Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Most dairy goat breeds have a clearly defined breeding season and will go into heat during the fall and early winter, generally from August to December-January. Gestation period lasts around 20 weeks, so kids will be born in late winter and early spring. If you have several goats, you can schedule breeding so that, for example, some of your does are bred in August-September and some in December-January. This way the milk production of your herd will be a lot more consistent and you’ll have milk practically year-round.
The natural breeding pattern for goats is to kid once a year and, though some people breed their goats twice a year, I don’t think it’s good practice or healthy for the doe.
Whether or not you keep a buck is a decision depending on the size of your herd, your facilities, how much you’re ready to handle and what other breeding options you have. I wouldn’t advise new goat owners to keep a buck, as they can be very rambunctious and difficult to control, especially during rut.
In fact, I’d say that ideally, people just starting out with goats are best off with getting 2-3 does that have been bred or are already in milk. This will give you plenty of time to grow comfortable around goats, learn to milk and handle them, etc, until the next time they need to be bred.
If you are new to goats and buy does that need to bred, you might miss them going into heat, as the signs might sometimes not be very obvious. I know it was very difficult for us to tell when our goats are in heat when we first got them. Luckily, we had a friend who had a larger herd, kept a buck, and was accommodating enough to house our goats with his for a couple of months until it was obvious they were pregnant.
If you have several bucks to choose from for breeding, shop around and keep an eye out for qualities which you think will improve your herd (bigger size, docile temperament, nice udders in the buck’s offspring, etc.).
We were lucky enough to never have had trouble with kidding. In fact, our does had kidded so quickly and easily that I never even arrived in time to see the entire process. Once I thought there was still some time to go and decided to quickly dash inside and wash the dishes; when I got back, fifteen minutes later, I saw the doe already taking care of her new kid.
While goats normally kid easily and make good mothers, I’d advise you to have the number of a trusty veterinarian on hand, to call in case of any trouble – and, if you are up to this, do some reading and get some hands-on learning done so you’d be able to assist the birth process as needed.
Also, once the kids are born, make sure that their mother has accepted them and that they are suckling. It is advisable to provide a private stall for the new mother and the little ones in their early days, though this isn’t something we did personally, as we only kept two does at a time and had a large barn. Our goats were quite comfortable around each other and patient with each other’s kids.
Some goat breeders have a practice of taking the kids away from the mother soon after they are born and bottle-feeding them, but personally I find this heartbreaking as well as unnecessary and labor-intensive. I believe it is best for all parties to have the kids raised naturally, that is, with their mothers, and this is what we had done.
It is extremely important for the kids to have all the milk they possibly can during the first two weeks, and it is inadvisable to begin milking before that.
As we had does who tended to have one kid at a time, we had plenty of milk to “share” with the kids and didn’t need to take any special measures to prevent the kids from getting all the milk. Other goat owners might separate the kids and mother overnight, milk in the morning and then let the kids remain with their mother throughout the day.
It is best to establish a trusting relationship with your goats well before you begin milking them: spend time with your does while they are pregnant, pet them and hand-feed them treats. This way, they are a lot more likely to trust you around their kids and let you milk them without giving you trouble.
Here is an example of an easy milking routine:
In the morning, walk out to your goat pen/house with your milking pail and a bucket of grain, a bowl of kitchen scraps or some other goodie which will keep a goat quiet and occupied for some minutes.
Let out one doe at a time to prevent other goats from vying for her treats and interfering with milking.
Once you are done milking, lead the goat back to the pen and let out the next one.
Refrigerate the milk as soon as possible.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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