Self portrait: A Girl and Her Goat
Today we dropped Vita off at the breeder. She happily trotted off muttering something about being "glad to get away from that circus." She rejoined a prize winning, professional herd of about 25 dairy ladies for the winter.
But we'll see Vita again in the spring after she "freshens" - that's goat-speak for "just had her babies and is ready to milk." We are wildly lucky to have a very unusual arrangement with Vita's original herd. We have her during the spring/summer as our milker...but then she goes back for breeding. The breeder keeps or sells the babies and we get our gal back ready to milk in the spring. Most folks aren't lucky enough to have this kind of relationship - for us it works great.
So now that you have a couple of cute little doelings out there and you'd like to milk them in the spring... OK... now what? Well, go and get a cup of coffee and let me tell you what I know about goat breeding.
Just like all mammals, goats need to have a baby in order to produce milk. Since she's a dairy gal we keep her in production by breeding her in the fall for spring babies. This is the natural cycle for "alpine" goats - which breed in the cooler weather. Some Nigerian Dwarf goats breed year round, but fall breeding seems pretty standard.
There are a couple options for breeding your goats. First, you can have your own buck (an intact male goat sometimes called a "billy"). Or, you can be very lucky and have 4H neighbor kids who have a buck. Or you can take your lady goat on a "date" also called, stud service. And yep. It's exactly what it sounds like.
Professional breeders offer their bucks for stud service. There is a fee for this service, sometimes there is an additional fee for boarding, sometimes they don't want to house your doe in their barns and they provide temporary accommodations for um.. that is.. ahem.. "the deed." Generally you leave your doe at the breeder, sometimes for a while, to make sure she was bred. Nibbles was at the breeder for three weeks. Debbie was over at the Good Neighbors with their buck for several weeks. I found it to be very stressful but no one was upset about it but me.
Around here stud fees are usually about $50. You can find breeders on craigslist, whoever you got your goats from, by asking your vet for recommendations, and don't forget your 4H contacts.
Recently I was part of a conversation where a breeder flat out rejected the notion of using a stud service. Their position was that it was dangerous to expose outside goats to their herd. The breeder couldn't believe than any responsible owner would use this option. While its true there is a risk both to the breeder and the doe owner, not everyone can have, or wants to have, a buck. And for heavens sakes. Its not like you'd just drive by any old crack house, toss your doe out, and wish her luck! Use common sense, ask for recommendations, and make sure you get all of your questions answered. Many breeders have websites with information on their buck's pedigree and their statements of health.
Transmission of disease is the big concern about having strange goats tromp thru your barn. There are several goat diseases which are contagious and could wreck havoc to a herd. Once introduced they are hard to get rid of and if your goat is a carrier she will be hard to sell, could spread disease to her babies or the rest of your goats, or die. So its important to do your research and weigh your options carefully.
For us, we don't have any problems with using a stud service. Mostly because we don't want to have a buck on our property. Bucks generally have to be housed separately from does - especially dairy does as they may get an off taste in their milk. Also bucks in rut STINK. Like stink horribly. Like have to bleach your clothes to get the smell out of them stink. They stink worse than pigz, if you can believe it.
You also have to consider that you will have to feed and house another animal that only has one job. And just like any intact male barnyard animal, bucks can be dangerous. A full grown Boer buck can weigh up to 200 pounds. Even if he was bottle raised... he may not always be your friend. For these reasons, we do not want a buck. Plus, we have great breeders and have full confidence in them and their herds.
However, my pal Freemotion, has a great alternative to having a buck. She gets a young buckling, keeps him until he breed her dairy ladies, then sells him. Even very young bucklings (I think as early as 4 months) can successfully breed does. At this age they are not stinky and are generally smaller and easier to handle. I think this is a great solution - but we still don't want to deal with an animal with only one purpose. Right now everyone has to work and a buck wouldn't fit in.
How do you know when to take your goat to the breeder?
She'll have her first heat of the season about this time of the year. Look up the info on your specific breed to find out how many days apart her cycle is and then start tracking the days. Plan on taking her to the breeder a couple days before she has her next heat. Most folks breed their ladies in October or November for March or April babies.
How can you tell if your doe is in heat?
If your goats are normally loud, they will get louder. If she hasn't said a word all summer, she'll be out there yelling her fool head off. If you have Nubians or Nigerians they will scream like they are being murdered. Your ladies will moon around like a bunch of teenagers in loooooooove, they will wag their tails in a way you've never seen before (called "flagging"), and they may get some discharge from their...um.. er... that is... I believe the technical term is "hoohoo." They might fight or try to mount each other. Basically they will act ridiculous and like they have ants in their pants. By the time their next heat comes around you'll be very happy to pack them up and send them off to the breeder.
Nibbles gets a head start on becoming a fattie. Hey Tubby, step AWAY from the food!
When they get back they will be moody. Not so much at first, and you might not even notice. But as soon as they start packing on the pregnancy weight you'll see. Prepare to hand out tissues, give them pickles and ice cream (not really!), and fan them with palm fronds while they complain how fat they are. This goes on for about 5 months, depending on the breed. If you are lucky and have cold winters you won't have to see it all day long and your ladies will just hang out in the barn, getting fatter, and complaining about the service.
So that's what I know about goat breeding. Of course, don't take my word for it. Break out the Storey's Guide, check out the http://fiascofarm.com/ site, and get all your does.. I mean, ducks lined up.
Now get out there and interview some breeders, put together a calender, and watch your goatie ladies. When they start drawing hearts with "I luv Justin Beiber" in the dirt, run - don't walk - to the breeder.
Happy breeding season everyone!