Friday, January 22, 2010

Doelings, pros and cons of early breeding

Here are some pictures of our two doelings. These pictures were taken last June. Nia (short for Zinnia) is on the ground and Zuri is on the platform. I am looking forward to kidding season. Unfortunately ours is a long time off, so I've been going back and looking at pictures from last spring. You can view Nia's birth here, and Zuri's birth here.
Both photos above and below are of Zuri. When she was born she was bigger than Nia, even though she was a couple weeks younger. Nia and her mother are both smaller and more petite, whereas Maggie was my tallest, longest and strongest doe. However, since losing Maggie, Zuri has slowed down and now Nia is a good bit larger. I shouldn't be surprised, as Nia at eight months old has had several more months of nursing than her counterpart. As orphan of the group, Zuri is our most affectionate doeling yet. She has a special place in my heart. 

I naively envisioned our goat kids romping on green pasture in their early days, even though we've never had pasture to begin with. I thought to make their start in life more pleasant we'd breed to kid in late spring when it is warmer and more pleasant to be outside. Going into our third kidding season my goals have changed and I would prefer to stagger our breeding over the course of a few months, beginning in February and finishing up in April. Well, despite my best intentions all three of our senior does are due to kid in April. Here are the pros and and cons for us when it comes to early vs. late breeding.

Cons of early kidding:
  1. It is cold. Need heatlamps. 
  2. Kids spend a lot of their time indoors and goat housing is extra crowded.
Pros of early kidding: 
  1. Early doelings have a better chance of growing large enough that they may possibly (depending on many factors) be able to be bred their first year. 
  2. Early boys have a better chance of being able to breed if they are bucklings, or if they are whethered males, might actually be large enough in late fall, early winter to be killed for their meat. Dairy goats are not very meaty, but there is a big difference in a seven vs. eleven month kid.
  3. In our case we have more summer facilities than winter. So weaning would be an easier matter in the fall before we need insulated shelters and heated waterers. 
  4. February is a rather uneventful month here whereas May is extremely busy. After kids are born, a number of chores follow such as disbudding, tatooing and whethering. It would be nice to have all these initial practices finished by the time we are dealing with chicks and a garden to put in. 
Finally, it would be nice to stagger breeding so that we are never without a fresh milk supply. We have dried off does when they were first bred, and we've done it about half way through their five month gestation period. This year we were hoping to breed five does, but we lost one, and then our yearling has been tricky to catch in heat. So I decided to breed all three senior does, two of whom are in milk. Xoe has slowed down enough that I've stopped milking her as of the last week. Rose, however, is still nursing her daughter Nia. So it seems as though either we get the milk, or Nia gets it. I have been milking just a couple times a week in an attempt to dry her off, but with her daughter nursing as much as she is I don't see her drying off anytime soon. I do have a freezer full of milk and a couple bags of frozen chevre. But I start to panic at the idea of not having fresh milk for the next three months. It would be nice to avoid this issue by either staggering breeding, or not needing to breed everyone yearly. Next year I think we will try milking one doe straight through and not breeding her at all.
Meanwhile, I feel good about keeping Zuri and Nia as dry yearlings. There is much controversy in the goat world over this issue. My first hand experience was with four doelings who were about nine to eleven months when I first bred them. I had weighed them and supposedly they had "made weight". Well our two larger framed does had no issues, but our two more petite does both had some stress to their front legs. I ended up wrapping their front legs during their final weeks of gestation as they were hobbling around and their legs were starting to give out under their weight. Kidding resolved the leg issues.

I've also noticed that one of our does who escaped breeding last year has moved from last place in the group to most dominate doe. She is much more robust than the does who have been bred every year. Our first doeling, Yin, remained dry her first year and is now larger than her mother (who she still tries to nurse off of). This being said, it is not always easy to refrain from breeding a doe who you know is in heat. I can be torn between my desire for more milk and kids, and what I know would be the better decision for a doe's health.  From a financial standpoint, waiting until their second year is a long time to feed them and seems forever till we'll get to see them freshen and produce kids and milk. When we have early kids I may try and breed them their first year but it just depends on how they look. For now, as long as we have late kids they will remain dry their first year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We are going to really work on staggering our breeding with the cows, too---I found it surprisingly difficult to be without milk for two months this winter. Somehow it's the first time that's happened in years!

Nice discussion of the pros and cons of early breeding!