Deciding to have goats is a long term commitment similar to bringing a dog into your family and your life. You may be confused by the number of different estimates you see for a goat’s life span, and that’s because it depends!
How long do female goats live?
Believe it or not, does, or female goats, actually live longer than bucks, which are intact males. Many people assume that since does are having babies every year or two that they probably don’t live as long as bucks, but that is not the case. Most of my does live to be about 12 to 14 years old.
I have had people ask if does will live longer if they are not bred, and although it may seem like the answer would be yes, I have not seen this.
On the flip side, I’ve seen a lot of pet does have a shorter lifespan, which could be due to an ongoing challenge with obesity. When a doe has no stress on her body at all, it can be challenging to keep her from gaining too much weight. Just as being overweight can cause health problems in humans, it can cause health problems in goats.
Pet does also tend to be more “loved” than does that are in a working herd, meaning that they are more likely to be given treats that are not necessarily good for them.
How long can does be used for breeding?
This is a somewhat personal question because it depends on your goals. I personally don’t breed a doe after she is 10 years old because I’ve found that it’s very hard for them to regain their body condition after that.
In fact, if a doe has too much trouble regaining her body condition after she is 8 or 9, I won’t breed her again, although this doesn’t happen often. Usually it happens with does that give birth to four kids or more, and it happened once with a doe that started to lose her teeth when she was only 6 or 7, which is quite young for a goat to start losing teeth.
I’ve also found that after about age 7 or 8, their milk production starts to decrease, so it is harder for them to produce enough milk to feed their kids. This is one reason we always weigh all of our kids daily for the first two weeks. We want to be sure they are gaining sufficient weight to thrive, not simply survive.
When someone is focused on breeding goats as a source of income, I have heard of some does having kids until they are 12 or 13.
How long can does produce milk?
Producing milk is much less stressful on a doe’s body than growing babies and giving birth. Meat and fiber goats usually only produce enough milk to feed their babies for a few months. However, dairy does with excellent genetics can produce milk for two or three years in their prime. As they get older, their daily production will go down as already mentioned, but we have continued to milk some of our does for two years after their last kidding at age 10.
How long do bucks live?
Male goats that are intact, called bucks, have the shortest lifespan because breeding season is very hard on them. Every fall, bucks go into rut, which means they have a one track mind. They are only thinking of breeding. This means they may not eat as much as they should, and if other bucks are around, they will probably fight, which certainly takes a toll. Most bucks only live about 8 to 10 years.
How long can bucks be used for breeding?
Bucks usually have no problem breeding two or three does per day up until they are about 6 or 7 years old. Then their fertility will start to go down.
First you will see that they can’t get as many does pregnant in a single day, even though they appear to be successfully breeding them. And then they won’t get any does pregnant at all.
This was really heartbreaking for me the first time it happened. My favorite buck of all time was 8 years old when he became sterile. I kept breeding him to does for three months in the fall, even though all of the does kept coming back into heat three weeks later. I finally accepted the fact that he was no longer virile.
By the following spring, his scrotum was about one-fourth its former size, and he no longer had that stinky buck smell.
How long do wethers live?
Wethers are castrated males, and they have the longest lifespan of all because they have zero stress on their bodies in most cases. Wethers can easily live into their mid-teens and beyond.
People have contacted me asking for advice on how to care for their 18 or 20 year old wether that has lost his teeth or is having other challenges, so there are some very old pet wethers out there. You can check out my article on caring for senior goats for more on that topic.
What else determines how long goats live?
The single most important thing that will determine how long your goat lives is its diet. Contrary to the popular myth that goats can eat anything, they actually have a very sensitive digestive system that can be easily upset, causing bloat, enterotoxemia, or goat polio, any of which can kill a goat within hours if left untreated.
On top of that, they are desert animals, so when we put them on pasture, it means their diet is lower in minerals than it should be.
It’s very important that goats have the best diet possible so that they will live a long, healthy life. And they also need an excellent quality goat-specific mineral — not a “sheep and goat” mineral and not a block or tub or bucket — they need a loose, goat mineral.
To make matters worse, they will have more problems with parasites in a pasture (rather than the desert) because they are eating off the ground, which is where the worm larvae from their poop winds up. Parasites are the number one cause of death in goats.
To avoid parasite problems, rotational grazing is the silver bullet. The goat need to be continually moved away from their toilet so that they are not continuously ingesting larvae from the worm eggs that they pooped out last week. In addition to rotational grazing, here are some other strategies for preventing parasite problems in goats.
If you are thinking of getting goats, this podcast episode covers some of the things you need to think about. (Transcript included if you prefer to read.)