The Fall In General
Late summer through early winter is the typical breeding window, depending on the goat breed and homestead purpose. Assuming you have standard dairy goats, its likely when the days start to shorten and it gets a little cooler, the fall will bring the tell tale signs of natural breeding season. The doe will repeat a cycle that is usually around 21 days where for an average of 12 to 48 hours she will be in “standing heat” before ovulation, and the cycle repeats until pregnancy or the end of the season.
If you are watching the behavior of your goats, it is usually pretty easy to tell when this season is upon you. Bucks, among many other (sometimes disgusting) behaviors, exhibit this very distinct flehmens response, which is where he will curl his upper lip back smelling their urine, often putting his nose in the urine stream if given the chance. Behaviorally your does can act a bit different at this time. Sometimes they get a little aggressive and mount each other and can get really loud, bleating frequently, urinating often, flashing their tails, swollen vulvas and sometimes having a wet tail from discharge. Bucks also change their behavior as well if they are around does in heat, and get especially stinky, they will urinate on their front legs and face, scream loudly and slap their tongue. Around this time they can also become aggressive with other bucks.
I have had homestead dairy goats and I am heading into my 7th kidding season. It is just as exciting as the first time! Never gets old. I have always done the buck service method where I own my own buck to breed all the does or I purchase does that are already pregnant. I am learning all about artificial insemination currently with my cow and heifer so I like the idea of trying that on my goats in the future but have not yet tried it. In my experience, I find that goats are easy going and as long as everyone is healthy and getting along well in the pasture that I prefer to just leave my bucks in with my does. I separate related bucklings from their dams (mothers) or does from their sires (fathers) but they are usually easy going and it works well and is a hands off, no stress way to have freshened goats in the spring. You can stay hands off or get as involved and invested as you like. More details below.
Considerations for Timing
You will want to consider what the spring looks like in your area for when is the most ideal time to allow breeding. You may not want to have kids born in January and February if the weather is usually harsh and cold at that time, you may not want to have it too late in May for the opposite reason if its intensely hot already. Think of what it will look like for you in February or June for goat care, milking chores, kidding emergencies, etc. I like to aim for mid-March through mid-April in my area (Zebulon, NC) because I can mostly avoid the dangers of supplemental heat or kiddings in snow, emergency vet trips and the day is a little longer making it easier to keep an eye than in the January/February months when it stays dark in the morning and gets dark so early in the evenings.
While there are many options for you breeding, the most common for homestead dairy use is allowing the buck(s) to service your dairy herd during the fall for 45 days. This is common so that the does will go through two cycles within that time if they didn’t get pregnant the first time. Bucks will mount the does frequently and do their best to keep up with all the does they are exposed to. Using 5 months as your planner, the length of goat pregnancy, you can allow for exposure during the most ideal time for kidding season. If you have a lot of goats, you can do a few buck rotations, leaving him with part of your does for a 45 day span then repeat until the season is over. This can help space out kidding. Recording date ranges of exposure and behavior/observed mounting and possible standing heat windows will help you map your calendar for the spring when you can predict kidding for that individual. I have a record I like to keep for my herd.
If you do not like any of the complications of keeping a buck or risks through leases you can pursue artificial insemination. I historically assumed this was intimidating and too complicated and expensive for our hobby homestead use but I have come across many people who do this themselves or hire a technician. I think it takes time to build these skills and knowledge and have all the supplies as well as the prescribed drugs for the protocol so you will need to work with a veterinarian and AI technician. “Straws” are the common name for tubes of frozen semen. There are several additional steps and a lot more investments or hiring as a service including liquid nitrogen tanks, speculums, insemination guns, restraint stands, etc. that add expenses and opportunity for error/issues, and the vet fees. Straws typically range from $5-$25 but for registered bloodlines I have seen some more than $80 each and I am sure some sell for way more. The friends I know that do it will also use CIDRs to improve the likelihood of success. They are silicone inserts with progersterone that are used intravaginally to induce and synchronize estrus and ovulation to make success more likely. While I have only used them in cows on our homestead, it is a device that is inserted, I have seen 8 to 21 days recommended, then insemination is done usually 2 days after removal. I have also seen it is common practice to use additional synthetic hormones in the two days before insemination to increase likelihood of success.
The friends I have that use this technique would call it either an obsession or a business, whereas I’d consider my dairy goats a hobby. They have champions in the show ring and compete and buy or sell incredibly fancy goats, some of them even sell straws from their champion bloodline bucks.
There are many ways to confirm you have pregnant does, I like to just assume they are pregnant if I exposed them. I have never had a healthy goat end up not pregnant. If you are nervous or concerned you can get a blood pregnancy test, confirm later with an ultrasound or wait until they kid. Usually if you are watching their behavior in the fall, if you see them go into heat again that can be an obvious sign that they are not pregnant.
If you saw signs of heat, mounting or followed an AI protocol you can mark your calendars for the date range 5 months out. I will post content on pregnant doe nutrition as well as kidding prep and signs of labor coming soon.
Best of Luck!!
I am excited for you and this journey you are taking, it may be your first time, it may be your 60th time, but I am sure the excitement is all the same! This year at my homestead we had an alpine buck and a nubian buck in with all the does. If you are not familiar with the genetics, the kids will show the ears of their sire so it is always an obvious tell tale sign. For registration you have to know who the sire is obviously so I would not run the same plan if the bucks were the same breed. This can impact generations of dairy goats for our homestead to come so it's really the only concern besides safety for everyone in your herd. I hope to share more tips along the way if you are new or if you want to learn more along your journey, please let me know if you have any questions.