Believe it or not, keeping bucks can be as delightful an experience as enjoying does. If the dedicated goat breeder is willing to consider and make adjustments for bucks as "special needs" citizens of the goat world, buck keeping can be a rewarding experience in many ways.
Bucks enjoy a variety of forage in their diet. In our herd, Nubians and LaManchas get alfalfa hay once a day plus mixed grass once a day as well. We are located in Missouri, where many farmers plant mixed grass in water ways. Because this grass is cut only once or twice a year, when it is baled it often has common broadleaf weeds in it. Bucks who spend much of their lives confined to pens or small runs relish the variety of this forage.
To supplement this forage, we offer a grain mix of oats, black oil sunflower seeds and beet pulp with a bit of steam rolled barley to prepare them for rut. The condition of the individual dictates how early in the summer and how much grain the boys will get. They are feed Kent Lamb starter pellets with Decoquinate as weanlings up to six months, then pellets mixed with oats until they complete their first rut. It is our thought that a diet heavy with grain is not to a buck’s advantage, as it may add to the possibility of developing urinary calculi. However some grain must be fed to help him maintain the needed caloric intake for proper energy and condition.
Plenty of fresh water is a must in maintaining healthy bucks. We like to recycle coolers as mini water tanks for the boys. They seem to be less likely to use them as soccer balls than they would a pail. We had a LaMancha fellow who would take a drink when the water was fresh and then rock the pail clipped to the fence. The pail was made to swing back and forth and slosh water over the side. When it got to the point that the splash was worthy, he would quickly stick his nose under the spilling water and blow a loud sneeze. The mini tank made from a steel sided Coleman cooler spoiled the fun, but it did keep fresh water available all day.
We choose not show bucks as a general rule and do not force weight and growth. All our bucks go for periods through the year when they are rested and given no grain at all. (This is also done for our milkers during the dry period.) It is our hope to maintain medium condition which is easier on the feet and legs year round. During the breeding season if he is kept at a moderate weight he will put less stress on the does he services. This is an advantage especially in breeding mature bucks to yearling does. This practice is most desirable when one considers that an older sire is proven with milking daughters as well as having shown the traits he will produce or improve. We believe yearlings should be the best members of a herd, if the breeder is making the correct choices, as they represent the total of thought and work up to that point.
Moderate size will allow a mature buck to successfully mate with younger does where a large or fat buck might be detrimental.
Ideally we like to house bucks of similar age or size together so that they may enjoy each other’s company. A free standing house or shed arrangement with a grassy paddock or run is ideal. Regular exercise is important for mental health as well as strong muscle. Sunlight is needed to help metabolize vitamins and minerals provided for them and in the feeds given. We have found that bucks housed separately in adjoining runs are very hard on fences and dividers. Our first bucks were separated with cattle panels which had to be changed every two years. The next plan we tried was to use steel pipe gate panels to separate the boys. This was more durable but also more expensive.
Positioning buck housing away from the does seemed to make them less likely to bash the fences, in our situation. If electric wire is to be part of the overall fencing plan, it is best to introduce it to the bucks well before rut starts. They need to consider the intent and effect of this type of fence before thinking is clouded by desire and determination.
Housing bucks of two or three different breeds together makes sorting out the results of buck escapes a lot easier. Inevitably, every buck will make some sort of escape. When he does count on him to have a viable mission in mind or he would not be scaling the fence, or bashing his way through without regard to personal injury.
We like to clip our bucks annually which allows us to review their condition without a thick growth of hair. We do this as a summer project, well before breeding season begins. The bucks are washed with iodine shampoo at that time which is a good deterrent to fungus as well as flies that might otherwise find a short clipped goat inviting. The boys are expected to stand for clipping and bathing and to behave themselves while restrained on a milk stand. In this respect they are treated no differently than the does.
We do show train them just a bit in that they are expected to walk with a hand on the collar and to allow themselves to be set up for pictures.
During breeding the buck is always led to a breeding pen and he soon realizes that a walk is a very good prospect, indeed. Varying bucks are used throughout the breeding season as heat detectors and three or four times a day a buck is walked on short lead throughout the doe pens to test the responsiveness of the girls.
Senior kid bucklings are the choice for this job most often. It is a duty they never forget and with it remains the willingness to walk nicely.
Feet are timed regularly every six weeks or as needed. It is a very good thing to keep track of a buck’s health and condition by having hands-on duties regularly. A pair of leather gloves is a good idea for trimming and it does help keep the odors from penetrating one’s hands. Dawn dish liquid is as good as anything we have found to remove the musk. It also works well for washing buck legs when they become bald from urine scald. A coating with Watkin’s salve or udder balm helps in the healing and regrowth of hair.
The leather gloves used to trim buck feet are a handy resource to have near when the boys come to the fence expecting pats, scratches, and love mid fall. Gloved hands are preferable to the big guys thinking you no longer care for them. A pair of gloves or two kept in a covered coffee can just inside the barn door makes them ready and accessible.
Bucks are often put out to pasture or penned out behind the barns and forgotten until breeding plans are being made. It is in the best interest of the breeder and his or her bucks to find that there are many benefits to caring for and enjoying them in a year round manner. After all, they were once cute little babies themselves, and chances are that, if cared for properly, they will reproduce many more of the same, as called upon to do.