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 Good Fences + Good Records
= Successful Breeding Season

By Shelene Costello

Good fencing and good record-keeping are some buck-keeping management tools I pay attention to all year round, but especially during breeding season.

Good fencing is a major part of buck management in a goat herd, especially when the herd has more than one buck or multiple breeds. Good records are also necessary to be sure which buck has been near which doe and when so the resulting kids have corresponding pedigrees for registry.

On our farm in southern Nebraska, I keep both standard-size La Mancha and mini Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats. This means I had better be sure my big bucks never reach my smaller girls during breeding season. That can be a recipe for disaster, as a small doe having a large kid or two could be the death of her and the kids.

Since I like having a choice in both breeds to breed my does to, I usually have more than one buck of each breed on the farm. While I may borrow a buck from friends or haul a doe to another farm for breeding service, the bulk of breeding on my farm is to my own bucks. I like to plan out potential pedigrees and choose breed pairings based on conformation improvements I hope to see, so I build fences that will hold bucks in and keep girls out. This is a year-round good management practice, as I want my goats to stay where I put them for their own safety. Goats who get out of their fences are at risk for predators, cars and many other dangers.

"The smaller the area fenced in, the stronger the fences must be" is a typical statement in goat keeping, but with bucks it’s not always true. A buck fence must be strong enough to withstand the most determined buck in rut who is determined to reach does in season no matter the size pen or pasture. Rut is another term for breeding season, which for most dairy goats, runs from late August to March. During this time bucks are so intent on getting to the does that fences, which may have been strong enough all year long, are no longer a barrier. Bucks in rut can climb higher, push harder, use their head as a battering ram on gates, and get through holes that may have never presented an opportunity for escape before. For these reasons, I make sure fences are secure long before breeding season hits.

Here in Nebraska, my smaller bucks, the Nigerian Dwarves, have come into rut as early as late May. Amazingly enough, even the standard La Manchas, who are typically very seasonal breeders, are more than willing to service does year round. They may not be as potent in the "off season" ruts, but they are more than willing to try. So while I make sure year round fencing is good, once those boys begin to smell and start acting "bucky," they go into fences that will hold them no matter what they do.

I use a combination of fence types to hold in both the big fellas and the smaller ones. I like solid, strong fencing that can take a lot of beating and not lose its shape much. I like horse fence panels that are made of pipe lined with strong chain link or cattle panels. I’ve discovered in my years of goat keeping that woven wire particularly, will break down with bucks banging on it, standing on it and more. A good "hot" wire set inside the fence and about a foot off the ground and another about chest level for the big boys will keep most bucks off the less solid wire fencing. But it has to be checked regularly and kept in good condition to work reliably. And the bucks must be taught to respect it long before hormones kick in.

I love my used corn crib fencing for bucks, as its metal rod construction is so strong that even horses and large dogs, as well as full grown bucks can not get out. It hardly bends, even after years of hard use, and it has small enough spacing that the smallest kids can not get through it.

Some years I hand breed each doe to the buck of my choice, taking her from her regular pen to the buck pen, and letting him out to breed her a time or two before returning each to their own pens. Other years I put a few does in with each buck in a pen separate from the rest of the herd for a few weeks to get them all bred. Either way, I make sure breeding pens are as solidly built as any buck pen, so that we have no escapes that may result in unintended breedings.

One other thing I do in relation to fences is make sure that fencing in the kid areas is secure enough that little kids don’t learn to escape. Once they learn they can get out, they may always challenge any fence, looking for any weakness. At some point they will find a weak point. When trained that the fences are secure from an early age, even less sturdy fences will hold in happy, well-adjusted, well-fed animals.

Housing for bucks is just as important as for does, but I have found some simple set-ups that work and fit with my management preference of moving pens and rotating pastures. As long as the bucks can get out of the wind, the sun, and stay dry they will do well. Three-sided sheds with enough room for a buck to get in out of the weather, turn around and move a bit, work well if faced away from the wind.

Bucks, like does, are herd animals and love company. As much as bucks enjoy being with does in breeding season, they also love the company of their peers the rest of the year. I keep at least one buck per breed of does on the yard at all times, and if I only have one, he gets company of some sort. In years past I have penned bucks next to and even in with my horses. One drawback of that is if the horses get buddy-buddy with the buck, the buck being a goat, may pull some of the mane and tail hair off the horse. It’s happened to me a few times. I’ve heard that a goat with proper minerals will not eat hair, but that has not been my experience. Goats just love to chew on dangly hair, whether it be my own or the horse’s. I have learned, however, not to put the buck directly into the horse pens anymore, as horses play differently than goats do, and it’s easy for a horse that is kicking in fun to break a bone—or worse—in the goat buddy. And when having horned goats, it doesn’t take much playing for a horn to put out a horse eye or lacerate the gut. But a shared fence line provides companionship to a lonely buck and the horse seems to enjoy it as well.

Of course, the best companion for a goat is another goat. Whether it’s another buck or a wether (castrated male), bucks seem happier with a friend to cuddle up with on a cold night, or just hang in the shade on a hot day. There are a few bucks out there who would rather not share pen space with anyone, particularly another buck. But the ones I’ve had not only want, but need that company.

I’ve had the odd chicken or duck move in the buck pen to keep company with the bucks. I’ve gone out many a cold morning to see a chicken snuggling its feet in a warm goat coat to keep warm. I do let my animals share space like this as long as I keep in mind the things that can happen. In this type of case, chickens and goats will share lice with each other, their body temperatures being similar enough. And I do lose the occasional chicken from being laid on by a buck. The companionship they share of their own accord is worth it to me to have the risk.

Many cats and livestock guardian dogs will keep company with the bucks to give them the herd feeling they crave as well. And most bucks love human attention. Just because they smell during part of the year, does not change their love of chest and neck scratches and being talked to.

I teach my boys early in life to accept regular grooming, feet trimming, and my checking them over to make sure they are okay. They learn to lead by their collar or their beards for gentle handling throughout life. Even though I know I’m going to get "pee’d" on at some time handling bucks and will need a good washing up after I wade into buck pens to work with them, I do it anyway. I do keep a set of gloves handy to scratch and pet those boys to keep my hand cleaner and less smelly.

I set up routine daily chores so I can care for them without getting into their enclosures. I feed with fence line feeders and have watering buckets and pans at the fence so that I do not have to enter a pen to give them basic feed and water. This just makes it easier to stay clean on days I’m in a hurry and minimizes any challenges from hormonal boys.

Recordkeeping is also an important aspect of buck management. Since I breed registered goats, I need to know which buck is breeding which doe and when. And even if I wasn’t registering, I personally would still want to know which buck is throwing which traits that I like or not, so I know where to go with the next buck I purchase or keep from my own does. I usually take each doe to the particular buck of my choice on a day when I can catch her in season and when it’s an appropriate time for me to breed my herd. I plan breeding dates to space out freshening does in order to have fresh milk available year round. Occasionally a year will come along like the current one, where certain bucks get sold. I must plan my breedings a bit earlier than I prefer, to enable the new buyers to have a chance to use these particular bucks this breeding season as well. To make it easier on me for now, I’ve made a couple separate breeding pens where I’ve put in certain does and the buck of my choice. That way he can do the work of detecting when the doe is in heat and breed her at that time and I don’t have to worry about catching each and every doe in season before the bucks are gone.

When kidding time starts in 2012, I may be sorry as there will be a bit more leeway in due dates since I did not witness each breeding. But I do watch the goats morning and night, and make note of when I see breeding activity. I make sure to write down which buck was with which doe and then project when the due date will be for my records. I also write down the projected date of the next heat cycle so I can make some determination if the doe was bred or not, as noted. All this information I put on my daily calendar, along with when I trim feet, when I’ve clipped and bathed, when I deworm or give medicines or herbs to which animal. I can then tell at a glance if someone might be needing a trim soon, to watch their feet, or if someone is a bit unthrifty, maybe its time for a tune-up with wormer or herbs, or if I should worry about something more serious. It helps to give me a written record of what animals are needing and how often, so I can keep track of trends in each animal’s health. That record keeping, along with lots of fresh water, good food, some basic attending to the fencing, housing and companionship needs of bucks, can keep them hale and hearty for many years.

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