Photo by Sue Weaver
We have two kid goats that are 6 months old. We want to breed them for milk. At what age should we breed them, and what time of year is best? —J. D. Vincent
Hi, J.D. I wish I knew a little more about your goats. What breed are they? And are they both doelings (young females) or a doeling and a buckling (a young studly buck like me)? I'm going to assume they're dairy breed doelings.
Even experienced goat raisers argue about the best time to breed doelings for the first time, so Uzzi and I asked Mom, but we also looked things up at some university websites.
Conservative goat owners like Mom like to wait until a young doe is at least 1 year old to breed her. Their rationale is that she has to grow a strong body and bones before she's mature enough to carry kids. Other goat owners believe that allowing a young doe to go so long before breeding is a bad thing. They say fat builds in her udder and this reduces her udder capacity later on. They also believe that late-bred doelings are less productive over their lifetimes and that getting started early makes them give more milk as they mature.
What most goat keepers can agree on is that doelings bred at a younger age tend to have a single kid the first time they're bred. Due to their larger size, single kids can be a problem for a young, immature doe to deliver. If you breed your doelings this year you must be there when they kid in case they need your help.
The university publications Uzzi and I read agree that it's possible to breed doelings the year they're born but only under certain conditions. The University of Florida publication "Successfully Breeding Goats" says doelings should weigh a minimum of 55 pounds and be two-thirds of their adult weight at breeding time. Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities "Reproductive Management of Sheep and Goats" says doelings should weigh at least 60 percent of their adult weight. University of Wisconsin's "Guide to Raising Healthy Goats" says they must weigh 60 to 70 percent of adult weight and provides adult weights of dairy does as follows:
However, those weights are fairly conservative or my Nubian wives and daughters are tugboats. They all weigh way more than 135 pounds, and Katy the Alpine weighs more than 135 pounds, too.
In either case, you can't breed your girls until they reach puberty and come into heat. That usually occurs between 4 and 8 months of age, depending on their breed and their nutrition intake. You'll know they're in heat when they bleat and pee and wag their tails a lot. If you have a studly buck like me, they'll hang out by his pen. They might have a stringy vaginal discharge, but that doesn't happen every time.
So if your doelings are mature for their ages, it's probably OK to breed them using the university guidelines given above. If they're small or immature, wait until next year.
Most dairy does are seasonal breeders, which means they have a distinct breeding season and don't come in heat the rest of the year. In most parts of the country, breeding season stretches from August to late December, though individual does might come in heat earlier and later than that. We Nubians are an exception because some Nubian does have heats when you least expect it. That's how Jadzia and I made Bijou and Biscuit.
If you breed your doelings this year, be sure to pen breed them. That means putting them in with a buck only when you're certain they're in heat, instead of turning them out in a pasture with him to get bred whenever it happens. By pen breeding you'll know exactly when they're bred and exactly when to expect their kids. It usually takes goats 150 days, plus or minus five days, to carry kids to term. By knowing when to expect their babies you can be there to help your doelings if they need you.
Also, you must feed them very carefully so that they can continue growing while gestating kids. Your best bet for information on feeding pregnant does with feeds available in your area is your cooperative extension agent.
Whatever you choose, good luck!
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