Brutally Honest: No Males Required – Part II Goats and Sheep

As I mentioned in my previous post Brutally Honest: No Males Required – Part I: Chickens, after more than five years of homesteading, I’ve come to the conclusion that a homestead does NOT need male animals. The disadvantages to having them far outweigh their advantages. In most instances, they do not produce anything (note there were a few exceptions).

In that post, I discussed male chickens, ducks, meat birds and turkeys. In this one, I’ll discuss in detail goats and add a few notes about sheep.

GOATS

Goats, both does (females) and bucks (males) browse, eating down overgrown grassy areas, unwanted trees and invasive shrubs. They won’t eat everything because some plants are poisonous to them (buttercup, yew), but they can clean up a vacant lot fairly quickly when left to their own devices, and they eat some plants that are poisonous to humans, such as poison ivy.

Goats also leave droppings a little larger than rabbit manure. They remind me of large, chocolate covered raisins. If your goat isn’t pooping chocolate-covered raisins, you may have a health issue. This manure and their urine mixed with soiled hay or straw is a great addition to the compost pile. I’ve made lovely soil over the past five years from the manure gathered from these animals.

Rascal McTaz

A two-year-old buck getting a welcomed scratch.

In these two instances, female and male goats are equal. But that’s where the comparison ends.

All goats can be escape artists, which means they’ll test your patience and your ingenuity. In general, does are easier on the hardware (large Alpines may be different, but I would never have those destructive animals in my barn). They’ll push, shove, try to climb over, attempt to go around and seek to wiggle under every barrier you create. Damage created by does trying to escape often takes only a few minutes to repair.

Bucks on the other hand will do all that in their attempt to escape but for the most part, they’ll just keep ramming the gate, the rail or the post with their head until they bust through it or tip it over. If they have horns, they’ll rip it off faster than you can make a cranberry sandwich.

I’ve resigned to build shelters for bucks like Fort Knox: you’ll need a tank to get through. Use 2×6 or the 4×4 and the 3-inch nails. It will slow them down. You can look at the 2×4 wood and 2-inch nails, but don’t bother using them for bucks unless you have something like a Nigerian Dwarf.

Grown bucks should not be housed together even if they grew up together. By the time they are three, they are big enough to kill each other, and that could be exactly what happens. Think of them as Chinese fighting fish. Young bucks should be fine, but they take a growing spurt in the fall of their third year and they can become lethal to other bucks, especially if they have horns.

So if you keep bucks, prepare to build solid shelters and repair them regularly, and prepare to have a shelter for each buck.

Bucks smell bad. Apparently ours really reek. However, it doesn’t bother me as much as it does other peoples. A few years ago, I met a woman who wanted to raise goats. She bought some, and by October, she sold them and bought sheep. She couldn’t stand the buck smell. The older the buck, the more pungent/strong the smell. It begins in late August / early September and lasts until about December. You either get used to it or sell the bucks.

The buck smell isn’t too bad, but what does bother me is that unexpected wet leg that accompanies the smell in rut. If you’ve never had a buck, you might not know that during rut (from August to December), they like to urinate over their stomachs, front legs and face. They even shoot it in their mouths and then sniff the air for does.

Unfortunately, if you’re standing nearby and whether you just left the doe pen and smell like does or not, you will be peed on. That smell will stick with you, so you need to change immediately after the chores are done. Don’t go to town smelling like buck, but if you’re going deer hunting, I can’t see where it would hurt.

Buck out in the field.

When does are in milk, if a buck is nearby, the milk will have a strong, unusual taste. It’s not pleasant, and few people will drink it. I thought this may have been one of those myths passed down through the years, but I learned this past summer that it’s not. In previous years, our does were separate from bucks. The milk tasted fine. This summer, we had two bucks (both around 16 months old) with the does, and the milk tasted horrible.

To avoid this unpleasant milk taste, bucks must be kept in a separate building or at least ‘way down the other end’. For a small homesteader, the need for two buildings adds to their bottom line, and it doubles the work for watering, feeding and cleaning. The only time bucks should be housed with does is when breeding is taking place. It is possible to keep the buck with the doe for a few months afterwards, but it would need to be a gentle buck. A month before the doe’s due date, she should be separated from the buck.

There are several options if a buck is not kept and you want a doe bred. Many homesteaders will offer buck service, which means your doe will spend a few nights with their buck on their property, or their buck will stay a few nights on your property. Bucks can also be borrowed or shared amongst several homesteaders, or a buck could be bought for the month of breeding, then sold.

The last option is to breed through AI (artificially inseminated). Buck semen can be purchased locally or bought online.

We have four bucks—all Toggenburg—on the property at the moment. Yes, insane. One is bad enough. The oldest was born on the farm and is three years old. Two are a year and a half old, so they are not giving us much trouble this year. The fourth will be three months old on October 1st. He’s up for sale. You can check him out here.

Eventually, I probably won’t have any bucks on the property. I will avoid all the bad-tasting milk, constant repairs, bad smell, urine on the pant leg and accidental breeding by an escaped buck. If I decide to breed my does for milk, I’ll hire a buck for its service or go the AI route. Personally, I simply don’t want the hassle of owning a buck anymore.

That said, I’m moving towards smaller goats, ones that can’t plough through 2x4s. The current breed I raise—Toggenburg—can get fairly large, and bucks are a handful. I’m no wilting flower, but I’m not getting any stronger or younger, so the next goat I buy will be smaller, like Nigerian Dwarf. I might reconsider keeping a buck this size. Still, he’d have to have his own place, away from the does.

SHEEP

Rams are easier to keep than bucks. They do not smell, and I’ve never been peed on by one. Ours did not have horns, but I had to teach him not to ram me. Afterwards, he became the sweetest and friendliest ram I knew. He’s still very friendly, and I often hear people talk about his gentle nature.

Cotswold Ram

The gentlest ram I know.

Sheep—both male and female—provide wool. If you have sheep for this reason, then both sexes are equally contributing to the production on a homestead. Would I have male sheep? Yes. I would without hesitation. I do not milk sheep, so it would not matter if a ram living in close quarters with the ewe tainted the milk.

When I kept sheep, they all lived in the same outbuilding. There was no need to separate males from females or males from males. Other breeds and other males might have issues, but my Cotswold rams were fine.

As with everything, personal circumstances are always changing. If I’m lucky enough at my next place to have a large barn with plenty of space to accommodate animals of this size, keeping a buck would be easier, particularly if hay storage and money were not issues. But right now, with only a few small outbuildings to house the goats, it’s a challenge to keep things running smoothly. Having no bucks would make life a lot easier at this time.

Your circumstances may be different and bucks may fit into your life style. If you’ve never owned goats before and you are considering getting a few, I hope I’ve given a bit of useful information for you to consider.

Do you have bucks? Do you have them in with milking does and if you do, does your milk taste different? Did you once have bucks and decide to get rid of them because of their fall runt odour?

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