5 tips for breeding goats and sheep

breeding goats and sheep

 

It’s fall, which means that it’s breeding season for sheep and goat owners. Although it’s a totally natural process, there are usually some surprises for new owners experiencing their first breeding season. So, here are five tips for breeding goats and sheep with success.

Breeding practices are different for sheep and goats.

People usually pen breed sheep and meat goats, while dairy goats are usually hand bred. Unless you will be lambing in the dead of winter, you don’t really need to be there when sheep lamb because they do just fine with pasture lambing. Lambs have wool, which keeps them warmer than goats at birth, even though their wool is wet. Also, because many people with dairy goats take babies away from mom at birth and bottle-feed, they want to be there when the kids are born, so they want an exact due date. If temperatures are below 40 degrees, baby goats can die of hypothermia if they are not dried off quickly enough following birth.

Pen breeding means you put does or ewes into a pasture with a buck or ram for breeding. You want only one male in the pen so that you know who daddy is, plus if you have two males in there, they will fight. Hand breeding simply means that you wait for the doe to go into heat, then you set her up on a date with a buck of your choosing.

Remember that most sheep and goats are seasonal breeders, which means they get pregnant in the fall and give birth in the spring. Although off-season breeding is possible with some breeds, the females are not usually as fertile as in the fall. For example, my Nigerian dwarf does and Shetland sheep that get bred in spring and give birth in fall do not have as many babies as those bred during the normal breeding season.

Know the signs of heat.

If you are going to hand breed, you need to be able to recognize when the doe is in heat. Most does will flag, which is goat-speak for wagging her tail really fast. Some will also be rather vocal. There have been times when I thought a doe was being attacked by a coyote because of the ruckus. When I went out there, however, I quickly saw that it was just a doe in heat. Does will also mount each other when one is in heat. But how do you know which one is in heat? If one stands and lets another doe mount her, the doe being mounted is in “standing heat.”

Does are only in “standing heat” for a few hours, and that’s the only time they can get pregnant. Way too many newbies who don’t own a buck think they can take the doe to another farm to be bred tomorrow, but then it’s too late. Even if the buck gets lucky, the eggs are past their prime, and the doe doesn’t settle (get pregnant).

Breeding goats and sheep only takes a few seconds.

Yes, you read that correctly. It is not a typo. Several years ago a new goat owner kept emailing me complaining that the does I sold her were not coming into heat. Then a few months later, I received a panicked phone call from her because both of them were in labor! That’s when I found out that she had left the does with a buck and went into the house for 15 minutes.

Provide free-choice, loose minerals.

Genetic causes of infertility in sheep and goats are extremely rare. We’ve had about 500 kids and 200 lambs on our farm, and I’ve only had one doe that never got pregnant. This does not mean, however, that every goat gets pregnant every time. Copper deficiency causes fertility problems in bucks and does. Bucks can have a low sperm count. Does may not come into heat or have silent heats. They may not get pregnant, or they may miscarry at various stages of pregnancy. All goats should have free choice, loose minerals available that are specifically for goats. Do NOT use “sheep and goat” minerals, which have no copper. If you have sulfur, iron, or calcium in your well water, however, you may also need to supplement with copper oxide wire particles.

Keep records.

For years, my goat breeding records were kept in a Word document on my computer. It was simply a chart that listed each doe, the buck to whom she was bred, the date bred, and the due date. I always calculate due dates at 145 days, although Nigerian dwarf goats usually kid between 145 and 150 days. I don’t like to get surprised. Larger breeds can go as much as 155 days before kidding.

Our sheep are pen bred, so I simply had a piece of notebook paper in my sheep binder. I listed each ewe under the name of the ram she was bred to.

Now I have created spreadsheets in Excel that I use. If you opt for this, be sure that you have a backup of your hard drive. One time when I went to open my spreadsheet, it showed a saved version from several months earlier — and that was after many additions due to does having already kidded. I was in quite a panic until I remembered that I have a cloud backup service. Luckily I was able to download the most recent version.

Wait …

Once your does and ewes are bred, you have to wait about five months to see those adorable lambs and kids bouncing around the barn or pasture. Not sure if they’re pregnant? Check out my post on exactly how to figure that out. If you’re wondering what kidding season will be like, be sure to check out my beginner’s guide to goat birthing.

For more information about breeding goats and sheep, check out my other post, which answers some frequently asked questions.

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20 thoughts on “5 tips for breeding goats and sheep”

    • It’s not going to hurt the ewe. When you inbreed, they say that you get trash or treasure. Basically it concentrate genes. Will it concentrate good genes or bad genes? Some people have created amazing animals by crossing parent-child, but some people have wound up with birth defects, such as a lamb born without an anus or only one testicle. If you were planning to eat the lambs, it probably doesn’t matter much. However, if you continue to inbreed over multiple generations you may start getting lambs that are smaller and less healthy.

      Reply
  1. Hi, Deborah,
    Just reviewing your breeding info, thanks.
    I’m debating whether to breed Macchi again this fall. She had the five kids last May, and became very thin as we raised the babes in tandem, ie bottle supplementing. I finally got two does! So, her record is 1, 3, 4 and 5. Is it best to let her have a “fallow” year? The five had to be pulled by the vet because they were packed too tightly. I would hate to be without milk for a year, but would hate even more to injure or lose Macchi. Suggestions??
    Thanks,
    Barb

    Reply
    • I’ve been in that boat! After having 4 and 5 two years in a row, I’d just milk her through for two years without breeding. Building that many babies is hard work! Lactation is not that stressful on them. In fact, my does usually start to get a little over-conditioned after they’ve been in milk for about a year. I had one doe that got so fat she wasn’t getting pregnant, so I milked her for three years.

      Reply
  2. Hi. I have heard that small does have dystocia when birthing larger bucks babies. My doe is just slightly shorter than the buck….she has stocky feet while the buck is lean and long legged. (She is a Black Bengal a bit like a Nigerian while the buck is more like a Nubian) Both are 1-1.5 years. ( this is her second freshening…she is 2kgs heavier than the buck-23kgs). Thanks.

    Reply
    • Bucks are usually larger than the does, so no, it’s not true that does have dystocia when birthing larger buck’s babies of the SAME breed. Being of the SAME breed is the key. Of the 650 kids born here, only one was too big to be born vaginally. But you should NOT breed a doe that is a smaller breed than the buck’s breed. I would NOT breed a Nigerian doe to a Nubian buck. It doesn’t really matter if she is heavier than him right now. They are both still growing at this age. It’s the genes that are important, and if he has genes to grow twice as big as the doe’s breed, then you could have a problem with the kids being too big. Nigerians average about 3 pounds at birth, and when I was crossing LaMancha does with my Nigerian bucks, those kids were about 6 pounds at birth, and most NDs could never give birth to a kid that big. I’ve had three does give birth to 5# kids — one had a c-section, one had an internal tear that almost killed her and means she can never have kids vaginally again, and one gave birth okay. Those odds are not great. And those 5# kids were just bad luck. They had siblings that were considerably smaller.

      Reply
  3. I know I said that she is like an and but blackbengals are actually a bit larger than Nigerians. Also, the buck is a half breed; Black Bengal+ Jamunapari. Does being half of her same breed improve her chances of not having dytocia?

    Reply
    • The kids will be a little smaller than if he were not a cross, but they’d still be bigger than it two purebred Black Bengals were bred together, so you are still taking a chance. It’s just a matter of how lucky you get.

      Reply
  4. I have three doe goats that were born in February 21. I bought them to keep and breed so I plan on getting a buck at some point to use for breeding and then get rid of. If I’m thinking correctly it is going to be too early to breed them this fall even though they should be close to a year old at kidding time. I’m thinking I should probably wait until 2022 fall to breed them. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • Size is MUCH more important than age. They need to be 2/3 of their adult weight before being bred. I want my Nigerian dwarf does to be at least 40 pounds because they are usually about 60 pounds at maturity. If the moms of these does were 120 pounds, for example, then you’d want them to be 80 pounds before being bred. Otherwise, you are looking at potential kidding problems. You can weigh them by simply picking them up and weighing yourself on a bathroom scale, then subtracting your weight.

      If everything goes great, and the kids get enough milk and don’t have any challenges with worms or coccidiosis, they may very well be big enough to breed to kid at a year of age. However, a lot of kid don’t get enough milk and do have problems with parasites, and they may not be big enough to breed until they are a year or 18 months old. If the coccidiosis was so bad that it damaged the gut, the goat could be permanently stunted and never be big enough to breed safely. This is one reason I never wean doelings that I am keeping. I want them to be as healthy as possible, which means they need plenty of milk because no other food has the same level of calcium and protein for good growth, as well as the antibodies to help them keep worms and coccidiosis at bay.

      If you don’t want to keep a buck, I’d suggest looking for one to lease or a breeder who does driveway breedings. A lot of people won’t do this because of biosecurity, but the person who sold you the does may be willing to breed them for you because they know (hopefully) that they are disease free — or at least not going to give the buck a disease since they came from the same farm. Also, if you have a smaller breed, be sure to find a buck of the same breed to avoid kidding problems.

      Reply
  5. My favorite doe, who is 6 years old, is a good milk producer but has a low hanging udder and had several cases of mastitis last year. My intuition says not to breed her again, but she makes such sweet kids. Is there anything else I can do for her udder or should I just keep her from breeding?

    Reply
    • Without having more details, it’s impossible to provide much of an opinion, but I would encourage you to ask yourself what is your goal in breeding her again? Do you simply want a couple of sweet kids as pets? Or do you want more milkers, and you’re hoping that she does not pass on her low-hanging udder to her daughters? Sounds like any bucklings from her should be wethered since only the best of the best should be allowed to pass on their genetics.

      Reply

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