There’s more to breeding goats than just putting your does with a buck. It’s not only helpful to know about the breeding cycle and signs, but also how to prepare and evaluate your goat herd for breeding season.
This blog post will cover the following topics related to breeding or mating goats, along with sharing some of the approaches we take on our meat goat farm, Cylon Rolling Acres:
Table of contents
- How old does a goat have to be to breed?
- Goat heat cycle for does
- Signs of bucks in rut
- Timeframe for goat breeding season
- Goat breeding: helpful tools
- Preparing for meat goat breeding season
How old does a goat have to be to breed?
Female goat breeding age (does)
How old should a female goat be to breed? Also known as does, female goats typically reach puberty around 6 to 9 months of age.
However, the size of the doe should be considered as well as the age. Roughly, they should be about 60-65% of their mature body weight based on the weight of their mother (dam) (Balch).
It’s fairly common for goat farmers to wait to breed young does for the first time at a year-and-a-half of age. This decision is a combination not just based on size, but also the seasonality of breeding (read further for more details).
Male goat breeding age (bucks)
Male goats, or known as bucks, reach breeding age as they come into puberty as early as 4 months old. However, it’s common for many farmers and ranchers to wait until young bucks are at least year old to use for breeding purposes.
Goat heat cycle for does
The heat cycle in goats, also known as the estrus cycle, is about 21 days in length. While the estrus, or actual period of time when a goat is heat, is about 36 hours.
Signs of heat in does
Does will show signs of being in heat or estrus, which include flagging (tail wagging), rubbing themselves on the bucks, more talkative (noiser, loud bleating), swelling of the vulva, and sometimes vaginal discharge.
How often do goats go into heat?
Goats will continue to come into heat throughout the seasonal breeding season every 21 days. See the section on the Timeframe for Goat Breeding Season, which covers the general seasonality of breeding season.
Signs of bucks in rut
Bucks will start to show signs of rut with a change of their bodily scent. They’ll start to let off a very strong, pungent odor during breeding season.
Common rut behaviors include putting their heads back and rolling their lips while they urinate on themselves. They’ll often urinate on their front legs, face, beard and belly. Bucks will rub themselves alongside the does as part of the matting process. Does are attracted to the scent.
It’s not uncommon for the bucks to be drawn to the urine of the does. You’ll often see them sniffing the rear end of the does. They’ll also be louder.
How many does can a buck service?
According to the Cooperative Extension service, typically a buck can service the following number of does during a breeding or mating season:
- 1 year old: 10 does
- 2 years old: 25 does
- 3 years old: 40 does
While this is a rule of thumb, it is possible for bucks to handle larger groups of does during goat breeding season. I know of a farm who has great management practices and breeding selection standards who’s experienced buck can service 100 does.
Sometimes farmers will get concerned about not seeing signs of breeding. Some bucks will be more shy and breed when you’re not around or at night time, while others have no shame at get to business right away.
Timeframe for goat breeding season
Goats tend to be seasonal breeders that are also polyestrous, which means that they will continue to come into heat during their breeding season. Goats are also short-day breeders. This means that farm location including climate and geography will play a role in the timing and length of breeding seasons. For example, goats located closer to the equator will have longer breeding seasons. You’ll also see differences between breeds of goats (Balch).
In our region of the United States, goat breeding season tends to span between late August/early fall to early winter.
This typically means that goats will go into heat during the seasonal time frame when days are shorter (less daylight). While some goats can be bred out of season, this seasonal time frame is when it’s easier to naturally breed goats.
Breeding goats: length of time together
It’s common for farms to often keep bucks with the does for breeding for two to three estrus cycles (heat cycles), which would be about 42-63 days.
This will allow for enough time for all the does go through their heat cycle, especially if they don’t cycle right away or if groups within your herd are cycling at different times. Additionally, if the buck needs a little more time to cover the whole herd this allows for that.
Then, you can roughly plan for 150 days from the first signs of breeding for kidding and at the latest the last day you took the buck out.
On our farm we will leave the buck in for two heat cycles. I prefer a tighter window of kidding over a longer one so I’m monitoring for new kids over a shorter window of time during kidding season.
When to expect goat kids
The gestation, length of preganancy for a goat, is five months. So you can expect kids roughly in that time frame after you see signs of kidding. Learn more about the gestation period and pregnancy of goats in this blog article, which also includes a due date calculator.
Goat breeding: helpful tools
There are a number tools you can use to help you in managing the breeding process with your herd of goats.
Flushing or increasing the feed quality
Flushing is the process of increasing the feed of your goat herd to a higher energy diet so the does in turn will increase ovulation rates. Flushing often helps with ensuring does get bred or have multiples.
Feeding a higher quality feed, either as a forage or grain, should occur about 2-4 weeks before breeding season. Note that if your herd is already on a higher quality feed or has a good body condition you may not see the benefits of flushing your goat herd.
Using a breeding harness or rattle
A breeding harness for goats is a series of straps that goes around the buck’s chest. The front part includes a marking crayon, which can be replaced for different colors or temperatures.
The color options are nice if you’re using multiple bucks to breed at one time or if you want to switch out the crayon color after the first estrus cycle.
Some marking harness crayons come with different temperature ratings, which is nice. If you’re in a warmer climate the hot temperature crayon is harder so it doesn’t smear as easily in warmer temperatures.
Conversely, the cold temperature crayon is great for late season breeding in colder climates, like our own farm in Wisconsin. The consistency of this crayon is greasier so it still works in colder temperatures.
A breeding harness for goats allows farmers or ranchers to see that breeding has taken place since either method will leave a mark on the back of the doe after the buck mounts her.
A rattle is another alternative to a goat breeding harness. It is a colored paste that you spread on the chest of your buck, or you can put a line on each doe. When the doe is marked either she’ll have a color on her back, or her line will be smeared.
On our farm we’ve used both methods, but prefer using the harness to know when to more closely anticipate when to expect kidding season. After we remove the buck I’ll also make note of which goats didn’t have any marks on them as we well.
We’ve also used the rattle, but primarily with our ram for our flock of sheep since his body is too wide for the harnesses we have.
Once we put the bucks in with the does, I will go out daily and observe the herd behavior and look for does that have been marked by the breeding harness crayon. I’ll take notes on which goats and which days so I know when to roughly expect kids.
Synchronizing: How to make a goat goat into heat
The process of synchronizing your goats so they all cycle at the same time can be very helpful to keep your kidding season a bit tighter and minimize any goats from being bred later.
Synchronizing goats can be done naturally or artificially.
The natural process is often called the buck effect. It is essentially keeping the does away from the bucks until it is time for breeding season. Naturally the presence of the buck and his pheromones will be enough to bring the does into heat. This includes his strong odor and increased desire to urinate on himself during rut.
Simply introducing the does to the bucks may be enough to accomplish this. Some goat breeders will take a rag and rub it on the buck and bring it to the does to get the herd cycling before the buck is brought in.
On our farm we will keep our bucks separate until breeding season.
The artificial synchronization process can have different approaches since most of the processes are considered to be off-label, meaning methods used for other specific livestock species are used.
Often this type synchronizing is used when goats or does are “out of season” for breeding. It often helps increase the percentage of the herd being bred in this situation.
In the past we’ve done some fall kidding on our farm. In that situation we’ve use a combination of CIDRs and PG600. While it worked well, we’ve decided to just stick to one kidding season based on a fall breeding season.
Goat AI or Artificial Insemination
Goat AI or known as artificial insemination is another breeding tool that can be used. Farmers and ranchers who choose to use AI often do so to improve genetics of their goat herd without purchasing a new buck, or so they don’t have to keep bucks on their farm.
However, the artificial insemination process for goats is a little more complicated as compared to cows or other livestock species. This means goat AI breeding may not be as effective.
While I have limited AI training. I did attend a goat AI breeding school many years ago. My observations are based on the training I received and the feedback from the instructor who also had many years of experience in breeding cows as well.
Another challenge for AI in the goat industry is the lack of goat breeders for hire and options for purchasing goat semen. Unlike the dairy or beef cow industry, there are few businesses focused on these services. Some farms will sell straws of goat semen direct, but you’ll want to do some homework to make sure you’re getting product from a trusted source.
Pregnancy checks for your goats
Some farmers and ranchers will choose to pregnancy check their goat herd. There are two options that can be done.
- Goat ultrasound: A Goat ultrasound machine can be done as soon as 30 days after the goat is bred. At 40-70 days after breeding the goat ultrasound will typically be able to show how many fetuses, or babies, the doe is carrying (Blach).
- Blood test: A blood test or serum test can be done as soon s 30 days after breeding.
On our farm we’ve done the blood test to confirm if we had any bred does out of season one year. However, for the cost and time spent doing ultrasounds or blood work, it doesn’t really make sense for our farm financially to do this. We’ve found that if we use a breeding harness, we have a good idea of when to expect kids. In most cases we’ve had a high conception rate in the fall.
Knowing if goats are bred or how many to expect doesn’t really impact how we are managing our herd at that exact point in time. Some farmers may have a different opinion, but that’s our perspective based on our situation.
Preparing for meat goat breeding season
Preparing for your goat herd’s breeding season includes both making breeding decisions and doing a physical assessment of your herd. Both should be done before breeding season actually starts.
Goat breeding decisions
Making the right goat breeding decisions can be especially important for the future of your herd. It’s easy to just take the approach of putting the buck in with all the does and call it a breeding season. But, long term it may not be the best choice to always breed every goat that you have and focus on your best does.
Factors to consider for breeding does will vary by farm, but can include:
- Maternal traits
- Body structure
- Breed confirmation
- Rate of gain of previous kids
- Other production characteristics
If you have more than one buck and choose to put your does in separate breeding groups, you’ll want to take into consideration the characteristics you are looking to add into your herd, as well as the genetic line existing on your farm.
Lastly, you’ll want to take into considering when you want to start kidding in the spring so you can plan your breeding dates. The doe’s gestation period is about 150 days. Using a due date calculator can help with this planning process.
How we make breeding decisions on our farm
For example, on our farm we take a fairly basic approach to our breeding decisions for our meat goats. Does that do not get bred back after the first year kidding do not stay in our herd. First time breeders, I will often give a pass, but after year two they don’t stay.
Additionally, I’m looking for these other characteristics in our farm’s meat goat breeding program, or I won’t be breeding them:
- Strong mothering abilities
- Ability to kid on their own without assistance
- Ability to maintain a desirable body conditioning score with our forage only management style (grazing pasture and brush in the summer and feeding high quality hay in the winter)
- Ability to produce offspring with a good rate of gain on a forage only management system
- Parasite resistance
While not a priority, I will also consider crossbreeding and general breed appearance. We run a Boer-Kiko cross herd. While I like the functionality and performance of our Kikos, I still like to have a little bit of the look and body composition of the Boer goat.
Depending on our bucks we have at the time, I will often breed our more Kiko-looking does to our Boer buck. And, our Boer looking does to our Kiko buck.
But, my desired characteristics above take precedence over any general appearance and breed characteristics.
Physical assessment and herd work
The next step is to do a physical assessment of your herd about 1-2 months before goat breeding season.
During this assessment you’ll want to visually look at and handle each goat for:
- Body conditioning. You can use a Body Condition Score card to score goats or use as a benchmark. Optimally they should be about 3-3.5. Over time farmers can often make the assessment on if a goat is too bony or too over conditioned.
- FAMACHA or checking the color of their eyelids. This is to assess if there are signs of barber pole worm.
- Check overall body condition for any other health concerns with the goat’s coat, legs or body. This also includes evaluating udders of the does and the scrotum of the bucks, making sure they are healthy and don’t have any inflammation.
- Hoof condition. Trim hooves if needed.
Based on the observations of the body condition and FAMACHA you can make the decision if a goat needs to be dewormed or should be sorted off for a different feeding plan to help improve the body conditions.
How we do a physical assessment on our farm
On our meat goat farm we will often call this fall breeding preparation our herd health day. Since we are doing a hands-on evaluation of our meat goat herd and running them through our working chute we will take the time to do any other health assessment needed to maximize the use of our time.
We will do the items listed above, but also:
- Copper bolus our goats
- Sort off any kids and lambs. We will castrate our buck kids and ram lambs in the spring so we are able to let our kids self wean and stay with their mothers all summer. This breeding season prep time is a natural point when we can sort of the kids.
- Deworm goats as needed based on a visual assessment and FAMACHA scores as noted above. We will often use dewormers from 2 or 3 of the different classes of dewormers. This is based on research that has shown a greater efficacy when using two different wormer classes (Kaplan).
- I’ll also take any other notes for my herd records related to the goats based on behavior or other characteristics that I may want to keep track of for future culling decisions.
Goat breeding preparation supply list
- Dewormer and drencher
- Hoof trimmers
- Cooper bonuses and bolus gun
- Fluorescent marking paint
- External insecticide*
- Breeding harnesses and crayons or rattles (for when the breeding period actually happens)
*I bring these along so if I need them I have them and I don’t need to run back to my vet supply cabinet. It keeps our herd health work day more efficient.
Since we usually have extra help on our herd health days, I will also prepare lunch in advance so it’s easy to take a break and feed our crew. I will often make something I can stick in the slow cooker, such as tacos, chili or pulled pork.
- Balch, S.G., (2022). Breeding and parturition of goats. Merck Manual Veterinary Manual. Breeding-and-parturition-of-goats
- Goat reproduction puberty and sexual maturity. (2019). USDA Cooperative Extension. https://goats.extension.org/goat-reproduction-puberty-and-sexual-maturity/
- Kaplan, R. (2017). Combination dewormers: The time is now. American Consortium for Small Ruminant Parasite Control. https://www.wormx.info/combinations
- How long are goats pregnant? (Gestation calculator)
- Goat terminology
- Newborn goat care after birthing