Manage Your Goat Herd for Optimum Reproduction
Robyn Scherer, M. Agr.
Breeding and kidding does can be one of the best parts about having goats. Different combinations are tested, and each season brings the joy of new kids. In order to produce the best offspring, goat producers should take the time to prepare their animals in order to achieve success.
Goats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they are considered seasonal breeders, with the optimum breeding time being during the fall. The change in day length is what brings on estrus, and goats, like sheep, are short day breeders.
Does should naturally come into heat from September through November. Keeping does separated from bucks during the summer, and then introducing a buck through fence line contact can help bring a doe into heat.
Prior to the breeding season, a producer should decide what buck he or she wants to use on his does. Bucks are an important part of any goat operation, and it is important to make sure they are in top condition before breeding. Since a single buck will be passing on his genetics to a large number of does, he needs to be of high quality and in outstanding health.
When choosing a buck, you want to use a quality buck with great confirmation and good bloodlines. It may be beneficial to have a breeding soundness exam performed on your buck prior to the breeding season to make sure he will be capable of breeding your does. In this exam, the buck’s penis and prepuce (sheath) should be evaluated. The penis should be clean and free from any cuts, scrapes or other sores. The prepuce should also be clean.
The tip of penis, called the pizzle, should also be checked for any lodged urinary stones. If you notice a buck is having problems urinating, this could be the cause.
The testicles should also be checked. They should be cool to the touch, close to equal in size and firm. They should also be free of lumps and any sores or bruising.
A semen sample should then be taken, and looked at under a microscope. Motility, concentration, and morphology of spermatozoa should be evaluated. The sperm cells should be healthy and moving. A large number of dead or malformed sperm cells indicate a problem.
It should be noted that spermatogenesis, or the process of producing sperm cells, takes about 60 days. If during the 60 days prior to breeding the buck experiences fever or trauma to the testicles, his ability to breed during the season could be compromised.
Once the buck passes the breeding soundness exam, then producers should look at the overall health and body condition of the animal.
Body condition scoring is a great way to evaluate an animal’s fat. The scores range from 1-5, using .5 increments. A goat with a BCS of 1 is extremely thin with little to no fat, and a 5 is an extremely fat or obese goat.
Ideally, most goats should fall in the three range to be healthy. However, it may be necessary to move bucks up to a four before breeding, because they will lose a considerable amount of weight during breeding season.
“It is very important that bucks be in good physical condition prior to the breeding season, but not too fat. An active buck with a high libido (sex drive) can literally forget to eat during the breeding season. An adult buck can be left thin but a yearling buck can actually be stunted permanently. A young buck needs nutrients not only for semen production and mating but also for his own body growth,” according to Jackie Nix, a nutritionist with Sweetlix Livestock Supplement Systems.
It is best to evaluate the body condition score one to two months in advance of the breeding season to give bucks enough time to put on weight. Bucks should be given free access to high quality hay or pasture, and high protein grain. Grain should be limited, to prevent enterotoxemia.
Bucks should be up-to-date on all vaccinations before breeding as well. It is best to give these vaccinations prior to the 60 days before breeding, just in case the animal has a reaction to the vaccine and has a fever. This will also ensure that the buck has enough time to receive the immunity from the vaccine.
Two weeks before breeding bucks should be deloused and given an internal wormer. Parasites are shed through fecal matter and skin shedding, and parasites can cause sickness and weight loss.
The goat’s feet also need to be checked and trimmed. Foot care is vitally important because if a buck has sore feet or legs, walking and mounting a doe can be painful. This will likely cause the buck to stop mounting or if he does mount, he may not ejaculate.
The eyes of the buck should also be checked to make sure there are no obstructions or disease. Teeth should be checked regularly, because problems in the mouth may make it hard for a buck to eat and put on or maintain weight.
In addition to checking your buck, you also need to make sure that your does are in good condition. Does should be wormed, vaccinated and in ample body condition before breeding. This will help increase conception rates and ensure that your herd stays healthy.
It has been shown that “flushing” helps increase ovulation in does. According to Dr. Stephan Wildeus, a reproductive physiologist at Virginia State University, “Prior to breeding (two-to-three weeks) does should be placed on a gaining plane of nutrition to stimulate higher ovulation rates.”
The price you pay for a buck will be dependent on his quality. If you are leasing a buck, make sure he comes from a CAE/TB/Brucellosis free herd, and should be in good condition and healthy.
If you are going to artificially inseminate your does, make sure you are familiar with the procedures and you have the semen, or at least have it booked. Goats can be challenging to AI, and should be done so with great care.
You also need to decide which does you want to breed, and if the doelings are ready. Doelings should be at least 60-75 percent of their mature weight at breeding. If they are not, their growth will most likely be stunted permanently, and they can be poor dams for their first kidding.
It is important to make sure both your does and your bucks are up to date on vaccinations, wormed, and in good health, because this will help to increase conception rate on your does. It is also a good management practice to keep your herd free of disease.
Breeding the does
When the does do finally come into heat, it is important for producers to monitor when they see a doe in heat, so that a kidding date can be calculated. Does tend to come in heat every 17-24 days, and can stay in heat for 16-50 hours, with ovulation occurring 30-36 hours from the onset of heat, according to Dr. Wildeus.
Signs of heat will include increased vocalization, slight swelling and reddening of the vulva and vaginal discharge. The most commonly recognizable sign is “flagging,” which is when the does waves her tail back and forth. Does in heat will also pace or stand near a fence where a buck is penned. It is important to note when does are recognized to be in heat, and if a breeding is witnessed.
It is best to allow one buck to service no more than 20-30 does. If a buck has too many does, he may not be able to service them all. If you are registering your offspring, one buck should be penned with his does, and other does and bucks should be penned in individual groups. This will allow a producer to know which buck serviced which doe.
Keeping a small herd of does to a single buck will also help decrease fighting. Older, more mature bucks will generally breed more does than younger bucks. Also, when fighting, bucks can become injured and break or chip their horns. Although unlikely, horns can chip deep enough that parasites or other bacteria can get into the horn and cause infection.
Using a harness on a buck will allow you to see which does have been bred, and which does have yet to come into heat. Using a washable paint on the harness will make it easier to clean the does after breeding. However, if it rains, the paint may wash off. It is best to check does and bucks daily to see which does have been bred, so that a due date can be calculated. The harness should also be checked so that it does not run out of paint and is still attached properly.
It is advisable to leave bucks in with does for at least two heat cycles, which will range from 34 to 48 days. A producer needs to decide how long he or she wants the kidding season to be to decide when it is time to pull out the bucks and ship the open does. If you note that a doe has been bred, watch for signs of heat in 17-24 days and if heat is not observed, your doe may be bred.
After you pull out your bucks, you can figure out which does are bred using a couple of different methods. The first is the “wait and see” method, which is when you wait for five months after breeding (the gestation period), and see if she kids. The second method is to do an ultrasound, which your veterinarian can do.
If you are pen breeding and watched when the does were bred, you should have a good idea whether a doe is bred or not by checking to see if she comes back into heat. However, ultrasound is a much more reliable method.
Bucks should be evaluated once again for health and body condition. Bucks that have lost a considerable amount of weight should be put on a high plain of nutrition and weight should be added. Bucks that are thin and in poor condition are more susceptible to disease and cold stress.
They should also be checked for any signs of injury or lameness, and treated as necessary. Once the bucks are pulled from the does, they should be put in sturdy pens so that they do not get out and breed any other does later than what is wanted.
Proper management of the goat herd is crucial to the profitability of any operation. If does and bucks are taken care of nutritionally, are healthy, and are of proper age to breed, conception rates should be high. It is important to keep meticulous records, and pay attention to details in your operation.
For more information on raising dairy goats, visit Countryside’s sister site: www.DairyGoatJournal.com.