Bucks Enjoy Enrichment Exercise
Magazine Preview from Dairy Goat Journal (November / December 2016)
By Alex Becker – Dairy goats are social, energetic creatures. While most breeders keep several does together in the herd, often bucks are penned separately, mostly because they are harder to keep in fences, harder on equipment, typically bigger, more aggressive, and more affected by seasons (rut). This often results in their social needs going largely unmet, except maybe during breeding season. With some effort and ideas toward lifestyle enrichment, bucks can be kept happy in seasons other than rut, which makes for a healthier “half of the herd” in the long run.
It might be a rarity to find a pile of mature bucks nestled in a corner together like most does herds tend to congregate. Yet, they are in their own way very social animals, often engaging in head butting competitions or sometimes lounging near the water tank chewing cud peacefully. Regardless of what they are doing, bucks enjoy company even if they seem to ignore each other or harass possible opponents.
A simple remedy for buck boredom or loneliness is to keep a wether as a companion. A wether lacks the combative testosterone that another buck might bring to the equation, is usually easier on equipment, and typically takes less maintenance than a buck or doe since they don’t go through the breeding season changes in personality. For larger dairy goat herds, it can work to house several bucks together, especially if their relationships start out from birth on or a young age at least so they know each other well. It is always important to keep an eye on them during rut or if there are does in heat near their pen in case they start going after each other violently. Some people even let their bucks run with the does all year, either not worrying about when does are bred or rigging a buck-apron on their buck to prevent unplanned pregnancies.
Even with companionship it is important to keep bucks active, healthy, and happy. A bored goat is often the one that will start beating up on others, or start destroying equipment and facilities. If a goat does not have something to do they will often find a way to keep themselves entertained. This entertainment can come from many sources and can be anywhere from a cheap barrel thrown into the pen for the bucks to butt around or as elaborate as a multi-story tower that they can climb up and down.
Naturally occurring buck enrichment ideas can be as simple as a stand of trees that can provide shelter, food, scratching posts, and head-to-branch mangling opportunities. Rocks of various sizes can provide climbing challenges while also helping maintain healthy hooves. Various materials can also be brought into the pen. Some people sink tires into the ground so that they are partially buried and the goats can climb on top or crawl through the center. Empty wooden electrical spools work well also, al-lowing resting areas, jumping, and shade (mainly for smaller goats).
Various balls, barrels, ramps, and logs are popular, inexpensive goat toys. Getting even more innovative, some people have found ways to rig hanging objects from chew toys to punching bags, or even setting up brushes of different sizes for the goats to rub on.
Making an effort to enrich our animals lives doesn’t require an ex-tensive budget or large amounts of space to achieve great results. Keeping goats happy and entertained helps them and their owners. A happy goat will be easier to handle and easier on equipment. Enrichment ideas might even help them live longer and more production lives.
Originally published in the November/December 2016 issue of Dairy Goat Journal.