As an animal breeder, one of the delights of your hobby is planning the next generation. Pedigrees are analysed, previous matings judged and physical attributes compared. By the time the current drop of kids is on the ground you will have planned the next year’s matings and perhaps decided to bring in new blood.
As the breeding season approaches, I run through potential matings over and over, to come up with the best cross for each doe. Sometimes I decide to go with a tried and true recipe. Sometimes I decide to try something different to see if a new cross will ‘nick’.
Invariably, the free will of one or more goats will cause me to rethink my plans.
Sometimes it works out well. Victoria was the result of a half-brother over half-sister mating, and she has been one of the best goats I have bred so far. That mating was not only unplanned, but I had also not intended for her mother to kid at such a young age. The whole episode of dealing with a buck so mad with lust that I had to have him shot after he had escaped every possible confine and bred every doe including his mother and his twin, was a cloud that really needed a silver lining. Victoria was that silver lining.
That year I had to acquire emergency contraception for two does. The following year a similar thing happened, although to a much lesser degree. My existing buck fencing was no match for motivated and resourceful new boy Jupiter, and I ended up needling two does again. One for being underage, the other for being the wrong doe in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A third doe ended up kidding at less than 12 months of age, after I managed to leave a gate open and the bucks got out again. I swear they could not have been out for more than twenty minutes, but apparently that is all they needed.
This year, with four matings planned, three very young females to protect, and an older doe who was meant to be retiring, I once again made my plans and started organising ‘sleepovers’ with the right bucks going to the right does. The stakes are a bit higher these days, with my old vet no longer treating ruminants and thus no easy access to emergency goat contraception.
So when I got home one day to find my senior buck Tazzy out with the girls, I thanked my lucky stars that the one doe in season was the one I was planning to breed to him anyway. Even if I didn’t really want to do it for another few months.
After Ambika’s surprise kidding as a child bride last year I have come to accept that unplanned breeding of very young does is something that happens to even the most experienced breeders. It might not be ideal, but it shouldn’t be a disaster. Juno is a broad-hipped, deep bodied kid, and she will be well cared-for during her pregnancy and supervised during her kidding.
To date, Victoria and Meredith have been bred to Jupiter, and both look to be in kid with due dates in July. First-timer Juno is still a bet each way after her encounter with Tazzy, but if she is not in kid she will be bred to FitzWilliam for a late kid. This will be a test-mating for both these youngsters, with Juno’s future riding on the quality of her udder, and the future endeavours of Fitz riding on how he crosses with selected does.
Ambika has been bred to Tazzy’s son Zeus, who will hopefully produce a kid with a bit more stretch than last year’s Tazzy/Ambika cross who was very nice but not really long enough in the body.
Then there is Rianna. After being diagnosed with a staph infection in her udder, Rianna was to be retired. She has contributed two excellent daughters and a son who has been retained. And a few days after Fitz’s arrival I came home to find that she had liberated him from the quarantine pen and put him in a corner behind her very in-season self. She has not come back in season since.
At least if Juno doesn’t have Fitz babies this year, Rianna probably will.
So in the end I may end up with five goats to kid; three in July and two in September. Not the staggered season I was hoping for, but at least there have been no major disruptions.
Of course, getting the matings right is only the beginning. I am looking at somewhere between five and twelve kids, with the potential combinations of buck kids and doe kids, singles and multiples and colours and patterns beyond my comprehension. Each season I can only work with what I am given, and some years it works out better than others.
This year no buck kids will be kept. Every single buck kid will be wethered. And doe kids from some matings will be sold.
Maybe this will be the year that a doe blesses me with more than one doe kid. Maybe I’ll end up with a paddock full of potential wether meat. All of that is the luck of the draw.
Maybe once again I will be left with the sense that the goats have got it right.