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Goat Breeding for Beginners

You have the goats. You either got them for milk, in which case you will at some point need to breed them to keep them in milk. Or you have meat goats and you’d like to multiply them. Either way, eventually, you need to delve into goat breeding for either to occur.

Seasonal or Year-Round?

The breed of the goat will determine when a doe will go into heat. There are breeds that go into heat year-round. These include breeds considered meat goats – such as myotonic, Kiko, Spanish and others. Many of the smaller breeds, such as Nigerian Dwarf and Pygmy goats also are in heat year round. Primarily, these are all breeds that originated in warmer climates. Larger breeds that hail from cooler climates are the ones that will only come into heat from July/August through approximately December. These breeds include Nubians, Lamanchas, Alpines, and others.

How Old Should The Goats Be?

Once you have determined what category your goats are in, you’ll have to know some other important facts. In general, male goats (bucks) are able to begin reproduction anywhere in the four to six month range. Be aware, although not able to mate with a female due to his height, it would be unwise to take any chances. Therefore, males should be separated at 6 to 8 weeks or once they can extend their male parts.

Females are capable of conceiving in the six to eight month range. Does while able to breed at six to eight months, should not be bred until they are at least 80% of their adult weight. Most times, this is about the year to a year and a half mark for most breeds. Breeding a doe earlier puts her and the baby at risk for complications and/or death. It also takes the nutrition away from the still-developing young doe and can potentially stunt her growth.

A Goat’s Heat Cycle and What to Look For

Once they are old enough for a pregnancy to not carry a risk, it is safe to breed them. Does, no matter the breed, come into heat every 18 to 21 days. For many goats, heat lasts between 12 and 48 hours. Typically, there is a rhythm to it. Goats will have typically three days of heat, but only one day will they actually be able to be successfully bred. The first day is the “getting ready”. They may have some or all of the signs below, but when you put them with the buck, they show no interest. We will look at this closer in a moment.

Here are the things you should be looking for when you are ready for breeding and when to put them together:

Tail Wagging

A doe will start wagging her tail as a flag to signal to potential mates that it’s her time. Here is a video of a young doe who is not old enough to be bred, but who has come into heat.

Eight month old doe in heat. You can see this is not commonly the way that they “wag” their tails when not in heat.

Hopefully this helps you to see what you are looking for in “tail-wagging” behavior.

Bellowing or Calling

A doe will call out for attention to a potential mate. This is a bit different than their usual “meh-ing” they will do when they are hungry or it’s nearing milking time. Below is a video of my usually very quiet Lamancha goat, Maple. She LOVES milking time and will rush to the milk room. However, this is what she acted like instead.

My mature 6-year-old Lamancha doe, Maple. She can hear (and probably smell) the buck who is penned to the right of this. She would holler at me, then run off rather than to the milk stand. And believe it or not, her pupils were dilated, and she could not care less about being milked. After I finally got her on the stand and milked her out, she had a “date” with the buck.

“Off” Grain and Milk Decrease

Another sign of being in heat is that although very healthy, they will either show very little or no interest in grain. You should be careful though that this isn’t a sign of illness in your goat. When you do milk, you will notice that the quantity is decreased. It will go back up once her heat is over, but typically this will be a three to five day reduction in milk output.

Swollen Vulva and Discharge

Also during this time, your doe’s vulva will look “puffy” or swollen. Plus, she may have some discharge. This is to serve as another sign to a prospective buck.

Note the vulva is swollen (excuse the dirty poo pic) and a small amount of discharge is visible.

Reaction to the Buck

When a doe is ready, she can be placed near a buck and will express an interest to be around him. Once you put her in with him, she will respond to him. This is that one day of the cycle she can be bred. This one day is called “standing heat”, where she will stand for him and allow him to breed her.

If she doesn’t, she is not in standing heat. Bring her back in 24 hours and you will get different behavior. See the images below to see what “interested” looks like.

Lip curling is behavior that the buck will display to show he is “in rut”.

(image from farmhouseguide.com)

Maple and Prince. She is not running from him and is very interested.

They “check each other out”. He will snort, lip curl, and paw the ground around her. She will stand still and let him breed her.

In order to feel confident that your doe is adequately bred, typically you’d like three “good covers”. A good cover is when during the act, the buck will give a thrust, his head may go back, and he falls off of her. At the same time, the doe will hunch up, almost tucking her hind end under her similar to when they relieve themselves. Three times this way and you can remove the doe from the buck’s pen.

Maple, after three good covers, decided she needed a rest.

How Will I Know It’s Been a Successful Breeding?

Now, three good covers will not automatically guarantee that your goat is bred. However, there are two ways to see if she is “settled”, which means she really is pregnant.

A doe who is bred has no need to come back into heat. Wait for 18 to 21 days after the last heat. All the tell-tale signs that were mentioned above will not happen again if she is pregnant. Another way to tell is to send in bloodwork.

This link will take you to a mail-in lab where you can draw blood and they will send you a report confirming pregnancy. Sage Ag Lab – Pregnancy Testing for Goats However, this would entail either getting your vet to draw blood or you can.

And Now To Wait…

If it’s been confirmed, or you feel comfortable that all does are bred, the waiting game begins. Typical gestation is 150 days from day of conception.

Before You Go, A Word About “Silent Heat”

Probably the most frustrating part of breeding can be a doe in “silent heat”. This can often happen on a farm with no buck. Your doe will come into heat, but she will not tail-wag or holler, nor will her vulva swell. She may be a little off her grain or her milk may drop a little. However, she will never truly show signs. This was my Maple. It took either taking her to my friend’s farm and letting her stay there for her to come into heat or, as we did this year, having a buck on our property.

Goat folks gave me the advice to use a “buck rag”. Basically, taking a rag and rubbing it all over a buck and then bringing it to the girl. However, this didn’t work for my girls. So, instead, we now have a buck who will earn his keep by what he does during this season. You’ll have to try this if it happens to you and see if it works for you.

Now that you have the basic details of the process, I wish you much luck and many baby kids! Let me know what your experience has been with breeding goats. Are you just getting into goats? Looking to learn to keep them holistically and as naturally as possible? Read this to learn how to make dosage balls to get the proper herbs into them. https://maplewoodhomestead.com/how-to-make-dosage-balls-for-goats/

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