AUG 28, 2012: There is lots to consider if you wish to get your goat mated. Richard Pemble explains
As the nights start to draw in, being a seasonal breeder, the goat will start to think about coming into heat, ready to be mated. Goats start to come into oestrus (heat) in response to decreasing day length and will continue to cycle every three weeks after the first oestrus. They will typically start coming into oestrus in late September/October time and continue, if they are not successfully mated until February/March time, when days start to lengthen. Now is the time to make plans for getting your goat mated. Natural or artificial? There are two options for getting your goat mated. These are to use a male goat for natural service, where either the male is housed on your premises, or where your female is transported to the premises where the male live or to use Artificial Insemination (AI). Not all areas of the country have a wealth of males at stud or an inseminator locally, so early contact with another goat keeper in your area or your local goat club is advised. The British Goat Society website (www.allgoats.com) contains a list and contact details for local goat clubs. If you choose to use AI, then your female should have no previous history of breeding problems and you will have to order the semen you require in advance of the breeding season. Most people who offer an AI service do this on a voluntary, rather than a commercial basis and as such will normally only hold semen for their own use. Signs of oestrus When a female goat comes into oestrus (heat) she will show some or all of the following signs: • Constant or more frequent bleating – calling for a male; • Swollen vulva with a clear mucus discharge; • Wagging of the tail; • Lack of appetite; • Change in behaviour. The heat period for a goat is typically 36-48 hours, and if using natural service, then the goat can be mated anytime within this period. Some goats will say in heat for as little as a few hours and some may continue in heat for up to three to four days, although these are the exception, rather than the rule. Why do you want to mate your goats and produce kids? There are several reasons why the smallholder may wish to mate their goat and produce kids. The primary reason would be to get the female goat into milk to produce milk for consumption. The kids produced from the mating may or may not be of value to the smallholding and this is a key consideration when selecting the male to mate your female to. Some of the questions to be considered are: • Are female kids replacements wanted from female to be mated? If so, then a high quality male should be selected to produce kids of the best production potential. • Are any kids produced at kidding time to be reared for meat? If meat is required then a suitable choice of male would be a Boer or an Anglo-Nubian. Dairy breed kids can be used for meat, but they produce a less well muscled carcase. • If any male kids are not required for rearing for meat or for breeding (and only the very best males should be kept for breeding), then are appropriate arrangements in place to either sell them on for rearing for meat or to have them humanely destroyed? Unfortunately we cannot predict or influence the sex of kids produced and therefore a range of strategies may need to be in place to deal with a mixed sex litter of kids. Typically a female goat will produce twins, with a range from singles to quins. Larger litters are more typical of the Anglo-Nubian breed, but are not unknown in the Swiss breeds. Health Considerations If you have your own male goat on your premises then there are less barriers to be overcome to getting your goat successfully mated. If you choose to either loan a male or travel your female to the selected stud male then you will need to be aware of the health status of the herd you are travelling to. Most small pedigree herds who offer males at stud will require evidence that you whole herd is tested negative for Caprine Arthritic Encephalitis (CAE). You will need to take a current negative test certificate, which contains the tag number of the female with you at the time of mating. Some herds are also members of the national Scrapie Monitoring Scheme and as such will require visiting females to be of the same status. This scheme has a three year qualifying period. These are questions you will need to ask the owner of the stud male you intend visiting well in advance. It is no use expecting to just turn up for a mating without making prior arrangements with the stud owner. Before travelling mating your goat, whether travelling her or using your own male, she should be in good body condition and not suffering from any illness at the time. An animal is less likely to conceive when ill and could pass on any illness to the male and then to the rest of the herd. Practical considerations If you are travelling your female to a stud male then you will need to consider the following points: • Do you have suitable legal transport to make the journey? A small trailer is the most likely form of transport, but others are suitable. • Is your holding under any movement restrictions? If you have moved stock onto your holding, you will subject to a standstill for six days following the movement onto your premises. • Female goats can be transported to the premises of a stud male for mating and return home on the same day without triggering a standstill on the premises of the male, but a standstill will be triggered on the premises of the female when she returns home. • When is the owner of the stud male available? If they work then what times of day are they at home? This is important information to find out prior to making a journey. You should always phone prior to leaving home in case the male is ill or the owner of the male is not available. Costs Expect to pay a stud fee to the owner of a male goat if you use natural service. This will typically be in the range of £40 to £75 and is likely to include one free return service within three weeks if the female goat does not hold to the first mating. Costs for AI will vary more widely. There will be cost for the semen (typically £30 to £50 per straw), a delivery cost for the semen to reach the inseminators storage tank, travel costs for the inseminator to travel to your premises and a fee for the inseminators service. You should agree all of these in advance of the breeding season. Potential problems Several problems may occur at mating time. Firstly the female may not stand for the male to mate her. Typically this would be due to the female not being properly in heat, either being presented to the male too early or too late in the oestrus period. The inexperienced goatkeeper may not be fully familiar with the signs of heat and may try to get the female mated when she is not in heat at all. Secondly, the female may come in heat again three weeks later, meaning that the first mating was not successful in getting the goat pregnant. It is always worth checking with the owner of the male that he has successfully mated other females that season to rule out an infertile male. A second mating should be attempted if the female does not hold to first service. If this is not successful then veterinary advice should be sought as there are many reasons why this may occur. Conclusion Breeding your goats is an essential part of the production cycle if goats are to be contributors to the productivity of a small holding. However, breeding them should not be undertaken lightly as there will be a cost involved in terms of feeding and housing offspring and there is always the potential that veterinary help may be needed at kidding time. If all the necessary considerations are taken into account then there is no reason why goats cannot be successfully bred and contribute to the productivity of the small holding. Beginners Goat Keeping courses Richard Pemble will be running a Beginners Goat Keeping Course on Saturday September September 29 at Plumpton College in East Sussex. Further details from www.plumpton.ac.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.