Ready to Serve
Until recently, people believed that young bucks should be at least seven months old before being used for breeding. And young bucks were only allowed to serve a mere handful of does that first breeding season. Using them too young or too heavily was alleged to stunt growth or reduce their useful lives.
It can be hard to let go of the old wives' tales that were probably based the best information available at the time. Much was yet to be understood about nutrition, parasites and other factors that that are important in maintaining breeding bucks.
Most information about goats comes from the large breeds that have very seasonal breeding patterns. Pygmy goats differ from the dairy breeds. Pygmies can reproduce throughout the year, while most other breeds are usually born in the spring and reach adolescence in the fall and winter. If they lived in the wild, instead of being selectively mated on the farm, they would all do what comes naturally at the ages and times of year dictated by nature.
It Ain't Easy Being a Kid
The young buck is beset by many different types of stress. He is prone to harbor a myriad of internal parasites that are more than happy to take advantage of his nervous exhaustion. When he senses does coming into heat, through sight, sound and odor, he is about the most anxious little ball of nerves you'll ever want to see.
Penned with other bucks, especially larger ones, he faces being ridden or riding others, and possibly being injured in the process. He is often knocked away from the food. He picks at whatever scraps he can scrounge at the outer edges of the feeder and exposes himself to even more parasites. Stress and nutritional deficits combine with a burgeoning internal parasite population to stunt his growth, at least temporarily. The little lamebrain would much rather blubber through the fence or knock heads with than pay attention to a decent dinner.
Most bucks have oral contact with the doe's rear end as part of courtship behavior. This may be an additional route for them to pick up a larger load of worm and coccidia eggs. Be especially careful when he breeds outside does - he may be exposed to unusual varieties of parasites that you don't already have on your farm.
Deworming and treating for coccidia before and during breeding season is a good idea in order to limit the number of internal parasites that can quickly drag down a buck of any age, but especially the young guy. Have your veterinarian do a fecal egg count to see what he has and how many, and follow his/her suggestions for treatment.
When is He Ready to Breed?
A membrane called the frenulum adheres the penis to the inside of the sheath, preventing a very young buck from extending his penis. Along with the increasing influence of testosterone, practice mounts help weaken and break the attachment of the frenulum, sometimes as early as six weeks old. When he can fully extend his penis, he is physiologically capable of fertilization. Whether he can physically get the job done is another matter entirely.
A young buck who is too small or short can't reach the doe to inseminate her. A more than a few attempts he may quickly become frustrated with the whole mess and walk away from it. Psychological counseling is not necessary. Waiting another month or two for him to grow a little is.
In a group research project, animal scientists in Oregon, Idaho and Montana found links between the sexual preference of rams and chemical activity in the hypothalamus area of the brain. According to Fred Stormshak, Oregon State University, "We found that in regard to mating behavior, the rams fell into three categories. One group mated with females again and again, a second group mated with females occasionally and the third group did not mate with females at all."
In a paper published on this research, it was noted that ten percent of all rams tested did not breed ewes. It was also stated that these data reflect the biology of sheep and cannot be applied across species. Goats are closely related to sheep. I have observed this in goats, and that it why I have included it.
A few years ago, I refunded money on a buck I'd sold who failed to develop any interest at all in a herd of does. Granted, he had been housed with a number of adult bucks until he was four years old and was granted any contact with females. Did he have the same sexual orientation as that 10% of rams, or was he conditioned to ignore does?
How old can a buck be before his first breeding? To my knowledge, there is no answer to this one except to repeat the adage, "Use it or lose it!" You take your chances on a mature buck who has never been used.
There is no scientific proof that using a buck at too young an age is harmful. A few of my does were aggressive with a young bucks if they did not perform quickly enough. Injury to an inexperienced buck comes with a horned doe or one who believes she is being spurned in favor of another. When any buck is breeding, his rear end is exceptionally at risk. Butting a buck who is on his hind legs in the process of breeding can severely injure the stifle(s) and/or penis.
Breeding is his reason for living. Physiologically, a young buck cannot be harmed by being used before he reaches his first birthday. He may be used on a number of does in his first breeding season. Bear in mind that his sperm production may not yet be up to speed, and the time it takes for him to begin producing mature new sperm after he is depleted may be longer than an adult's. I do not allow a youngster to ejaculate more than twice with one doe, in case she needs to be rebred very soon.
There is only one way to get your buck to mellow out during breeding season. Get all your does pregnant so no one comes into estrus, and he will finally calm down.
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