One of the most important things to master when it comes to breeding dairy goats is learning to evaluate bucks. Most of the time we focus on the does — they are the ones who produce the milk, after all. We interact with does more than bucks, for the most part. They are the ones we milk, the ones who give birth, and the ones with the very evident, easy to evaluate dairy qualities. We can easily see their udder and measure their milk production. We can’t have that kind of direct, visible dairy evaluation on our bucks. We have to wait until their daughter’s freshen to know what they’re passing on when it comes to milk and mammary systems.
It’s hard to see past those cute fuzzy buck kids to their true potential. I think most people have, at one point or another, kept a buck kid intact who really should have been wethered. I did it when I was a newer breeder, and I see it happen a lot with others as well. Over the years I have become more and more picky about bucks. Most buck kids don’t get to keep their manhood on my farm anymore. That’s how it should be on all farms; if all breeders were as picky as they should be about buck kids, we would see rapid improvement across the board.
Why Bucks are So Important
In the time it takes for a doe to produce one litter of kids, a buck can sire dozens. More than that, really. Most breeders could realistically breed every single doe in their herd to the same buck, meaning that every resulting kid born that year would carry 50% of their genetics from that one buck. That’s a huge impact on your herd and the breed in general. A good buck is the fastest way to improve your herd, and a bad buck is the fastest way to degrade it. Sadly some breeds are plagued by low quality goats due to indiscriminate breeding. Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian, and miniature breeds are particularly prone to sub-par breeding because they are more colorful and cute — and doing so only serves to overpopulate the breed with bad, unproductive genetics. Sub-par bucks are often kept intact because they’re flashy or colorful, or because the breeder selling the kid knows they can make a quick buck. The lure of flashy aesthetics or a bit of cash is strong. Not only that, but it’s hard to be picky when you’re new, inexperienced, and don’t have a clear vision for your herd to direct your decision making.
Keeping too many bucks intact is bad for the breed economically as well. Not only does it lower the quality of the gene pool, it also saturates the market. There is always an overabundance of buck kids; there simply isn’t a need for as many bucks as are born each year. You will often see prices on bucks much lower than does, because people struggle to sell all the buck kids born — but bucks aren’t worth less than does. Bucks have a bigger impact on a herd than a doe, so they shouldn’t be priced any lower than a doe of equal value. We see bucks go so cheap because people have trouble selling them. People have trouble selling them because the market is saturated due to breeders not wethering any buck kids. When the market is full, prices go down. That’s not good for anyone, either, because that means when it is time to sell a really nice buck kid, it’s difficult to find a home and difficult to get a reasonable price. Many people will buy the cheaper buck kid down the road even if he is of lower quality.
How to Choose a Buck
Whether you’re considering keeping a buck kid or buying one, you should carefully consider the choices you make. Dairy bucks should be evaluated primarily based on their dam and paternal granddam. The buck’s job is first and foremost to produce more does. He’ll produce buck kids as well, of course, but most of those buck kids will be wethered. His legacy is in his daughters and the conformation, production, and mammary system they carry forward. If his dam and paternal granddam aren’t outstanding, he shouldn’t be a buck. Evaluate the DHI production records of all of his close female relatives as well as linear appraisal information, if available. Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to leave a buck intact or buy a new buck from someone else:
- What does this buck bring to the table that my existing herd lacks?
- Would I be happy if my entire doe herd consisted of clones of his dam and granddam?
- Does his dam produce significantly more milk than the average doe in my herd? Does his granddam?
- Is his dam’s udder significantly better than the average doe in my herd? Is his granddam’s?
- Has his dam proven herself over multiple lactations? Has his granddam?
- Have his sisters (full or half) proven themselves? Do they produce significantly more milk than the average doe in my herd?
- Has his sire produced outstanding daughters with multiple does?
- If a buck kid you’re planning to sell: Would I use this buck in my herd?
- Does this buck excel in areas where my does are weak?
- Does this buck meet all the breed standards (height, breed character, disqualifying faults, etc)?
- If his dam/granddam/sister was for sale, would I buy her?
- Would I still keep/buy this buck if he were a solid black, brown eyed, non-flashy color, and/or not polled?
- Would wethering this buck deprive the breed of valuable genetics and potential improvement, or are bucks of greater value easy to find?
- Would this buck potentially improve even the very best doe in my herd?
- Are his dam and paternal granddam my idea of an ideal doe?
I also like this graphic made by Rebekah Clarke:
I know this all sounds awfully strict and overwhelming. Certainly I’m not saying that every single buck kid should be wethered. Also, if you’ve reached a point in your herd where your does are all great — which is quite possible if you’re careful and choosy — then your buck’s dam and granddam may not necessarily be significantly better than all your other does. After all, if they’re all fantastic, it’s more about finding an equally fantastic buck who is stronger in certain areas where your does may be weaker (because no goat, no matter how wonderful, is perfect). Still, most buck kids who remain bucks. . .shouldn’t.
Learn to be particular about your bucks now, and your herd will be all the better for it later.
Want to learn about breeding goats? Check out my book, Dairy Goat Reproduction!