It’s officially fall, and that means a few different things are goin’ on:
- leaves are falling
- cool breezes are blowing
- pumpkins are everywhere
- flannel is in
- bonfires are back
- It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! is on TV
- And rut is in the air.
While I can’t help you pick out the perfect plaid flannel shirt, I can give you some tips for managing your goat herd during breeding season — aka “rut.” Every goat breeder knows when rut comes around. All it takes is one good whiff near the buck pen and there’s no denying it. It’s an exciting time of year to be planning out who is having kids from which buck next year and when, but it’s also taxing on the animals as their bodies deal with the added stressors that come on during the rut.
I actually haven’t even begun breeding yet this year, and I’m still deciding who will be kidding next year and who will not. Last year I had does kidding as early as February, but this year kidding won’t begin until at least March or April. Breeding may have already begun for some of you, but it’s never too late to spruce up your bucks and does to support optimal fertility and a good kid crop in the spring.
Minerals are of utmost importance when it comes to fertility in goats. Copper and selenium in particular have a huge impact on not only fertility, but also the overall health of goats.
Goats need a good source of loose minerals to build the basis of their mineral supplementation. There are a few different brands with good copper levels, including Right Now Onyx, Golden Blend by Hoegger, and Sweetlix Meat Maker (non-medicated). I have used Hoegger’s and Sweetlix, but I primarily stick with Sweetlix brand which I purchase from Jeffers. When looking for a good goat mineral, be cognizant of the copper levels and the salt levels. Goats need a high level of copper; too much salt will result in the goats not ingesting enough minerals. Don’t buy sheep/goat minerals, as these will not have enough copper (sheep are prone to copper toxicity).
Copper deficiency can result in poor parasite resistance, poor fertility, early abortions, anemia, faded or rough coats, and hair loss (particularly on the tail tip and face). In almost all cases, goats will need additional copper supplementation in the form of copper oxide wire particle boluses given orally every 4-6 months. I keep my herd on a 4 month schedule of bolusing.
Selenium deficiency causes poor fertility, early abortions, trouble giving birth, retained placenta, low milk production, and weak kids. As with copper, most goat herds need additional selenium supplementation in addition to their loose mineral. This can be done with a prescription injection, selenium gel, or free-choice selenium powder. I prefer offering the powder, and I saw an improvement in my herd when I switched from gel to powder.
I don’t know about anyone else, but this year the parasites have been absolutely horrible for my herd. I’ve battled more infestations this year than I’ve ever had in a single year. The weather set up a perfect storm for parasite overload in my corner of the country — very mild winter, warm wet spring, warm wet summer. Regardless of whether it’s been a good year or bad, parasite levels need to be carefully monitored.
Internal parasites are the number one killer of goats. There is no way around it — it’s a fact. We need to be heavily focused on breeding goats with natural resistance and resilience, and I urge you to take that into consideration as you plan your pairs this fall. More than that, you also need to check your goats for parasites and treat accordingly before breeding them. Pregnancy, rut, and lactation put a lot of strain on their bodies which parasites will happily take advantage of. Check parasite levels using the famancha method and treat accordingly.
Prevent infestation as best you can by rotating pastures and keeping feed off the ground, then deworm when necessary. Do not simply deworm everyone in the herd or you will cause dewormer resistance to grow quickly.
It’s also important to catch up on any routine maintenance before breeding. This includes things like hoof trimming, mineral supplementation, barn cleaning, and the like. Going into breeding season, pregnancy, and lactation, your goats should be at their best. Never breed a goat — especially a doe — who is not in peak condition. Poor condition going into breeding season can cause a cascade of lower fertility, difficulty maintaining body condition over winter while pregnant, difficulty kidding, and difficulty producing milk.
Proper nutrition and good conditioning are needed going into the harsher winter months, especially if you are expecting your goats to perform their best. The best time to breed your does and bucks is when they are not too thin nor too fat, are up to date on mineral supplements and hoof trimming, do not have a high parasite load, and are generally healthy. Bucks, who normally do well with only hay, may need some additional grain during rut if they begin to lose weight from fighting other bucks, breeding, and generally being more active and stressed.
Are you planning for a bunch of bouncing kids this spring?