September 2022 Issue

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MATING   RITUALS   OF  GOATS

In the world of goats, if something isn't worth fighting for, it isn't worth having. At birth, kids fight their siblings  for colostrum and then for their mother's milk. When kids begin to eat solid food (plant materials, feed, hay), 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 males. Adult males fight for everything important in their lives -- food, shelter, and breeding rights. Competition is the name of the game. Females produce multiple births because in unmanaged environments half of the kids die of starvation and predation. The strong survive and flourish; the weak die.

Mating rituals begin early in life. As young as seven  days old,  kids 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. Doelings will mimic similar behavior as they grow old enough to breed. Put a newly-weaned buck into an all-boys' pen and watch what happens. The new kid will be challenged  and mounted for hours until he fights for and wins his place in the pecking order. 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  buck assuming leadership of the herd. Within a group of sexually-mature does, the same process  takes place, especially if no buck is present. Herds comprised of both females and males  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 refuses to breed her. Survival of the dominant buck's genetics through his offspring is the key to survival  of the species.    Sometimes a  dominant doe will  keep other does from breeding her chosen mate.

A healthy mature buck can easily breed  40  does in two breeding cycles.  A doe  usually cycles into heat every 21 days.  However, some goat  breeds are aseasonal (breed year-round), while others only breed when daylight begins to shorten. Breeds containing dairy genetics (including Boers, Kikos, and Spanish) are seasonal breeders, cycling into heat as daylight shortens and cooler weather arrives (late July to late December in the northern hemisphere). Bucks usually go into rut long before does cycle into heat.   Myotonics, of which the Tennessee Meat Goat™ is the larger and more heavily muscled fullblood Myotonic developed by Onion Creek Ranch in Texas, tend to be year-round breeders. Climatic conditions (extreme hot or cold, long periods of daylight or darkness, drought) can interfere with  heat cycles in all breeds of goats.

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 if   she is ready to breed. The buck will spray urine on  his face, beard, and front legs. He will approach the flagging doe, she will squat and urinate, and he will place his nose in her urine stream. Raising his head high, the buck will curl his upper lip.  Receptors  inside his upper lip  will  detect   pheromones that   tell him if the doe is ready to be bred.    The buck will also run beside the doe as she leads him around the pasture, placing his head beside her head, flicking his tongue, kicking a front leg forward, and making "wup," "wup," "wup" noises.

Does experience ascending, cresting, and descending levels of heat. The cresting level is when she is most receptive to conception; this is called STANDING HEAT.   Until that time arrives, she will continue to run from him while flagging her tail. The mating ritual can continue for as long as 36 hours.  During standing heat, some does cry out as if in pain. When successful copulation occurs, the buck throws his head back as he ejaculates his semen.

Breeding takes a great deal of energy by both buck and doe.   Breeding bucks need to be in sound physical condition.  During mating season, they decrease their food consumption as they focus on breeding and may lose as much as 20% of their body weight. (Make sure any weight loss is not a result of a heavy worm load.) A normally food-aggressive male may lose interest in food when his does are in heat. Provide bucks with top- quality rations to keep them in good shape.

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 her yet-to-be-born offspring. Do not get them fat; fat does may not breed, and if they do, they are likely to have kidding problems.     If does are receiving a good level of nutrition, there is no need to "flush" them with extra feed rations prior to breeding. Don't breed her back if she is still nursing kids. The doe's age and general health can also affect her breeding ability. Read the relevant articles on my website www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.

Night-time breeding, when it is cooler,  is common in hot climates.   Night-time breeding is also the safer time for species that are subject to predation.

A good breeding schedule involves placing a single mature buck with about 40  does and leaving them together through two heat cycles. Forty-five (45) days in the breeding pasture will cover two heat cycles of approximately 21 days each, generally assuring that any doe who was missed in the first cycle can be bred on the second round. Then take the buck back to the buck pen.

Goats breed differently from other species.  A small prey-prone species needs to have as many females bred as possible, so the buck tends to remain with a doe in heat during her entire 36-hour cycle, breeding her over and over again.   Mating activity often brings other does into heat, and they can miss being bred while the buck concentrates on other does.  So commercial breeders often  run multiple bucks with breeding does.  Breeding stock producers need to know which buck bred which doe, so if you are limited in pasture space, you can leave the buck with the does for 21 to 45 days, take him out, leave the does without a buck for 7 to 10 days to provide a gap in kidding so you can identify which kids belong to which buck, then put a different buck with the does for another cycle for "clean up."

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

Allow virgin does time to grow before breeding them. Does can breed as young as three months of age (sometimes younger, particularly in smaller breeds like Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf), but kidding problems (dystocia) can occur. They are too young and too small to carry a healthy baby to term successfully. Wait until the doe is at least  a year to 1-1/2  years old before breeding her. A first-time breeding  doe should be bred to a buck of her breed or smaller-sized breed. Cattle producers mate heifers (virgin females) to smaller-breed bulls to avoid complications in delivery.

Separate breeding pastures or pens by wide alleyways to keep bucks from fighting through the fencing and causing  fence damage. 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. Pygmy bucks have been known to breed Boer does. Keep all does over three months of age away from bucks and wean all bucklings by the time they are three months old. When a buckling can extend his penis fully out of its sheath, he is fertile.

Breed does only once a year, even if the herd is commercial. It is unreasonable to expect a nursing doe to feed herself, perhaps three or four nursing kids, and growing fetuses inside her. Her reproductive life will be shortened, her udder will be worn out, and she will produce inferior kids. She will be old  by the time she is five years old.

Buy the best buck that you can afford. Genetically he is 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. Do fecal counts, de-worm as needed, and vaccinate all animals prior to breeding. Keep the pasture or pen clean so that the does and their offspring are healthy. Combining sound management techniques with common sense and quality breeding stock will bring profits to your bottom line.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 9.1.22

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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