Let's face it. No one likes to handle bucks, myself included. They're big, smelly and strong. For this reason they are often overlooked in herd management. However, the male is vitally important. If a buck is not reproductively sound, the kidding rate will be reduced drastically and profits will be similarly affected. Therefore, in preparation for the breeding season, bucks should receive a little extra attention prior to being turned out with the does including: good nutrition, disease and parasite control, a breeding soundness exam, foot care and a general physical examination.
It is very important that bucks be in good physical condition prior to the breeding season, but not too fat. An active buck with a high libido (sex drive) can literally forget to eat during the breeding season. An adult buck can be left thin but a yearling buck can actually be stunted permanently. A young buck needs nutrients not only for semen production and mating but also for his own body growth. It takes about 60 days for spermatozoa to form and mature inside the buck's reproductive tract. Therefore, it is vital that bucks receive adequate nutrition prior to as well as during the breeding season for optimum performance. If your pasture conditions are not adequate right now, you may want to consider a protein supplement to make sure that bucks are in peak condition going into the breeding season. This is especially true for young, immature bucks that are still growing. There are many commercial protein supplement products available including the Sweetlix 20% All Natural protein block formulated especially for goats. Choose the supplement option that works best for you.
Every goat producer should have a working knowledge of the nutritional needs of their animals. While the purpose of this article is not to teach ration balancing, on average a buck will require roughly 5% of his body weight in dry matter intake (the weight of the feed with all water removed) per day. For example, a 200-pound buck will eat 10 pounds of dry matter feed per day. If he is receiving hay that has a dry matter content of 80% (20% moisture), he will then consume 12.5 pounds of hay per day on an as fed basis (10 lbs./0.80 = 12.5 lbs.). An average meat or fiber producing buck will require 60% TDN (total digestible nutrients), 11% protein, 0.4% calcium and 0.2% phosphorus in his total diet. It is important to make sure that the calcium to phosphorus ratio is at least 2:1 to prevent urinary calculi formation. It is also important to point out that these nutritional requirements will vary according to age, breed of goat, activity level, desired weight gain, and other factors. Please consult a nutritionist, Cooperative Extension agent or veterinarian to formulate a ration according to the specific needs of your herd.
Disease and Parasite Control
Disease and heavy parasitic infections will also reduce a buck's sexual performance. Here are some steps that you can follow to control disease and parasites.
- Follow a preventative program for internal and external parasites dictated by your local conditions.
- Promptly treat any animals showing signs of infection.
- Isolate new animals and animals returning from shows for a period of 30 days before adding or returning to the herd.
- Vaccinate bucks for enterotoxemia and tetanus whenever does are vaccinated.
- Be sure to have a postmortem examination (necropsy) performed for all suspicious deaths. In most states, the Dept. of Agriculture provides a service of free necropsies on livestock in state-run laboratories. Contact the Dept. of Agriculture in your state to receive more information about this service.
Breeding Soundness Exam
Before going on a long trip you probably give your car a tune-up and make sure that all the important parts are functioning correctly. The same concept applies for your bucks.
You should physically examine all bucks prior to the breeding season each year to make sure that all "important parts" are functioning correctly. Just because a buck was sound a year ago doesn't mean that he's sound today!
You can begin by carefully examining the penis and prepuce (sheath). To do this, sit the buck on its rump with its back to you (as if you were going to shear him). Then gently push the prepuce (See Figure 1) down to reveal the penis. If the penis does not appear, gentle forward pressure in the area behind the scrotum will place pressure on the sigmoid flexure and thus protrude the penis. When inspecting, make sure that the penis and prepuce are not adhered together. Next check the penis for sores or cuts. Also feel the pizzle (thin process on the end of the penis) to make sure that no urinary stones are lodged there. Next visually feel the testes. Make sure that they are cool to the touch (heat may indicate a possible infection), roughly the same size, firm to the touch (not too hard or soft), and have no unusual lumps. If abnormalities are detected in the testes, the semen should be evaluated by a veterinarian or reproductive physiologist before allowing the buck to breed does.
Bucks should receive hoof trimming and an examination of their conformation prior to the breeding season. Foot care is very important since problems will hinder the buck from actively seeking out does and mounting them. Bucks who find it painful to walk or mount will be reluctant to ejaculate even if they do attempt to mount. Possible causes of feet and leg problems include foot rot, overgrown hooves, improper foot trimmings, injury, or CAE.
While you are handling the buck, check his eyes as well. Bucks rely on sight to find does in heat in a large pasture setting, so make sure that the buck's vision is not impaired by cataracts, pink eye, excessive hair or other causes.
In summary, it is of vital importance that bucks be reproductively sound prior to the breeding season. One can prepare bucks for the breeding season with good nutrition; regular health care and frequent foot care. Other precautions include breeding soundness examinations and general physical examinations prior to turning bucks out with does. If forage conditions in late summer are poor, you may want to consider supplementation to ensure optimum spermatozoa production in your bucks, especially for young, growing bucks.
Jackie Nix is a nutritionist with Sweetlix Livestock Supplement Systems and an authority on goat production. You can contact her at jnix@sweetlix or 1-800-325-1486 to ask questions or to receive more information about the Sweetlix line of supplement products for goats.