At what age are does ready for breeding? Should you keep or rent a buck? What are the advantages and disadvantages of keeping a buck and does together? What happens during kidding?
Dot Perkins, educational program coordinator, agricultural resources, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, answers these questions and more. She has raised backyard livestock for more than 27 years. In this second part in a series of articles on raising meat goats in the Northeast, she shares both her theoretical and practical knowledge.
The well-bred meat goat: puberty versus physical maturity
Does: As a general rule, does are ovulating and can breed when they are 4 months old or weigh at least 80 pounds. However, 80 pounds is a small doe that may not have finished her own growth and, as such, is not large enough to breed. The extra weight of a pregnancy could stress her body, including her legs, which may have to be splinted.
Most goats come in season and breed in the fall. By their second season, between August and March, does would be over a year old and, at 100 pounds or more, big enough to carry twins or triplets.
Polyestrous goats, such as Boers, can breed year-round, although they do not breed well during the off-season (April to July). “The shorter the days, the stronger the heats,” says Perkins. Goats come in heat every 21 days for two to three days. Sperm is viable for 12 hours.
Bucks: By 5 months of age, bucks, on average, are fully mature. However, since some individuals mature early, bucks should be separated from does at 3 to 4 months. At 6 months, one buck can breed 10 does; at 1 year, 30 does.
A buck of your own?
“The smaller your herd, the bigger your dilemma,” says Perkins. “Should you keep a buck, or should you pay service fees?” Keeping a buck costs approximately $150 per year. An average fee for service is $30 per doe. If your herd is larger than five does, service fees would exceed the price of keeping a buck. However, there are more factors than a simple calculation reveals.
Start with a buck’s size. At 250-plus pounds and very strong, a Boer buck could overpower you. Like does, a buck requires constant maintenance, and during breeding season, bucks smell. To attract does, bucks urinate on themselves, and the closer they are to breeding season, the smellier they are. Because they smell, bucks are relegated to a pen out back where their maintenance needs tend to be forgotten. They tend not to get regular hoof care, shots, parasite and teeth checks, worming, etc. In addition, bucks are generally off their feed during breeding season, which can result in a weakened immune system.
The advantages of keeping a buck
Even if you have only a few does, it is to your advantage to keep a buck, says Perkins, but not with the does. “Some do keep bucks and does together, but it causes havoc in the barn. Buck kids rapidly become much larger than does, and then they bully them. They chase does even after breeding season and even after does have been bred. Bucks constantly pester the does. I don’t leave bucks and does together after bucks are 2 years old,” she says.
Even though you have to keep another herd animal such as a wether (castrated goat) with a solo buck, it is to your advantage to keep a buck. If your herd does not have an available buck, heats are missed. There is also the issue of disease. A borrowed buck will have been exposed to every disease every other farm he serves has to offer. Maintaining your own closed system, or perhaps sharing with one other farm and having two closed systems, is to your advantage.
A buck for two seasons
How long do you keep a buck? “The spring following his second breeding season, you put him and his herd companion in the freezer,” says Perkins. “You put him in the freezer in the spring when he is not breeding and, therefore, not smelly. Then you buy a new 6 to 12-week-old buck who will be available the following January and February so that you have new kids in April.”
Feeding the pregnant doe
Embryo development requires no extra nutrition, so does should be kept on a maintenance diet until four weeks before they kid at between 149 and 155 days (five months). However, the mixture of hay and grain should change before then. At six weeks before the doe is due to kid, grain should be gradually increased, because at this point babies are growing rapidly and the doe requires high-density foods. Since both the babies and food take up a large amount of space inside the doe, hay should be decreased. “Starting to use hay at this point can lead to disaster,” says Perkins. “You can’t get enough hay into the doe’s limited internal space to provide adequate nutrition for the doe and her kids.”
Goats put on fat inside the body cavity. If the doe does not get enough nutrition at this point, her body will begin to use its own fat for energy, a situation that leads to acetone buildup. Acetone buildup will make the doe sick to her stomach, a condition that leads to further starvation. To avoid feed-related problems, does’ pre-pregnancy body condition score should be in the middle, not too fat and not too thin. In the first three and a half months of pregnancy, feed lots of hay (which takes lots of space) and little grain. The last six weeks before delivery, does should be fed about .4 pound of grain a day, but amounts vary from doe to doe. At this point, minerals should also be added to the diet. Perkins recommends free choice kelp meal.
How do you know whether a doe has been fed the correct amount? Examine does, hands on, and score their body condition. Delivery will confirm your rating. If a doe delivers twins and they are of equal size, she has had correct nutrition. If one kid is big and the other small, the doe was starving. If a starving doe was carrying three kids, only two will grow and the third will be an aborted fetus.
What causes abortion?
In addition to inadequate nutrition, abortion may be caused by several diseases, among them Listeria and chlamydia, both caused by bacteria.
A condition that does not cause abortion, but is certain to weaken a doe, is preparturient egg rise, the increase of worm breeding and egg laying when kids are born. This is avoidable by worming does four weeks before they give birth.
Preparing for kidding
Birthing stall – Two weeks before the doe is due, Perkins advises putting her in a birthing stall. This way, the doe’s food intake and condition can be monitored. Although it seems to be general knowledge that goats give birth at night, Perkins finds hers usually give birth in the morning or, less usually, sometime during the day. She questions whether this is due to the use of a birthing stall. Goats can, of course, give birth in the field. When they do so, other does are attentive, but are not a problem.
Bagging up – A month or so before giving birth, the doe’s udders, as well as her teats, get puffy, a condition known as “bagging up.” Several hours before giving birth, the doe’s udder will become very large and hard, making the doe extremely uncomfortable. Milking the doe will relieve the discomfort, but will also expel colostrum needed by her kids. “It is generally best to leave everything alone,” says Perkins. “She will survive.”
Other signs of impending birth are a mushy tail head and a swollen vulva.
Birth of a Kid
At the beginning of the birthing process, the vulva swells and the doe bags up.
The foot has a nose!
The doe is standing up. Her legs shake. The kid is in the correct position, nose atop its two front feet (called swimmers position), to present.
Her hard work completed, the doe sniffs her newborn. Note her very hard udder.
Two to three hours following membrane rupture, the doe should be giving birth. If she has not kidded by five hours following membrane rupture, Perkins advises calling your vet.
Pulling and pressure are useful in helping small does deliver. To be helpful, pull with the contractions. When the slippery new kid’s front feet present, wrap them together in bailing twine, then apply pressure, but do not pull. The object is to keep the two feet out rather than allowing them to return to the birth canal during the natural back-and-forth motion of contractions.
Offer the doe warm water to drink. Never give cold water, which may cause the doe to retain the placenta. Warm water during or following birthing will also encourage the doe to drink more, a good thing since placental retention could be related to dehydration. “No studies document this aspect of birthing,” says Perkins, “but we believe it to be true.”
The Birthing Kit
A well-stocked birthing kit should contain…
- Rags or heavy paper towels
- K-Y Jelly
- Latex gloves
- Shoulder-length glove
- Suture kit
- Propylene glycol, corn syrup, electrolytes
- Dental floss or white cotton thread
- Frozen colostrum
- Bottle and nipple
- Tube feeder
- Veterinarian’s phone number
A word of caution: Never leave a birthing doe alone with a bucket of water; in the birthing process, the kid could be dropped in the bucket of water and drown.
Confirm that all teats are working and that they are not plugged by squirting milk out of each of them. Give the kid 500 milliliters of its mother’s colostrum 15 to 20 minutes following birth and three more times at regular intervals in the first 12 hours. If, for whatever reason, the kid is not nursing, milk the doe and bottle-feed the kid.
What can go wrong?
Most times, all goes well. However, there are some things that could be problems during birthing and immediately thereafter:
- Toxemia of pregnancy – due to ketosis
- Retained placenta
- Milk fever – due to low calcium level
- No milk
- Maternal rejection
- Sudden paralysis due to a pinched nerve
- Aborted fetus – Refrigerate (but do not freeze) the fetus and take it (or the placenta) for examination for possible brucellosis. Do not drink the doe’s milk until after a negative diagnosis.
Be aware that certain diseases (termed zoonotic diseases) can be transferred from animals to humans. For your own protection, always wear latex gloves.
One last note
Perkins has this advice on the birthing process: “Never hurry. It’s birth!”