Promessa’s Rainsong Heritage, new junior herdsire for Shelene Costello’s Nebraska dairy goat herd, enjoys a little lap time. Next year he will likely be too big and odorous for such personalized attention.
About 14 years ago when I first got into dairy goats, I was sure I’d never own a buck. I had smelled a few during breeding season and wasn’t impressed with the necessity of putting up with that. Then a friend and mentor talked me into buying this nice buck kid, with the selling point of not only would he improve my does, but as a kid he wouldn’t smell as bad as the big boys. That was true, and by the time he became a big stinky buck, I was hooked. That baby boy was the beginning of my love affair with these smelly wonderful boys. I just love bucks, and have to constantly remind myself I don’t need more bucks than I have does. There are certain aspects of buck care which are different than for does, and through the years I have developed my own unique perspective on proper feeding, which is so important for the overall health and success of any goat herd.
Feeding is a challenge sometimes in goats, but especially for the bucks, who for a good bit of the year just hang around and eat, not needing lots of food to maintain their body in good condition. One must not forget, however, their great need to be primed for a very busy and stressful time of year: rut or breeding season.
There are a number of ways to feed bucks to keep them in top condition year round without making them too fat or too thin, and I have tried most of them. Some breeders are adamant about incorporating ammonium chloride in all buck feed in order to prevent and treat urinary calculi. I never have had it in my bucks, either when I fed premixed rations (which did have AC in them) or now that I don’t.
My bucks eat a ration of grass hay supplemented with green forage of weeds, grasses, trees, woody browse, either in pasture or cut greens for a good portion of the year. This keeps them in good condition and not fat, plus it gives them a wide variety of natural vitamins and minerals to enhance their good health. As rut begins to approach I add in whole grains (corn, oats, black oil sunflower seeds, barley, or wheat) either soaked in water with apple cider vinegar or dry. I do not feed too much grain—I don’t want the boys to get fat and have problems. Hoof rot and overgrowth can often be traced to overfeeding grain, not to mention feet, leg and mobility problems from bucks simply getting too fat.
When I add grain to the ration I always begin to add alfalfa as well, to keep the calcium/phosphorous ratios in balance. The alfalfa in hay or pellet form provides more protein for energy and calories, and calcium to balance the heavier phosphorous grains. Feeding grass hay and grains can easily tip the balance way too high in phosphorous and is as bad for the buck as feeding only alfalfa with no grains.
Promessa’s Sunflower, a yearling Nigerian, is in his first fall coming into rut. Not too fat, not too thin and not too smelly—yet. It makes him the perfect choice for herd sire duties.
I know many people feed commercial grain mixes to their bucks and it can work well. Often the bucks are fed the same grain mix the does eat, just in smaller amounts.
Personally, I never recommend feeding growing rations developed for meat goats, as they are designed to get a goat to market weight quickly, for short-term maintenance. I feed buck kids the same ration as I do doe kids and milking does, trying to provide enough energy to grow well, but once they are past their first rut season and have the bulk of their growth done, I slip them into the same feeding routine as the big boys. I do provide a loose mineral mix to the boys on a regular basis, free choice.
One of the most overlooked parts of the feeding program for bucks is plenty of clean water to drink. Clean fresh water will encourage them to keep drinking and keep their bodies flushed out well.
With good feed, minerals and plenty of water, a good shelter and good fencing, owning bucks can be a very rewarding part of the dairy goat experience.