Feeding Goats for Fertility

feeding goats during breeding season

“Flushing” is the practice of feeding does more than usual for a month prior to breeding with the idea that it will increase their fertility. This is a very old practice, and the idea behind it is a good one. Of course, you want your doe to be in top condition prior to breeding. She is more likely to get pregnant and stay pregnant.

However, for most people, flushing translates as more grain, which is not the best thing for a ruminant. Flushing should not be necessary in a goat that is in good condition. Feeding more grain than her body needs will simply cause her to put on more weight, which is not good. Does should not be either underweight or overweight when bred.

This really boils down to the fact that excellent nutrition can help a goat to perform at the highest level possible, given its genetics. But nutrition can’t trump genetics and cause a goat to release more eggs than it is genetically programmed to release. For example, if you have a doe that consistently produces singles when her dam produced more, perhaps there is a problem with nutrition. But you can’t expect flushing to cause a goat to produce triplets or quads when her mother and grandmothers always produced twins. The majority of dairy goats produce twins, and feeding grain prior to breeding doesn’t increase that number.

I have never used flushing prior to breeding my goats, but I have seen firsthand that nutrition plays an important role in fertility and production. When we had a problem with copper deficiency, we had goats not coming into heat, not getting pregnant when bred, and not staying pregnant. However, once our copper deficiency problem was resolved, our fertility rate shot up considerably. In our Nigerian Dwarf goats, the average number of kids went from 2.5 per doe to 2.9 per doe with some years exceeding three kids per doe. If I include the does that aborted or didn’t get pregnant, the average was less than two kids per doe, and from an economic perspective, those does should be included because they are being fed for a year and are not producing kids or milk. Our two remaining LaManchas went from not getting pregnant at all to both having triplets.

The problem with the concept of flushing is that it puts an emphasis on nutrition during a single month. The goal needs to be optimal nutrition every month of the year. Even if I had been flushing my does during those years when we had a copper deficiency problem, it would not have eliminated the fertility problems that we were having. Although the problem was nutritional, the goats did not need more calories. They needed more copper.

Nutrition for bucks

The nutritional needs of bucks definitely increase during breeding season. Although most sources recommend bucks not be fed grain because of the risk of urinary calculi, you need to look at your bucks to determine whether to feed them grain or not. For years I was so worried about urinary calculi that I didn’t give my bucks grain, even though they would lose a lot of weight every year during breeding season. I talked to other breeders who lived in even colder climates than I do, and since they weren’t feeding grain, I didn’t think I needed to do it either. Then one day I saw one of those breeders at a goat show. Her hay was far superior to what I had been able to find at that time, which meant her bucks were getting a more nutrient-rich feed than mine, which explained why they were so much healthier than my bucks, even though none of her goats was eating grain.

Now I watch my goats. The feeding plan for my bucks changes from one year to the next depending on what their body condition looks like. If they start to lose too much weight, I give them grain. This usually correlates to the quality of the hay and how cold it gets, but their body condition also tends to be worse when they can see the does because they spend too much time fighting with each other and burning calories. In recent years I’ve kept my bucks where they can’t see the does, and they don’t spend as much time butting heads. I also buy grass hay pellets to supplement their diet, if the quality of our hay is not excellent. If you need to feed grain to your bucks on a regular basis, add ammonium chloride to their grain or minerals to prevent urinary calculi or feed a brand of goat feed or minerals that already includes ammonium chloride.

Raising Goats NaturallyThis is an excerpt from Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More, 2nd Revised Edition by Deborah Niemann.

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9 thoughts on “Feeding Goats for Fertility”

  1. We recently had a wether die from a urinary stone. We treated him twice a day. He got better, then worse, then better then died. I am not ever going to give a Buck grain.

    Reply
    • Wethers are at a greater risk for urinary calculi than intact bucks, and you really should not feed wethers grain at all. They are very easy keepers and don’t need it.

      Reply
    • Yes, it is. You should not use an all-stock sweet feed, as it is usually just grain and molasses. There is a feed called Dumor Goat Sweet Feed, and that has added minerals in it, and it is actually an excellent feed, but other than that one, you shouldn’t feed anything to goats (male or female) that is labeled “sweet feed” because it’s probably very low in actual nutrition and high in calories and fat.

      Reply
      • We feed carolina choice medicated pellets to all of our goats so far we have had no trouble with them. Mom’s raise good strong babies I make sure I feed them plenty along with grass and hay and when they are pregnant and nursing I give my girls extra alfafa cubes

        Reply
        • There is no reason to feed medicated grain to all goats. It is a coccidia preventative, and adults almost never get coccidiosis. I have had one goat in 17 years get it — and it was when she almost bled to death following kidding. It is meant to be fed short-term during periods of stress when coccidiosis is likely, such as when weaning kids.

          I really hope you are not drinking milk from the goats if you are feeding medicated feed because you are consuming drugs in the milk. It is not supposed to be fed to milkers at all for that reason. Long-term feeding of medicated feed has also been linked to vitamin E deficiency. But bottom line is that there is no need to be feeding drugs to your goats daily. That’s the main reason many of us have our own goats — we don’t want drug residues in our food.

          Reply
  2. We use senior horse feed and hydrated beet pulp for our bucks that need to put on some weight. Once they get used to it, they love it, and it works like a charm. The senior horse is typically 1:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio, and the beet pulp can be up to 10:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio. I used to be terrified to feed my bucks alfalfa, but I’ve learned they sometimes need it. I’m just careful to assess for copper deficiency and bolus accordingly (even though they have good minerals).

    Reply
  3. Do you know of any nutritional supplement to increase the number of does over bucks produced by older breeding bucks. I have a five year old that is consistently throwing bucklings after years of producing mostly does. I was told by one breeder that this is just the way it is for older bucks but I’m hoping that isn’t a fact. He gets alfalfa pellets with grain once a day in addition to hay. Any thoughts would be appreciated as he is on his way out if I can’t change the doe/buck ratio.

    Reply
    • If you had told me that you had this awesome buck that had been throwing lots of does, I’d have said, just wait! He’s going to get it back to 50/50, and you will have years with more bucks. If there were anything that could seriously be done to get more does, every dairy farm in the world would be doing it. But alas, we are are all stuck with 50/50 over the years. You will have doe years, and you will have buck years and you will have 50/50 years. I’ve heard of all sorts of weird correlations with a goat’s color and other random things that people have come up with, but correlation does not mean cause and effect.

      One year I had only three bucks out of the first 27 kids born on my farm! I was ecstatic, and then #28 was a buck, and 29 and 30 and by the time we were done, we were close to 50/50 … I could have come to the silly conclusion that more goats conceived in September were does, so I should breed all of my goats in September in future years, so I can get 90% does. Breeding month correlated beautifully with the number of does I had, but no one would ever assume that you could get more does by breeding your goats in September.

      Reply

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