When preparing your herd for breeding, you need to consider each goat's body condition, diet, and medications. Focusing on these issues will help you maintain a healthy herd going into breeding season. This is essential to preventing and avoiding complications during the breeding, gestation, and freshening periods.
Body Condition. When preparing for a breeding season, you must remember that you are feeding the individual goat; you are not feeding the herd. If you have more than one goat (which you absolutely should since they're herd animals), some goats will be more dominant and get more food, and others will be more submissive and get less food. This can lead to overweight and undernourished goats within the same herd.
An overweight doe may have trouble getting pregnant. She also may become lazy and not get enough exercise. Being overweight can also lead to large kids and narrow birthing canals since extra fat accumulates everywhere. On the other hand, a doe that is too skinny may not have enough nutrition to provide for herself and her kids. Her body will even pull calcium out of her system to give it to the babies. This can lead to a condition called hypocalcemia which if not treated will lead to death.
A month before breeding season, you should inspect every goat (including the bucks). You should be able to feel ribs, but not see them. If you can't feel ribs, your goat needs to go on a diet. If you can see ribs when standing a couple of feet away, your goat needs extra food.
If you have an extra skinny goat, you need to determine the reason. Is she a heavy milker and turns any extra food you give her into milk? If so, you should consider drying her off before breeding. If she's not a heavy milker, you may want to do a fecal count and check her worm burden. If she simply is a less dominant or younger doe, you may want to separate her at feeding time and give her extra food. (See: Feeding Dairy Goats)
The body condition of a buck is a bit different than for a doe. Being in rut burns a lot of energy in your bucks and many of them will lose significant weight. Going into rut slightly overweight is much preferred, so don't hesitate to increase your buck's feed before the breeding season begins. If you only have 1 buck and a small herd this won't be much of an issue. But if you have multiple bucks and a larger herd, weight loss may become a problem if the bucks are not given adequate nutrition.
Diet. Once your goat(s) are at a healthy weight, you can consider if you want to change their diet before breeding. We believe that a goat's diet should be steady and constant throughout their lives. We rarely change what foods they are given and if we do, we make the change very slowly. Please read the article Feeding Dairy Goats to learn about our feed choices.
During the pre-breeding season, we don't do much modification. We make sure the does are still getting free choice alfalfa. This is essential to meeting their calcium needs. If you don't feed enough calcium, you will see problems in your does. Years ago, we did an experiment, and instead of offering free choice alfalfa, we limited it slightly. We had multiple kidding problems that year with the pregnant does. When we went back to free choice alfalfa, we saw those problems go away. Calcium is important!
One change that we do make during the pre-breeding season is to add calf manna to their diets one month before the goats are scheduled to be bred. Calf manna is a high protein supplement we use to make sure that the goats have enough nutrition to handle their pregnancies. Goats that are nutritionally in good shape may have more kids and produce more milk. But most importantly, they are healthy.
We introduce calf manna to the female goats' diets 3 weeks before breeding begins. We stop feeding calf manna shortly after the does are put with the bucks. We feed a big double handful to each goat twice a day. We sprinkle the calf manna on top of the milkers' barley when they are being milked. Dry does are given it individually and bucks don't get calf manna at all.
Medication. Pre breeding meds are administered 3 weeks prior to breeding because we want to make sure that all of the goats are in top form. Both bucks and does are given 3 medications at this time.
CD&T - This is a vaccine for enterotoxemia (overeater's disease) and tetanus. We give 2cc for all goats (no matter the size or age) subcutaneously. Boostering the mom will help not only her but help her produce more antibodies in the colostrum for her kids. We always give this shot in the same location. It can cause a knot to form and by giving it in the same location, we know that the knot is caused by the vaccine and isn't another problem for the goat.
BoSe - This is selenium and vitamin E. Selenium is a trace mineral and both selenium and vitamin E are essential for a proper immune system function. BoSe is given subcutaneously at the rate of 1 cc per 40 pounds. We also believe that it can be helpful with improving the health of the eggs and sperm and is essential for prebreeding to produce healthy kids.
Cydectin - This is a dewormer or antiparasitic. We use the cydectin cattle pour on (purple liquid) and give it to the goats orally at the dosage of 1 cc per 22 pounds body weight. We are starting to see resistance to this wormer and are not relying on it as much. We are testing other wormers and other programs. You can get more information from our worming article.
It is important to give any medications that you use prior to breeding. We always want to avoid having to give the goats any medications at all during the first 3 months of their pregnancy when the developing kids are most fragile. It is during this time that they are most susceptible to spontaneous abortion and problems caused by any medications given.
Determining the best care for your goats takes time and tweaking and studying your goats and the results of each breeding season. We're always trying to improve the care we give to our goats. Hopefully, this information will help you care for your goats and have the healthiest and safest outcomes possible so you can develop and maintain a happy and healthy herd.
Disclaimer: This information is provided as an example of how we personally raise goats at Goat Milk Stuff. We are not veterinarians and any information on the GMS website should not be taken as veterinary advice. Please seek the advice of a professional vet before making any changes to your herd management or individual treatment of your goat.