Goats in Barn

If you plan to breed your goats and can’t keep them with a buck for an extended period of time, it’s important to be able to recognize the signs your doe is in heat. It’s also helpful to identify and track their cycles so that you can determine if a doe is likely pregnant after being exposed to a buck. (If she doesn’t come back into heat after 21 days, she’s likely pregnant!)

Goats cycle approximately every 21 days. Most larger dairy breeds only come into heat in the fall once temperatures start to drop, typically September through December. Nigerian Dwarfs, Pygmies, and many meat breeds can cycle year-round. In goats, estrus lasts about two to three days. At its peak, they will be in what is called standing heat and will be receptive to a buck’s advances.

Here are a few tips for recognizing when your goat is coming into estrus:

1. Personality and Behavior Changes

The first autumn we had goats and they started coming into heat, I was convinced my goats were broken. They went from being sweet, lovely pets to being moody and wanting nothing to do with me. I felt incredibly guilty, thinking I had done something to traumatize them. But nope — after they were bred and kidded, they were back to their normal, sweet selves. Just like in humans, it seems that hormones do some funny things to goat personalities. I’ve observed normally friendly does no longer wanting to be petted, and ones that were more aloof suddenly underfoot looking for attention. It’s also common to see does exhibit “bucky” behaviors such as mounting other does (or allowing them to mount her) and sniffing rear ends.

2. Vocalization

In my personal experience with our Nigerians and LaManchas, I haven’t noticed significant differences in vocalization (even with bucks being kept nearby). Your goats may get louder or your doe might start groaning and blubbering like a buck normally does

3. Discharge and/or Swelling

Check the area under your goat’s tail. If you see clear, sticky mucus or the vulva is swollen and darker pink than normal, these are signs she may be in heat.

4. Flagging

Flagging has always been the easiest way for me to check for does in heat. Flagging simply means holding their tails upright and wagging them in a twitching manner, quickly back and forth. Some of our does will wander around flagging on their own. Others will only flag if you give them a little scratch on their lower back, just above the tail head. I find our Nigerians to be much more obvious with their flagging. With our LaManchas, I have to tickle their backs a few times to be sure.

So what do you do if you STILL can’t tell?

Some goats are just more subtle than others about their heat cycles. If you’re new to goats, it can be especially difficult to detect. In these instances, sometimes bringing in a buck is your best bet. If separated by fences, the bucks and does will start vocalizing more, and it’s likely they’ll start looking for an escape route so they can rendezvous. Make sure everyone is secure unless you are planning to breed during that cycle!

If you don’t have the ability to host a buck at your farm, check with a friend who has a buck in rut to obtain a buck rag. Take an old rag and rub it all over the buck’s forehead and face to pick up their musky scent. Seal the rag into an old coffee can other other disposable container. Let your does the rag and watch for flagging or other signs that they’re interested in the scent.

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