a) The Buck
The male goat is called a buck. Male goats up to 12 months of age are sometimes referred to as “bucklings.” Although buck can come into puberty as early as at 4 months of age, waiting until a buck is a year of age to start using him for breeding is best. The number of does (female goats) a buck can breed during the breeding season is often referred to as “Buck Power”. At 1 year of age, the buck should service not more than 10 does during the Breeding season. When he is 2 years old, he should be able to service 25 does during the Breeding season. At the age of 3 and older, he can breed up to 30 does during the Breeding season, as long as his health and nutritional needs are met. The number of does a buck can service during the Breeding season also depends on individual sex drive of the buck, health and nutritional status of the buck. The buck has the greatest genetic impact on the herd, therefore it should be well taken care of at all times.
b) The Doe
The female goat is called a “doe” or “nanny.” Up to the age of 12 months, she is sometimes referred to as a “doeling.” The doe can reach puberty between 4 to 12 months of age, depending on the breed, season of birth, level of feeding/nutrition, and overall health status. Under-feeding can lower her chances of getting pregnant and having kids and can also reduce milk production after having kids. The genetic makeup of the animal also determines when puberty occurs in the female. Puberty is reached when the female exhibits her first heat
(estrus) and ovulation.
When to breed the doe? If does have been well managed and fed, they will reach sexual maturing at an age of about 4 – 9 months. They should also have grown adequately and be in good condition. Young does must not be introduced to a buck for mating before they are at least 7-12 months old or have reached 70% of mature body weight, this can have a negative effect on their growth. This means that the weaned female kids must not encounter bucks as mating might take place, which is not recommended. In rural areas, this might be difficult or impractical. A good guideline is to not breed does until they have reached about 60 – 70% of their mature body weight. An indigenous adult doe will weigh about 35 kg when fully matured, therefore an indigenous doe must not be mated when her weight has not reached 22 kg.
c) Heat (Estrus) in Goats
Estrus, or heat, is the period in which the doe will stand and allow the buck to breed her. This phase of the reproductive cycle may last between 12 to 36 hours. The period from one heat cycle to the next is referred to as the estrous cycle. In goats, the estrous cycle occurs every 18 to 24 days, or 21 days on average. Does in heat will usually display several signs to let you and the buck know that they are ready to breed. The doe will bleat as if hungry or in pain, driving your close neighbors crazy. She will usually wag her tail from side to side constantly. In most does the vulva will swell slightly and appear reddened. Some does will have a discharge from the vulva that can make the tail look wet or dirty. Does will often refuse feed or will decrease their consumption of feed. You may notice your does urinating more frequently as they try to let the buck know they are interested. If you have a group of does that don’t seem to show many signs of heat, it may be necessary to bring an old, smelly buck into fence line contact to force them to display. When a buck has been introduced into the pasture next door the does will tend to pace back and forth along the fence or stand backed up to the fence, allowing the buck to smell them. Many times one doe in heat will cause other does to exhibit heat as well.
Signs of doe in standing heat
- Doe becomes restless and mount each other
- Cries loudly and sometimes bleating
- The vulva may become swollen
- The goat wags the tail
- Frequent urination
When doe is observed to be on heat, if the buck is kept separately (Hand mating), then the doe has to be taken to the buck. In pasture mating system (where a buck is allowed to be with the does all the time or for a specific breeding season), the buck breed it as soon as it detects. If the doe is not in heat again about 24days after it was breed then it is successfully pregnant. The gestation period, or length of pregnancy of the doe ranges between 145 to 152 days, or 150 days (5 months) on average, and under normal circumstances, the doe can have multiple births (twins, triplets and more though rarely), provided that good health status and feeding of both bucks and does are well managed. The doe can be on heat again 3-4weeks after kidding but some can be on heat after weaning.
BREEDING SEASONS IN GOATS
There are two breeding seasons, All year-round breeding season and Restricted breeding season.
- All year- round Breeding season
This breeding season is practiced under free range system. Free-ranging, goats mate throughout the year. However, even when mating is not regulated, most kids will still be born between March and August. When the animals have freedom to graze and live together throughout the year, the buck(s) will be able to breed does that come on heat. The disadvantage of this system is that the kids will be born throughout the year. This makes managing strategic feeding more difficult and it will be the owner’s responsibility to keep the buck and does in good condition throughout the year to facilitate breeding. And it is difficult to control inbreeding (mating between animals of the same family line), if all goats are allowed to run together. Bucks should therefore be rotated or moved from their stations after one and half years or when you see that its off springs are approaching maturity age. For male off springs do castration to avoid them mating their mothers.
- Restricted Breeding season:
Under this system, bucks and does are kept separately to control the breeding. To run and manage a successful breeding system, you must choose a specific breeding season. This allows you to control and improve management of the herd and will only be successful if you prevent the bucks from mating during certain periods of time. The advantage is that restricted breeding season prevents inbreeding between the buck and its doe offspring. Inbreeding should be avoided in animal production because it results in weak offspring, decreased productivity, health complications, and low growth rate. Keeping breeding lines records will help a farmer to know which animals are related and which ones are not. If this can be achieved, it would be ideal to limit the breeding season to a specific time frame, specifically to plan for all the kids to arrive during a six-week period. Another advantage of this season is that goats will be kidding at the same time which will be enabling you to identify does that did not kid.
The best time for kidding is between April and September as rainfall will be low and the parasites will be less. Parasite infestations can cause high mortality rates during the wetter periods. You should allow the goats to mate in November and December. This way, the grazing will still be good when the kids are born around April or May, and the kids can also be weaned on maize leftovers. This may differ from region to region and some areas have found that births in November are better because there is a lot of forage available and the chances of growth and survival for the kids are much better. For November births, mating will have to take place in June and July.
There are two mating systems under restricted breeding season, Hand mating and pasture mating. In hand mating system, the does are taken to the buck when they are on heat during the Breeding season while in Pasture mating system, does and bucks are allowed to run together during the Breeding season and the buck(s) will be mating does that come on heat during that period, and that makes it difficult to know does that have been bred unless there is a tight monitoring system.
Does must have access to good browsing and feed (good nutrition) for about three weeks before mating and up to two weeks after mating. Supplements may be needed over the winter period to keep the body in good condition. Avoid handling the does too much during the mating season and keep handling to a minimum for two weeks after the mating. Avoid de-worming and vaccinations during the breeding season as these treatments would place pressure on the immune system of the doe and affect the fertility
CARING OF THE PREGNANT DOES
When the doe is served and it doesn’t come on heat again about 21-24days that means the doe is successfully pregnant. The pregnancy or gestation period of goats is about five months or 150 days. You must make sure that there is enough good quality feed. This will prevent re-absorption of the foetus during the early stage of pregnancy. The does must also have access to enough good quality food during the last 6 – 8 weeks of pregnancy because the foetus is growing fast during that time. To avoid weak kids in late pregnancy, does need additional nutrients in the last six to eight weeks of pregnancy. Do not to overfeed at this stage, as this can lead to the unborn kids becoming very large and making the birthing process difficult. To make sure that the doe has enough milk, it will need more nutritious food and more water in early lactation.
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Kidding is giving birth in goats.
Signs of Kidding in Goats
The ability to identify goat labor signs gives you notice when it is time to move the doe to a private area where she can concentrate on the job at hand without interference from the other goats. Knowing the signs of goat labor also alerts you to be available in case the doe should need your help. Unfortunately, not all pregnant goats show signs that kidding is imminent, in that case it is important to record the date it is served for you to know the kidding date, but most does show at least one or more of the following signs:
- The doe bags up.
“Bagging up” is the way goat keepers describe the development of a doe’s udder, or bag, so she can provide milk for her kids. The process of bagging up and producing milk is called
“freshening.” If the doe is a first freshener, her udder will mature gradually, starting around six weeks after she was bred and continuing to fill out as birthing time approaches. If the doe has previously given birth, her udder should have receded while her previous milk cycle was on the decline such an older doe may start bagging up a month before she’s due to kid, or she may not bag up until mere days before giving birth. In most cases, when the udder looks tight and shiny, and the teats tend to point slightly to the sides, kids will appear within 24hours.
- The pelvic ligaments loosen.
Just prior to kidding, the hormone relaxin causes the pelvic ligaments to relax. The pelvic ligaments run beside the doe’s tail, one on each side. If you place the palm of your hand above the doe’s tail, fingers pointed toward the rear, and press down with your thumb and forefinger while moving your hand toward the base of the tail, you will encounter what feels like a thin, stiff rope on each side of the tail. This technique is easier to master on does that are neither fat nor heavily muscled. Practice finding these ligaments so you know what they normally feel like. When the doe nears kidding time, the ligaments lose their tautness and, as a result, the tail looks a little gimpy. When you can’t feel the ligaments at all, expect kids within the day. Many goat keepers find this method to be the most reliable goat labor sign.
- The doe changes shape.
As kidding time nears and the kids start moving into position, the doe’s belly sags. Within about 12 to 18 hours before she gives birth when you press your palms against her flank, you will no longer be able to feel the kids moving around. As the kids drop, the doe’s sides hollow and her hip bones stick out. As the area above the back legs sinks, the spine appears to become more prominent.
- The doe discharges mucus.
As kidding time nears, you may see a thick string of white or yellowish mucus dangling from the doe’s vaginal opening. Note that some does will drip cloudy mucus as much as a month prior to kidding. What you’re looking for just prior to kidding is a thick discharge that looks like a long, continuous rope.
- The doe seeks solitude.
A doe will sometimes separate herself from the rest of the herd just prior to kidding. She may wander off into a pasture and appear to be staring at the ground, mesmerized. This doe is seriously considering having her kids outside, which can be a problem if the weather is rainy or freezing.
- The doe gets restless
A doe that’s going into labor can’t decide if she wants to lie down or stand up. When she’s up, she’ll pace, turn in circles, paw the ground, and sniff at the bedding. She’ll repeatedly stretch, yawn, and maybe grind her teeth. She may look back as if trying to see what’s behind her and lick or bite at her sides. If you visit her in the kidding stall, she may lick your face, hands, and arms.
- The doe won’t eat.
When a goat’s pregnancy is nearly over, she may not eat for the last few hours, even up to a day.
I have never seen a clear explanation as to why this might be. Maybe the pressure of the kids against her rumen makes the doe feel full. On the other hand, some does will eat right up until they kid, and even grab a bit in the middle of giving birth to twins.
- The doe becomes vocal.
Within a day or so of kidding, some does start bleating in a voice that only a mama doe uses to communicate with her kids. When labor starts, many does let out a loud bawl with each contraction. As contractions get close together, the doe usually grunts as she pushes. You should see the first kid within about 30 minutes.
- The calendar says so.
Just as a calendar comes in handy for keeping track of a goat’s heat cycle, so also will it tell you when her kidding time is near. If you were on hand when the doe mated with a buck, you can make a pretty close estimate of when she will kid. The gestation period for goats is approximately 150 days, although a doe may kid as much as three days early or five days late. If you keep a record of when your does are bred and when they kid, next time around you’ll have a more accurate idea which doe is likely to kid a little early and which might kid a little on the late side.
- The water bag bursts.
When the doe starts pushing, you may see a water bag protruding from the vaginal opening.
The bag may burst or may come out intact. A second bag, filled with dark fluid, may appear. These bags consist of membranes containing amniotic fluid. They surround and protect the kid(s) up until the time of birth. The next thing you will likely see are the tips of a kid’s front toes, with a tiny nose resting on top. This is the exciting moment you have been waiting for, the goat labor sign that indicates the beginning of a normal delivery. The normal time between when the doe starts pushing and the delivery of a first kid is 30minutes, if it takes longer then the kid may be malpositioned or the doe may have another problem which may need some intervention by the vet or experienced goat farmer to examine the situation.
PREPARING A DOE FOR KIDDING
Kidding may occur on pasture, or you may need to provide doe with a clean, dry, well-ventilated shelter, depending on the weather in your area and your preference. It is wise to watch animals carefully, in case there are complications which will need your assistance. Do not move, handle or disturb the doe during kidding. Separate doe giving birth from the rest of the herd if possible to reduce disturbances.
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