If you have dairy goats, getting them bred each year is obviously a priority. One of the easiest ways is to keep a buck (or two) on your farm. It is much easier to tell when a doe is in heat when there is a buck nearby. The behavior changes are obvious! You also have the benefit of being able to keep a closed herd and not worry as much about biosecurity when you keep your own buck. Though these are excellent reasons to keep one, there are a few things you should consider as well:
1. The Personality
Bucks can be sweethearts, but they can also be hormone-driven beasts, and because they are typically larger and stronger than does, they can do a lot of damage if they choose to do so. Particularly during rut season, you should be careful and never turn your back on a buck. It’s also a good idea to keep your young children and other pets away from them. Their mating instincts can be intense and they may jump or headbutt and unintentionally hurt someone. On our farm, we’ve been very lucky to have three bucks that have been extremely docile and friendly, but that’s not necessarily the norm. I’ve seen many photos of injuries caused by overzealous bucks in rut, so accidents can (and do!) happen.
It’s also important to take this strength and instinct to breed into account when housing your bucks. Bucks tend to be harder on fences and gates, which leads me to…
2. The Costs
You’ll want to house your bucks separately from your does most of the year (except breeding season, of course). This may mean building a second outbuilding or building some sort of divided accommodations within your barn. Just keep in mind if your bucks share a barn with your does, you’ll be smelling their oh-so-lovely fragrance when you’re working with your girls. Some people also believe that keeping bucks too close to your does when they’re in milk can taint the flavor of the milk. I’ve not experienced this personally, and I’ve read very mixed evidence on it, but it is something to consider.
Bucks will need their own pasture separate from your does as well. Ideally, the bucks’ pasture should not share a fence line with the does, because this will make it more tempting for them to test the fence and breedings through fences can occur as well.
Goats are herd animals and can’t live alone, so once your buck has his own separate accommodations, he’s going to need at least one friend to keep him company. If you have a pet wether, he can be a companion for your buck, or you can decide to get a second buck and keep them together.
3. The Smell
There’s no way around it: bucks have a strong, musky odor. Some are much worse than others, and all bucks are at their peak stinkiness when in rut. Keep this in mind when you’re planning where you will house your bucks (preferably downwind of your house and any neighbors’ houses). During rut season, a buck will urinate on his face and beard to enhance his “sexy” smell for the ladies. This makes them extra sticky and stinky. When handling your buck, that smell will rub off on you and it doesn’t wash off easily. Make sure to wear old clothes to the barn when working with your boys!
Alternatives to Keeping a Buck
If you’re not ready to keep a buck, no worries! You can look into artificial insemination (AI) or borrow a buck from another farm. Ask around locally and find out if anyone offers their bucks for stud. Typically there are three scenarios for this: (1) You may lease the buck and bring him onto your property for an extended visit to breed your does; (2) You may transport your does to the buck’s farm and leave them there (typically you’ll pay a stud fee plus boarding if this is the case); or (3) They may offer what’s often called a “driveway breeding”, meaning that you’ll bring your doe over for a quick encounter (oftentimes in the driveway or a stock trailer) on the day they are in heat, but you won’t leave them there for an extended stay. (Note, this is one of the reasons it’s very important to learn how to identify when your does are in heat!) Remember that any time your goats come in contact with goats from another farm, you’ll want to ask to see recent health tests showing the herd is disease-free, and you should be prepared to show your records as well.