November 04, 2010

Planning breeding season

It’s really hard to believe that it is November 4th and we are nearly done with breeding season. Don’t mistake my meaning – these are animals we are talking about and certainly they can come back into heat if they want to, BUT of the 16 animals who live full time at our house (who we were planning to breed) all 16 of them have been bred at least once!! This means that possible we could not even have to take a Thanksgiving trip to get a goat bred. I don’t even remember the last time I have not had to breed a goat over that weekend.

So I guess it would be fun to talk a little bit about how we choose which bucks to use for our girls. Of course it varies from year to year because our circumstances change so much from year to year but there are similarities each year.

Believe it or not, choosing what buck to use starts long before fall. Really I think it starts late spring or summer. This is when everyone starts coming out to shows and starts mingling again. Not to say that we don’t talk to people over winter – but usually kidding season keeps everyone so busy that visiting is out of the question. So you suddenly start talking about what bucks people have or what they are planning on purchasing. You might get the opportunity to see one of the bucks at a buck show, but more likely you are able to see his mother, sister, and possible even daughters. The other thing that happens over the summer is you are able to get an idea about your doe. Listening to what different judges like or dislike about your goats is such a critically important part of the show. If you hear the same thing over and over again then you know what you need to go looking for in a buck – or possible in his female relatives (daughter, mother, etc.)

Then, faster than you know it, summer wraps up and fall is upon us. Now you have to decide when you want to breed her. Of course some of that is dependent on when your doe comes into heat but if you start seeing heats in August you need to know when you want kids. Maybe you want January or February kids – these will most likely be the largest at the show, but they will also be born in (most likely) the coldest time of the year. Maybe you want March kids – usually not the smallest kids at the show but born when it is a little warmer (usually the largest class of kids). Or maybe you want to wait for later kids. Born when there is less rain and school left but could be the smallest kids at the show. You will want to take extra care of your May kids if you live in a place where it is 80°F during the day and then drops down to 45°F at night. This can bring a whole other set of challenges. Regardless of when you want kids – start marking and recording heats early so that you are prepared when your doe is ready to be bred.

Wow, all that and we haven’t even picked out bucks yet. Here at our farm we then have to decide if we want to try AI or live service on the doe. Sometime that is an easy choice. If it is a kid (breeding to be a yearling milker) we don’t even try AI. If it is a doe who had a really rough kidding last spring we also opt for live service to give her a better change to conceive. Finally we consider what bucks are around to use when weighting our options. For our Lamanchas last year we had plenty of AI straws but not a lot of close by bucks to use – so we AI’ed our two older does and drove to a live buck for the kid. On the other hand this year we have not 1 but 2 bucks on the property to use – you better believe that we used them this year! In the same manner last year we leased a Saanen buck and used him on 3 does – but this year we tried AI on the yearling milker instead.

Finally we decide which buck to use. Let’s take for example the two Saanen kids we were breeding. Since they are both kids we didn’t want to AI them and since we didn’t want to cross them that meant finding a buck to use. So first I look at their strengths and weaknesses. Alba for example is very strong in general appearance but I would love to see her with more dairy character. Then I thought about my choices of bucks. One buck that I have wanted to get a daughter out of for a long time lives over on the coast. We have two does in the herd who are 2x bred on him (he is on both sides of the pedigree) and they are very dairy individuals – almost to a fault. Also he is an older buck – meaning that although I love some of the young animals around me I may not get a chance to breed to him again. Finally I make sure I go to the website and use their planning to check the inbreeding coefficient. Although I know my pedigrees well – there could always be something unexpected. Generally I try to keep the inbreeding under 10% unless there is an intentional reason for having it higher. Also you want to make sure that the animals who are contributing the most are strong animals. Of course all my careful planning and preparation can go all wrong when the animals decided not to cooperate. With my other Saanen doe Azalea I had planned to breed her to a beautiful older buck who I thought would really improve on her type. Sadly when we got there he refused to service her. Then you have to decide if it is more important to have that cross or to have kids at that time. Since I had armed myself with information on the other bucks on the property I was fully prepared to select a different animal and knew what type they came from and what they would throw – but if I hadn’t already known it might have been a lot more difficult. So that is my final piece of advice – go to any breeders house knowing what your other option are if your animals refuse to cooperate.

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