Monday, August 25, 2014

Preparing for goat breeding season

A bit of planning ahead and preparing your goat herd can make breeding and later kidding much easier on you and your goats.  At Oak Hill, my planning usually starts no later than Labor Day.

Here at Oak Hill, I prepare for breeding season by first looking ahead to spring and kids on the ground.   I pull up the Farmers Almanac and check the National Weather Service and NOAA for the long-range winter forecasts.   Bitter cold, lots of snow or a late spring all affect my decisions about when the first kids should hit the ground.

Once I know my ideal earliest first kidding date, I start to work backwards.  Gestation is about 5 months.  My does typically conceive on their first or second breeding cycle.  So I work backwards on the calendar 5 months plus 21 days plus 21 days.  That tells me when I need to have my bucks and does ready to enter the breeding pen aka The Love Shack.  I also like to do a fall detox (which also addresses parasites), which takes about 14 days.  So I count back another 14 days.  Finally, I like to give my does a month on prenatal vitamins and extra nutrient-dense feed (called flushing) to improve the odds of multiple births.  So I add another month to my count backwards.  If my ideal first kid date is April 1, I start the preparation process in September of the previous year.

So this year's schedule looks like:
September - do 14 days of my favorite herbal detoxifier and at the same time start increasing the quality of browse and give a bit more feed.  I save my best browse areas and best hay for this time period, and increase their fats slightly also.
When the herbal blend is finished, I start topdressing a pinch of my favorite chelated supplement in their feed OR I switch from the my favorite chelated free choice browser mix to the a chelated free-choice vitamin mineral mix for horses with trace minerals and fulvic acid blended in.  (5 lbs trace minerals for 25 lbs of browser mix).
At the same time that I am making these feeding and supplement changes, I am tracking the start date of each doe's heat cycle and entering it into a spreadsheet.  This will let me easily predict the doe's cycles when it is time to start the "dating".  I like the kidding spreadsheet offered by Fias Co Farm.

I like my does to go into breeding well-fleshed but not fat, with a body score of about 4-5 before starting the flushing and 5-6 coming to the end of flushing.  This article explains the scoring on a scale of 1-9.

Around the middle of October, it is time to start the first breedings.  I like to have no more than 3 does due to kid the same week, so I can get some sleep and have enough kidding stalls to shelter all the new families.  Each farm can decide what a sane number of births per week is for them.  Hopefully, the heat cycles cooperate and offer me only 2 or 3 does per week for dates.  If more than 3 does cycle that week, some will wait until the next cycle.

Remember, a typical heat lasts 2-3 days.  Heat cycles repeat about every 21 days.  Ovulation occurs at the end of heat.

Now is where the fun starts!  You can actually change the odds in favor of doelings or bucklings, depending on what you prefer to get.
Here's how to select for doelings (if you want bucklings, do the opposite):
Breed before ovulation.  Breed on the first day of heat only, and do not repeat the breeding the next day. Female sperm swim slower and live longer, and will still be around when the doe ovulates. The males will have already made their swim and died before ovulation occurs.