There is one massive pain in packing does, and that is breeding season.
For most dairy breeds as the day length shortens does start coming into heat. Which pretty much translates into a relatively cooperative doe that suddenly decides to ignore you and becomes infatuated with that smelly bearded buck that’s gibbering through the fence, (hormones can be embarrassing in any species). Therefore, the primary months of annoyance in the United States range from the end of July to December. If you are hiking a non-dairy breed that can breed out of season, (kikos, cashmeres, boers, or others), then it is possible for a doe to breed any time of the year if run with a buck, but you will still usually have to deal with the greatest hassle due to full blown heat during the Fall.
Below are some observations I’ve made on getting through breeding season with the least amount of frustration.
Decide ahead of time if you want to breed your does that year as well as pack. If you do, then great! Breed as early as you can since pregnant does don’t have the hormonal swings that those cycling and looking for a mate do.
What if you decide you want to breed your does but don’t want to breed them at the start of breeding season? Or what if you don’t want to breed that year at all? If you don’t have a buck on the premises, just know that you may come out on a glorious Fall Saturday all ready to hike and one or more of your does could be standing on the fence screaming her head off to advertise her availability to any males who might live in the 3 square miles surrounding your place. Some does aren’t too bad in heat, others are pretty much hell on hooves. I have does that are just more stubborn than usual and I have does that bash down fences, tear tie out lines off trees, and scream loud enough to keep the neighbors awake. Some women are just more motivated to get a boyfriend than others I guess.
Personally, since I like to hike with my goats off leash I don’t take does in heat out even for day hikes. I once had a doe who was coming into heat ditch me on a trail, cross a road, and go over to investigate a herd of goats nearby. You know, just in case there were any sexy young bucks about the place that might be worth her attention. Try explaining that to your hiking buddies with a straight face. This also brings into question disease risk, (what if the doe hops a fence into a pasture of goats that turn out to be covered in CL lesions?). Quarantining goats is annoying, so if it is in full blown screaming heat, it stays at the house!
If you do have a buck on the premises and you don’t want him breeding make sure she can’t get to him, and he can’t get to her. This means having the buck in an airtight fence, which is pretty much impossible, but if you get close enough he’ll still stay in. Ways that have worked to keep bucks away from hormonally excited does include:
- The Invisible Buck: Fencing the buck on the opposite end of the farm, downwind of the does so they cannot hear, see, or smell him.
- The Great Wall of China: Using plywood to construct a solid fence that is completely vertical and at least 4 foot tall. This makes it very hard for the buck to climb out, but some athletic bucks can still jump out of this if they want. Remember the actual Great Wall of China wasn’t completely fool proof either.
- The Harem Maneuver: Give the buck some does that you want bred to run with so he’ll stay away from your packers.
- The Ball and Chain: Can’t keep the buck in the fence? As a last ditch effort you can tie him out. Just make sure you tie him to something very very sturdy. A motivated buck can pull a lot of weight. One afternoon my employer attached a buck to a large heavy lawn roller. That buck dragged the lawn roller over several acres of bumpy pasture ground to get to the herd of does wearing nothing but a collar around his neck.
If you want to hike and breed your does later in the breeding season check out my “Keeping Her On the Road” page for more about syncing or not syncing your does, (syncing = having all your does come into heat at once).
Dealing with bucks means taking a risk. Bucks remind me of bulls. Some are chill, some are aggressive. The only way to determine the nature of either is to go in the pasture with them at least once. Most bucks go a little weird and become aggressive when they enter rut, similar to what happens with deer bucks in the Fall, but the level of aggression and weirdness varies a lot from goat to goat.
I usually do not tame breeding bucks like I do packers. I have tried taming bucks before and found that if they become too friendly as kids they seem to be more human aggressive when they go into rut, (perhaps they view me as an equal and thus competition). They also become more unpredictable, because they may be sweet and friendly one moment, then their rut hormones kick in and they’re trying to bash your face in the next.
In terms of working bucks during breeding season if they aren’t tamed and are a little bit nervous of you they tend to be less prone to acting aggressively towards you. You can put the buck in with your does who are tamed, and then work the whole herd at one time, using the tamed does to get the buck to go where you want. This does require you to have some type of catch pen set up where you can safely corner the buck to do his hooves though, so consider whether a tamed or untamed buck works best for you. To handle untamed bucks I use a lasso to carefully slip over the buck’s horns once he’s been cornered to secure his most dangerous weapon to the fence before I vaccinate or do hooves. I do usually keep bucks horned because I use this technique. If you don’t, consider whether you want your buck to have handles/sharp weapons on his head or not when he is still a cute fluffy kid.
I live alone most of the time and work my goats alone, but when it comes to bucks bring a buddy. While most bucks are of a size that a human can put up a real fight against them, with bucks that have “long horn” style horns you are not just dealing with a buck that head butts you in the stomach, but with an animal that can also hook you from the side. You get hooked once up under the ribs by a large buck and the bruises are going to take a really long time to heal. Eye damage is also a possibility if the horns come at your face. I usually try to get a buddy to hold the goat at its horns. Doing so causes the buck to naturally press his head pretty firmly against the person trying to take his weapon away, so don’t choose your 80 year old grandmother for this task – unless it’s my 80 year old grandmother who kicks arse and still goes hiking every week. I also usually tie the buck up to the fence in case he gets away from the buddy in charge of keeping me from getting beaten on.
I did once get caught by a buck deep in rut I was working alone, while my buddy, (the long suffering husband), was left outside the fence for safety reasons, (he’s not very good with goats). The “buddy” had to jump the fence and pull the goat off me because the buck caught me up against the fence so hard I couldn’t get myself free of his horns.
When working a buck never hit the buck on the head, ever. This will cause them to enter “combat mode” and they will think you are challenging them to a headbutting contest. Instead, if the buck is doing something bad, (say trying to head press on you to show his dominance or gesturing with his horns or in an emergency has you on the ground pinned), and you feel the need to defend yourself, you must do something to spook the buck. With a horse pure violence, (like popping it on the butt if you get kicked), works perfectly well. Goats live in a herd society where violence is perpetrated by them and against them by their herd mates every day. How many times have you seen a goat headbutt another? Practically every 5 minutes. So if you act like a goat – by hitting a goat in the head or the sides or anywhere another goat would hit that goat, then you have now become a goat in the eyes of that buck and he will aggressively defend his dominance over you. Instead, use the only asset us scrawny humans have – your brain. Come up with something that he doesn’t expect to break him out of his rut induced stupidity cycle.
In an emergency, you can kick him in the stomach, (under his body), preferably near the back legs. This is a location that is rarely attacked during ritual combat between bucks, so it tends to be a surprise to the buck in question, and more so than the pain the shock is what seems to wake him up from his suicidal rut combat mode. Do not kick into his sides, as this is again a challenge to attack you that his hormonally muddled brain will accept, (if you own goats you’ve probably seen them head butt each other in the side already).
However, with some goats, (and some breeds of goats), any form of violence by you will be treated as a grave transgression and never forgotten. If you have an aggressive buck that seems to hold grudges, keep a spray bottle of water on you at all times. If the buck misbehaves, squirt it in the face with water. Just like a cat, this acts as a nonviolent way to discipline a goat, but it will not work on a fully in rut buck that has gone insane from hormones. The battle rage is upon him and that tiny little misting of water will evaporate long before it touches the burning brand of rage that is his soul. Or something like that. Basically, it doesn’t work, so have a back up plan and be prepared to save yourself.
Goats are like magnets during breeding season. To keep a buck and doe apart for five months requires bending the laws of physics and taking quantum fencing design to the fringe of science. However, unlike cold fusion it is not impossible!