In some climates goats can breed at any time of the year, and this is common in feral goats in New Zealand. However, most goats mate from late summer to late winter. Meat goats are polyestrous, and many does can breed again while nursing a kid. Some farmers let bucks run with the does throughout the year. Does of any breed come into heat about every 20 days, and gestation takes approximately 150 days. Generally, males and females should be separated before 16 weeks of age because fertile matings can occur at this age.
Twins are common, but the overall reproductive rate for feral goats is less than 100% (one per birth per nanny). The rate is higher in farmed herds. Birthing, known as kidding, generally occurs uneventfully with few complications. Milk production varies with the breed, age, quality and diet of the doe.
Goats tend to suffer more problems with their feet than sheep, especially in lush pasture. Like sheep, they are susceptible to internal parasite worms. These are gradually becoming resistant to the drenches used to control them, posing a looming threat to goat farming. An alternative is for farmers to select animals that appear to have resistance or resilience to internal parasites, and to adopt grazing strategies that minimise the intake of parasitic larvae.
The leather from kid goats is very soft and smooth. Kid gloves became a symbol of elegance and gentility in the early 1800s – so the expression ‘to treat with kid gloves’ means to treat someone very gently. In the 1850s, saying that someone wore kid gloves also implied that the person was very dainty, and avoided any real exertion or work.
Angora goats have sheep’s usual problems of dags, footrot and scald, but they appear to be more resistant than sheep to facial eczema. Angora goats do not get milk fever (caused by depressed calcium absorption) or sleepy-sickness (caused by feed shortage before kidding). Goats are more susceptible to trace element deficiencies than sheep and cattle. For example, goitre often occurs in newborn kids whose mothers’ diets have not been supplemented with iodine while pregnant. Also, selenium deficiency in soil may cause the sudden death of previously healthy young kids due to white muscle disease.
All goats need good shelter from rain and wind, especially after shearing, when they are susceptible to hypothermia.