The whispering winds of winter are drifting in, sending nuances of dried, and sometimes wet, leaf smells into the air from fading autumn. The golden yellows, glowing reds, and sunset oranges have paled to browns now. They no longer dance everywhere–along the street, through the gardens and parking lots, or certainly through the yard–unless a gust happens to dive down from the north. The pasture is brown now, too. The air has a chill to it every time I open the back door. Yes, fall arrived, stayed for a cup of tea, and now winter is inviting herself in without a welcome! The girls are pouting, preggers, and passing the time in front of the round bales, waiting for spring babies. And the bucks? Well, let’s talk about that.
The bucks have not given up. Oh how I applaud their vigor! A wonderful eau de parfum de buck, better known as LOVE, is still in the air and emanating from the buck pen. Of course, with most of the does now pregnant, the only ‘takers’ are not ready to breed quite yet, so I have some frustrated boys right now. Planning out which buck to breed to which doe got me thinking about the things that are important to me when it comes to choosing bucks for pairings. While we all have some similar things we look for, there are some things that are ‘givens’ when it comes to looking for a good buck.
Disease: A good buck should be tested negative for disease, or if a buckling, he should be from a clean herd. The last thing anyone wants to do is introduce CL / CAE /Johnes or some other disease into their herd.
Genetics: Some people breed for type. Some people breed for production. Either way, genetics play an important role in both of these areas. While it is slightly possible to breed Ugly Daddy to Mediocre Mommy and get a purty little thing with a few good characteristics, it is very improbable. Someone in the mix needs to have some good genetics, and the chances of having good stock increases the better that the parents are in the genetic department. Not only that, but the idea behind improving animals is to find good traits and to lock them in. Outcrosses are good for creating vigor in animals, but in the process, outcrossing brings in a multitude of new genes that have the potential to disrupt any progress already made in your animals.
So what do you? You do research. Put on the glasses, open up the ADGA database, and start Googling (not ogling, Googling) the goats you find that are related to your BEST animals. Try to evaluate traits that need improving in your animals, and use LA scores to find bucks who are related to your animals that are also stronger in those areas than the bucks you have in your herd. Then make a list and keep one eye open (even while you sleep since you never know when the opportunity will present itself) for a buck or buckling that will help you improve and lock in the traits that you have while still adding some vigor.
Dairy animals: I am speaking generally in the area of dairy animals here since I haven’t bred meat producers. To produce dairy animals of good quality, you need to have dairy animals of good quality. While examining those pedigrees, the awards, etc, make yourself acquainted with what all of those **’s and ++’s mean in addition to the VGs and Es. An animal earning a star, etc, or an animal having starred animals in its background, does not guarantee what type of children that animal will produce. What do you look for?
Pictures! Lots of Pictures! And video–if you can find it. If you can get your hands on the actual animals, by all means, go for it! The main goal here is to check out the mammary systems behind the bucks you are looking at–all of the mammary systems. That includes sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers, etc, and if those have production records, WONDERFUL! When examining production records, check how long lactations were along with overall data, but keep in mind that records can still be an inaccurate measure; as I always say, “the data is only as good as the milker, the weather, and the feed!”
Linebreeding: This is one way to lock in traits, especially if you have good animals. It’s also a good way to find out if you have hidden problem areas in your animals since they can pop up sometimes in linebred animals. As Keith Harrell once said, linebreeding is the way to truly find out what you have in your herd, especially if you are trying experimental close linebreeding. You might end up with a fantastic foundation animal or something you cull quickly. Either way, choosing the best is again the direction you want to go with this. When looking for a buck, you can always search ADGA to find out who your best producing/winning animals have been; I’m sure someone will have a buck out there out of one of those lines!
Age: Yes, when it comes to goats, age matters. Older bucks are more experienced than younger bucks; they get the job done quicker (unless you have a super Sol like I did last year; he was 3 months old and breeding (successfully) everything under the moon (and sun!)). Older bucks are usually not quite as aggressive with does as some of the younger bucks can be. Younger bucks often get frustrated easily and get rough while trying to figure out what they are doing. They can also frustrate an older doe because sometimes they just can’t figure out how to do the deed; they are all about foreplay, but not sure where to go after that. A slow groove might sound wonderful to you or me, but to a doe, especially an experienced doe, they may get aggravated if they have to wait more than a minute to ‘finish up,’ especially if they have been standing, wagging, at the fence all day long. I’ve had does try to finish the job by bringing in another doe to educate Senor “Slow” Goat. I have also had a few try to teach the young man how to take action by ‘showing’ him how to do it, jumping on his back and going through the motions! Both of these techniques usually thwart the young man’s efforts a bit and annoy him, making the whole process take even longer! An older buck doesn’t care one way or the other; the goal is the same, no matter how he gets there.
Essentially, the ‘best’ option would be a buck who has successfully bred at least one doe and produced offspring. Sometimes people will call this a ‘proven’ buck; technically, that is incorrect. He is not a ‘proven’ buck until he has produced excellent daughters who excel in the milk pail and show ring, but we’ll stop there and say that a buck who has produced before and is still intact has at least two things going for him in the reproductive department. The only thing is that 99.9% of bucks have that same thing going for them if given enough time to mature.
Now, I’m not knocking young bucks. As long as you have time to wait or have a backup if all else fails, by all means, try him out. Good quality bucks need to have a chance to breed to as many does as possible (and to be collected when possible) because it often seems like the really good ones have passed on by the time we realize how great they were. I can also say the same for many older bucks out there who may not have been ‘proven’ in some herds since their daughters haven’t been on milk test or shown.
Color: Bahaha! Some people out there will get annoyed by me mentioning this, but I know many of you love color. Some of you even buy based on color. Personally, I love color just as much as anyone else. When I first started in goats, I oohed and aahed over all of the cute moonspotted babies and blue eyed girls. Thennnnnn… I got over it.
While color can be a beautiful aspect in any species, it should never be a deciding factor for breeding a buck unless you are choosing between A (Gorgeous and Great) and B (Gorgeous and Great) or unless it’s some crazy, once in a lifetime, may never ever be recreated again color–like purple or pink. In that case, go for the blue eyes, purple, and bling if you are into that (and then email me because I might want to buy him after you finish with him!).
Good luck in choosing your bucks! Happy breeding season…