BEHAVIORAL AND MATING HABITS OF GOATS
"Competition" is the name of the game in the goat world. Beginning at birth, kids fight their siblings first for colostrum and then for their mother's milk. When kids begin to eat solids, they challenge other kids for food. Moms shove other moms for the best location at the feed trough or for the most desirable forage/browse, deferring only to the larger aggressive males. Adult males fight for everything important in their lives -- feed, shelter, and breeding rights. In the world of goats, if something isn't worth fighting for, it isn't worth having. The strong survive and flourish; the weak subsist and eventually die.
Mating rituals begin early in life. Kids as young as seven (7) days old instinctively mount other kids. Young males will approach doelings, put their noses in the doelings' urine streams, and curl their lips to determine if the females are in heat. To a lesser extent, doelings will follow the same pattern of behavior as they get old enough to breed. Put a newly-weaned buck into an all-boys' pen and watch what happens. The new kid will be harassed and mounted for hours until he fights for and wins his place in the pecking order of the herd. When around other does that are in heat and no buck is present, mature does will assume the buck's role, go through the courting rituals, and mount the doe that is ready to breed.
Sexually-mature bucks establish a pecking order, with the most dominant and usually but not always the oldest buck assuming leadership of the herd. Within a group of sexually-mature does, the same procedure takes place, especially if no buck is present. Herds comprised of both females and males will usually have a dominant male as the leader. Occasionally, a buck and a doe will develop a dislike for each other. It is not unusual for the dominant buck to prevent other bucks from mating with her while he also declines to breed her.
It is a wise management decision to choose a buck to breed selected does and run only that buck with the females. A healthy sexually-mature buck can easily breed 40-50 does in two breeding cycles. Does cycle into heat approximately every 21 days. Some breeds are aseasonal (breed year-round), while others only breed when the days begin to shorten. Tennessee Meat Goats, for example, are almost always year-round breeders. As a general rule, breeds containing dairy influence (including Boers and Kikos) are seasonal breeders, beginning to show interest in mating as daylight shortens (late June to late December in the northern hemisphere). Climatic conditions (extreme hot or cold, long periods of daylight or darkness) may produce exceptions to these statements.
A doe in season (in heat) will indicate her interest in breeding by wagging her tail rapidly for the buck; this is called flagging. Her urine contains chemicals which tell the buck that she is ready to breed. The buck will urinate upon his face, beard, and front legs. He will approach the flagging doe, she will squat and urinate, and he will place his nose in the urine stream. Raising his head high, the buck will curl his upper lip to detect the pheromones which tell him that the doe is receptive to being bred. Intermittently with this activity, the buck will walk/run beside the doe as she leads him around the pasture/pen, placing his head beside her head, kicking one of his front legs forward, hollering "wup," "wup," "wup" and other raucous clucking noises.
Does experience ascending, cresting, and descending levels of heat. The cresting level is when she is most receptive to conception. This mating ritual described above continues for as long as a day and one-half. The doe must be in a standing heat before successful insemination can occur. Until that time arrives, she will continue to run from him, all the while flagging her tail. Sometimes the doe will make sounds similar to those of the buck. During standing heat, some does cry out as if in pain. When successful copulation occurs, the buck will throw his head back as he ejaculates his semen. Mating activity can bring other does into heat. Particularly in hot climates, night-time breeding is common because the nights are cooler. Breeding takes a great deal of energy by both buck and doe.
Breeding bucks need to be in sound physical condition, because during mating season they go 'off feed' and may lose as much as 50 pounds. Provide bucks with quality rations during breeding season to keep them in good shape. A normally aggressive-at-the-feed-trough male may lose all interest in food when his does are in heat. Females do not usually go 'off feed' during breeding, but it is important that their nutritional needs are addressed prior to breeding. The condition of the doe at breeding time has a huge impact on the resulting offspring. That said, do not get them fat; fat does may not breed at all. If does are receiving a good level of nutrition, there is no need to "flush" them with extra feed rations prior to breeding. Remember that a doe can short-cycle or have false heats, particularly if breeding is attempted while she is still nursing kids. The doe's age and general health can also affect her breeding ability. Consult a nutritionist for more information and read the relevant articles on my website : www:tennnesseemeatgoats.com.
A good breeding schedule involves placing a single mature buck with up to 50 does and leaving them together through two heat cycles. Forty-five (45) days in the breeding pen will cover two heat cycles of approximately 21 days each, generally assuring that any doe who missed the first cycle will get bred on the second round. Then take the buck back to the buck pen. When raising breeding stock, it is important to know who sired whom.
Leaving the buck with does for over 60 days can result in a loss of interest in breeding. If this occurs, stimulate the buck's interest by placing a teaser buck with him. A teaser buck is a male who has been vasectomized; he thinks he can breed, his hormones still rage, but he fires 'blanks.' If a teaser buck is not available, put another breeding buck across the fence from your chosen sire to induce competition and heighten interest.
Permit virgin does time to grow before breeding them. Does can breed as young as five months of age (sometimes younger, particularly in the smaller breeds like Pygmies), but inferior offspring and kidding problems (dystocia) may occur. Think of this in human terms: A 12-year-old female may be able to conceive a child, but it is inadvisable and may be fraught with medical complications. They are simply too young and too small to comfortably and successfully carry a healthy baby to term.
Wait until the doe is 10-12 months old before breeding her. A first-time breeding should be with a buck of her breed or smaller-sized breed. Cattle producers mate heifers (virgin females) to smaller-breed bulls to avoid complications in delivery. Give your does the same consideration. It is in your long-term best interest to preserve their reproductive abilities.
Separate breeding pastures or pens by six- to eight-foot-wide alleyways to keep bucks from fighting through the fencing. At the very least, expect extensive fence damage if this fencing layout is not used. Placing does and bucks directly across a common fence can result in unwanted breedings.
Don't assume that younger, smaller bucks are unlikely to breed sexually-mature does. A doe in heat will accommodate any buck that is near her. The instinctive drive to reproduce her species is overwhelming. She will drop to the ground and go through contortions to mate with him. Pygmy bucks have been known to breed Boer does.
Keep all does over three months of age away from bucks . . . even young bucks of like age.
Breed does only once a year, even if the herd is strictly commercial. It is unreasonable to expect a nursing doe to feed herself, as many as four kids, and growing embryos inside her unless she is being heavily supplemented with feed. Her productive life will be shortened, her udder will be worn out prematurely, and she will produce inferior kids.
Buy the best buck that you can afford. Genetically speaking, he is at least one half of your herd. If you keep replacement does out of him, he is three-quarters of your herd. Stretch yourself financially to buy the best buck to fit your breeding program.
Insure quality offspring by breeding only well-conditioned (but not over-fed), healthy animals. De-worm and vaccinate all animals prior to breeding. If confined to small areas, the pasture/pen must be kept clean so that they and their offspring to be born five months hence are in good shape. Combining sound management techniques with common sense and quality breeding stock will bring profits to your bottom line.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto
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All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.
In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.
The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)
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