Knowing the facts about goats and having the ability to recognize goat heat will equip you to take appropriate measures to either get your doe bred or keep her from getting pregnant, whichever is your goal.
Goat Breeding Season
It’s a fact about goats that some females, or does, experience heat cycles year around. Others come into heat only during the fall months. Breeds that are known as the desert or equatorial breeds originated in hot climates and are generally seasonal, meaning they cycle year around. Most of these breeds are meat goats. They include Boer goats, Fainting goats, Kinder goats, Kiko goats, Nigerian Dwarf goats, Spanish goats, and Pygmy goats. Nubian goats are sometimes included in this category, although they may not cycle during the entire year.
The so-called Alpine or Swiss breeds, which are mostly dairy goats, originated in cooler climates and are seasonal breeders. They experience heat cycles from about mid summer until around the end of the year. Seasonal breeders include Alpine goats, LaMancha goats, Oberhasli goats, Saanen goats, and Toggenburg goats Angoras are also seasonal breeders.
Throughout the breeding season, a doe periodically comes into heat or estrus. Estrus lasts for 2 to 3 days, starting gradually, reaching a peak, and then tapering off. During the peak of estrus, known as standing heat, a doe is receptive to a buck’s attention and can become pregnant.
The time between the start of one estrus and the start of the next is called the estrous cycle. Different individual does have different estrous cycles. A doe’s cycle can range anywhere from 17 to 25 days, with 19 days being typical. Keeping track of the length of each of your doe’s cycles is a valuable breeding aid.
Signs of Heat
Some does show little or no signs of estrus, a phenomenon known as silent heat. It’s a fact about goats that most does show some signs, but each has different signs or different combinations of signs. Along with the length of each doe’s estrous cycle, note the signs she displays so you will know what to look for in the future. Here are ten ways to recognize goat heat:
1. The doe gets talkative
Most goats don’t make much noise, but a doe in heat may vocalize more than usual. Nubians, which are noisier than most other breeds, may literally scream while in heat. If no buck (or male goat) is present when a doe comes into heat, she may make the same moaning and blubbering sounds as a buck in rut.
2. The doe wags her tail.
A doe in heat usually wags her tail, like a dog, a behavior known as flagging. She may willingly let you handle her tail, while at other times she’ll take exception to any attempts to touch her tail. Even while flagging, a doe that’s not in standing heat will spurn the attentions of a buck.
3. The doe’s personality changes.
Raging hormones can cause a doe’s personality to change. A normally submissive doe may become aggressive toward her sisters, while a normally aggressive doe may allow other goats in the herd to boss her around without resisting.
4. Her tail gets sticky.
The area under the doe’s tail may become red, swollen, and wet with a gel-like vaginal discharge. The best way to identify vaginal discharge is to notice if the hair at the sides of the tail appears damp or clumps together.
5. Milk volume changes.
If you are milking a doe that comes into heat, she may resist getting on the milk stand. When you finally get her up there, she may give less milk than usual and have little interest in eating. (If this pattern lasts more than a day or two, it could indicate an oncoming illness, rather than goat heat.)
6. Your does act bucky.
If no buck is present when a doe comes into heat, she may mount other does in the herd or allow them to mount her. When other does notice her unusual odor and try to sniff at her tail, like a buck would, she may lift her tail to accommodate them.
7. The doe urinates often.
An interesting fact about goats is a doe in heat usually urinates more often than usual. The urine of a doe in heat contains chemical substances (pheromones) that tell a buck she’s ready for breeding. If a buck is present, he will stick his nose into the urine stream and then raise his head and curl his upper lip (flehmen) to get a good whiff.
8. The buck acts goofy.
When a doe comes into heat while she’s with a buck, or if a buck is housed nearby, you will have no doubt the doe is in heat. The buck will wag his tongue, slap a front hoof against the ground, urinate on his own face, and otherwise act the fool. If the buck cannot see the doe, he will go into his goofy routine when he smells the doe’s odor on you.
9. The doe stands for mating.
A doe that is not in standing heat will move away from a buck that tries to mount her, while a doe in standing heat will remain still while the buck mounts her, or may urgently push her body against his. The act of mating itself takes only seconds. You can tell a trial run from the real thing by the way the buck arches and throws his head back during ejaculation.
10. The buck rag trick.
If no buck is close by, you might trick the doe into displaying signs of goat heat by using a buck rag. Rub a piece of cloth on the forehead of a mature buck, then place it in a sealed container. When you open the container in front of a doe in estrus, she will show clear signs of excitement.
The Two-Month Rule
When I have a doe ready to be bred, I put her in with our buck and leave her with him for two months. Even if her heat cycle was over by the time we moved her, within the next two months she will cycle at least twice. If she is not successfully bred during her first cycle with the buck, she’ll likely get pregnant the second time around. Leaving the doe with a buck longer than two months can be counterproductive, because eventually the buck may lose interest in breeding.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.