Without a smart goat breeding strategy, things can go horribly wrong. On the other hand, with a proper goat breeding strategy in place, you can reap the awesome benefits of a healthy, happy and more valuable herd of goats. Goat breeding is a subject you definitely need to understand if you're new to raising goats. In this guide, we're going to cover 11 goat breeding questions that new goat owners ask about the most. Okay, lets jump right into answering those common goat breeding questions and helping you get ready for your goat's breeding season.
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Proper goat breeding starts with picking the right goats. Beginning with the proper type of goats will save you lots of future headaches. When choosing goats for breeding, your decisions will depend on what your purposes are for your herd. The criteria you look for will be different if you are breeding dairy goats, versus breeding goats for meat, for fiber (Cashmere or Mohair), for pets or for other purposes.
To learn more about each of the specific breeds, I suggest you pause for just a moment and read through our free guide...
Regardless of which breeds you select, there are certain general rules you will need to remember when breeding your goats. When choosing a buck to breed with your does, look for one that has desirable characteristics you want in your herd. The characteristics of the buck is more crucial than that of your does because your herd will be produced from many does, but many of those does will usually be bred by a single buck (more about this below). Therefore, it's critical to make sure that buck has the kind of strong, desirable conformation that you want to see being developed in your entire goat herd. Another rule related to this is, always breed to make your herd better. In other words, use a buck that has more desirable characteristics and conformation than the goats you already have. This applies whether you own the buck yourself, or you borrow a buck from another goat breeder as a stud goat. When using a buck to breed your does, always make sure the buck is healthy and exhibits excellent conformation to the breed standards. As mentioned before, attempt to look at the buck's mother and grandmother to check out their dairy qualities such as udder, teats, orifice size, etc. Finally, don't ignore coloring. Attractive and desirable coloring is sought after by many buyers and recognized by many goat show judges. Hopefully, you now have some valuable knowledge that will help you begin to learn how to confidently pick goats for your own breeding program. Next, let's look at how goat breeding works exactly.
As you learn about goat breeding, it's important to first learn some of the basic terms that goat keepers use.
You may also hear people refer to a male goat as a "Billy" goat, and a female as a "Nanny" goat. Those terms can be used, but are considered slang. "Buck" and "Doe" are considered the technically correct terms. You'll want to get familiar with goat breeding-related terminology as well.
Most goats breed easily when they are put together. It's usually more of a challenge to keep them from breeding, than to get them started breeding. When breeding goats, you will need very few bucks, and a larger number of does. In fact, many goat breeders may have only one buck which breeds with dozens of does. It's logical if you think about it. Breeding only takes a few seconds for the buck. But for the doe, it involves a few seconds of mating, followed by many months of pregnancy, delivery, nursing and caring for her kids. No wonder it takes a lot more does to get the job done. Some herd owners don't even own a buck. They sometimes will borrow or lease someone else's buck just to breed him with their does as a "stud buck", and then they return him back home. Or a doe can be sent to someone else's farm to be bred and returned later. Just be careful if you do this and make sure you get proof that any other goats in contact with your goats have been tested to prove they are disease free.
Often, two herd owners will even agree to meet somewhere (like in a driveway) so they can let their buck and doe meet, breed and then leave a few minutes later and go their separate ways. Some people refer to this as "driveway breeding".
Some people refer to "hand breeding" when they hold the doe with their hands so the buck can mount her.
Make sure your buck is getting plenty of good nutrition, especially if he is breeding with multiple does during breeding season.
Usually a young buck, about a year old, should only be allowed to breed with a group of 10 does max within the same month. Breeding can be exhausting on bucks and does because they're constantly awake, alert, excited and active at all times of day or night while they are in estrus or rut. Once a buck reaches 2 year of age, he can probably service up to 20 or 30 does. After age 3, he can probably handle twice that many. The main thing is to keep a close eye on your buck's health and his nutrition during periods of breeding. Because your buck will breed with so many does, his genes will have a huge impact on the future development of your herd. That's why so many goat breeders will spend the money to get a quality buck.
It's not always easy. One way is to look for a milky white liquid coming from her vagina after she's been around a buck. One tool that can help identify does that have been bred is a harness called a "breeding harness" or "marking harness". This is usually a nylon or leather harness that you strap around the chest of your buck. It holds a big brightly-colored rectangular crayon in the middle of the buck's chest. When he mounts a doe to breed her, the crayon leaves a colored mark on her back. Later, when you see this, you can know exactly which does have been mounted by a particular buck. More on this later. This can help you keep records of approximately when certain goats were bred, and which goats were involved. This is important so you can calculate approximate kidding due dates on your calendar so you can be prepared.
We supplement our doe's nutrition with additional supplements during breeding season, sometimes using a Drencher, also known as a Drench Syringe. This squirts the supplements directly into her throat so she can't spit them back out.
Nutrition during goat breeding season is critical. For does, it's been determined that a lack of proper nutrition can actually decrease a doe's chances of becoming pregnant. A lack of Selenium and Vitamin E can also cause White Muscle Disease (Nutritional Muscular Dystrophy) in new kids. Overall nutrition is important anyway, for both does in heat and bucks in rut, due to the extended, significant physical energy that goats burn up throughout the entire breeding season and process. As usual, make sure your goats have plenty of quality forage, hay and grain. Consider adding minerals and vitamins, from sources such as black oil sunflower seeds ("BOSS"). They're a great source of extra Vitamin E, zinc, iron and selenium, which can add butterfat to your goats' milk and make their coats shinier. You may want to limit these seeds for bucks, however. There has been some evidence it can add to problems with urinary calculi in bucks. Goats can often suffer from a deficiency of Copper, Selenium and Vitamin E which can lead to serious health problems. Sometimes this can occur when they are raised in pens and don't get enough natural "browse" to eat. So you will want to give your goats a supplement like "BoSe" which is a prescription Selenium/Vitamin E injection. Also consider giving your goats a "Copper Bolus" for extra copper. This has to be inserted way down in the goat's throat, so the goat can't spit it back out or chew it. You may need to use a device called a "Bolus Gun" to make this process easier.
You will want to plan the timing of your goat's kiddings so you can be prepared to help, and so they won't occur at a terrible time, such as during extremely cold weather. To decide when to do your goat breeding, determine the ideal kidding time you want to aim at. From there, count backwards on the calendar 145 to 155 days (gestation period) to arrive at the approximate target breeding date. For miniature breeds, such as Nigerian Dwarf or Pygmy, the gestation period may be closer to 145 days, and for other breeds, 150 days. Of course, that's approximate, and we have often had kids born many days earlier than that, as well as many days later in some cases. You will want to plan the goat breeding so you don't have too many kids being born around the same time. We had about 10 kids born in the week or so before I'm writing this article, and we had several sleepless nights in a row helping our does deliver all of them in a short period of time. It's also tough when you add the time to wean, bottle feed and care for so many kids in such a short period. It may be better to control your goat breeding to stagger the anticipated kiddings at different times. Of course, it depends on your personal preference. You may prefer to have kids born all at once to get it over with. Just be sure you have extra people around to help.
Also, plan your goat breeding to avoid kids being born during periods of extreme temperatures. This is especially true of Nigerian Dwarf goats which can breed any time year-round. Before we focused on planned goat breeding, we had several Nigerian Dwarf kids born during Winter snowstorms back when we lived in Virginia. That makes it especially difficult when you are helping with new kids being born, while enduring snow, freezing temperatures, frozen water buckets, etc. It's also a good idea to aim at cooler months rather than hotter months. Kids born in hotter months thrive less and have greater health problems. Also, we have noticed that our does don't seem to get the same level of milk production in hotter months, compared to cooler months.
Most goat breeders don't like keeping bucks around if they can avoid it. You will learn that a buck tends to stink a lot. When a buck is in "rut" he will attempt to attract a doe by urinating all over his own legs, beard and face, and even in his mouth. When I feed our bucks and they come near me, I almost have to hold my nose, and I move out of the way so their nasty faces don't touch my clothing. Bucks are funny when they're in rut. They will raise their lip, flap their tongue and make a blubbering sound to attract a doe. Even though they may make you laugh, be cautious. They get very aggressive during rut and will do just about anything to reach a doe for breeding. We had one buck that was so desperate he tried to scale over a really high electric fence, got stuck and almost broke his leg. We had to rush out to rescue him. Also, don't turn your back on a buck in rut. Getting butted unexpectedly can really hurt and cause injuries to you if you're not prepared for it. We had a good friend whose goat reared its head and stuck its horn into the friend's eye socket. Fortunately, his eye was spared, but he had a long painful healing process. He will certainly watch out more closely around his goats. This is an example of one reason we prefer to "dis-bud" our goats (prevent their horns from growing) or buy "polled" goats (goats that naturally don't grow horns). These are the reasons some goat owners don't even own a buck, but will lease one when needed for breeding. On the other hand, we prefer to keep several bucks around. We keep them in an area where they are separated from the does until we want them to breed. We keep bucks because there is a risk of bringing diseases into your herd any time you allow contact between your goats and the goats of another herd. Some diseases can be serious and can wipe out an entire herd quickly. Also, you can't always trust other herd owners, even though they swear their herd is tested and disease-free. We keep several bucks to create some genetic diversity in our herd. This allows us to grow our herd faster, while avoiding inbreeding.
Inbreeding is mating between direct family members such as father-daughter, brother-sister, etc. That can lead to genetic problems, deformities and deaths. Even so, some farms use inbreeding in an attempt to emphasize certain desirable genetic traits in their goats, or to avoid spending money on goats from outside their goat families. Regardless, it's not ideal and should generally be avoided. On the other hand "line breeding" is generally considered okay. This is mating between goats that may be somewhat related but not direct family. This can actually be beneficial, and is used by some herd owners to accentuate certain desirable qualities in their goats. Just be careful - it will accentuate bad qualities also. So only do line breeding with a buck that is high quality and has few or no bad characteristics. Because line breeding is generally acceptable, and farms that use inbreeding tend to keep it quiet (especially when things go wrong), goat farmers pass around an old tongue-in-cheek saying that says, "It's called line breeding if it works, and it's called inbreeding if it doesn't."
Be careful not to breed your goats at too young of an age. Why? Because a doe's body isn't prepared to grow and deliver a kid safely until she reaches a certain body weight, which is usually 60-70% of an adult doe's typcial body weight. A doe can reach puberty and be ready to conceive in as little as 4 to 12 months of age. That doesn't mean her body is prepared for the process. Producing kids will drain nutrition from a doe's body. If she's not prepared for that, it can be life-threatening. Also, her uterus and birth canal may not be large enough to deliver kids. Lastly, when a doe is bred before she has reached her full growth potential herself, her growth can be stunted.
Also, don't be fooled into thinking a young buckling can be left with your doe and won't get her pregnant. A buckling can start breeding as early as 7 weeks old. If you're not careful about this, the results can be heartbreaking. Many goat keepers have had a pregnant doe pass away during kidding because she was bred when too young and her body wasn't developed enough to carry kids to full term and deliver them.
A doe in a standard-sized breed should be at least 80 lbs or so before breeding safely, so if you're breeding her, make sure she has at least reached that weight by the end of breeding season so she'll be ready. For miniature goats, like Nigerian Dwarf goats which can average up to about 60 or 70 lbs for a typical adult, a doe should be at least 60-70% of that (around 40 lbs) before you allow her to breed. A doe can often reach the safe goat breeding weight by around 8 months old or so. However, many breeders who want to be extra-careful will wait until the doe is at least one year old. If you want to be safe, it's suggested that you skip a doe's first breeding season, and plan to start having her first kids with the second breeding season, to be sure she has reached her full adult growth potential first.
It's easy to weigh a goat kid on a scale. For larger goats, you need to use a livestock scale, bathroom scale or weigh tape.
One option is to buy a livestock scale, but that could cost you several hundred dollars or more.
A much cheaper option for larger goats that are hard to lift is to use a goat "Weigh Tape" or a regular measuring tape. With this, you measure the goat's "heart girth", wrapping the tape around your goat's chest just behind the front legs. Then, you measure the goat's length, from the "point of shoulder" back to the goat's "pin bone" near the tail. You can then apply a formula to those numbers to arrive at a pretty good approximation of their weight. For standard-sized goats, you simply multiply girth x girth x length; then you take that result and divide it by 300. This gives you the approximate weight of the goat.
At our farm, we raise Nigerian Dwarf goats, and the weigh tape procedure isn't accurate for miniature goats like these. But they are fairly easy to pick up. So, we simply use a regular bathroom scale. I step on the scale and measure my own weight. Then, I pick up the goat, step on the scale and measure the weight of myself and the goat together. The difference between those two measurements is the weight of the goat.
For really small kids that were just born, we sometimes hang them in a little harness hanging from a spring scale on the ceiling to get a more accurate weight. Once you have an approximate weight estimate on your doe, you can then be confident deciding whether she is an appropriate weight for breeding.
The most humane practice is to stop a doe from being bred after she passes a certain age or physical condition. A doe will not automatically stop ovulating at a certain age, like a human woman who reaches menopause. A doe continues to ovulate and can get pregnant throughout her entire life. Regardless, birth is hard on an older doe and creates a higher risk of death. Not only that, people have found that if you retire your doe after she reaches about 10 years of age, it can increase her lifespan to 20 years or longer. Otherwise, typical lifespan is up to about 12 years. If you choose to "retire" your doe at some point, you will need to keep her away from bucks for the rest of her life. This is because a doe will never quit going into heat. Do the right and humane thing. Retire your does at a proper age. They will have served you well, and they deserve to live out the rest of their lives peacefully, without enduring the rigors of the birth process every year.
The answer to the first question is that some goats have a breeding season, and some goats don't. For example, the "Alpine" type breeds which originated from colder climates, including LaMancha, Saanen, Alpine, Oberhasli and Nubian, will pretty much only breed during the typical goat breeding season which runs from August to December each year. One exception is the Nubian breed. Some Nubians will breed year-round. On the other hand, "Equatorial Breeds" that originated from hotter climates, like miniature breeds including Pygmy and Nigerian Dwarf, as well as meat goat breeds, can breed year-round. During the August-December breeding season, especially in late Summer and early Fall, goats have the highest fertility, as well as semen quality and volume.
Heat occurs in a doe about every 21 days, and can last 12 to 48 hours. Most goat breeders are careful to make sure they don't miss the chance to breed a doe during estrus, especially if they raise Alpine breeds that only breed during the goat breeding season. But for the breeds that breed year-round, the bucks are interested in breeding any time there's a doe in heat, regardless of the time of year. Standard breed does will usually start coming into heat in August and should come into heat every 18 to 21 days. The heat may last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
It's not unusual for a buck in rut to pee in his mouth, or on his face or beard, in a attempt to impress the does.
You can tell it's goat breeding season just by watching your goats. When a buck goes into "rut", he will do a lot of crazy stuff like snorting a lot, spitting and peeing on his own legs, beard, face and mouth. He will also raise his upper lip and make blubbering noises to attract the doe. This accelerates when he smells a doe in heat nearby. Goat blubbering and tongue flapping may be noticed in both bucks and does from time to time, and sometimes goat blubbering comes from a buck that is too young to breed yet, even when there may not be a doe in heat nearby. Goat blubbering and tongue flapping are just behaviors goats wxhibit when they're feeling their hormones.
A doe in heat will often exhibit "buckish" behavior like blubbering and tongue flapping
A doe in heat (estrus) will also act nutty. She may pace a lot, mount other does, and put her rear end up to the fence if she sees a buck on the other side. You may also notice her making lots of noise, and her tail "flagging" (rapidly waving back and forth). Some of the typical signs of a doe being in heat are...
A "buck rag" is created by taking a rag, rubbing it all over a buck, then keeping it in a jar and using it to help does come into heat. Just by letting a doe smell the rag, this can sometimes trigger her to come into heat. If she comes into heat, then you can place her with a buck to be bred. Some does may not show signs of heat unless a buck is present. Sometimes a doe needs to be taken to the buck on a lead (leash) and held so the buck can mount her. Knowing when a doe comes into heat, and knowing when she is bred by a buck, is important so you can be sure to start providing prenatal care at the right time. Putting a buck and doe together for a short time (on a "date") will allow you to know when breeding occurs. On the other hand, if you keep them together for awhile you don't run the risk of missing the times when the doe is in heat. If you use this method, the buck and doe should ideally be left together 40 to 45 days which includes heat cycles. This ensures that they are together for at least a couple of cycles. An advantage of having Nigerian Dwarf goats is that they go into heat about every 21 days year-round, so you don't have to worry as much about missing it. If you miss one heat, there will be another one coming around again shortly. The pheromones emitted by a buck that cause a doe to go into heat don't come from his urine or his smell. They are in the buck's hair. If you have multiple does coming into heat, you only need one buck available to breed with them. A ratio of 20 to 30 does per buck is typically recommended for best results. But, as I mentioned before, you may decide to use a larger number of bucks if you want more genetic diversity in your herd.
One sure sign that your doe is in heat and ready to be bred is when she shows evidence of "Standing Heat". This is when the doe stands still so a buck can breed with her, rather than her running away as a doe usually does when not in heat. During Standing Heat, she may even stand with her rear end up against a fence when she knows bucks are on the other side. By the way, be careful if your doe is doing this and you're not ready for her to be bred yet. Many bucks have been able to actually breed a doe through the openings in a fence and get her pregnant.
When a buck breeds a doe it only takes a few seconds to get the job done. After that, it will take the doe many months to finish what the buck started.
When a buck and doe actually "do the deed", if you blink you might miss it. The actual sex act only lasts for a few seconds. That's plenty of time for a buck to get a doe pregnant. When it happens, you will often see the doe hunch up and arch her back for a moment, when is a sure sign she has been penetrated.
If a doe has given birth to one or more kids, you should not breed her with a buck right away, even though she can get pregnant. The process of pregnancy, birth and nursing takes a lot out of the doe and she needs some time for her body to rest and recuperate before beginning the process again. It is possible for a doe to safely kid about every 9 months. However, if you want to take proper care of your goats, it's best to have your doe give birth no more than about once per year. There is also some advantage to limiting births to once per year. Some studies have indicated that breeding with less frequency may actually increase the litter size. So, ironically, if you try to speed up your doe's birthing process, it actually lowers the rate of producing new kids. By having your doe give birth less often, you can possibly produce more kids faster. Another advantage to limiting time between births to no less than one year is that it gives your doe more time to nurse her kids which will help them grow.
On a related note, if you're milking your doe, you can continue milking her even while she's pregnant. However, you will want to stop milking and dry her up about 2 months before she freshens and kids again in order to let her body rest and recuperate. Keep in mind, a doe CAN get pregnant even while she is still lactating. The bottom line is that, even though your doe can give birth more often, allowing a minimum of one year between kiddings is going to be healthier for your doe and more productive and profitable for you and your herd in the long run.
While some goats breed only during a certain season, some breeds of goats will breed constantly and breed year-round if you let them. Of course, in that case your herd can get out of control. You can have too many kiddings to handle properly, and with kids being born at bad times (eg, during the freezing cold of Winter) So how do you keep goats from breeding?
Be sure to separate bucks and does if you don't want them breeding. Bucks can be very determined when they want to breed, but a sturdy woven wire fence with electric wires on the top and sides will do the trick.
The most common way is to keep your bucks and does separated most of the time, and only put them together when you wish to do some intentional, controlled breeding. However, sometimes it may not be practical for you to keep bucks separated. In those cases, there are some other choices to stop a buck from breeding.
One sure way to stop a buck from breeding is to castrate him. After that, he's referred to as a "wether" rather than a "buck". Typically, a male goat can be castrated when he's fairly young (a "buckling") using elastrator pliers which apply an elastrator band (a small circular latex rubber ring) around the goat's testicles. Banding is a fairly common procedure for castrating goats. Usually after about 2 weeks, the testicles simply shrivel up and fall off. Surprisingly, there is usually minimal pain for the goat (treatable at the start with some medication) and it's usually not as big of a deal as you might think it would be. A buckling should probably not be castrated before he's 10 weeks old, or you may increase the risk he could have problems with urinary calculi (occurs when his urethra gets blocked and the pee can't get out), which can be fatal. Also, you don't want to wait too long to castrate either, when the testicles are too big to fit into the open elastrator band. If the testicles are too large for that, and you need to castrate the goat, you'll need to have a veterinarian do it surgically. Otherwise, if the testicles aren't too big yet, you will usually be able to castrate your goats yourself, after an experienced friend or vet shows you how the first time or two. Surgical castration is considered the riskiest form of goat castration with a high risk of possible side effects like infection.
Another less-permanent method to keep goats from breeding is to use a goat "anti-mating apron", or "buck apron".
A buck apron is a weighted apron that hangs around your buck's waist, held in place by a girth strap, and the apron gets in the way when he tries to breed a doe. In other words, it's a form of goat birth control. Another side benefit of anti-mating goat aprons is that they can help avoid urine scald because the apron blocks the buck from urinating on his own face or front legs. This is something a male goat often does during breeding season when he's in "rut". Somehow, a buck thinks this will make him more attractive to the lady goats. A big problem with this is that it creates a condition called "Urine Scald". This means that constant urination on the goat's face and legs can irritate and burn the skin and even remove the hair in those areas due to the acid in the urine. A buck apron can help reduce or eliminate urine scald. A downside of an anti-mating apron for goats is that the apron can move around and sometimes the buck may be able to get around it and still breed. An upside to a buck apron is that by keeping the buck from peeing on himself, he won't get all stinky. There are times when a buck apron might be convenient. For example, you may only have one buck, and he will give you trouble if you try to leave him alone since goats are herd animals. In that case, you may not want to remove your buck from your does, and an apron can keep them from breeding until you're ready. Or, you may have a young buckling you don't want to wean from his mother yet, but you also aren't sure if he might be old enough to breed already. Putting a buckling apron on him can prevent an accidental inbreeding from occurring until you're ready to wean him.
Some people prefer to make their own goat anti-mating aprons. But a DIY anti mating apron for a goat can be challenging. First, when someone makes their own buck apron pattern, it probably hasn't been tested in different variations like a professionally made buck apron. Many people say their homemade buck apron failed because it got stuck to one side of the goat, rather than staying down as the goat moved around. Sometimes this is due to the fact that the apron chest strap was too tight or too loose. It's usually best to keep the apron design simple, with a single strap. Getting too complicated will usually cause the goat apron to hang to one side rather than hanging down under the buck. Also, you don't want the apron so short that it doesn't cover the goats genitals, or so long that it drags the ground. If you make a homemade buck apron, be sure that the bottom of the apron is weighted to keep it hanging down at all times.
Because of the unique nature of an anti-mating apron, it's not easy to find a lot of places where you can buy one. One of the main suppliers of quality buck aprons is the House of Bacchus Goat Supplies where they sell the Bacchus Johnson Shield (anti-breeding goat apron). Many people have reported a lot of success using a buck apron from House of Bacchus. These can be ordered online, and they come in a variety of bright colors so it's easy to see your goat when he is wearing one. Whatever method you use to stop your goats from breeding, the main point is for you to stay in control of the process. This will make your life a lot easier at kidding time, and will allow you to manage your goats for a healthier, happier herd.
If you put a buck and doe together when the doe is in heat, sometimes the doe will run away rather than breeding. Sometimes it may be because the doe is young, has never been bred before and is nervous about the process. Also, goats just have different personalities and moods.
If you encounter this problem, just try leaving the buck and doe together for an extended period of time in a smaller pen where it will be harder for the doe to run away.
Also, leave the doe and buck alone overnight for a few nights. Sometimes goats won't breed during the day when they have an audience, but will do it when it's dark.
Another strategy is "hand breeding". This involves holding the doe with your hands, or on a lead, so she can't run away and the buck can have a chance to mount her. This can often work well with goats because, when they breed, you will see that it only takes a few seconds and it's done. The buck is super-fast when it happens. If you blink your eyes, you might miss it.
Another possibility if your goats aren't breeding, or if you don't have your own bucks, is to use Artificial Insemination (AI). You can always pay a vet to do this, but it can be expensive. There are many goat farmers who do this themselves, if they have the right equipment and training. If you plan to do a lot of AI, then it may be advantageous to buy the equipment and learn how to do it yourself. With AI you don't have to deal with the bucks. You can simply purchase the semen and use it to impregnate your goats without the difficulties and delays of the normal breeding process.
There are multiple ways to tell if your doe is pregnant. Some are more reliable than others. Some involve more effort and expense than others.
As her pregnancy progresses, a doe will often be tired and will look for a flat, cool surface where she can rest her big belly
One way to tell if your goat is pregnant is to look for the typical signs. Some of the typical signs that your doe may be pregnant include the following:
The problem with those kinds of tests is that they are pretty unreliable. There are some better ways to test for pregnancy.
Another way to detect goat pregnancy is with a blood test. You just need a blood sample from your doe and you can send it off to a lab to test for pregnancy. You can get a vet to draw the blood. Or, if you have someone show you how the first time, you can easily draw the blood yourself to save some time and money.
If you have a doe that is already in milk from a previous kidding, and you think she might be pregnant again, you can use her milk to do a pregnancy test. Just send a milk sample into a lab that does this kind of testing and the lab can let you know if your doe is pregnant again.
Lots of people have asked online if a urine test can be used to detect goat pregnancy, and whether they can just use a human pregnancy test kit from a drug store. The answer is "No". A human pregnancy test detects certain hormones, and goat hormones are different, so a human pregnancy test does not work with goats.
An ultrasound is considered one of the most reliable tests for goat pregnancy. However, it tends to be more expensive since it usually is performed by a trained vet technician. An alternative, if you plan to do a lot of goat pregnancy tests, is to invest in the equipment and training so you can do it yourself. But that can involved thousands of dollars. The great thing about an ultrasound is that it can sometimes detect how many kids are going to be born. It's usually more accurate when there are one or two kids inside of your doe. But, with larger numbers of kids, it's harder to tell exactly. Regardless of which method you use to determine if your doe is pregnant, the main point is that it's important to learn as much as you can. If you were careful to record the approximate date the doe was bred, you can be prepared around kidding time to help the new kid or kids enter the world safely.
One reason knowing a goat's pregnancy length is critical is so you can know approximately when a new kid may be born. It's important to know because you need to be ready to help with the delivery, so you don't increase the risk of losing new kids if you're not there and there's a problem. Of course, to know when a kid will arrive, you also need to know when the doe was bred. Most goat breeders try to track very carefully the exact date when a doe is bred so they can add the esimated pregnancy length (gestation period) and calculate when a new kid might be born.
Keeping track of exactly when a doe is bred can get tricky, especially when goats often breed at night when it's dark. You can't alway stay up all night waiting to see if your goats breed. So some people use a device called a goat "breeding harness" or "marking harness", especially if they have a large number of goats. A breeding or marking harness is a nylon or leather harness that straps around your buck's chest, and it has a big colored "crayon" that sits in the middle of his chest. When I say "crayon", it's not the kind that your kids use to color in coloring books. This crayon is a big thick rectangular piece of crayon. The way it works is, when your buck mounts a doe, and he has a crayon on his chest during the process, you will later notice that any does that were bred by that buck will have a big colored mark on their back. This helps you track which does were bred by that buck without you having to be physically present at the time. It may sound kind of crazy, but it's better than not knowing when your new kids might be born. Does should never be housed with bucks on a regular basis. If you do that, you will never know when they are being bred, so you will never know when kids are coming so you can be prepared. If you're not sure exactly when your doe got bred, at least make sure to notate the approximate date when she comes into heat. After that, if you "think" she got bred, and she doesn't come into heat again, you can calculate her estimated kidding (delivery) date (or range of dates) in the future and write it down. In this way, if she actually got pregnant, at least you will know the approximate date you can expect the kidding so you can be prepared to participate.
To estimate the expected kidding date, start from the approximate date the doe may have been bred, and add the usual "gestation" days (the length of time it takes a does to deliver a kid from the time she first got pregnant). The average gestation period for a goat is about 145-155 days. Miniature breeds average about 145 days. Other breeds average about 150 days. Keep in mind that Mother Nature never follows an exact calendar or clock. Even if you are extremely careful to observe the breeding and calculate the gestation period, you will find that new kids can often arrive unexpectedly several days early, or several days late. Just be patient.
If you end up owning several goats, and having kids born at different times, you can save a lot of time and errors by using a goat gestation calculator or goat gestation calendar to calculate your doe's exact kidding date. Most goat gestation calculators online don't account for the fact that different goats have different gestation periods. Here's a calculator that calculates both Standard sized goat breeds, as well as Miniature goat breeds, which each have different gestation periods.
Once you know your goat's approximate kidding date, the next step will be for you to get ready for the new baby goats that are coming.
As you can imagine, with everything else going on, it can be difficult to track all things happening with your goats, especially as you get more goats. Not only do you need to track breeding and kidding dates, but also monthly medications, supplements, feeding routines and other stuff, for multiple goats! To help make your life less stressful, we've created an easy-to-use "Goat Breeding/Kidding Record Form" which you can download for free. It's in PDF format, so you can easily save it and print it. Feel free to share it with others also. This form can easily be inserted into a 3-ring binder, and you can make a copy for each of your does. By using this to record breeding and kidding details, you won't forget which doe bred with which buck, when they bred, when kids are expected, when kids actually arrived, how many kids were born, which ones were male or female and what challenges, problems or other special circumstances you encountered with your doe's kidding that you want to remember for next time. This Breeding/Kidding Record Form includes sections where you can record all of those things. Best of all - it's simple and all fits on one page!
Once your new baby goats are on the way, and you're getting ready, you're going to want to know how many kids to expect. This common question can be taken two ways. Some people asking this question really want to know... "How many babies do goats have at once?" However, some other people are actually wanting to know... "How long after a goat gives birth can she get pregnant again?" Let's take a look at the answers to both of those questions.
The answer here is that most goats will typically give birth all at once to 1, 2 or 3 kids (babies). The average is two. This doesn't mean your goat can't give birth to more than that at one time. For example, Nigerian Dwarf goats typically average more kids than that with each birth. On our farm, we recently had one of our Nigerian Dwarf does deliver four kids at once. At first, we were pleased to see two come out. We were elated when the third popped out. As we were taking care of those three, we were totally surprised and caught off-guard when a fourth suddenly shot out. Your goat can even deliver five or more. However, those numbers are considered somewhat rare. Goats having sextuplets (six) in a single litter have made it into the Guinness Book of World Records more than once. However, goats have also been known to safely deliver septuplets (seven kids) on more than one occasion. I'm not aware of cases where eight or more have been born alive, but it probably happened somewhere in the world, I'm sure. The more kids a doe conceives and carries to full term, the greater chance the doe and/or the kids may have serious health complications or the kids may be stillborn. This is due to the fact that a doe's body simply reaches a point where the nutritional and other demands of that many kids is simply too much for her body to handle, while maintaining enough nutrition for herself to survive as well.
Our Nigerian Dwarf doe, a few moments after giving birth to twins
The Nigerian Dwarf goat breed is a little different than other goat breeds in the number of kids that can be born at one time. Some goat breeds may produce one or two kids per pregnancy. However, it's fairly common for a Nigerian Dwarf doe to deliver 3 or 4 kids, and sometimes 5. As you can see, when kidding time arrives, you may suddenly be handling multiple little kids all at once. You will want to be prepared and have extra helpers available in case they're needed to assist you with the multiple new babies.
A doe can go into heat again and get pregnant less than 30 days after kidding, maybe even within just a couple of weeks after delivering her last litter of kids. However, as we discussed earlier, this would not be good. A doe needs time for her body to rest and recuperate between kiddings, especially with the demands of nursing kids and producing the milk. This is why, as we mentioned earlier, at a minimum a doe can safely kid about every 9 months, but the best practice followed by most reputable goat farmers concerned about their doe's health is to aim at having a doe give birth to kids no more often than about once per year.
You can definitely make money in goat breeding, because many different farms, both small and large, are doing it. The key is to understand the different types of revenue that can be earned with goats, and to focus on one ore more of those income sources to specialize in. Some of the ways you can use your goats to make money are...
If you want to dig deeper into these revenue sources as a possibility for your own farm check out our blog post...
Video Credit: Syman Says Farm