Optimizing your Dairy Goat Reproduction Program

Published on Thu, 08/04/2022 - 2:50pm

Optimizing your Dairy Goat Reproduction Program.

 By Jennifer A. Bentley, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Audra Harl, Instructor, Agriculture Sciences, Shasta College.

The goal for a dairy goat producer should be to produce high quality milk efficiently, while maintaining the health and productive life of the milking doe. Reproduction and genetics play a major role in achieving high milk production and components. Each of the eight major dairy goat breeds produces a range of milk production as noted in the 2019 DHIR (Dairy Herd Improvement Registry) data. The lactation period for a dairy goat averages 284 days, with peak production occurring four to six weeks after kidding.  Let’s look at some key management practices producers can implement to optimize production and profitability.

• Using a dairy herd improvement program provides the framework for analyzing production related goals, including milk production and components, reproduction and herd health records.
• To increase the total lifetime herd production of milk, manage young does to have them in good body condition for breeding at 7-10 months of age and a bodyweight of 70-80 pounds.  Note that this is breed dependent, and body weight relative to breed is more important than age. Buck kids do reach sexual maturity by 5 months of age, so it is important to separate buck kids to allow for adequate growth of the does before breeding.
• Does have a gestation period of five months and will milk for approximately 10 months following kidding. Appropriate body condition score during lactation and into the two-month dry period should be taken into consideration for successful future lactations. While monitoring body condition, evaluate the doe’s nutrition during each phase of lactation.
• Most breeding will occur from late summer to early winter using an 18–21-day estrus cycle.
• Select animals with good udder structure.
• Cull low producing animals to increase herd productivity.

Using a buck or artificial insemination
No matter what breeding strategy is being used, it should always aim to improve the genetics of the herd as a whole and focus on the goals of the operation, identifying desirable traits to pass on to the offspring. Many small herds do not keep a buck, rather they use a stud service from other local herds. If bucks are being kept for breeding purposes, they should be of high quality. While visual assessment of bucks is commonly used for selection, genetic capabilities should also be evaluated. Genetic evaluations are common by breed associations and registered breeders and may not be as common in commercial herds, however they can be of value when predicting future offspring performance. Genetic evaluations can help identify important traits compared to the average of the breed, predict possible future performance, and help in the overall selection of breeding stock.

Bucks can be evaluated by their own performance (performance testing) or in combination with offspring performance (progeny testing). Performance testing does not take into consideration variation in environmental influences, while progeny testing evaluates offspring born in the same year across different herds and environments to predict how well the animal’s genetics will perform.

It is important to review the herd and assess what traits are commonly associated with culling does. By identifying why does are leaving (involuntary), the producer is better able to include it in the genetic improvement plan. Genetic improvements do take time, so select a few that are most important to the herd’s longevity and profitability. Once those traits are selected, then routinely recording, and evaluating performance will aid in future selections.

An example of tracking could be ease of kidding and production as it directly affects the producer financially, factoring in the cost of labor, veterinarian assistance, additional medical supplies and then the production loss from additional recovery time of the fresh doe, and potentially not reaching peak milk production.  Producers commonly select for milk production and components as they directly affect fluid milk and cheese yield. However, if physical traits like udder conformation and teat placement are not considered, does may be culled from the herd sooner due to bad udders. Some traits are more heritable than others, for example milking speed is highly heritable, while fat and protein yield are less heritable.

Artificial insemination (AI) is another viable option for many herds. Artificial insemination eliminates the need for a herd buck, and has the potential to drastically improve herd genetics in a single breeding season. While AI is often an exciting and profitable prospect, it requires an initial investment of equipment and training if the producer chooses to breed the animals, or a paid technician to breed the animals on behalf of the producer.

Before selecting an estrous synchronization protocol for AI, determine the season of desired breeding. Most dairy goats are seasonal breeders, cycling naturally in the fall/winter, and not cycling in the spring/summer. Out of season breeding may be desired to decrease fluctuation of milk production in the herd. Hormones needed may change slightly depending on the time of year. Additionally, many hormones require a prescription, so plan early to have all hormones ready to go for breeding.

When preparing females for AI, pay close attention to body condition. Over conditioned animals are less likely to conceive. It is better to have an animal on the lean side rather than over conditioned. Two to four weeks prior to breeding, a nutritional flush increasing energy intake can help improve ovulation and conception rates in average body condition or lean animals. Once AI has taken place, allow animals a day of quiet in a confined area. If possible, do not trailer or move the animals for 24 hours.

There are many ways to use genetic selection to improve the herd and it should be noted this article has only mentioned a few. It’s important for producers to work with their service providers in helping to identify the farm’s goals for herd longevity and profitability.