A Crash Course for Goat Breeding Season
If this is your first time breeding goats, a little preparation goes a long way.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Call it procreation, replication, or proliferation; goats do it too and they do it well. It’s goat breeding season.
This time of year is less exciting than kidding season, but they go hand in hand for obvious reasons. It’s a natural act, but that doesn’t mean the conscientious herd owner can’t intervene to make things go smoothly. Want tips? I’ve gathered the best.
The first thing to keep in mind is timing because there are a lot of numbers to consider. Goats like to breed in the fall, from late August to early January. The shorter days can signify to the animals that it’s time to get busy if they want those spring babies. Does go into heat, called estrus, roughly every 21 days. They can breed while in estrus for 12-36 hours.
That being said, be mindful of your region. Gestation lasts about five months. If your area is prone to inclement weather January through March, plan on breeding your goats closer to December. Trust me. We had a kid born in the middle of a blizzard in February due to early-season breeding. Never again. We named her “Stark” from Game of Thrones because it felt like winter was coming. Again. In “spring.” Thanks, Nevada.
Fear not, however, because ideal timing is easily attainable and occurs by keeping the buck separated from the does until you are ready to breed. A mature buck can cover around 30 does and should be left with the girls for 40-45 days (approximately two heat cycles). It should be noted that bucklings from the previous kidding season need to be separated from the herd fairly early because they have been recorded mating as young as three to four months old. Doelings should be bred for their first time between seven to 10 months of age.
I want to stress the importance of letting the buck mate when you want him to mate. Bucks have a tendency to act completely different when they are in rut. First off, they have a unique musty odor only attainable by peeing on one’s own face. Consider this when building a buck pen, and keep him far away from the place you’ll host those late-summer barbeques. Second, ensure you have secure fencing. He will jump, gouge, tear, or otherwise destroy his enclosure to gain access his ladies.
Finally, for the greenest of goat owners, expect this your first season: Males can get, well, sexually frustrated. To them, they’re doing everything in their power to mate. They peed on themselves, they broke out of their bachelor pad 27 times, they pranced and preened and snorted and yet, no success. He’s frustrated. Frustrated bucks — get this — blow raspberries at you. Not cute human baby raspberries, but full-on horror-movie-gone-wrong raspberries. Your ordinarily cuddly buck will be stomping around his pen, peeing on himself, and blowing angsty raspberries at you.
With timing and gender separation underway, we must consider the health of your herd. If an animal is sick or in bad condition, it will still breed. It is our job to pull them to the side. Obese or thin goats should not breed. Thin goats generally will not have the energy to sustain a healthy pregnancy or will produce weak, small kids. You can check the condition of your doe by running your hand down her spine. Does should have full muscle thickness with some fat between the muscle and skin along the loin, or a Body Condition Score of around 3. All animals should have regular health checks throughout the year, but it is essential leading up the breeding season.
It is common practice to do a yearly blood test for CAE, CL, and Johne’s disease prior to any breeding. Carriers should not be bred, but rather removed from the herd. This is also a good time to get some vaccinations out of the way, such as CD&T, rabies, and BoSe, as well as vaccinations for any diseases common in your area. CD&T needs to be readministered for does during the fourth month of pregnancy.
Many farmers practice something called “flushing,” where they provide the breeding herd with extra calories four to six weeks before breeding. Slowly increasing the daily grain amounts, give them high-quality hay, or put them out to rich pasture. Does naturally will be a little thin this time of year due to milking or raising kids, so flushing ensures goats have all their nutritional requirements met. Flushing encourages higher ovulation rates for multiple kids per pregnancy and prepares does for estrus.
Flushing admittedly sounds like we’re fattening our does up just so they can bear kids, but for several of my ladies, it’s like Christmas came early. Wednesday loves food, and she considers it one of the better perks of the job. In her opinion, life gets substantially better with extra grain rations and a protein-molasses block.
While individual animal health is a very important factor, animal quality is also key in a breeding program. Only select animals to breed that have characteristics you are breeding toward. Whether looking for breed standard, a specific color, body composition, or milking ability, select the best of the herd to reproduce. The remaining animals can be sold, kept as pets, or go to freezer camp. Remember, the genetic direction of your herd is contingent on selecting the best buck to breed because he will contribute half of the genes of your future kids.
After reviewing herd health, selecting breeders, doing some gestational math, giving appropriate vaccinations, and mending your buck’s fencing, it’s time to move some goats around. A week or two before you intend to breed, bring your buck closer to his ladies. The does who have not already begun to cycle will smell his musty, delicious buck odor and fall (madly in love) into estrus. This may bring on more raspberries from your buck, but try to assure him it won’t be long. It’s important to note that the buck pen shouldn’t share fencing with the doe pen. Some very creative goats have been known to breed through a fence. I’ve never seen it happen, but I believe it.
Once you’ve seen the signs of estrus in your does, it is safe to move the buck into the herd. Common signs of estrus include lingering near the side of the pen closest to the buck, tail wagging, flirting, vulva swelling and discharge, and general inappropriate goat-shouting all hours of the day. (“Hey, gorgeous! Hey! Come hither.” *wink*) Needless to say, you’ll know it’s time to breed when there is mutual goat pining happening.
The actual mating is brief and easy to miss. Does stand rigidly for the buck, then 20 seconds later they separate. Ever the romantics, goats seem to favor dusk as the best time to mate. Rather than sitting out, creeping on your goats, wearing night-vision goggles and taking notes in a field journal, brilliant people have invented ways to mark who has been bred by the buck. There are “marking harnesses” the buck can wear with an attached crayon-like marker that will leave a smear of color on any doe he mounts. Colors and hardness of the marker vary, so any region and herd will be able to use these. It makes it easy enough that we, as owners, can be sitting inside sipping a mimosa while the goats do the dirty work. Just remember to make notes of the marking in the morning!
Every goat farm operates a little differently. During goat breeding season, a couple of weeks of preparation go a long way toward having a smooth kidding season. The most important takeaway, however, is to know your herd and what works well for what your goals are. As long as your animals are happy and healthy, your kids will be as well.
Originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.