Breeding season is the time to plan ahead. Not only is it important to make those perfect genetic matches between bucks and does but there are also other plans that make life easier for the dairy goat producer, like preparing does, watching buck health, looking at milk supply, and timing kid deliveries. The success of any dairy goat herd often depends on the planning and preparations made during breeding season. These plans affect the goat and goat-herder for the year to come.
Before a doe is serviced by a buck, the breeder needs to make sure she is in top physical condition. Does should be gaining weight for about three weeks both before and after breeding. They will have stronger, more detectable heat cycles and produce more ova, thus more kids. Two normal sized kids are considerably easier to deliver than one large kid. Also, a doe will produce more milk in the ensuing lactation when she has two or three kids than when she singles. A doe ready for breeding should have a shiny coat, bright eyes, and be energetic. Her feet should be trimmed often as breeding season is one of the most active times of year and she needs to be sound on her feet and legs.
The presence of a vigorous buck inspires does to cycle earlier in the season, and makes heat cycles easier to detect. If a buck is not available, a buck rag can suffice to help detect doe heat cycles. A buck rag can be made by rubbing an old rag over a friend or neighbor’s rutty buck’s head and genitals. If this rag is placed in an airtight container, such as a lidded coffee can, it will stay smelly for a long time. The breeder can let the doe smell the rag twice a day, perhaps at feeding time. When the smell becomes interesting to her, she will let the breeder know. I once had a doe grab the rag in her teeth and take off running gleefully through the pasture!
The typical heat cycle in dairy goats is 18-21 days, September through February. Signs of heat are: swollen, red vulva, clear mucous discharge, rapid tail wagging (called flagging), riding other goats, increased frequency of urination, decreased appetite and/or milk production, and being more vocal than usual. Standing heat is usually about 24 hours. Cycles differ from individual to individual. Some does can be in a standing heat as long as two or three days. Some breeders believe that breeding in the beginning of standing heat increases the chances of doe kids, and breeding at the end of the cycle increases the chances of buck kids. This is an unproven theory, but many breeders try to follow it accordingly, if trying for more doelings than bucklings in the spring. Sometimes the first heat of the season is not a fertile heat, and the doe will cycle again in five to seven days. This is only a concern if the short cycling persists. It is best to track a doe’s cycle to determine what is normal for her. It is only when the cycles differ cycle to cycle that concern should be noted. Does with difficulty settling, evidenced by silent heat, short cycles, or returning to heat after service, can be the result of a variety of causes. These causes include poor nutrition, mineral deficiencies, uterine infection from a previous kidding, worm infestation, and cystic ovaries.
Does should be wormed with an effective broad-spectrum wormer 30 days prior to breeding. Be careful not to under-dose with the wormer. Under-dosing only kills off the weak worms and creates a paradise for the stronger, more virulent worms.
Those who live in a selenium deficient area of the country, might consult their local veterinarian as to the proper dosage for Bo-Se 30 days prior to breeding. Symptoms of selenium deficiency are: lower conception rates, weak heats, bucks slow to breed and lower motility in the sperm, retained placenta, weak kids that "knuckle under" on their pasterns or hocks, and susceptibility to infectious diseases such as mastitis. Selenium is toxic if overdosed. It is a controlled substance and must be purchased through a licensed veterinarian.
Don’t forget the buck
Buck health is equally important to doe health. Make sure the breeding buck is in good weight prior to breeding season. Most bucks worry and tend to lose weight during rut. Higher quality feeds should be offered during rut as the buck is likely to consume less. It is also a good idea to keep a good quality free choice mineral available throughout the breeding season. Bucks should be wormed 30 days before breeding begins. In a selenium deficient area, give him Bo-Se about six to eight weeks before breeding begins. Make sure the buck’s feet are properly trimmed so that he will be agile throughout breeding season.
It is also important to check buck pens and fences for sturdiness. Facilities that held him in all summer tend to become inadequate when love is in the air. Exercise more caution around bucks in rut. They don’t necessarily intend to cause injury, it’s just that during rut, bucks live in a perpetual state of anxiety, and are not the same easy-going guys they were in June.
Be sure to watch for urine scald on any buck’s front legs. This malady is caused by the continual spraying of urine on his front legs, the hair can fall out and the skin become inflamed. If this happens, I find that coating the legs with Vaseline to repel urine goes a long way in helping the skin heal.
Most of all, remember bucks need love too. They are the future of any herd and deserve full attention and respect.
Plan for milk supply
Carefully select the order in which does will be bred so as to maintain a year round supply of milk. Those that are milking the heaviest, or does with a history of a long, level lactation, should be bred last. Breeding to kid over a minimum of a three month period ensures the manager (and family) a continuous supply of milk. It allows for proper dry periods and gives the newly fresh does a few weeks to develop pleasant tasting milk. Does should be dry for a 60 day period to allow for proper rest. Too short a dry period inhibits milk production in the next lactation. Too long a dry period allows a doe to retain excess flesh and increases the likelihood of pregnancy toxemia and other problems at kidding time. I have found that the length of a doe’s first lactation sets a pattern for future lactations. It is important to milk first fresheners a full 305 days so they will be able to sustain a full lactation in subsequent years.
Plan for kid deliveries
Dairy goat gestation is 150 days, plus or minus five days. Hand breeding, rather than field breeding, makes for less stress for the goat keeper. It provides a narrow field of when to expect kids, so the breeder can decide how many goats will be kidding in any given time frame. If there is a meat market for excess buck kids, kiddings can be planned so that the bucklings are of the desired size at the time when prices are highest. Winter kids grow better because the parasite burden is lowest in the cold months. Also, the cold inspires kids to move around more, creating more muscle, which in turn makes kids larger and healthier. If barn facilities aren’t adequate to protect does and newborn kids in the cold, then later deliveries should be planned for. Just remember that the later in the season kids are born, the less growthy they will be. Hand breeding allows the manager to freshen does based on show schedules, work schedules, and family schedules. Kidding season is a stressful time. Planning ahead for kid deliveries makes the whole season easier on the producer, as well as the goats.
Author Marilyn Grossman, and her husband, Brad, have been raising dairy goats for over 20 years under the herd name Kickadee Hill. For nearly a decade, they held a raw milk license in Pennsylvania, and operated an on-the-farm store. Currently the Grossmans live in West Virginia and have a small herd of Saanens. Visit them online at www.Kicka deeHill.com