7 Tips for Keeping Bucks Healthy

7 Tips for Keeping Bucks Healthy featured image

When you raise goats, it’s easy to forget that bucks have needs too. Since does are the ones producing the kids and the milk, it’s obvious that they need special attention. Because bucks are only producing sperm, it seems like their needs should be less than does, but that is not the case. And because bucks are stinky, most people don’t like handling them. So, it’s no surprise that bucks are often ignored beyond daily feeding and watering. But, just as with does, you will have more productive bucks if you make sure they have everything they need.

Provide good hay, pasture or browse

Although bucks don’t usually need grain or alfalfa, they won’t thrive on dried out brown grass hay, and just as does would get sick when fed moldy hay, so will bucks. But what do bucks need beyond a good grass hay or pasture and browse?

Provide loose goat minerals

They need supplemental minerals that they can’t get from their environment, which means they should have a free choice, loose mineral mix available. Why can’t they get it from their environment? Because goats in nature live in the desert or in mountains, not on the plains or the prairies. They are not naturally grazers. They are browsers, which means they would normally eat small bushes and woody perennials, not grass. Be sure to get a mineral mix that is specifically labeled for goats only — not sheep and goats. If it is also labeled for sheep, it will not have enough copper in it for goats. And it should be a loose mineral, not a block, because goat tongues are not rough enough to get adequate nutrition from a block in most cases.

For more info on this subject, check out Goat Minerals: Why, What, and How

Check body condition

Pegasus, age 6, clipped for show
Pegasus, age 6, clipped for show,
so you can see his body condition is great!

Even if you are giving bucks the best feed and supplemental minerals, you need to check their body condition at least once a month. That means putting your hands on them! Eeeyew! But because bucks usually have long hair, looks can be deceiving. We learned the hard way a long time ago that just because a buck looks good from a distance does not mean he is in great shape. Their long hair can hide a skinny frame. So, put your hands on them and be sure that they are not too skinny, which could indicate a parasite problem, such as worms or lice. Here is a great video on checking body condition in goats.

If their body condition is poor, and you are absolutely sure that there is not a parasite problem, they might simply need more feed or a better quality feed. If the quality of your pasture or hay is not ideal, you might need to supplement with a small amount of grain, in which case you should add some ammonium chloride to it to avoid urinary calculi.

Check eyelids

In addition to checking the buck’s body condition, you also need to check his eyelids every month to be sure he isn’t anemic. The main cause of anemia in goats is an over-abundance of the barber pole worm, which is an intestinal parasite that sucks the goat’s blood, making it anemic and eventually killing it. The eyelids should be bright pink or red. If it is light pink or white, the goat is anemic. Treating the goat for intestinal parasites generally remedies the problem. However, a copper deficiency can manifest as anemia, so if the goat does not have a heavy load of parasites, but is anemic, copper deficiency is a possibility.

Pay attention to the buck’s coat

Pegasus the Buck at age 3, underweight
Pegasus, age 3, under weight,
with a coat showing signs of copper deficiency

Why would you care about a buck’s coat if you aren’t showing your goats? Because it’s a great indicator of nutritional problems. If a red goat starts turning tan, a cream goat starts to look white, or a black goat looks red (pictured at right), it could be due to a copper deficiency. Now you’re probably wondering how a goat could be copper deficient if you’re giving them a supplemental mineral. If you have well water with high sulfur or iron, those minerals bind with the copper and make it unavailable to the goat, so you will need to supplement with copper oxide wire particles. Another sign of copper deficiency is a forked tail, which some people call a fish tail, as well as a goat that is slow to shed its winter coat in the spring. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is just a cosmetic problem! Ultimately a buck that is copper deficient will have fertility problems, so he won’t be able to do the one job he needs to do. To learn more about copper deficiency, check out my free online course.

Trim hooves

Finally, it’s important to check your buck’s hooves regularly and trim them as needed. This will mean every two to three months for most bucks, but some will need it monthly, and others may only need it once or twice a year. Again, this is not just a cosmetic issue. If hooves get overgrown, they can wind up with hoof rot or other problems, making it difficult for a buck to mount does and get them pregnant.

Every three to four months, we have a buck spa day, which started as simply pedicure day. The goats didn’t seem too excited about having their hooves trimmed, so I thought they might like it more if we referred to it as a pedicure. Who doesn’t love a pedicure? For the record, it did not appear to change their opinion of the whole thing. Over the years, we realized this was also the perfect time to check eyelids and body condition, as well as give them the supplemental COWP while they’re on the milk stand. They eat grain and alfalfa pellets top-dressed with copper while we trim their hooves give them a pedicure. Once the hoof trimming pedicure is done, we check eyelids and body condition, and give a dewormer, if necessary.

What about parasite control?

You may be surprised that routine deworming is not on this list. Regular use of a dewormer was common practice during the 1990s and early 2000s, but recent research has shown that it’s a bad idea because it ultimately leads to dewormer resistance, which means that at some point, you are likely to find yourself in a situation where dewormers no longer work. For more information on dewormer resistance, check out this post.

So, if you don’t regularly deworm the bucks, what do you do? Check eyelids and body condition, and if a goat is anemic and under-weight, it is advisable to use a dewormer on that goat. For more information on preventing parasite problems, check out this post.

Now, if you’re thinking that this seems like a lot of work, don’t despair. It really isn’t, especially when you consider the fact that a healthy buck can produce dozens of kids in a single year. Wise breeders for decades have known that your bucks are half your herd, even if you only have a few. Be smart, and protect that investment in your herd’s future!

Do you know what a vet does in a breeding soundness exam? Check out episode #83 Buck Health and Breeding on my For the Love of Goats podcast.

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22 thoughts on “7 Tips for Keeping Bucks Healthy”

    • I personally don’t feed any ammonium chloride because I don’t feed my bucks grain. Simply avoiding grain is the best way to avoid urinary calculi. Many years ago when I was new and bought everything that looked good in the catalogs, I used to keep it on hand for emergencies, but I never needed it, and I don’t even know what happened to it at this point. I did get worried that they had a problem one time (nervous newbie syndrome) and mixed it into their water, and they wouldn’t touch it. I’ve been told it’s very bitter. I absolutely would NOT add it to minerals for fear of it reducing their mineral consumption. It is a feed additive in some grains, so adding it to grain seems like the best option — especially since you only need to provide it if they are consuming grain.

      Reply
      • Ok thanks! How do you suggest keeping weight on bucks during breeding season? We feed them grass hay but usually they start to drop some weight in fall/ winter when we are breeding all the does, so I’ve always given them a grain (about half cup) and that seems to help them maintain weight. Luckily we’ve never had any urinary issues but I’m always very concerned about it because it seems so common! Is there a better way to get more calories into them without grain or alfalfa during breeding season?

        Reply
        • If bucks lose condition during breeding season, you can give them a small amount of grain like you said, as well as a little alfalfa to balance the calcium:phosphorus, and short term it’s probably not a problem. UC really is not common in bucks at all. I don’t personally know anyone who has had a buck get it, and even on social media, which I’ve been on since 2002, I think it’s mostly been wethers. As I said, if I were concerned, I’d mix it in the grain. They love grain so much I don’t think they’ll care if you add something bitter to it. My bucks wouldn’t drink water when I mixed it in there at whatever the package suggested, and you should never mix anything into minerals because it could change their consumption of the minerals. And of course, you can always mix it with water and drench it, if you want, but that’s not fun.

          Reply
  1. Perfect timing! Just had a spa day for the entire herd 7 does (2 due in 2 weeks?) 3 wethers, and 2 young bucks. Trimmed everyone’s bums bucks and does due, did hooves, trimmed bellys and tails, and brushed all the winter coats out. Then I sam someone mentioned using their dog dryer/blower to blow the goats coats out in the spring to remove all dander and loose undercoats and did that too. Everyone looks great I was able to check for lice/ mites which we have been treating a few ear bases with ACV and essential oils. But the timeing of this article was just in time for us to finish as the passing thunderstorm (1st of the season) came through. Thank you feels good to know we are right on track. And the boys loved the attention and snuggles.

    Reply
  2. Deborah,
    Thanks for this info. I’m in the webinar tomorrow but don’t know how to access it. I am not on facebook or any of those. Thank you for a response. See you tomorrow,
    Barb Rondine

    Reply
    • When you signed up for the webinar you should have received an email with the URL that you click on to go to the website. Be sure to check your spam folder and, if you are on Gmail, the promotions folder.

      Reply
  3. Thank you so much not I could have used this 3wks. back when we purchased a buck and a weather. Had no idea they didn’t eat the same as does.
    Appreciate all your info.
    Thanks Debbie Rutt

    Reply
  4. Please, do you have any suggestions to get a goat (doe or buck) to hold still enough in order to check their eyelids? Even with their heads locked into the milking stand, they struggle and move their heads around when I try to check their eyelids.

    Reply
    • If you can have someone hold the goat and press the goat’s head against the person’s leg or chest, it makes it a little easier.

      Reply
  5. Hi, thank you for all your valuable information.
    We’ve got all of our goats off grain except our milking doe.
    Sadly we lost 1 of our wethers to urinary stones and another to kidney failure.
    Additionally we’ve stopped feeding our wethers alfalfa. However 1 of our wethers who is 20 months old is missing the alfalfa. He’s good about eating his grass hay in the morning/afternoon but is looking for something more for dinner. And he’s not interested in timothy pellets. We live in northern Idaho so with the snow there isn’t anything for them to forage right now. All our goats have free choice mineral and kelp. He’s in good condition. Good weight, healthy shiny coat. Wondering if he can have the Purina goat chow a couple times a week as a treat since it has the calcium phosphorus in proper ratio or would that put him at risk for stones? Thank for your time, blessings! Sonja

    Reply
    • He doesn’t need any kind of pellets — timothy or alfalfa. He just needs plenty of good green grass hay. It won’t take him long to adjust to not having the alfalfa pellets. Purina Goat Chow is grain, and grain causes urinary stones. You can’t balance the calcium and phosphorus without giving him alfalfa, which can cause a zinc deficiency. But since he does NOT need grain or alfalfa, you can just NOT give him either of those things. I see more wethers killed with kindness than anything else. They are VERY easy keepers. When you overfeed them, you are just asking for trouble — kind of like letting children all of the candy they want.

      Reply
  6. Hi Deborah,
    if a ND wether or buck were to have urinary issue and you wanted to drench with ammonium chloride, what would be the ratio water/AC, what quantity would you drench, how many drenches? Thanks.

    Reply
    • When you buy ammonium chloride for this purpose, it has dosing instructions. You can also ask your vet for dosage.

      Reply
  7. Question on alfalfa pellets. I have both wethers and does. I do not grain my boys, I do give them ammonium chloride because they are in close proximity to the does and their grain. The does and wethers all feed from a milking stand, so they get their own bowls. I find training the boys on the stand is useful to clipping their hooves and checking them over. I wanted to give them some alfalfa pellets as a treat. How much would you suggest?

    Reply
    • There will be a podcast dropping on Wednesday that covers everything about urinary stones with Dr. VanSaun from Penn State, so be sure to listen to that. One of the things I learned is that ammonium chloride only dissolves struvite stones (caused by too much phosphorus) — not any of the other stones, which can be caused by a variety of other feeds. Too much calcium causes calcium stones, and ammonium chloride does nothing to dissolve them. I’d suggest giving your boys the grass hay pellets, such as timothy or orchard grass hay pellets.

      Reply

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