Evaluation and Preparation of the Meat Goat Breeding Herd

J-M. Luginbuhl

As the breeding season approaches, producers should be concerned with the body condition of their breeding does. Goats should not be allowed to become too thin or too fat. Failure in reproduction, low twinning rates and low weaning rates will result if does are too thin. Overly fat does can suffer pregnancy toxemia, but fat does are rarely a problem. The term body condition refers to the fleshing of an animal. Because the greatest potential for goats is to graze them with beef cattle, we have devised a 1 to 9-point graduated scale, adapted from the beef system used in North Carolina. In that graduated scale, thin is 1 to 3, moderate is 4 to 6 and fat is 7 to 9. In most situations, goats should be in the range of 4 to 7. Scores of 1 to 3 indicate a problem, and scores of 8 to 9 are almost never seen in goats. The ideal body condition score (BCS) just before the breeding season is between a 5 and a 6 to maximize the number of kids born.

Simply looking at an animal and assigning it a BCS can easily be misleading. Rather, animals should be touched. The easiest area to feel and touch to determine the body condition of an animal are the rib areas, on either side of the spine, by running a hand over those areas and pressing down with a few fingers. In doing so, one is able to determine the amount of fat covering the ribs. Other areas to monitor are the shoulders, the tail heads, the pins, the hooks, the edge of the loins and the backbone. Practice makes perfect, thus use your animals to get a feel for it. An easy way to start is to select a few animals that are over conditioned and some others that are thin in order to get a feel for extreme BCS. Then introduce a small group of animals and compare their BCS to the animals having extreme BCS. Producers should develop an eye and a touch for the condition of their animals and strive to maintain a moderate amount of condition on their goats.

When body condition starts to decrease, it is a sign that supplemental feed is needed or that animals should be moved to a higher quality pasture. Waiting until goats become thin to start improving their feeding regime may lead to large production losses.

One should also be concerned with the body condition of the breeding bucks. If bucks are overfed and become too fat, they may have no desire to breed does.

Body condition score is used to determine whether flushing will be of benefit to breeding does. Flushing means increasing the level of feed offered to breeding does, mostly energy, starting about one month prior to the introduction of the bucks, to increase body weight, ovulation rate and hopefully litter size. Increasing the level of energy offered to does should continue throughout the breeding season and for approximately 30 to 40 days after removing the bucks for adequate implantation of the fetuses in the uterus. Does in extremely good body condition (BCS = 6-7) will tend not to respond to flushing. On the other hand, does that are in relatively poor condition (BCS = 4 or lower) as a result of summer pastures of poor quality, high worm loads, or late kidding of twins or triplets, will respond favorably to flushing by improving their body condition.

Flushing can be accomplished by moving breeding does to a lush nutritious pasture approximately 4 weeks prior to the introduction of the bucks. This cost-effective flushing method is underutilized in the Southeast where forage is abundant. Another method is feeding 1/2 lb/day of a high energy supplement. Corn is the grain of choice for flushing; whole cottonseed is another low cost, high energy supplement. As the goal is to increase the intake and body weight, breeding does should be grouped according to their BCS and fed accordingly to first improve their body condition to 6, and then to maintain it.

The buck pasture should be far enough from the breeding doe herd, so that scent emitted by glands located behind the base of the buck's horns will not induce estrous in does. As a result of this, the "buck effect," does will come into heat approximately 7 to 10 days after the introduction of the buck. It is a good strategy to isolate the bucks and then to use them to naturally synchronize breeding does at the start of the breeding season. Before running the buck with a group of breeding does, it is a good idea to let it breed some cull does to flush its system because the sperm that has accumulated during the off-season is of low quality.

Animals that have a rough hair coat and poor general appearance, and that stay thin and do not gain weight, may have a high worm load. Such animals will not breed well. Therefore, it is a good practice to deworm the breeding flock (does and bucks) prior to flushing and/or the introduction of the bucks. Trimming the hooves of breeding animals is another practice that will increase reproductive success. Limping does may not let bucks breed them and bucks with hoof problems may breed only sporadically or even not at all.

Animal Husbandry Newsletter November 1996
Department of Animal Science, North Carolina State University
Published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.
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