeping an extra special eye on them so that we don’t have any surprises come winter and spring. Goats will breed easily and readily if left alone, but here are some of the most important things to be aware of when it comes to breeding goats.
Most dairy goats are seasonal breeders.
Most “Alpine” breeds of goat will only breed during their breeding season. This is usually between the months of August and December. These breeds include most of your large dairy goats such as LaMancha, Saanen, Alpine, Oberhasli and Nubians. Sometimes Nubians can be forced into year-round breeding, but that is unpredictable. Your miniature breeds such as Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf, as well as meat breeds, like Boer, will breed year round. So when you are planning for your kids and milking, keep in mind this time restraint.
A doe should be at least 80 lbs before breeding
When it comes to breeding, it’s not so much age as it is size. Most of your standard sized dairy goats will need to make the weight of about 80 lbs before they are bred. A healthy, well-fed doe should make this weight by about 8 months. Some people like to wait until they are about 1 1/2 years old before breeding but it isn’t necessary. I have seen no reduction in growth between breeding 8 month old does and 1 1/2 year old goats. Nubians particularly are known for being a little on the slower size when it comes to growth, so make sure you have a reliable way to weigh your goats. We don’t have a livestock scale and for years we’ve made do with our bathroom scale. My husband just weighs himself and then picks up the goat and weighs himself again. Start keeping an eye on weight in August so that you can give additional nutritional support to any does that need it so that they can make weight before the season ends.
A doe’s heat cycle is every 18-21 days
Starting in August your doe should start coming into heat every 18-21 days. Depending on the doe, she will stay in heat anywhere from a few hours to a couple days. Signs to look for:
- Tail flagging
- Clumped/Wet hair on the side of her tail
- Mucous discharge
- Swollen rear end
- Yelling (more than usual)
- Most obviously- interest in your buck or a “buck rag”
Dating vs Living in
When it comes to the actual breeding process you have a couple choices. You can take your doe and buck on “dates” or you can house them in the same pasture for a set period. There are pros and cons to both sides, but some things to consider are:
- Dates will give you much more control over the due dates and assurance that the deed did get done
- Sharing a pasture will reduce the risk that you miss the breeding window by not seeing the signs of heat soon enough
- Some does won’t stand for a buck without help. In this instance, taking her on a lead to the buck will force the breeding to occur
- I’ve had a doe that showed ZERO signs of heat- unless the buck was present. By pasturing them together I could insure that she was bred.
The Gestation cycle of a goats is 150 days, or about 5 months.
When you are planning your breeding keep in mind that the gestation period is about 150 days for your standard sized breeds. If you live in a cold climate with harsh winters you probably will not want your kids being born in a snowy and cold January- which means don’t breed your doe in August! I like my kids all born sort of close so that they grow up together and in case of a single birth the lonely kid will have other kids to play and sleep with, so I don’t stagger my breedings very much. When you notice your doe in heat, write it down on the calender, then calculate the possible due date and jot that down as well (Here is the link to a goat due date calculator). As long as she doesn’t come into heat again, you can use this approximate due date to plan her prenatal care.
If you have just one or 2 goats you may opt not to keep a buck on hand. But if you plan on breeding many does or there is not a suitable stud to rent in the area you will most likely end up with a buck on the premises. And here’s the thing about bucks- or at least a buck in rut- They stink. Let me say that again: Bucks STINK! Seriously. Young bucks aren’t so bad, but the smell ripens with age. Once breeding season hits and your does go into heat and your buck goes into rut they will start some rather amusing, and unsavory, behavior. Such as:
- Urinating. I know, that doesn’t sound so bad. But they pee on their faces, on the back of their legs, in their mouth….It’s rather amazing the reach they can achieve. Eventually their faces and legs will be covered. Good thing that the does find this irresistible.
- Blubbering, tongue flapping and lip raising. All these behaviors happen towards the does. Very amusing to watch his mating rituals!
- Aggression. Bucks will be more aggressive when they are in rut. If you have more than one buck take special care when there are does around so that they don’t end up fighting. Also never turn your back on a buck in rut- even one you may have raised from a bottle. Even if they are not meaning to they can potentially hurt you- especially if they decide to “practice” on you
I actually find our bucks some of the sweetest of our goats. But when they are in rut, I feed them last and have a special coat I wear over my clothes to help minimize the smell contamination.
Keep them in Good Health
During breeding seasons your goats will need extra nutrition to support the stresses on their bodies. Heat, rut and pregnancy takes its toll on their bodies, so be sure to support them with extra grain, high quality hay and lots of forage. Your bucks in rut and your does will need about 1 lb of grain a day. I give hay depending on the amount of forage- if it is rich and plentiful, I do not give any hay. If they are on a dry lot or small pasture they will need more supplemental hay. I also add black oil sunflower seeds to all of our goat’s feed.
In addition to their feeds, breeding season is also a good time to make sure they are not deficient in any vitamins and minerals. We keep loose minerals out free choice for our goats, but if you live in an area that has deficient soil you may also have to give the following supplements:
- Copper- prevents kids being born with copper deficiency and gives your goats a stronger appetite and a healthier growth rate
- Selenium/Vitamin E- this prevents white muscle disease in kids and can increase fertility
- Nutridrench- All purpose vitamin for any goat that may need a little extra nutrition
Line Breeding vs. Inbreeding
When it comes to breeding, you want to make sure your keep a variety of genetics in your herd. There’s a saying something along the lines of: It’s called line-breeding if if works, in-breeding if it doesn’t. And that pretty much sums up the topic in a very simple way. The buck is actually a very important part of the breeding process. He is the easiest way to add in good genetic traits to your herd. When it comes to line-breeding there is no set rules such as breeding daughter and grandfather, except never breed full brothers and sisters. Occasionally you can breed father/daughter but it’s not ideal. Line-breeding will accentuate the good qualities- and the bad. If your buck has any negative traits (aggression, mother had low milk production,etc) those traits will be accentuated in his offspring if the are a product of line-breeding. The best way to get around this is to only keep or breed high quality bucks and if you keep your own bucks keep at least 2 on hand for the purpose of genetic diversity.
And there is your run down on breeding goats. It’s an exciting time of year with all the promise of next year’s kidding season! Are you a seasoned breeder or just getting started- leave a comment with your experiences or questions!