5 Tips for Breeding Goats and Sheep

5 Tips for Breeding Goats and Sheep

Fall means it’s time to breed goats and sheep. 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 meat and dairy goats and sheep

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.

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, especially tiny little Nigerians or pygmies.

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.

1. 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, which happens about every 21 days from late summer to early winter.


Most does will flag, which is goat-speak for wagging her tail really fast. In fact, when we are milking a doe in heat, it can feel like a fan is blowing on our face when she’s flagging.


Some does will be rather vocal, although this can vary. There have been times when I thought a coyote was attacking a doe because of the ruckus. However, when I went out there, I quickly saw that it was just a doe in heat. I have also heard of neighbors calling the police because they thought they heard a woman screaming. Goats can sound eerily like humans.

Does mounting each other

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.” If you happen to have a wether with your does, he will let you know when a doe is in heat because he doesn’t know he’s not a real buck, and he will mount does in heat and sometimes do a very convincing job of making you think he is actually breeding a doe.

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).

Someone once contacted me because she was worried that her doe had not given birth yet, and she was bred more than five months ago. When she told me the doe didn’t have an udder, I suggested that the doe was probably not pregnant. She responded, “But I know she got bred because we held her.” That’s definitely a problem.

A doe will only get pregnant if she is in “standing heat,” which means she will stand for a buck. If she runs away when a buck tries to mount her, she’s not in standing heat. Maybe she will be in a couple of hours, or maybe she was a few hours ago, but she isn’t right now. I’ve heard some people say that a doe would not get pregnant unless they held them, and that is just not true. Bucks are incredibly tenacious and know how to do their job when a doe is in standing heat.


Does may have a clear or white discharge from the vulva when they are in heat, but I would not assume that a doe is or is not in heat based entirely on the presence or absence of discharge. If she has other signs of being in heat and has discharge, that’s a nice verification.

Once in a while, you might have a doe with silent heats, so noticing discharge might be a sign to see if she will stand for a buck.

2. Breeding goats and sheep only takes a few seconds

Yes, you read that correctly. It is not a typo. 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 learned that she had left the does with a buck and went into the house for 15 minutes five months earlier.

Since we pen breed our sheep, I have almost never seen sheep breed, yet we usually have 100% ewes lambing every spring.

3. Provide free-choice, loose minerals

Genetic causes of infertility in sheep and goats are extremely rare. We’ve had about 750 kids and 250 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. However, if you have sulfur or iron in your well water, you may also need to supplement with copper oxide wire particles, even if your mixed mineral has plenty of copper in it. Sulfur and iron are copper antagonists, so if goats get too much of them in their diet, those minerals inhibit the goat’s ability to absorb copper, so they need more than a goat whose diet does not include excess sulfur and iron.

Learn more about goat minerals here.

4. Keep breeding 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.

You can use my due date calculator here, which calculates 145 days from the date of breeding. Do not be tempted to add 5 or 10 days and put that date on your calendar because you will get surprised. Any goat of any breed can give birth at day 145 or later, and I want to be keeping a close eye on my pregnant does from day 145 onward.

Our sheep are pen bred, so I have a piece of notebook paper in my sheep binder. I listed each ewe under the name of the ram she was bred to. I put “Sheep Due” on my calendar 145 days after putting the ram with the ewes so that I know when to start watching for lambs.

Then I created spreadsheets in Excel. 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.

Today I use GoogleSheets, which are stored in the cloud. This is definitely my preferred method of keeping track because I can access it from any computer or other electronic device. 

5. Wait 5 months

Once your does or ewes are bred, you have to wait about five months to see those adorable lambs and kids bouncing around the barn or pasture. If your goat comes back into heat, there is a 99% chance that she is not bred. Just because you saw what looked like a successful breeding does not mean she got pregnant.

FAQs about breeding goats

How do I know if a doe is pregnant?

Not sure if your goat is 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.

How old does a female goat need to be before breeding?

Size is more important than age because a doe needs to be big enough to safely give birth, and growth can vary. A female goat should be about 2/3 of her adult weight before being bred. For my Nigerian dwarf does, that means I don’t breed them until they weigh 40 pounds, whereas you might not breed a standard size doe until she is closer to 100 pounds if her expected mature weight is 150 pounds.

Do I need to dry up my milk goat before breeding her?

No. The standard lactation for a dairy goat (or cow) is 10 months, which means they continue milking through most of their pregnancy and are dried off only two months before giving birth again. This is not even a question for those with sheep because they have much shorter lactations and have already dried up long before breeding season begins.

Do I need to “flush” my does or ewes before breeding?

Flushing is the practice of feeding highly nutritious feed prior to and during breeding season with the idea that it will improve fertility and pregnancy rates. The idea is not a bad one, but ideally, your animals are always fed a highly nutritious diet. If an animal is undernourished, it will have fertility problems. Some people believe that flushing will result in more multiple births, but overfeeding an animal won’t trump its genetics, which is what ultimately dictates how many eggs are released.

Can I breed a goat to its mother, father, brother, or sister?

Yes, you can, but you may not get the best results. There is a saying that, “You get trash or treasure when inbreeding,” because it concentrates genes, and you have no control over whether it concentrates the best or worst genes. Click here for a detailed discussion on inbreeding.

Can I just let my buck or ram run with the females during this time of year?

It depends on whether you want a more precise due date. Goats and sheep tend to be quite prompt about giving birth around 147 to 150 days, plus or minus two or three, so if you know when they were bred, odds are much better that you will be able to be around when they give birth.

If you have milk goats, you probably don’t want a buck near your does any more than absolutely necessary because they can make the milk stinky if they rub their head on a doe’s udder, which I have seen. When that happens, that doe gets milked last because it also means my hands are going to stink after handling the udder. (It is a myth that having a buck on your farm makes the milk stink. The buck needs to be in physical contact with a doe to affect her milk.)

Depending upon how much time you spend with your sheep or goats, it may be more or less challenging to know when the females are in heat and take them to the male to be bred at that time. Because milk goats are handled daily, it tends to be much easier to spot a doe in heat. Pen breeding is more common with shepherds than goatherds but is ultimately a matter of personal preference.

For more information about breeding goats and sheep, check out my podcast on Goat Breeding Season.

This post was originally published on October 20, 2016.

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39 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.

  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??

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

  6. I am brand new to your site and I find it very helpful and informative yet easy to understand. The YouTube video clip where she was feeding copper capsules….what brand and type of capsule were those? I have copper boluses but the copper supplement appeared to be almost little round balls of copper? What is a good brand to use if I need to boost SOME of my herd in copper? Also…do you recommend a good, user friendly website builder? I need one that I can regularly update breeding, kidding and sales pages and I would also like to be able to get assistance IF I am stuck on something. Do you recommend paying a large upfront fee to someone or a monthly fee website builder? Thank you for all this excellent info at my fingertips!!

    • I use Copasure copper boluses. I have so many goats that I buy the cattle size and resize them, but they make them for goats too. I’ve never seen copper oxide that looks like little balls. Do you remember the brand name?

      If you are only talking about a website for your farm, you don’t need to pay anyone to build your website for you unless you are really not tech savvy. Most web builders now are pretty user friendly. I’ve had a website for 20 years or more, so have used a few different ones, and I’ve been using WordPress for the last 6 years or so and love it.

      Build Your Own Brand is a free course by Pat Flynn, who is one of the most knowledgeable people about all business things online. I took his podcasting course and was able to start my podcast by following his step-by-step instructions, and I’ve been a member of his academy also. BYOB is takes you step by step through building your website using WordPress.

  7. Hello, New to goat breeding. Ive read that your does need to be at least a year old to breed. What happens if they are just under a year?

    • Size is much more important than age. A doe should be about 2/3 of her adult weight before being bred. Otherwise you could wind up with birthing challenges. Some does can reach that weight by 7 months so they can be bred to kid as yearlings, but some don’t reach that until well after a year of age, and if a doe had a big parasite challenge as a kid, it may have permanently stunted her growth, and she may never be big enough to breed.

      If you have a smaller breed like a Nigerian dwarf that gets to about 60 pounds as an adult, the doe needs to weigh at least 40 pounds before breeding. If you have a larger breed that matures at 150 pounds, the does should be 100 pounds before breeding.

      Here is a link to a YouTube video I did on 4 things to consider before breeding your does.

  8. Absolutely love reading your articles they are so helpful but I haven’t found anything to help me with a problem we have with a 2 year old doe. She kidded about 4 months ago (we are bottle feeding the kids) and so far has shown no sign of coming into season. Our buck is housed at the far end of the home paddock and whereas the other does go down to tease him when they are in season, and he certainly lets us know they are in season, this doe hasn’t been down to see him and is not showing any of the usual signs of heat. They have a “help yourself” mineral bar, good quality hay and access to a pangola paddock for about 3 hours a day. The home paddock is fairly dry but still has grass. Hoping you might be able to give some advice

    • Looks like you are in Australia, and it’s not really breeding season there at the moment, so it’s not surprising that she’s not coming into heat, in addition to the fact that she just kidded four months ago. I’m really not a fan of breeding does to kid more than once a year, as I feel that it will eventually catch up with you in terms of poor health in the does.

      I’m so happy to hear that you’re finding out website helpful!

      • Yes, your site is very helpful especially as miniature and dairy goats have only become popular in the last 5 or so years here. Actually where we live most miniature goats come into season all year round and all the other goats have come into season since they kidded. We only breed once a year and some we only breed once every 2 years but they all come into season usually by 3 months after kidding but this doe is still not showing any signs of being in season nor is she interested in the bucks who are housed in a separate paddock adjoining the does home paddock

        • Hi Valerie
          So very glad that you are enjoying all the great info that Deborah has put together!
          Did you have a specific question?

          • Yes as above I would like to know possible reasons I have just one does that hasn’t come into season when the 14 others are cycling every 3 weeks

            • Hi Valerie
              There could be any number of explanations. Each goat is an individual, so it is not uncommon to see shuttle differences in cycling between them within a herd.
              It could also be nutritional-perhaps she is lacking in a specific mineral, or her body condition may be impacting her ability to cycle. Both too fat and too thin will make a difference in a normal cycle pattern.
              Another thought- if she just kidded 3 months ago, her body may not be physically ready to support another pregnancy yet.
              Here is a little more info for you 🙂


  9. Hello!
    Is it safe to leave my ram in with my ewes and my does? I’ve heard of “geeps”??

    Or leave my buck in with the ewes?

    Or do I need to separate them all? Yea

  10. This article made me laugh! I have a doe who comes into heat and lets the entire county know about it! Two years ago, my buck was at another farm breeding their does. Alliekat stood in the field and screamed until I couldn’t take it anymore, so I stuffed her in the back of my Subaru, drove 20 minutes to the other farm, dragged my buck into the barn with her and she happily stood for him for 4 breedings in a row. I was almost embarrassed for her.

    Then I stuffed her back in my car and drove home. Five months later, twin bucklings! I tell you, with goats, it never gets old.

  11. Hi Deborah. Your website is extremely informative. I’ve recently gotten three male pygora kid goats. The women who sold them to me insists that fiber goats cannot have regular goat minerals because the copper is toxic to them and they should have sheep minerals. I had gotten Sweetlix for them as you recommended in one of your articles, and if I offer it to them, they all want to munch on it. So please, is copper dangerous for fiber goats or is the woman misinformed? Thanks!

    • Hi Fran
      I have never heard this so I asked Deborah, and this is her response-

      This is another piece of outdated information. In the 1990s sheep and goat minerals were the same because they thought sheep and goats wear the same so their nutritional needs were the same. You can find stuff published in the 90s that says the copper is toxic to goats. Maybe because people correlated fiber with sheep they thought that the mineral needs of fiber goats were more like sheep, but for whatever reason the myth prevailed with Fiber goats longer than other goats. I haven’t heard this in several years now, so I actually thought it had finally died.

      I hope this helps to settle your concern.

      • Thank you so much Team, Deborah, and Tammy! Starting tomorrow I will put out the sweetlix goat minerals free choice and breathe a sigh of relief.
        Now I have to slowly work around to letting the woman who sold them to me know; I know she wants to do what’s best for her goats.
        By the way, I got your Raising Goats Naturally and it’s got so much good information. I skip the meat part, being vegetarian, but all the rest makes great reading:)

  12. How long should you wait to see the results of breeding in goats and sheep, and why is this waiting period significant?


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