Sunday, August 22, 2010

We do everything the old-fashioned way

People ask me all sorts of interesting questions. For example, Hippygirl messaged me the other day to ask if our animals have sex. That question might have shocked me eight years ago, but today it's not a surprise at all. I understand exactly why Hippygirl was asking, because it's a pretty common question. In modern factory farms, animals don't have sex. They're all artificially inseminated -- pigs, dairy cattle, chickens, turkeys. Hippygirl had just watched an episode of Dirty Jobs in which the intrepid Mike Rowe visits a modern pig farm. In case you missed it, she was nice enough to summarize it for you on her blog. And in case you think Dirty Jobs was exaggerating, she also included a link to a university extension site with more info on artificially inseminating pigs. If I wanted to, I could attend classes at the local junior college to learn how to artificially inseminate cattle and pigs. But we don't do things like that around here.

Our animals reproduce the way they've been reproducing since the beginning of time. Hippygirl's timing was really perfect, because our first goats had just been bred for spring. And yes, they had sex. So, what exactly is our role in all of this? As I explained to her, I'm the matchmaker. Yes, we do want to breed our goats for productivity and longevity and proper conformation, so they're not just all running around out there breeding like wild goats. We keep the bucks (males) and does (females) in separate pastures for a couple reasons.

Lost Valley Mardi Gras *S, one of our bucks
Bucks do emit a rather unpleasant odor, and if they're with females, they'll make the milk taste nasty. So, if you've ever had goat milk that made you gag, that could be why, but I'm not going to digress and start talking about all the ins and outs of goat milk, because that's a discussion for another day. The other reason that the bucks and does are kept separate is so that we can plan breeding. We plan when and with whom the does are bred. We don't want the does giving birth more than once a year, and we want to breed does to bucks that will improve upon the weaknesses of the does. For example, we want lots of milk, so I buy bucks from the top milking herds in the country.

As for my matchmaking job, I just keep an eye on the does, and when one starts acting like she's in heat, I set up a date with a handsome buck for her. That's when the fun begins. If you've been reading my blog for a year or two, then you've read a few funny stories about the situations I've endured. The two dates that I set up this past week were fairly uneventful. Carmen and Athena were in heat, so I led them over to the buck area, and as soon as Mardi saw the pretty girls, he whipped his head around towards his back end and peed on his beard. (Yes, that's where the word "goatee" comes from, because their beard grows from their chin.) Remember those movies in the 70s where a guy would see a cute girl across the room and turn his head for a quick squirt of breath freshener? Yep, that's it exactly.

No, you say, that's not it! Breath freshener smells good, and pee is . . . well, disgusting! Now, you're thinking like a human. When was the last time your dog rolled in something that you think smelled good? Hmm? That's what I thought.

If anyone ever tells you that animals will just breed with any old animal of the same species, tell them to come talk to me. My goats are very particular, and I'm not the only one who has goats with opinions. Goats are not floozies. We'll never forget how Dancy was so in love with Bucky. The first year that Dancy was here, we decided to breed her to John Adams, who was in a pen next to Bucky. We had noticed that Dancy had been standing next to Bucky's pen, flirting like crazy, but we thought nothing of it. We put her in the pen with John Adams, and she proceeded to beat the snot out of the poor boy every time he tried to get close to her. I got a headache just watching her butt heads with him. He did finally sneak up on her when she was over next to the fence flirting with Bucky. We felt terrible, because it was obvious that Dancy really wanted Bucky. So, we promised her that next year, she would get a date with Bucky.

Next year rolled around, and we noticed that Dancy was in heat. As we walked past the other bucks, Dancy just strolled along with me holding her collar. But as soon as she saw Bucky, she bolted towards him, yanking her collar out of my hand as I tried to start running and keep up with her! It was like a scene from one of those old movies where two long-lost lovers are reunited. As soon as I opened the gate, she ran in there and stood perfectly still, waiting for Bucky, who of course, still felt obligated to do his little mating ritual -- blubbering sweet nothings and peeing on his beard. Yes, they really do blubber sweet nothings, like "Bluh, bluh, bluh, bluh!"

We've had a number of does like this over the years, and I know other goat people who've had opinionated does. When Margaret was buying a bred doe six years ago, she told the breeder what buck she wanted the doe bred to, and they called one day to say that she was in heat, but she was convinced that the chosen buck was the most disgusting creature on the planet and would not let him near her. So, we had to choose a second buck.

No, this is not as easy as artificially inseminating animals. And semen costs a lot less than a buck -- $20-30 a straw versus $500-1,000 for a good buck, which you also have to feed. I went to a conference session on artificial insemination in goats and sheep once, and I talked about doing it for a few years, but obviously I haven't done it. I suppose Hippygirl summed it up well for me when she said something about it just doesn't seem right.


LindaG said...

This is a great post. Thanks for sharing it with us. :)

rachel whetzel said...

It's official. I HAVE GOT to try goat's milk. I had it once when I was younger, and HATED it. Now I know it was most likely because the bucks were in with the does... who knew?!


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