During November we begin breeding our large breed dairy goats (we did meat goats in August/September and will breed Nigerian dairy goats in February). We are watching for signs of heat, feeding all stock very well to make them nutritionally sound and prepare the does to carry kids, and bucks to service multiple does. We give preventive shots to any stock we didn't get done in October, we take a final look at our mating selections, look ahead at the show schedules for planning kidding, check to see which 4H kids want project animals, watch for further signs of parasites and treat, clean the loafing shed to control moisture collection and parasite habitat, and trim hooves. Maintenance includes water runoff control, closing off of pastures so they can recover from summer use, moving of composting manure to make room for the piles that grow over the winter. The last of the garden produce is fed to the animals and humans, and leaves are gathered to help with next year's garden crop. Animals not needed are culled, records are updated, remaining spring kids are tattoed and registered. The farm and ranch life never stops at Camas Camp-n-Ranch...
November is breeding time if you want kids born in April. During October, goats should have had feet trimmed, been checked for internal parasites (we look at the poop through a microscope) and treated appropriately with anti-parasitics. Then, if you have a non-organic herd, given preventive shots of CDT and BOSE. All goats in your herd should be given a dose of each, which is 2cc (we give shot clinics - see the March calendar of classes). Then, selection of breeding pairs should have been done - yes, there's lots of prep work before you actually allow the goats to mate.
Then, we watch for signs of estrus (coming into heat). Goats cycle about every 18-21 days. If we are wanting to freshen (this means the goat gives birth and the mammary system begins producing fresh milk) goats at a particular time, we will often watch their heat cycles, and mark the calendar for breeding dates later.
The signs of heat are bleating more, flicking their tail, mounting other goats, walking the fenceline closest to your bucks, showing a darker pink coloration of the sometimes swollen vulva, obvious moistness at the vulva, followed by dropping of mucous - this is usually at the end of the heat cycle. If I see obvious signs of mucous in my herd, usually the sticking together of tail hairs, I know I missed this cycle. They also begin their heat cycles as early as August with the signs (noted above) becoming more pronounced as the months get colder and days shorter. These signs taper off again in February and humans may not notice, but bucks still can. This is in the larger breeds of dairy goats. Nigerians are known to cycle later into the spring and we have had some deliver their kids in late August (march breeding).
Breeding occurs when the buck is allowed to mount and penetrate the doe. The buck will use their nose to sniff the doe's external genetalia, determining if the doe is in heat. If the doe is in a 'standing heat', it will be the easiest time to let the breeding occur. The doe will usually be quite docile, and quite eager to let the buck service her. If it is early in the cycle, the doe will be more reluctant, while the buck will remain quite eager to do his part.
At our ranch, we use stands located in our barns to assist with the breeding process. We bring the does into the barn, put their heads into the stand (grain or treats help get them there) and close the head portion to tether the doe in place. We do it this way since we have many does to service and it is easier for handlers, we have customers come in with their does that are sometimes less tame than ours, and we can observe to be sure proper servicing has occurred. Also, the buck doesn't get as tired if he doesn't have to chase the doe around and there is less likelihood that the buck will damage his penis. A young doe may be uncertain of the buck's advances and can injure both themselves and the buck - a broken penis makes the buck unuseable.
When observing the breeding process, the breeder should look for certain things: is the doe moving her tail so penetration can occur, is the buck able to move his penis out of his body's pouch, when he thrusts forward does he throw his head back, and then, did the doe tuck her pelvis immediately following the penetration. This may often be followed by the doe urinating with a milky fluid following. All of these are good signs and usually mean that a deposit of semen has been made at the opening of the cervix. We look for all of these signs to occur three times for one breeding.
Afterwards, it is important to watch the doe at the 6 and 7 day point - sometimes does will cycle into heat again. If they do, they should be bred again - my customers are invited to bring their does back for another round of servicing at that point. The first date should be recorded as a prospective delivery date as should the 2nd. Also, the doe should be observed for signs of heat again at the 18-21 day point following the first breeding AND the second.
Then, how would you know if the goat conceived? Well, if they don't cycle into heat again, it is likely they are pregnant. Also, especially in large breed dairy goats, if their milk supply declines and it appears they are trying to stop producing (if they are in milk, having kidded or freshened previously) this is also a positive sign of pregnancy. If this occurs, just continue your regular milkings and they will continue to produce until you do dry them up, about the 3 month point of their gestation.
More later on gestation, preparation of the buck and doe, getting through the winter, preparing for spring kids...happy goating!