Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Buck Stops Here

Did you know that in order to get milk from a goat it has to be bred and deliver kids? This means that not only do you have to have a female goat on your farm in order to make milk, you have to have a male goat (or access to one). This presents a problem for many small goat herders because male goats can be a real pain to care for. 

The male goat is an interesting creature with some very unique habits. Fully grown male goats are typically larger than females and typically more aggressive. I know many people who have purchased or raised bucks from kids and have called me frantically when the buck is a year old because he is trying to kill their other goats or their children. No matter how sweet some bucks are when they are little, they can grow up to be real bastards. 

Another unique feature of male goats is they produce a musky smell that is described as falling somewhere between rotting garbage and dead skunk on the stink scale. There have been a few times when I have rounded the back of my barn headed to the buck pen where I am almost knocked sideways by the power of the stink. I do not normally have a fickle stomach but I have wretched a few times out behind the barn due to overwhelming buck stink. This stink is oil-based and can get on EVERYTHING! The only effective way I have found to get it off of my hands is to wash my hands with toothpaste (no lie!). Bucks think this smell is awesome and they love to spread it around by rubbing their scent glands, located on the top of their heads and at the base of their tails, on things and other animals. Bucks enhance their particular “eue d’parfum” by sticking their faces between their front legs and spraying pee on their heads. By the end of breeding season, a fully mature buck is usually crusted with several layers of musk, piss, and dirt. Yay…

Besides the aggression and the stink, bucks present other challenges to keeping on a farm. It is highly recommended that you do NOT house your buck with your does unless for breeding purposes only. This means that you need a separate place to house your bucks. Bucks can get very determined to be with your does when the girls go into heat, so not only should their area be separate, it should be well fortified against attacks by amorous male goats who want to get loose to get some action. Does can also be determined to get bred so your buck pen should not only keep your bucks from getting out, it has to keep your does from getting in. It is highly recommended that you do not keep bucks by themselves and provide them with a suitable companion, either a neutered male goat or another buck. Thus, if you have one buck you plan to use for breeding, you will need to maintain two goats at all times. 

Most small farms don’t have a ton of space for housing bucks separately. And most don’t have enough hay/pasture/feed to carry the maintenance of two or more male goats all year round. Is there sufficient reason to feed them 365 days a year for only 5 minutes worth of work during breeding time? 

There are a couple of ways to deal with the problem of breeding your goats and needing a buck:

1.       Borrow a buck – Bucks are a dime a dozen during the fall breeding season so it can be very easy to borrow a buck for a few days or weeks to get your does bred. It helps if you know when your girls are coming into heat so you can accurately time the arrival of the loaner buck with when your does will be bred. Depending on the buck’s owner, some are fine with loaning him out for a few weeks until you are sure your goats are pregnant.

2.       Stud fee – Some breeders will allow you to use a high quality and/or registered buck in return for some money. This is a great way to use a registered buck without paying a lot for him or feeding him. Most people offering stud fees prefer that you bring your doe to their farm and either leave her there for breeding or do a “driveway date” where the buck breeds the doe when you show up and then you take her immediately back home with you. This requires that you know exactly when your girl is in a standing heat so that she will be ready for him as soon as you get out of the car. 

3.       Pump and dump – Like I said, bucks are a dime a dozen most of the time. If you surf Craigslist in the spring or fall, chances are you will find ads for very cheap or free male goats. You can pick up a cheap buck kid in the spring and raise him until fall to use for breeding. Most bucks are fertile and ready to mate at 4 months old, so a spring kid can be ideal. You can also usually score a mature buck in the fall and use him for a few months. Once your girls are bred you can turn around and dump him back on Craigslist or better yet, dump him in your freezer! Buck goats can carry a decent amount of meat on them. Even the smelliest bucks can be turned into pretty yummy sausage without too much hassle. Eating your leftover buck is a great step towards eliminating animal abuse because you are being responsible by euthanizing him for food. You can never tell what a person will do with an unneeded buck when you sell him or give him away. I have heard and seen too many horror stories of buck goats being abused after breeding season was over because the current owners were too cheap or stupid to care for them properly. 

4.       Linebreeding – Chances are, every year that you breed goats you will have bucks born on your farm. The best of these can be chosen to be rebred to their relatives in the fall. I typically save a buck kid from the spring’s kids to use each fall. I try to choose the best looking kid and the one that is least related to the does I plan to breed him to. I typically do this for 2 generations and then bring in new genetics by using a completely unrelated buck. This process can work quite well but you do have to be aware that linebreeding can concentrate bad genetics, just as easily as it can capitalize on good genetics. There’s a common adage in the goat world regarding this, “It’s called linebreeding if it works and produces good kids, and inbreeding if it don’t”. 

5.       Artificial insemination – Don’t be scared to try this if you can find someone in your area who can perform the procedure. This is a super easy and sometimes less expensive alternative to having a live buck to breed your girls. AI does require some special equipment and preparation to ensure the success at breeding. You might have to give your does some hormone shots or implants to get them ready for the procedure. You will also need to purchase semen and have a nitrogen tank available to store it in. Luckily most large breeders of cows, sheep, and goats are skilled in AI so you can get lucky and find a local farmer to help you do the procedure. AI is a fantastic way to breed superior genetics to your girls without paying superior prices for the use of the buck.