Advice on Raising Goats: If I Could Do It Over Again

After some goatkeeping experience, MOTHER's resident veterinarian revisits his own advice on how to raise goats successfully.

| September/October 1983

OK, fellow goat enthusiasts, here's the second half of my discourse concerning some reconsidered dos and don'ts of keeping caprine critters. As those of you who read Part 1 will likely recall, I've already discussed the number of does that (I think) make up the perfect farmstead herd, told you how to avoid the pitfalls of "goatflation," recommended qualities to look for when buying a good milk animal, and advised you on where to keep your newly acquired charges once you get them home. (If you haven't looked at the first half of this feature, see Raising Goats: Strategies for Success.)

And now that the preliminaries are out of the way, we can get on to some of the finer points of raising goats, namely, breeding, milking, kid care, and home veterinary treatment. But before we launch into those subjects, let me reiterate something I said in Part 1: The following hints (most of which I've learned the hard way!) are meant only as suggestions, not as steadfast rules, to help you discover the most efficient and simplest means of rearing and handling your own milkers.

Tips for Breeding Goats (Don't Keep a Buck)

I used to tell folks to keep a buck around their homestead for breeding purposes. Now, however—having long tried in vain to deal with the cantankerous nature and malodorous scent of the male goat—I have to retract that bit of poorly conceived advice, and offer in its place another, much more sensible, plan!

Why not get together with half a dozen or so other nanny owners in your community, and pool all of your resources to buy one exemplary buck that can serve all of your does? Then—and this is the tricky part!—see if you can't talk one of those other goat lovers into boarding (with the expenses shared by everyone, of course) "old whisker face" on his or her farm. Naturally, you'll have to go to the trouble of hauling your does over to this benevolent neighbor's barn at breeding time, but—take my word for it—that's a very small price to pay for keeping your backyard clean-smelling!

If you can't find someone magnanimous enough to care for a "collective" buck, I'd suggest you utilize artificial insemination (AI). This method is well suited to goat raising and is the very best—and least expensive—way to upgrade your herd. (Semen from some of the top breeders in the country is available for as little as $5 to $25 a unit.) Unfortunately, AI requires that you artificially inseminate your does, and it's sometimes hard to catch the females in heat, but you'll have to in order to do this. In fact, some gals won't come into season unless there's a male goat on the premises. However, you can fool them. Just take an old rag and—during the fall breeding period—wipe it on a buck's head, where the horns should be, and along its hocks. Then hang the dripping-with-maleness cloth where the does can smell it. Within 48 to 72 hours, your ladies should be in heat.

Incidentally, while we're on the subject of breeding, there are two often-recommended, “tricks" that I would not advise. First of all, don't try (by artificially creating a facsimile of the declining daylight hours typical of "heat" season) to bring your does into heat during their off-breeding period in the spring. I don't feel that the results warrant all the extra time and effort that are involved in this particular technique. You see, the percentage of does that settle (get pregnant) when bred under such conditions is usually small, and oftentimes the buck just isn't interested in mating during the spring.

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