Breeding goats: a comprehensive guide from pregnancy to kidding
If you are intending to grow your goat herd, you will need to know a few things (or a lot, to be honest!) about breeding goats. There is quite a lot to know, including how to tell that a doe and/or buck are ready for breeding, what goat gestation is like, how to help your doe to kid and how to care for the newly born goats (kids).
This article is intended as a comprehensive goat breeding guide where we’ll go through the main aspects of breeding goats so that you can decide if that’s something you are ready to take on and know what to do.
Breeding your does
Breeding goats: Buck matters!
Breeding goats: signs that a doe is in heat
Breeding goats: how to care for your doe during pregnancy
Breeding two litters per year
Goat breeding: are you kidding? How to help your does kid
Breeding goats: feeding your baby goats manually
Raising your baby goats
The first thing you need to know is that, ideally, breeding should be planned in a way that the doe kids (gives birth to her babies) during late winter/early spring time. This is beneficial for both the doe and the kids for many reasons including the fact that they will be exposed to fresh greenery full of vitamins and minerals which will help the kids grow healthy and strong. Also, the constantly rising temperatures help make sure more of the goats survive and just make life for everyone easier.
Apart from that, a doe that kids around February/May, will normally have more milk than a doe that kids late summer/fall.
This is why some of the best times to breed your does is around September-October.
It’s important to remember that the quality of the litter and thus the quality of your future herd depends on the quality of the buck you are breeding your does to. Choosing the right but is one of the most important aspects of good breeding. If you want a healthy, fertile and productive herd (be it milk or meat production), you need to make sure you breed your does to a buck that is himself a descendant from healthy, productive parents and that he has all the bes qualities of his breed.
Regardless of breed, the buck has to be healthy, strong, well-muscled and sturdy. He shouldn’t have any visible defects as well as any internal health issues. He needs to feed well and have a healthy appetite, as well as a good resistance to parasites.
A young buck can already be ready to impregnate a doe at 6 months of age. But usually we only use goats over 1.5 years old as that’s when they do their thing best and the breeding becomes consistently successful. To avoid inbreeding, it’s best to switch the buck every couple years or so.
Choosing a good doe for procreation is also important. A good idea would be to choose does that were born from a doe that normally had 2 or more kids per litter and several litters per year. This way you will make sure you are betting on the more genetically productive goats in your breeding (and are improving the fertility of your future herd!).
The does are usually at their most fertile at the age of 4-6 years old. Older does’ productivity may start to decline as they age and at some point they become not suitable for breeding.
Young does are ready for procreation at around 6-8 months of age, but that doesn’t mean you want to breed them at that age. For best results and to preserve the does’ health, does are usually bred for the first time at around 1.5 years old or even older. If the first breeding didn’t end up in pregnancy, the doe can be bred again as soon as she goes in heat, which will happen within 1-3 weeks from the last breeding.
To ensure the breeding is successful and the pregnancy goes well, you will need to get your does into their best physical form right before breeding. To a large degree, that just means feeding them really well by providing excellent quality feed or by giving them access to your best pastures (if you happen to be so lucky as to have a large pasture!).
You should also add concentrated feed (around 300g daily for each doe), which will help the does gain weigh, increase their desire to go in heat and ultimately increase their fertility.
To get your does pregnant, you will either need a buck or two in your herd permanently, or use artificial insemination. If you have your own buck, it’s somewhat convenient and they pretty much do the job on their on when you let them hang out with the does (don’t let them be with the herd throughout the year though if you want to avoid unplanned pregnancies!)
The downside to having a buck is that you need to invest into feed and also find a way to keep the buck separately from your does. You also need to be a bit careful around bucks, especially when they are sexually active, which may increase their aggression. Never turn your back to an unconfined buck!
Bucks in rut (the time when they are ready to mate with does) are quite stinky! You will want to keep your bucks in rut as far away from the areas where you spend most of the time as you can. Especially keep them away from your milking area, as milk will absorb any smells from the environment, and you don’t want your milk or cheese to smell like a goat in rut.
Depending on the size of your herd, the type of your homestead or farm and a number of other factors, you may approach breeding in a few ways. Some people use uncontrolled breeding. This is where the does and the bucks are simply kept together for a period of 1.5 to 2 months. During that time, the bucks will impregnate all the does in heat and you won’t need to do much at all.
This is an easy way to breed your goats, but it’s also not optimal in that you don’t know right away which does are pregnant. Also sometimes after impregnating a couple does, a buck goes out of rut and doesn’t want to “work” anymore for several months. Some bucks can be really fickle that way.
Another way to do it is to control the buck’s “dates” with does and make suer each doe is impregnated, one by one. This way you can mark every doe that has had her time with the buck and can watch and control the pregnancies better. You will also only need to have one buck. A single buck can cover up to 50 does! But don’t let your buck cover more than two does per day.
Another way to do it, if you don’t have your own buck and don’t want to get one, you can rent a buck. A lot of goat owners rent their bucks to mate with other people’s does. Look for craigslist posts in your area that may advertise bucks for rent. Costs for renting a buck may vary depending on where you are geographically, as well as quality of the buck.
Higher quality bucks will, of course, be more expensive to rent. When renting out a buck, you can bring the buck to your farm or take your doe to the buck’s farm for a “date”. Usually one date will be enough to get your doe pregnant.
You can also use artificial insemination. This is where you can use semen from someone else’s buck to impregnate your goats. This is best done by a knowledgeable technician.
If you would like to breed goats, you will need to learn how to recognize the signs of heat in your does.
If your doe has never been with a buck before and isn’t going into heat, you can try placing her near the area where your bucks live in the barn, so she can smell them. Another way to do it is to rub a rag on the buck’s back to make it smell like buck, and put the rug into the doe’s enclosure. The strong, pungent buck smell can stimulate the doe to go into heat.
During spring and summer months does might not go into heat at all or show very few signs of it. During fall and winter time (September to February), the does generally do go into heat and the signs wil be quite visible. The length of the heat period from the first day of heat to the next heat can last around 17-25 days. It is highly individual for each doe. The heat period itself only lasts for about 25 hours on average.
Main signs of heat in does are:
- The doe acts agitated and doesn’t rest
- The doe is attracted by the smell of the buck and is visibly smelling and actively taking in the odors when the bucks are around.
- The doe wags her tail more actively than usual
- The doe’s vulva is enlarged and becomes red or pink, often with discharge that seems to be thicker at the end of the heat period
- The doe stands still when the buck is around, ready to allow him to impregnate her
Does in heat can provoke other goats to be agitated as well.
If the breeding was successful, your does will become pregnant. Gestation in goats lasts for about 150 days on average: some breeds may gestate for a little longer, some for a slightly shorter period of time.
For the last two months of pregnancy the babies grow very fast and require more and more space in the mother’s body. At the same time, the doe needs more and more nutrients and calories to sustain herself and her babies. Some vitamins and minerals are particularly important to keep the mom and babies healthy.
You may need to supplement selenium if there isn’t enough of it in your goat’s menu. It can be done via adding selenium to their food, or via injections.
Vitamin A is also very important. There may be not enough of it in your goat’s diet even if they are eating green grass or very fresh hay.
Vitamin D is crucial for many functions in the goat’s body. To help your goats get enough vitamin D, make sure they spend enough time outside when it’s sunny.
As the doe’s pregnancy progresses, you may want to increase the amount of grain in her diet. But don’t overdo it to avoid bloating.
Some young and skinny does have a risk of going in ketosis during pregnancy. When that happens, the doe will refuse to eat and can begin convulsing. Call your vet immediately!
Usually a doe may go in heat after about a week or two after the last kidding (yes, that fast!). If you want to get two litters per year, you should breed the doe right away while she is in heat. Mind that does may not show any signs of going in heat during spring or summer. Sometimes, if you haven’t bred the doe during the fall, she won’t go into heat again until the next fall. The does that will go into heat in spring are usually the does that have just had their babies.
If you own dairy goats and would like to get milk all year around, you will need to breed your does twice a year.
In the whole breeding business, kidding is probably the most critical thing to get right, even though your doe will do most of the work. Still, you need to know how to prepare (yourself and your does) for kidding, how to help them if something goes wrong, and how to care for your newborn baby goats. Lots of things depend on whether or not you get this all right: the lives and health of the baby goats, their growth and development, as well as their future fertility.
A healthy doe will normally bring two kids per litter. The healthier and better prepared a doe is, the more milk she will produce. Pregnancy takes a heavy toll on the doe’s body. Her need in nutrients and vitamins increases significantly, especially in the second half of the term. You need to make sure that your does feed is nutritionally full and balanced and contains all the necessary protein, vitamins and minerals.
Another important thing to remember is that during this time any foods that can cause fermentation and bloating in the goat need to be excluded from the diet. Avoid giving your does potatoes, moldy hay or any feed that has been affected by fermentation to any degree. Give your goats access to fresh water, which has to be changed at least twice a day.
When the time is close for your doe to give birth, you will see some signs of it. The udder will enlarge (sometimes up to a month before labor), the vulva will also enlarge and there may be some discharge. Transparent, thin discharge is normal, while white or cream-colored discharge may be a sign of vaginitis. If that’s the case, you will need to call your vet for your doe to get treatment.
The doe will act agitated and seem unrestful. They will bleat, try to create their own bedding in the barn (nesting), will complain a lot, may follow you around and lick your hands a lot. You can even notice that the doe will start to have first contractions. By then, you will need to make sure you have a separate spot prepared for your doe to kid.
More mature does may not display any signs of impending labor so you can find yourself stumbling onto your doe with the newborns when you weren’t even expecting it.
Most does can birth their babies easily without much human help. Correctly positioned kids come out head first with head tightly pressed to their legs. If the doe is pregnant with several kids, they all come out quickly one after another. If the doe is having trouble birthing or the birth lasts too long, you may need to call your vet. If a kid is born with the placenta intact, you will need to tear it and get the baby out so they don’t suffocate.
If the baby isn’t positioned correctly but is coming back legs first, you may need to help your doe out. It’s best to have a knowledgeable vet technician to do it.
You will need to clean a newly born kid’s mouth and nose with a rag, making sure the nose isn’t plugged with mucus. If the cord didn’t break on its own, cut the cord with sterile scissors around 8-9 cm away from the stomach and tie it up. It’s also a good idea to sterilize the tip of the cord with iodine.
Make sure the newly born kids are dry and warm to prevent them from getting sick. You can wipe them with dry, clean hay or some dry towels. You can also use heat lamps in the enclosure.
After this, let the doe clean the kid up and leave them to bond with each other. This is when the kids will first latch and feed. Before the kid latches, wipe the doe’s udder with some warm water and dry it. Encourage the kids to move to the udder and make sure they latch. If there are any weak kids in the litter, they may need your help finding the teats.
Make sure all kids are latched and eating – it is critically important that they do. If not, you may need to feed them manually. During the first few days, the mother will be producing colostrum – a thick, yellow milky liquid that is very healthy for the newborns. It helps prepare the baby goat’s gut for further feeding and sets up their immune system.
The afterbirth also comes out about 1-3 hours after the birth of the last kid. If it doesn’t come out within 5 hours after birth, you might need to call your vet. Remember not to pull the afterbirth out, or cut pieces of it off. It needs to come out fully and on its own.
After about 2 hours after birth you will need to give your doe some warm water (she will be very thirsty) and some food. For food, it’s best to give your doe hay and not concentrates at this time. It is best if the doe and her kids stay in a separate enclosure so that the doe isn’t distracted and they can bond better. Not all does have a strong maternal instinct, so it’s imported for the doe to concentrate on her babies in their first days of life.
Around 30 days of age the baby goats will be strong and independent enough to graze and eat roughage as well as concentrates. At around this time, they can already spend some time away from the doe, and become more independent in general.
If your doe isn’t able (or refuses) to feed her babies, you will need to help them survive. This is time consuming and frankly a lot of work, but you’ll have to do it to save your baby goats.
The manual feeding plan looks something like this. They will need around 240 g of milk daily for the first 3 days of life, given in 20g portions at a time. Raise it to 450g from day 4 to day 8 (you should be giving around 75g per one time on day 8). From day 14 to day 30 you can raise the amount of milk up to a liter a day (250g per feeding).
From 2 weeks of age you can already add some roughage to the goatlings’ menu, such as good quality hay. From 30 days of age on for another month or so you can feed your goats milk mixed with some water and add some grain to their menu as well. On average, baby goats are fed milk for about 3 months after birth, after which they can start grazing on pasture or fed hay and concentrates.
To teach your baby goats to drink from a dish as opposed to bottle, you can bend the goats front legs so they kneel over the dish, and move their head closer to the milk. Make sure they figure it out! If it doesn’t happen, dip your finger in milk and let them smell and lick it. Do it a few times and the goats will likely figure it out.
At the age of around 1 month you will need to neuter the goats you are not planning to breed. This will allow you to keep the wether in the herd without having to deal with too many bucks, and get better meat from the goat later.
Generally, if the doe has a strong maternal instinct, she will keep the kids around her at all times, and you won’t have to do much. Provided the doe has enough milk, the babies will feed well and grow quickly. Make sure your goat babies are gaining weigh every day and look healthy and well-nourished. You can give the babies some water starting from 10 days of age. From 14 days of age you can offer them small amounts of concentrated feed.
De-horning the young goats
You can remove the horns as soon as they start forming on your baby goats. This can be done with an electric tool or chemically. Read more about de-horning your goats here.