This time of year — smack in the middle of breeding season and kidding season — is filled with anticipation for those of us raising dairy goats. I spend this time counting down the days until the first kids are due to make their appearance, guessing how many kids each doe will have based on the size of their growing bellies, dreaming up names, wondering what the babies will look like, hoping for lots of doelings, and trying to feel the kids moving inside their mommas.
The first kids of the season here at Hickory Cove Farm are due sometime between today and the end of February. While I wait for their arrival, I want to discuss the other half of the baby goat equation: the daddy goat. I'll share some tips on choosing and caring for bucks and their common companions — castrated male goats known as wethers.
So, You Want to Buy A Buck?
Although the buck obviously plays a big role in getting to snuggle cute little goat kids, it isn't always necessary to own a buck of your own. Some people send their does on “dates” with a buck at another breeder’s farm, others lease a buck and bring it to their farm long enough to breed their does, and some do “driveway breeding” — the owner of the doe watches for signs of being in heat and then takes her for a short visit to the buck. Still others use artificial insemination.
However, if your herd keeps growing, it can be easier to own a buck of your own. If you can meet their basic needs — food, water, shelter, good fencing, and companionship — then owning a buck is something to consider. In my experience, owning a buck is not any more difficult than owning does, and I have a huge soft spot for my hairy, stinky boys.
But Aren’t Bucks Mean?
Perhaps you’ve heard your grandfather recount his childhood story of the “mean old billy” who butted everything and anything that came into his pen. Or maybe you’ve read about Shaye Elliot’s hatred for her mom’s goat, Jack. I admit, bucks have a pretty bad reputation. Some deserve every bit of the bad reputation they have, but most bucks, with proper handling and training, are very nice boys.
I train my bucks not to jump, and I make sure that they respect my personal space. It's never a good idea to encourage butting or pushing behavior — please don't push back against their heads! It's cute while they're small, but as they grow older they see these things as a challenge and can become aggressive. Goats hate getting wet, so a spray bottle filled with water is a good tool to remind your boy who is in charge when he steps over the line. Depending on the buck's proximity to me, I also use the same form of discipline goats themselves use when maintaining order in the herd — a bite, or in my case, a pinch on the ear.
As a result of basic manners training, I can go into my buck’s pen without fear even when he is in full rut. He’s all love and no fight! The only thing I worry about is how stinky I'm going to be after he comes up and loves on me. 😉
Remember that if you get a buck, he’ll need permanent companionship. This is where wethers enter the equation. If you need genetic diversity — such as if you have a large or show herd, want to breed your doelings, or maintain a closed herd — consider buying two bucks. For most small homesteaders, however, a buck and wether buddy, or two, are the best choice.
Which Buck Should I Buy?
“The sire is half the herd” is a much-used phrase in the goat world, and it is very true. One buck can easily service 20 to 30 does a year, depending on his age and health. When you consider that the average doe has twins each kidding, that’s 40 to 60 kids, give or take! Your buck is going to have a big impact on those little goats.
When choosing a buck, consider your goals for the herd. What is most important to you? Do you need to bring in genetics from lines with high milk production? Do you need to improve conformation in your show herd? Do you want to have multi-purpose goats that you can use for milk and meat? Decide on your goals, and then search for a buck to fit those needs.
For example, this past fall I sold a young buck to a couple who has a growing dairy herd. Since they make and sell cheese to local restaurants, they needed a buck with genetics to produce high-producing daughters. While the buck I sold them had some conformation flaws, his dam is a great milker, and so is her dam, so he was well-suited to their needs. Reach out to breeders in your area and tell them what you’re looking for — most will be more than willing to help you find exactly what you're looking for!
Caring for the Guys
In addition to basic care, the boys need a little bit of special attention. It's important to balance their diet, and when they are in rut, to give them some extra calories to keep them in good condition. Additionally, a few different herbs are especially helpful for their health.
Ca:P (A Balancing Act)
One of the most worrisome ailments for a buck or wether is a condition called urinary calculi, sometimes called “water belly” or simply “UC”. It is basically a buildup of stones in the goat’s urinary tract. Symptoms of this condition include listlessness, loss of appetite, difficulty urinating, a hunched appearance, and as the condition progresses, the complete inability to urinate and buildup of fluids in the abdomen. If left untreated it is fatal since the goat's bladder will eventually burst.
The condition can be treated with a simple surgery or by using a catheter, depending on the location and severity of the blockage. However, as with many other things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and the best prevention is a properly balanced diet. Make sure your boys have a proper ratio of calcium to phosphorous and you'll go a long way in preventing urinary calculi.
Phosphorous is found in many grains and in excess will cause the buildup of stones which leads to UC. It's very important that the guys get at least as much, and up to two and a half times as much, calcium as phosphorous. Give them access to plenty of calcium-rich forage, unlimited access to as much pasture and browse as possible, and keep the amount of grain they receive to a minimum. Provide clean water at all times to keep things flowing through their bodies, and if you wish, add a “glug” (1/8 to 1/4 cup per gallon) of raw apple cider to their water. The acidity of the vinegar also helps prevent buildup of calculi.
Meat on Their Bones
During rut season, if a buck is getting a lot of dates, they will burn a lot of calories. Even if they aren’t getting time with the girls, they develop some pretty nasty habits, and these habits burn calories in the same way. This is the most difficult time of year to keep weight on a buck, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their condition.
Unfortunately, since many bucks are hairy beasts, it's difficult to assess them without hands-on examination. Even though they are stinky and sticky, frequently feel their ribs and along their spine to make sure they aren't getting too thin. If they need it, add some black oil sunflower seeds; whole flax seeds; or olive, sunflower, or flax oil to their food to give them extra fat and calories during this time of the year.
In addition to basic herbal care for the entire herd (such as herbal dewormer, kelp, and an herbal vitamin and mineral mix), there are a few mixes that particularly benefit the boys. One of these is the Booster Tonic formula, designed to give bucks an extra boost in immunity, energy, and general health during breeding season. And this “Don’t Pass The Buck” kit has everything you need to keep your bucks and wethers happy and healthy. Keep in mind that you can also choose to order only parts of the kit to treat a specific issue.
Finally, Do Bucks Really Smell That Bad?
Yup. But are they worth it? You bet!
Are you thinking about adding a buck to your homestead? Do you already own one of the smelly boys? Have a story to share? Leave a comment!
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