October 2010 Issue

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BEHAVIORAL AND MATING HABITS OF GOATS

"Competition" is the name of the game in the goat world. Beginning at birth, kids fight their siblings first for colostrum and then for their mother's milk. When kids begin to eat solids, they challenge other kids for food. Moms shove other moms for the best location at the feed trough or for the most desirable forage/browse, deferring only to the larger aggressive males. Adult males fight for everything important in their lives -- feed, shelter, and breeding rights. In the world of goats, if something isn't worth fighting for, it isn't worth having. The strong survive and flourish; the weak subsist and eventually die.

Mating rituals begin early in life. Kids as young as seven (7) days old instinctively mount other kids. Young males will approach doelings, put their noses in the doelings' urine streams, and curl their lips to determine if the females are in heat. To a lesser extent, doelings will follow the same pattern of behavior as they get old enough to breed. Put a newly-weaned buck into an all-boys' pen and watch what happens. The new kid will be harassed and mounted for hours until he fights for and wins his place in the pecking order of the herd. When around other does that are in heat and no buck is present, mature does will assume the buck's role, go through the courting rituals, and mount the doe that is ready to breed.

Sexually-mature bucks establish a pecking order, with the most dominant and usually but not always the oldest buck assuming leadership of the herd. Within a group of sexually-mature does, the same procedure takes place, especially if no buck is present. Herds comprised of both females and males will usually have a dominant male as the leader. Occasionally, a buck and a doe will develop a dislike for each other. It is not unusual for the dominant buck to prevent other bucks from mating with her while he also declines to breed her.

It is a wise management decision to choose a buck to breed selected does and run only that buck with the females. A healthy sexually-mature buck can easily breed 40-50 does in two breeding cycles. Does cycle into heat approximately every 21 days. Some breeds are aseasonal (breed year-round), while others only breed when the days begin to shorten. Tennessee Meat Goats, for example, are almost always year-round breeders. As a general rule, breeds containing dairy influence (including Boers and Kikos) are seasonal breeders, beginning to show interest in mating as daylight shortens (late June to late December in the northern hemisphere). Climatic conditions (extreme hot or cold, long periods of daylight or darkness) may produce exceptions to these statements.

A doe in season (in heat) will indicate her interest in breeding by wagging her tail rapidly for the buck; this is called flagging. Her urine contains chemicals which tell the buck that she is ready to breed. The buck will urinate upon his face, beard, and front legs. He will approach the flagging doe, she will squat and urinate, and he will place his nose in the urine stream. Raising his head high, the buck will curl his upper lip to detect the pheromones which tell him that the doe is receptive to being bred. Intermittently with this activity, the buck will walk/run beside the doe as she leads him around the pasture/pen, placing his head beside her head, kicking one of his front legs forward, hollering "wup," "wup," "wup" and other raucous clucking noises.

Does experience ascending, cresting, and descending levels of heat. The cresting level is when she is most receptive to conception. This mating ritual described above continues for as long as a day and one-half. The doe must be in a standing heat before successful insemination can occur. Until that time arrives, she will continue to run from him, all the while flagging her tail. Sometimes the doe will make sounds similar to those of the buck. During standing heat, some does cry out as if in pain. When successful copulation occurs, the buck will throw his head back as he ejaculates his semen. Mating activity can bring other does into heat. Particularly in hot climates, night-time breeding is common because the nights are cooler. Breeding takes a great deal of energy by both buck and doe.

Breeding bucks need to be in sound physical condition, because during mating season they go 'off feed' and may lose as much as 50 pounds. Provide bucks with quality rations during breeding season to keep them in good shape. A normally aggressive-at-the-feed-trough male may lose all interest in food when his does are in heat. Females do not usually go 'off feed' during breeding, but it is important that their nutritional needs are addressed prior to breeding. The condition of the doe at breeding time has a huge impact on the resulting offspring. That said, do not get them fat; fat does may not breed at all. If does are receiving a good level of nutrition, there is no need to "flush" them with extra feed rations prior to breeding. Remember that a doe can short-cycle or have false heats, particularly if breeding is attempted while she is still nursing kids. The doe's age and general health can also affect her breeding ability. Consult a nutritionist for more information and read the relevant articles on my website : www:tennnesseemeatgoats.com.

Subscribe FREE now! Monthly issues with new articles and other educational information on meat goat health, nutrition, and management written by Suzanne W. Gasparotto of Onion Creek Ranch and Pat Cotten of Bending Tree Ranch. In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Neither Suzanne Gasparotto nor Pat Cotten are veterinarians. None of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.

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A good breeding schedule involves placing a single mature buck with up to 50 does and leaving them together through two heat cycles. Forty-five (45) days in the breeding pen will cover two heat cycles of approximately 21 days each, generally assuring that any doe who missed the first cycle will get bred on the second round. Then take the buck back to the buck pen. When raising breeding stock, it is important to know who sired whom.

Leaving the buck with does for over 60 days can result in a loss of interest in breeding. If this occurs, stimulate the buck's interest by placing a teaser buck with him. A teaser buck is a male who has been vasectomized; he thinks he can breed, his hormones still rage, but he fires 'blanks.' If a teaser buck is not available, put another breeding buck across the fence from your chosen sire to induce competition and heighten interest.

Permit virgin does time to grow before breeding them. Does can breed as young as five months of age (sometimes younger, particularly in the smaller breeds like Pygmies), but inferior offspring and kidding problems (dystocia) may occur. Think of this in human terms: A 12-year-old female may be able to conceive a child, but it is inadvisable and may be fraught with medical complications. They are simply too young and too small to comfortably and successfully carry a healthy baby to term.

Wait until the doe is 10-12 months old before breeding her. A first-time breeding should be with a buck of her breed or smaller-sized breed. Cattle producers mate heifers (virgin females) to smaller-breed bulls to avoid complications in delivery. Give your does the same consideration. It is in your long-term best interest to preserve their reproductive abilities.

Separate breeding pastures or pens by six- to eight-foot-wide alleyways to keep bucks from fighting through the fencing. At the very least, expect extensive fence damage if this fencing layout is not used. Placing does and bucks directly across a common fence can result in unwanted breedings.

Don't assume that younger, smaller bucks are unlikely to breed sexually-mature does. A doe in heat will accommodate any buck that is near her. The instinctive drive to reproduce her species is overwhelming. She will drop to the ground and go through contortions to mate with him. Pygmy bucks have been known to breed Boer does.

Keep all does over three months of age away from bucks . . . even young bucks of like age.

Breed does only once a year, even if the herd is strictly commercial. It is unreasonable to expect a nursing doe to feed herself, as many as four kids, and growing embryos inside her unless she is being heavily supplemented with feed. Her productive life will be shortened, her udder will be worn out prematurely, and she will produce inferior kids.

Buy the best buck that you can afford. Genetically speaking, he is at least one half of your herd. If you keep replacement does out of him, he is three-quarters of your herd. Stretch yourself financially to buy the best buck to fit your breeding program.

Insure quality offspring by breeding only well-conditioned (but not over-fed), healthy animals. De-worm and vaccinate all animals prior to breeding. If confined to small areas, the pasture/pen must be kept clean so that they and their offspring to be born five months hence are in good shape. Combining sound management techniques with common sense and quality breeding stock will bring profits to your bottom line.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto
ONION CREEK RANCH
Updated 10-5-10

When visitors come onto your property, have them place the soles of their shoes in a shallow pan containing a small amount of bleach. Keep "bugs" from your property and animals from going home with them. Keep them from bringing their "bugs" onto your property.

CLEFT PALATE

Cleft palate is a congenital malformation of the inside upper roof of the mouth. The most common defect is a split in the roof of the mouth than runs lengthwise from the front gums to the back of the mouth.

When a kid is born with a cleft palate, this condition may not be noticed immediately. The producer may wonder why the dam did not feed her kid, when in fact the kid having a cleft palate does not have a good sucking reflex. Oftentimes the dam knows something is wrong with a kid and refuses to feed it when first born. A defective kid is a threat to the genetic integrity of the herd as well as to their overall physical safety.

If the kid lives, begins to nurse, and subsequently eats solid foods, the cleft palate will get wider as the kid grows. Liquid and soon solid food will begin to come out of the kid's nose, giving the appearance of its having runny nostrils continually. The producer will begin to notice that the kid is not growing at the same rate as other kids; this is because nutrients that the kid's body needs in order to grow are not reaching its digestive system. By the time the kid is three to four months old, if it lives that long, it will be substantially smaller and poorer looking than its peers.

As time passes, the cleft palate kid will develop health problems. The runny nose usually turns into pneumonia and subsequently death. Sometimes other congenital birth defects, often heart-related, appear along with the cleft palate. A wise producer will check the inside of every newborn's mouth for the presence of a cleft palate.

Cleft palate is a congenital birth defect that is hereditary. If the producer breeds the dam to a different buck, the problem likely will not recur. Surgical repair of a cleft palate in a goat is not only difficult but also expensive even if the producer can find a vet qualified to do it. Because cleft palate is passed genetically from parent to offspring, the producer should not breed a goat with this condition, even if the cleft palate is repaired. The most realistic option is to put the goat down when it begins to suffer serious ill health resulting from this birth defect.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto
ONION CREEK RANCH
Revised 10-3-10

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From Lisa Haneman, Anthony, Texas

"I recently had the opportunity to visit Onion Creek Ranch. I was on a road trip and knew I would be close to Lohn and Brady, so I contacted Suzanne and asked if I could visit with her and see her goats. She graciously agreed and took time out of her busy schedule to "tour" me around and show me her wonderful animals.

The goats were absolutely amazing. I was especially impressed by the uniformity and consistent quality of her animals. They had the best hindquarters I have ever seen on a goat - the muscling was just "popping" out with such clear definition that I was reminded of the big butts you see on pigs. Their chest floors were wide, too. In fact, the whole goat was wide, deep and full of meat. I especially liked her TexMasters.

All the goats were grouped according to age and sex - in large pastures complete with shelters, free choice hay, minerals and sparkling clean water troughs. To say I was impressed is an understatement. It's obvious Suzanne knows what she's doing. The goat "world" is fortunate to have her and her knowledge as a resource."

WHEN MEAT MATTERS...

Contact Suzanne Gasparotto at
325-344-5775 for prices and availability.

Tennessee Meat Goats™ and TexMasters™ are usually available year round. Contact us for ages and pricing by calling 325-344-5775 or emailing onioncreek@tennesseemeatgoats.com

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