Where Have All the Good Bucks Gone?
Reading Time: 4 minutes
You have the does for your new goat herd, and it’s time for you to find a buck for breeding. Craigslist and Facebook are rife with options — cute faces and adorable baby pictures seem to be everywhere! Every goat you look at is adorable, and some of them are even listed as “proven,” giving you a better chance for your adorable kid pictures next spring.
So how do you choose? Which of these cute, friendly-looking beasts should sire your spring babies? How do you know which is worthy of being the father of your own, very special herd?
The primary thing is to know what your plan is. Are you breeding for meat? The size of your goat will make a difference. Are you breeding for fiber? The length of the coat will matter. Do you have children doing 4-H? The temperament of your buck will be important.
Ditch all those adorable baby pictures. While they may be fun to watch on YouTube, you aren’t looking for a baby to sire your herd kids, and many traits don’t show up until adulthood. Blue eyes will not improve the genetics of your herd, nor will an adorable face. In some cases — male or female — the traits we find cute can be harmful to the breed.
When buying a buck, first look at his mother. Does she have a good udder? What do her other offspring look like? Has she had trouble kidding? Was she a good mom, or might you end up with bottle babies you don’t want? She passes these traits to her granddaughters through her son, so her build and personality are as important as his.
And speaking of his conformation, don’t be afraid to put hands on a buck you are considering to be the man of your house! While it may feel odd if you haven’t bought the goat yet, you are investing a lot in money, time, and genetics in this buck, and you shouldn’t risk cheating yourself. If possible, don’t base your decision just on visuals. Get hands-on and check muscle tone, weight, and pick up his feet. How are his teeth? This detail can cause both the bucks and his offspring issues in the future but may not be readily apparent just looking at him. The same may be true for ears and skin — especially if he is a long-haired boy. Do his legs have good form, and does he walk well?
Of course, if you are purchasing a breeding buck, then his breeding bits will also be important! Does he have the equipment to get the job done? If you are looking at one buck for several does, he will also need to perform multiple times — probably in a short period depending on the heat cycles of your does. If he is proven, how many kids did he sire, and out of what number of matings? If he was bred to five does but only produced one kid, he would technically be “proven,” but is that the sire you want for your herd?
Finding out how the kids he sired turned out is also a great idea. The doe I pictured earlier with cow-hocked legs has a half-sister with the same issue. They had different mothers but the same father, making it possible that the sire is prone to producing this fault in his daughters. This could mean several things for future lines. First, these does will have less room to develop a good udder, which means less milk production and possibly a hard time feeding their kids. In future bucklings, the uneven distribution of weight in a full-grown, cow-hocked male can result in hip issues, uneven stance, and other possible health issues.
Finally, look at your does. What could be better? In our example, we need does with better legs. Hence, we have a buck with great legs that will sire their children in the hopes of producing offspring with a better stance and body conformation. In less drastic examples, one might breed for a bigger udder, or a more perfectly straight back. While no buck or doe is likely to be perfect, careful breeding can improve the offspring. If you cannot improve faults in the lines through breeding, you should cull the animals.
A side note for those interested in conservation breeding:
If you choose an endangered heritage breed, you may want to become educated on the common genetic traits that can crop up. These are often considered a flaw in more standardized breeds, but you may have difficulty finding a buck without them in your chosen animals. If you prefer animals without them, you may have to work on breeding them out. For instance, while split teats are common in our San Clemente Island Goats, several breeders have chosen not to include such stock in their lines because the ease of dairy production is vital to them.
While choosing a buck is more complex than it might appear at first glance, none of this means that you cannot also choose a buck with a pretty face! There are many goats out there with great form that also have great aesthetics, and you may even find one with blue eyes. We suggest you don’t make it the first thing you look for.
Originally published in the September/October 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.