A Dairy Goat Homestead: Our First Breeding Season, Part 1

http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/breeding-season-zbcz1310.aspx

goatsAfter purchasing dairy goats, I gave very little thought to breeding season. A dairy goat needs to be bred every year in order to keep producing milk, and I assumed that was a somewhat simple process. Girl goat meets boy goat, girl goat likes boy goat, and in five months little baby goats are running around. Right? Well, so far it has not been that easy. Of the few challenges that I have faced since becoming an owner of dairy goats, this has been perhaps the most frustrating.

Currently, I do not have a buck on my property, and it would take much convincing to get me to buy one. Bucks are just a tad grotesque, in my humble opinion. First, they pee all over themselves. Sure, the does seem to love the stench emanating from a buck's sticky orange beard, but I can handle a few trips to the breeder in order to avoid nuzzling my face up to that when it is time to trim hooves. Second ... Does there need to be another reason? I think not.

Usually, breeding season begins in late summer and lasts until early winter. October is prime breeding time, and I have spent this month critically watching each goat - analyzing tail flicks, noting eating habits, and watching for other more intimate details that might signify heat. When one of my goats finally began showing some of these signs, I was thrilled! I had waited weeks for this and excitedly called my breeder. Two hours later, Cupcake was loaded in the backseat of my truck and on her way to see her buck-friend.

When I unloaded her, I awkwardly described all the reasons I thought Cupcake might be in heat. These included tail flagging and crazier than normal behavior. We put her in with the buck and stood back and shuffled our feet while the buck unsuccessfully tried to get his job done. It was determined that we would leave her with the buck overnight and see if she would warm up to her rather ardent companion.

I was not expecting to leave her overnight and found it rather difficult to walk away.  It was a similar feeling to leaving a child for their first overnight with Grandma and Grandpa, just slightly more "farmy." I somehow managed to drive off, and I returned home to console my remaining goats at the temporary loss of their friend. However, I will admit to some celebration over the fact that I did not need to milk Cupcake that night.

The next day, I found myself trekking through the woods for eight hours in an attempt to track a deer. While floundering through thick underbrush, I received a call from the breeder. Cupcake was not in heat, and no magic happened during the previous night. I must have been a sight driving back from their farm: there was a goat riding in my backseat, sticks and briers were stuck in my hair, and my flannel chore jacket had seen better days. My rather haggard expression probably did little to help the effect. I felt a lingering gaze from the driver next to me at the gas station and caught a couple hoots from a group of high school boys walking down Main Street. I have a feeling that it was not because of how attractive I looked that afternoon.

Along with my unfertilized goat, the breeder handed me a plastic bag containing a rather foul smelling washcloth upon leaving her farm. It was a buck rag, which is a cloth that has been rubbed all over a buck's pee seasoned coat. She told me to hang it in my pasture, and the does should show strong interest in it when they were in heat. I did as she suggested, then proceeded to the house to scrub my hands for a good ten minutes.

Less than a week later, Cupcake was spotted mounting another member of the herd. She soon began showing other classic signs of heat: she refused to eat her breakfast, she was pacing constantly while flagging her tail, and she was rather captivated by the buck rag. I rushed her off to the breeder and again stood shuffling my feet and making small talk while Cupcake (yet again) ran from the buck. The buck even tried singing sweet nothings in her ear, but she would have none of it. I will admit, buck singing is adorable in its own strange way, and I was slightly less disgusted by him after that display. Unfortunately, Cupcake was not as easily impressed.

fence postSo here we are, nearing the end of October, and not one of my goats have been bred. My buck rag hangs forlornly in one corner of the pasture, getting only the occasional courtesy whiff. I find myself vainly trying to plot out heat cycles in my dreams (or are they nightmares?) My backseat has bits of straw permanently attached to the floorboards from my many trips to the breeders. I keep telling myself that there are a few months left for my goats to be happily bred, but doubts are beginning to creep into my mind. Stay tuned for a much more encouraging success story in Part Two! (Which has yet to occur, but I am optimistic.)

Together with her husband and two young daughters, Tara-Sky Alford began homesteading in 2012. Read more about her early experiences with raising goats, chickens, and children at www.fidelityhillfarm.blogspot.com.