Raising goats can be a bit overwhelming at first, especially when it comes to housing your herd. This article will walk you through how to keep a buck on your homestead so you can breed your herd each season without issues the rest of the year.
Goat breeding and goat kidding can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Learn what you can and implement a new phase as your confidence grows, and you will have a system that works for you and your herd.
Whether you raise goats for meat or dairy, breeding is something that needs to be considered when mapping out your setup. If you plan to raise dairy goats, you will need to breed those goats in order to ensure you have a constant supply of milk. This means you either need to raise bucks for breeding or find a buck elsewhere you can rent. If you choose to raise bucks then housing bucks for breeding goats is something you will want to look into.
(If you are an experienced goat owner and just want the housing details you may want to skip to the end.)
For us, we learned early on that keeping a buck (or 5 if you have letting go issues) was the best way. This meant we could breed on our own schedule which is important if you are older (ahem like I am) and you are raising goats with little help.
Let me just say that having 5 goats all due the same week is not the way to go. Staggering births will keep you sane and your goats sane as well.
One thing I did not know (and oh boy I wish I did) was the nature of a buck, especially one that is in rut. I planned on housing our buck inside of the barn with the rest of my little herd. I soon found out that when a buck is in rut they transform into, well something else entirely.
You can read more on Buck Rut here.
Characteristics of a Goat Buck in Rut
There are a few things to know before you decide to keep a buck on property. I am not listing things out to deter you, but knowing what to expect will eliminate any surprises later on.
The biggest characteristic of a goat in rut is the scent. And trust me when I say, it’s a strong one. When a buck is in rut he will “spray” himself (meaning he will spray urine on his face, front legs, and beard).
This odor is what the does are drawn to and will, more often than not, put a female goat into heat if she is around it long enough. The bad news is, if this smell is anywhere near your barn, it will make everything in that barn smell as well. Including you, your milk if you have a milking stall in your barn, your hay, and anything else that is the least bit porous.
Goat bucks in a rut can get a bit crazy, although not intentionally. I have never had a truly crazy buck (knock on wood), but I have heard some stories. If a determined buck wants to get to a doe in heat, he will get to that doe in heat no matter how secure your housing is.
Housing bucks in a barn with your does may not be the best option as it will only make your bucks crazy, wanting to get to the does no matter what the cost. Now, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I just find it very difficult, and for that reason, we keep our bucks outside in a lean to shelter.
Changes in Eating
A buck in rut may stop eating during breeding season. Bucks can get pretty obsessed with does in heat. So much so that they will stop eating and just pace and look for a way to get to the does. For this reason, it is important to “know” your goats. This will help you see quickly when something is off or not right.
Goat bucks in rut can be noisy as they will call out to the female does, letting them know they are nearby. If you have a frustrated buck, they will yell to let you (and your neighbors) know it.
Not all bucks are loud, but we raise Nubians and they are known for their vocalness. To help, we just give our neighbors a heads up that things might get a bit noisy, and they are fine with that.
Now, I am not telling you all of this to deter you from raising your own bucks for goat breeding, but I do want you to go into this with your eyes wide open. These are all things I had to learn the hard way. Knowing then what I know now would have saved me so many headaches.
Buck Housing Options
We prefer to keep our breeding buck out behind our barn in his own shelter. A simple lean-to is all we need to house him during the warmer months when we are not breeding. It did not start here, but over the years, I have learned what works best, and for us, this works best.
We also have our buck in his own grazing area as well so he can go onto pasture throughout the day as he wants. Our buck shelter is far enough away that he is not distracted by the herd, yet close enough that he can see the other goats.
Let me just stop here and say that goats are highly social animals, even bucks. For that reason, it is best to have a wether (a male goat that has been “fixed” or castrated) in with your bucks. Make sure your wether is a tough goat since they can end up being the target of a buck that is in rut.
Lucky for us our buck is not loud, however, I still let my neighbors know that breeding season is coming up and things may get a bit noisy over at our place. Even though our neighbors are not close, this just helps to keep things friendly between us.
Can bucks be out all winter?
Yes, they can and they tend to tolerate the weather quite well. If you live in a cold area do not be tempted to pamper your goats with heaters or coats. You will only pay for it in the end. A goat is fully capable of growing a lovely thick winter coat that will keep them warm and dry in winter weather. Let them acclimate to the changing temperatures naturally, and they will grow what they need to stay warm all winter long.
I have purchased goats that were raised in heated barns, only to find them to be fragile with a weak constitution. They simply do not have the stamina to make it through a cold winter without help. I am not saying you shouldn’t buy a goat that was raised this way, but I am saying to buy them in the spring so they have plenty of time to get acclimated to a non-heated shelter before the temps drop.
Since our bucks are outside year-round (except for breeding season), they all have nice thick coats by winter. They rarely shiver, and their health is hardy and robust. The reason their coats are so thick is that they have time to develop. As the temperatures begin to drop, goats will begin to grow their fur. The colder the weather gets, the thicker the fur.
Lesson? Put your goats out early so they have time to “harden up” and be better able to handle a cold winter with few issues.
What all does a buck need to be housed?
#1. A good, sturdy shelter
You do not need a huge shelter, but they should be able to stand up inside of it and be fed and watered. This will keep them out of rain and snow unless they want to be. Also, make sure the shelter has at least 3 sides.
#2. Place your shelter away from the wind.
This was another lesson we learned really quick. Put your opening so it is facing out of the wind. For us, that is facing north or east. Also, know you will have those crazy storms that blow the wrong way to have a plan B for those situations. Our lean-to is deep enough that our buck can get out of the weather no matter what the wind wants to do.
#3. Have a way to feed hay, grain, minerals, and water inside of the lean-to if possible.
This just makes sure that everything is kept dry and moisture-free.
#4. Have a grazing area
You will want to be sure you have enough room for them to move outside of their shelter. You can use steel panels to close in an area or use electric fence netting to give them ore grazing. Either will work fine; just know if you do not have grazing for your goats, you will need to supplement them daily with cut hay.
#5. Add concrete or rocks
This one I feel is pretty important. Goat hooves are something that cannot be ignored even on smelly bucks. To keep things trimmed I have several old concrete slabs that I have in my buck’s run. I put them in upside down so the rough pebbly part is facing up.
Goats do not like to be wet and they will prefer to walk on dry ground rather than wet. When my bucks walk on the concrete slaps they keep their hooves shaved down enough that I only need to trim things every few months rather than every month like I do my does.
#6. Have adequate fencing
Like I said before, our bucks are pretty well-behaved. This is lucky for us and not something you can train into a buck. If they are born crazy, odds are they will remain crazy. So, know the mannerisms of your buck and house them accordingly. For us, cattle panels work just fine.
These are 5-foot-high steel fencing that come in long sheets. They are pretty easy to move, even for me, and you can use heavy-duty zip ties to hold the panels together, giving you a long sheet for fencing. We then use heavy steel fence stakes (make sure they are heavy duty) that we drive into the ground to attach the panels too, again with zip ties.
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When staking a steel fence, be sure to put the stakes on the outside. Goats are very VERY curious and your buck will spend most of the day “standing” on the fence. (see the image above, yes, he does that all day long!) By having your stakes to the outside, you will give extra support to your big buck’s weight.
SLCG ProTip: I suggest walking your fencing line at least monthly so you are always aware of any weak issues that may come up.
#7. Keep things dry
If your run gets really wet and you do not have concrete or rock to put in, then sawdust may be your only other option. (do not use wood, it is very slippery when wet and you can easily hurt your goat)
I will put down a nice layer in the fall when we prep for winter and add to it as needed throughout the winter. Please know if you add too much sawdust or wood chips to your ground you will deter drainage and cause a bigger issue. Make sure you have adequate draining before you begin adding anything.
#8. Close it up in the dead of winter
If you need to keep your buck outside in the winter, you will want to put a cover on the front to keep the snow and wind out of the shelter. You can do this by screwing in a board or a heavy duty tarp that will cover ¾ of the opening. Also, you can place a few straw bales inside to help get your goat up off the cold ground.
It is very important to make sure you have ventilation yet not a draft. Goat urine if full of ammonia and this is not good to breathe in all day and night. You will need ventilation to keep the air fresh. Usually, an opening at the roof of the shelter will give you the airflow you need.
#9. Warm them up when it’s really cold
I like to give our buck very warm water to drink when the temps are at their worst. He LOVES this water and usually drinks it as I pour it.
Another easy way to warm a goat up quickly is with hay and lots of it. Fresh hay encourages your goats to eat, and as they do, their rumen gets to work on the hay, acting like a furnace heating your goats from the inside out. More often than not, a little hay and warm water will take the shivers away in minutes.
Above all things, trust your goat. They are pretty hardy if given a good clean shelter. As long as they have a thick coat and housing that is out of the wind and snow they will do just fine.
If you are not sure of the comfort of your lean-to, crawl inside. I do this every year to make sure things are toasty, comfortable and smelling fresh. More often than not I am pleasantly surprised. With their winter coat, the extra sawdust, and heavy bedding a lean-to can easily house your goats year-round in any weather.
When raising goats having everything on your homestead is convenient.
If you have been nervous about housing a buck for your herd I hope you found some helpful tips and encouragement here. Above all things, education is your best tool. Research, ask questions and visit other farms in your area. Seeing how others house their goats and bucks will be quite helpful.
I was able to visit quite a few homesteads when I first started out, and I took the best from each to come up with my own layout. Try it, and if it doesn’t work, change it. There are no rules with goats, and they will be the first to tell you!!