The most important decision that you will make each year should be who is bred to whom, assuming that you have bought quality breeding stock in the first place. There are a lot of questions to be answered before putting a breeding buck in with the does.
Why are you breeding goats? If you did not ask yourself this question before you bought your first goat, then now is the time to figure out the answer. What you do next depends upon that answer. Do not buy goats and then try to find a market; it may not exist in your area.
What is your goal? Are you raising offspring for meat, breeding stock, show stock, leasing for grazing, or as pets? Each type is a different animal, with 'show' stock being significantly different from all of them in many areas. Determine your market by evaluating your area's supply and demand structure and make your decision based upon what you learn. You cannot wish a market into existence; markets are self-determining and always subject to supply and demand.
How are you going to breed your animals? There are several choices to be made. If you have your own buck -- one with sound genetics and no physical defects -- you can use live coverage. You can rent a good buck from producers who specialize in raising and leasing quality breeding stock. You can put the buck in with does and let nature take its course, relying on the buck to bring the does into heat. You can 'hand' breed by bringing the buck to a doe in heat, much as racehorses, milk cows, and dairy goats are bred; in this manner, exact breeding and kidding dates are known. Or, if you are experienced in doing artificial insemination, you can purchase semen from proven bucks (if available). A reputable dairy-goat breeder can help you locate a course to teach you how to do artificial insemination; many dairy-goat producers are well versed in A.I. Producers new to raising goats should know that artificial insemination's success rate in goats is far less than in cattle and is harder to do.
How often will you breed your does? Breeding-stock producers tend to mate their does once a year, while some commercial operators run bucks with their does year around. There are definite down-sides to continuous uncontrolled breeding: (1) Does that are bred back while still nursing kids have a harder time producing quality offspring, and (2) Their productive lives are shortened to about five years maximum as they age and wear out early. One of the first things to fail is the udder, which gets a huge amount of wear and tear from nursing kids. I have been raising and breeding goats for over 20 years, and I recommend that, as a minimum, producers allow kids to be weaned at three months of age and the doe be given at least two months to re-gain her pre-pregnancy health and weight. A doe that is trying to feed herself, nurse multiple kids, and nourish unborn fetuses all at the same time is not going to be able to produce top-quality kids and she will be more likely to experience health problems herself.
Are you going to linebreed, or will you select a specific buck to breed certain does that are unrelated to him? Linebreeding (breeding related animals) brings out both the best and the very worst in the offspring, resulting in a much higher *cull* rate. I never linebreed; experience has proven to me that linebred animals in my breeds lose muscling and are therefore less meaty. I believe that this conclusion crosses breed lines, but each producer must make this decision based upon his goats and his goals.
Where you will be putting them together for mating depends upon your facilities. While some producers have the space for pasture breeding, others must confine breeding animals to pens. Remember that goats are easily stressed when crowded, are exposed to bacteria and viruses that close quarters magnifies, and may die. My experience has been that any more than 20 goats (one buck and 19 does) in a five-acre pasture for 42 days of breeding is too many animals. Under some circumstances, this scenario may be too crowded, i.e. poor shelter, wet/windy/cold conditions, inadequate fencing.
Who are you going to breed to whom? Virgin does in particular and all does in general should be bred to smaller-framed bucks to avoid dystocia (kidding difficulties). Cattle breeders learned this lesson long ago when breeding heifers (first-freshening cows). If cross-breeding, use a buck from a smaller-framed breed to mate with larger-framed breeds of does. Wait until the doe is at least ten to twelve months old before mating her. A doe can breed much earlier, but her body will not be sufficiently developed to carry quality kids to term. Avoid unnecessary problems and wait until the doe has had a chance to get some growth on her own body before putting a pregnancy load on her. If twinning is the producer's goal, then this is another reason to let the doe grow out before breeding her; very young does generally have only one kid.
Bucks in some breeds are fertile as early as three months of age. It is advisable, however, to let a buck reach at least eight months of age before expecting him to perform. A very young buck will not be able to settle (successfully impregnate) a large number of does without exhausting himself. An older experienced buck will approach breeding at a less frantic pace. A healthy and nutritionally-sound mature buck should be able to bring into heat and successfully breed 40-50 does within a 42-day timeframe (two heat cycles). A young yearling breeding buck should be placed with no more than 18-20 does. Unless does come into heat, a buck cannot breed them. In very hot climates, some breeds of bucks breed at night in the cooler air. Some breeds of does in certain climates do not cycle into heat year around, regardless of stimulation from a buck. This is particularly true of the dairy breeds but can also be true in some meat breeds. Myotonic goats as a breed tend to be aseasonal breeders (breed year round), but this can vary by location. As a general rule, does of all breeds are most likely to cycle into heat as daylight shortens. In the continental United States, that timeframe is mid-July through mid-December.
A mature breeding buck can easily lose 50-75 pounds while he is servicing does. Breeding is what he was born to do -- to pass on his genetic line into future generations -- so he is going to give it his all, to the exclusion of eating and resting. It is easy for a buck to become run down and ragged during breeding season. His nutritional level is as important as that of the breeding does. He needs to be current on deworming, de-licing, CD/T vaccinations, and any other routine care that is part of your management regimen. This same health care program is applicable to all breeding does.
Producers who run goats year round in pasture settings with minimal feed supplementation will sometimes "flush" goats prior to breeding with extra feed to get them into good condition. Many producers supplementally feed most if not all of the time, and in these cases, extra feed is not necessary and can make the goats too fat, therefore less likely to be able to conceive and carry kids to term.
When are you going to breed? Commercial breeders should research auctions and other sources to determine when they will receive the best price per pound and calculate backwards from those dates, allowing five months for gestation, three months until weaning, and time for breeding activities. Historically the best times to sell slaughter kids are Thanksgiving-Christmas and around western Easter, but the timeframes may vary in your market area. Goat meat is primarily an ethnic market. Find out the ethnic markets in your area and produce a product that they wish to purchase.
Goats produced for the show-goat market usually need to be a certain age during a specific timeframe in order to qualify. Figure out the shows that you want to breed for and back into the appropriate breeding schedule. Find out what these shows expect and prepare to provide goats that meet those criteria (disbudded? wethered? milk teeth still intact?). You cannot successfully breed for multiple shows unless you have a big goat-ranching operation, because rules and time frames vary greatly from show to show. The show-goat market can be difficult to enter. In many locations, this market has long been sewn up by a small group of locally influential goat raisers. Breeding stock producers should target purchasers of breeding bucks and does based on time of the year that buyers are interested in obtaining these animals. This usually means having bucks old enough to breed by late summer/early fall, because some producers do not like to carry bucks year-around. Does are often in demand twelve months of the year, but can vary from area to area.
A comment about raising goats to sell as pets: Pet goats are often bought based upon color, size, and easy of handling. Goats are much more of a challenge to raise knowledge-wise than dogs or cats. Your child's favorite goat may need to be culled because it isn't handling its worm load well and is therefore a threat to itself and the rest of the herd. Culling isn't easy in a pet-goat herd. Emotions play a big role. I have received hundreds of calls over the last 20+ years from people who have returned from a trip to find sick or dying goats because the people who were supposed to be caring for them fed or otherwise managed them incorrectly. Dogs and cats are much easier for friends to care for, and vets are more readily available if they get sick while the owner is away. Finding a qualified goat vet is very difficult. I recommend that goats not be kept as pets unless the owners are always home and are willing to cull those that require it.
Producers should approach raising meat goats as a business. Breeders who research their market and produce animals that meet the existing demand should be able to sell all they want off the farm and seldom have to use auctions to move their product.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, ONION CREEK RANCH, Lohn, Texas; revised 10/3/11
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