Lots of things begin to shift this time of year in farm life. The farmers markets begin to wind down, we, the care givers begin to succumb to exhaustion, and the goats change in every way. Milk production begins to drop-but at the same time that delicious butterfat and protein rise, so the cheese yield per gallon of milk actually goes up. Cheesemaking recipes are seasonally, minimally adjusted. The milk just “behaves” differently. We now have enough years at this with the same essential lines of goats to know our particular needs and how we like our cheese to taste, and can make our adjustments. It is a beautiful dance we enjoy.
Goats this far from the equator are seasonal breeders. That means they have a natural “heat” (estrus) cycle in the Fall. This is driven by day length. OK, so now our days are noticeably shorter, even to us 2 legged creatures. Estrus is in full force with the herd. They tend to all cycle nearly in sync with each other. The cycle is every 18-21 days. The visible signs are crying for the boys at the fence line, some vaginal mucus changes (remember we see them from the tail side twice a day, every day), tail twitching, crying and carrying on some more, fighting, big drop in milk production (which comes back up after the cycle). There is lots of fighting, nuzzling, just odd, not the usual day sort of behavior going on.
Now the boys-they begin the cycle first from what I have observed. In actuality, I think they have detected the female changes long before I see them. They quit eating for the most part, urinate on their faces and each others faces (yep-that’s right-the other guy has to put his face there, and he does this over and over), and fighting for the girl is a frequent occurrence. My usually calm, easy to handle big boys (probably 300# or so) become a bit rowdy and hard to handle.
Breedings are planned here. Quite planned. More on that later if you want. Lots of detail but it boils down to genetic improvements for the herd.
So at 5:30 am as I was out with the dog, I heard all manner of crying from the barn. Not a distress cry, but an unusual amount of noise for the time of day and darkness. My LaManchas are normally very quiet for the most part. This was coupled with the gentle bleat of two older does at the fence. I call them my tattle-tales as they always rat the others out to me. So, OK, change shoes to barn shoes, grab the phone, and go do a pajama check. All is well. Three does crying the fence line. We have 9-10 bred already, I suspect it will be 14 or so by days end.
Gestation is 145-150 days (LaManchas “tend” to go on the earlier side). So February babies galore here we come! We plan to breed 25-28 does this year unless I actually try milking 3-5 of them through. With goats, you can “milk through” and just keep going without re-breeding them. I am told you get about 25% less production the following year. That may be worth it not to kid out that many more. I don’t so much mind the the sleeping in the barn actual kidding season, it all those darling goat babies to deal with. For 2010 we had 55 baby goats born here. I kept 4 as replacements. That is a LOT of good goat homes to find.
We enjoy the cycles on the farm. We enjoy the predictability. We like working with nature and natural cycles. And there is never a dull moment. The unpredictable always happens too.