Remember this song? Aging ourselves a little just by admitting this aren't we....
But as fall quickly arrives like a gale on the coast and our barn yard turns into its own little version of the dating game, we can't help but smile as the song plays around in our heads. Yep......it's that time of year again - breeding time!
Milking through.....here is a term for all you new to goats. Milking through means just that......milking your goat over a winter, a year, or whatever period that works for you. There is no need to breed ALL your goats, EVERY fall. We have goats that have 'milked' for over 18 months. Some Kinder breeders have had even longer lactations! Some lines milk through better than others, some lines just can't maintain a good lactation very long. So if your breeding for just milk, you don't need a barn full of kids do you? If you don't have goat lines that will milk over an extended period, you may have no option but to breed them more often if all you want is milk. If, however, you have Kinders because they're dual purpose, than breeding for meat on the table would be a great reason to breed wouldn't it?
Ok, so let's get back to our harem of tail waggin' does and our OH SO stinky, prancing, snorting boys!
Does in heat......here is an area that can be confusing to newer goat owners. When is a doe in heat? Does' heat cycles are around 21 days. They can last up to two days, some can be as short as a few hours. Bottom line, it depends on your doe. Not the answer you wanted was it? Does, just like people, aren't exactly alike. But there are some clues when a doe is in heat.
We have had our share of 'heat signs'. Tail waggin' has been the most common, just like a deer - tail up in the air, waving. We have had does cry for two days. We've had does, in milk, that just don't eat their full grain ration when in heat or just produce a little less milk during heat cycles. A common theme for our does is what we call the 'butt tuck'. It's exactly what it means, all but two of our does, tuck their butts when in heat. Some does have even stood by the bucks pen - butt to the boys - looking over their shoulder as if to say "Well?". We have even had does standing up on the door to the bucks pen nose to nose with a VERY frustrated buck - wagging their tails and wondering why the buck isn't coming out to play while he hisses and spits. Yes, you thought correctly, our buck pen is next to our doe pen. We cheat a little, by having the buck so close it's a lot easier to know when our does are ready. We will also say that, even though Kinders can be bred year round, our does' heats are stronger in the fall than in any other time of the year. So get to know your does, each will have their own heat cycle behavior. Once you 'think' you have it, right it down on the calendar - see if the behavior repeats every 21 days or so. If it's a reoccurring theme - than YEAH, you got it! As a last resort, try a 'buck rag'. Huh? Yep, just find a stinky buck, rub him down with a rag and throw it into a Ziplock bag. When you think a doe is in heat, just show them the 'buck rag' and see how they react, could she care less or is she spending an awful lot of time and attention.
Bucky bucks........Ok, the reason some people refuse to have a buck is that bucks are so bucky! Bucks can stink, especially when 'love is in the air'.... Bucks do some very disgusting things to attract the does. Bucks will urinate on themselves, including their face. Some bucks are worse at this than others, but we guarantee you, if you have a buck - he will do this from time to time whether you like it or not. Other 'bucky' behaviors are rubbing......bucks have scent glands behind their horn bases and a buck without horns will rub his head a lot to get his scent everywhere he can. Bucks will also rub on you, marking you, in their own way. We don't mind the occasional rub, we pet them, they warm fuzzy us right back. For the most part, we are very lucky, our bucks are gentle and easy to handle. But some bucks can get very aggressive when breeding season arrives. Head butting, snorting, hissing, spitting, and pawing at the ground are all strong signs of a buck in rut. In other words, boys just being boys!
It's time! Or is it?......Ok, so you know when your doe is in heat, you have a very frustrated buck ready and able to go. You have even decided on the date range you want the doe to kid, so what are you waiting for, right? Wrong, there are still things you need to consider before breeding.
Is your doe in milk? If so, you need to plan to 'dry' her up prior to kidding. Some people dry their does up when they breed, others wait until 3 months into their pregnancy (gestation) to do it. We go by the does conditioning.......We watch our does to see how healthy they are throughout their pregnancy. If they are having trouble keeping up their bodies, than it's an easy choice to make, we dry them up than, if not, than we dry them up two months prior to kidding. To help them dry up, three months prior to their kidding date we add 10 drops of Sage oil to their grain mix, and when their milk drops by half, we just stop milking them.
Does health is important. There are those that swear by a strict regime that they pump their goats with Selenium, vitamins'/minerals', Bio-Se, etc. Oh, we could definitely go on with that list. However, we have never done that...we are as natural as you can get. We have a fecal done prior to breeding, no worms, no worries. We make sure their as healthy as can be or we don't breed them. Period. By doing this, we believe that we are breeding goats that can handle a variety of situations. Consider this, if goats can't survive, then maybe we shouldn't be breeding that line? Does that mean that you ignore your goats health? No. But let's put it this way, if you had sick goats, and bred them, you would get sick goats, so why would you want to breed them?
As far as goat supplements, we have been busy dehydrating for our winter feed, we will be grinding it soon and adding organic Kelp and nutritional yeast to our mix. We use this to supplement their diets for the nine months of the year that we don't have a garden. The only other things we do provide are probiotics to anyone who needs it and free choice sodium bicarbonate/dolomite lime.
Some other ways to keep your pregnant does healthy are very simple, down to earth, common sense. Keep the barn as clean as you can, before, during, and after pregnancy. Provide enough good clean food that you can, and as much as they need to maintain good health. Make sure you trim their hooves.
Breeding pairs....Ok this is a touchy subject for many. Why? Because not everyone has a buck, or two for that matter. So if you're limited on breeding stock, you're not able to mix and match, your options are few.
If, however, you have more than one buck or at least the chance of using multiple bucks, you can play match maker! The reasoning behind this is simple, use a good buck to improve on a good doe. If you have a doe with a weak chine (back between the shoulder blades and rear hips that slopes down or has a large downward curve), you make sure the buck you breed her too has a good level chine and a strong line of level chines. You do this pairing for all areas of your goats. Look at their udders, their legs, their bodies overall, chests (brisket), etc. If a bucks line isn't strong in the udder area, meaning good udders and good milk producers are in his line, than he won't have any chance of fixing this on your doe. Don't panic, this is a process. Always look to improve your lines and you'll learn everything you need to do it. Does that mean you can't use the ONLY buck you have access too? No, but understand that if your doe and buck don't have good qualities, than your kid crop won't either. Remember, just because a goat is registered, doesn't guarantee you're getting a great goat any more than buying from a good line is going to guarantee your purchase will be the best. Genetics is a 'crap shot' sometimes. Simply put, keep looking to improve your lines and you will find ways to do just that. But if your breeding, just to breed, then don't expect a lot from your breeding program. Be honest and realistic with yourself. Learn as much as you can. Make informed decisions.
We have been thinking about breeding since this year's crop of kids came. Deciding if this doe breed with that buck made great kids or not. Plans change, we try to change with them. We were very happy with one breeding pair and disappointed with another. We knew we needed another buck in our program to be able to try various pairings to see what the best kids would come from. Even saying this, there is only so much you can do with two bucks and a number of does. Even than you're limited with the combinations you can come up with.
It's a done deal..... Ok, you decided which buck is being bred to which doe. You're already to go, so what now? Here is where some other breeding choices come in. Many people put the doe in with the chosen buck for a period of time, say two-three weeks. The advantage of this is, you're pretty sure knowing your doe will be bred. Perfect? No. One, that isn't always a guarantee that the buck will cover (breed) your doe. Two, it doesn't give you a very accurate kidding date does it? We choose to place our does in with the buck only when we feel they are in heat and only for a short time. We give it a little time to see if the buck will or won't, as well as whether we are right about her heat date. What we like about this method? We know when the doe is bred, not doubts about it. We see the buck cover the doe and see that the doe is more than willing. This helps us know when we NEED to be home and when to expect our little kiddies' cuteness! The average kid date is 150 days after being bred, but we know that it could happen anywhere between 145 days to 152 days. Makes it far easier for us to plan on attending the blessed hoofed event.
So now that your breeding plans are taken care of, or at least in full swing, all that's left is trying to wait patiently for spring. Understand that you will probably have that song in your head for the remainder of this breeding season, remember breeding is a process, but think about the possibilities too!