The first and most obvious steps in protecting your buck’s health are to worm him regularly, and trim his feet regularly. Bucks are usually kept in fairly restricted quarters, so that they are constantly eating over their own wastes, and therefore re-infecting themselves with worm larvae. Give your buck a hay-rack, rather than putting his hay on the ground, and this will keep his worm-count down, and be less wasteful of fodder. Give him pine or cypress or other aromatic branches to eat, and this will keep his worm-count down, too. I worm my boys before the breeding season starts, and in the spring. If a buck is very busy, he may need an extra worming part-way through the breeding season. My does get wormed before breeding, and 24-hours after kidding, some years they may need more depending on the weather. However, your worming regime may vary considerably from this, depending on your climate, so the bucks should be wormed when the does are.
Bucks rarely get enough exercise because of the size of their living area, so their feet grow very fast. During the breeding season, it pays to trim the buck’s feet every 3 weeks. A buck with a wormy belly-ache and long sore feet won’t perform well, so it is in your own interest to keep these routine jobs up to date. Bucks’ feet are notoriously hard. Either trim after rain or heavy dew, or scrub his hooves with a nail-brush and warm soapy water. By the time you scrub hoof number 4, hoof number 1 will be soft enough to trim easily. I use footrot shears and a hoof knife for the boys’ feet, with a surform plane if they are so hard I just can’t cut them. In extreme cases, people have been known to use an orbital sander. In summer, my boys have generally let me cut their feet any old where they happened to be, but in the breeding season, each one needs anchored so they can’t ‘help’ or pick a fight with the current victim. You may need acompanion to talk to a sexy buck while you trim his feet, as it is difficult to pedicure while your victim corkscrews round to nibble your ear. And try not to trim male feet when you are menstruating, they generally get rather excited! Most bucks object to having their hind feet trimmed. I think the reason is that they are vulnerable to attack if one hind foot is being firmly held off the ground, and their defensive instincts warn them they aren’t safe in that position. Hence making sure no other goat can get close enough to ‘help’ you, before you start. They don’t object to front hooves being trimmed because they can fight with one front leg off the ground.
Exercise is important to keep your buck healthy. If he has to be tethered or penned all the time, take him for a daily walk, NOT where there are female goats, preferably where he can eat along the way (bushes, prairie grass, etc). If you take him past the girls, he will be so busy ogling them, he won’t eat or exercise, just put up his blood pressure.
Food must be of good quality. Your buck should get the same concentrate rations as your milkers, up to 2 lbs daily if he’s getting a lot of work, less if he’s not, and plenty of well-made weedy hay or feed straw. He will need tempting to eat in the breeding season, so if the food offered is not clean and good, he will just ignore it. You are better to get a well-made hay or straw with weeds through it (which conventional farmers don’t like and sell more cheaply), than to buy a ‘pure’ (weedless) hay that has been rained on, because its actual feed value and palatability will be less. It is better to avoid concentrated hay such as lucerne (alfalfa) or clover, which are rich in protein but don’t have enough roughage. Most bucks receive such a concentrated diet, because of their restricted quarters, that they grow into very narrow, fine-boned animals, and a buck should be broader and heavier boned than his sisters and daughters. If you see he gets plenty of roughage and exercise, he will grow breadth and depth and bone, and live longer. Just think how long you would last if you lived on an exclusive diet of cream cakes and pavlovas. If your buck gets nothing but dairy meal and lucerne and clover, you are doing that to him.
It is not wise to feed any root crops except carrots to bucks (or wethers). Fodderbeet, sugar beet, Swedes, turnips and other roots, in fact all the beet and brassica families, produce insoluble oxalate salts which form crystals in the bladder and cannot pass easily down the male’s long narrow urethra. As the sperm pass down this tube as well, any blockage will make the buck sterile, if nothing worse. If you do need to feed root crops, make sure the males have access to plenty of fresh clean water, and that they drink it! Urinary calculi is a subject I have covered in a separate article, the information would take too much space here.
I do not like feeding any of the leafy beets and brassicas to bucks, either, especially in the mating season, because apart from the oxalates, they tend to give bucks loose bowels. The worst thing that can happen is a scouring buck in the mating season, he’s so centred on sex it is jolly hard to stop the scours! Your buck will enjoy all the branches and other browsing you can cut for him. Always tie things to the fence or put them in a rack; he will eat more and won’t soil it. My bucks got lots of apples because we were in an orcharding area, also carrots and squishy bananas, pears and plums when available. It is worthwhile finding out what is going spare in your area, your buck might fancy it!
Bucks need water. Many drink nearly as much as a lactating doe, if given the opportunity. During the breeding season, when they are often fussy about feed and drink, you may have to give warm or hot water for drinking, to make sure they drink enough. Timothy got UC one cold winter ‘cos he wouldn’t drink cold water on a frosty morning – don’t blame him actually – so from then on I made sure I carted a bucket of warm water out just for him, on cold mornings for the rest of his long life (12½ when he died). During the breeding season, when their heads and beards are filthy, they soil their drinking water frequently, and don’t want to drink it after that – who can blame them. So I use old kitchen sinks as water troughs for males. They hold only 4 gallons, so it is no great loss to have to chuck out a gallon of soiled water twice a day. If your trough is much bigger and you have to chuck out 20 gallons for 1 gallon drunk, that is not just wasteful, it is hard work doing the cleaning.
Overfeeding calcium to your buck, either as milk to a kid, or a calcium supplement, or a high-legume diet, can lead to a lower number of viable sperm being produced, and will pre-dispose to more buck kids because male sperm flourish in an alkaline environment. The buck determines the sex of the kids. Too much calcium, when there is sufficient phosphorus in the diet for the calcium to be absorbed, tends to make an animal sluggish, and can cause bone deformities such as bendy-leg.
Overfeeding phosphorus (lots of grain, dairy meal, etc) will increase your buck’s fertility, but will also drain his bones of calcium, so that he could collapse and die suddenly. Too much phosphorus makes a goat hyperactive, so that it gets worked up at anything, and gallops everywhere.
If you have to feed your does extra minerals (copper, cobalt, iodine or selenium for instance) your buck will need them too. Bucks need a source of salt just like does.
A buck will grow until he is 5-7 years old if he is left to mature naturally, with good balanced feeding. He will live much longer than a buck who is ‘forced’ for the show ring or to make an impressive sale.
The most usual cause of scouring in a buck in the mating season is excitement. Buck kids are especially prone, as their first season is spent dreaming of girls, however few or many wives they may have. In my experience, the buck kid with a few wives is more likely to scour than one with many, because he is frustrated. Once a buck starts to scour in the mating season, whether from excitement, feeding, a chill, or whatever, it is very difficult to stop him. But if you don’t stop him he will wear away to skin and bone in a matter of hours, and because eating has little interest to him at that time of year, it is hard to make him eat binding food to cure him.
It is a good idea to check the bowels of your buck regularly twice a day, morning and evening. Even if your drenching programme is up to date, worm him first, because the worms will party on his stressed guts if you don’t zonk them quick. If you suspect poisoning, deal with that (see Rhododendron Recipes article). If it’s sex, the most effective remedy is often cornflour (cornstarch). It doesn’t just thicken gravy… : Dose for an adult goat is 2 very heaped tablespoons of cornflour mixed to a liquid with about 20 mls of water, and drench. This can be repeated twice daily. Usually works in 24-hours (2 doses), but I have known a very stubborn buck to take 4 days to get back to nannyberries from squish. I prefer maize cornflour but wheat cornflour works, too.
Or you can use electrolytes at the maximum dose on the container as frequently as it permits. If you also require a re-hydration mixture, the following works quite effectively (it is also a good painkiller if you ever need it)
* to a cup of warm water add
* 1 tablespoon vinegar (apple cider vinegar is more nutritious, but white
vinegar works fine)
* 1 teaspoon honey or sugar
* 1 good pinch each of salt, baking soda, and ground ginger
This recipe can be given as often as you like. It may induce sleep in an animal or human who has not been sleeping well, so don’t worry if the goat flakes out on you for a few hours. Sleep is healing.
If your buck gets scours, don’t just say ‘we’ll see if he’s better tomorrow’ because he could be dead by then. Scours will lead to a bellyache, and a buck with a bellyache will not fight his illness, but will get de-hydrated, his blood pressure will drop, and he will die. In an extreme case of bellyache, such as colic or poisoning, if the vet can’t come immediately you ring him, give 4 soluble aspirins in water to a buck kid (6 months to 1 year), or 6 soluble aspirins to a mature buck. This will kill the pain, and once the pain is under control, you can treat the cause of it. Bucks are very susceptible to pain, they will die of it. I once had Kinross down with colic and mild poisoning from eating lilac buds; I kept his pain under control for 72-hours while the lilac worked out of his system. If I hadn’t done this, or alternatively got the vet to give him a painkiller, he would have given up the ghost in 12 hours. Every time the aspirin was wearing off, he’d look at me as if to say ‘I’m gonna die’ so he got another dose. I found the 6 aspirins lasted about 24-hours with him, though I expect it would vary slightly from goat to goat. Aspirin is not the ideal drug for bellyache, as it can rupture the gut in some cases, but when it is a case of that or nothing, use it – at least the animal will not die in agony. Dutch Drops (15 mls) may also help in colic, as does milk of magnesia (2-4 times the adult human dose by weight for an adult goat). [Dutch Drops is a mix of terebinth (vegetable turpentine oil) and flowers of sulphur (yellow sulphur powder) and is a strong anti-colic and diuretic remedy].
A sick buck is susceptible to cold. If you have electricity in your goat house, you can rig up a heat-lamp, but for most of us, it is a case of covers, sacks and hot-water bottles. If he is too weak to stand, you will have to turn him every half hour to keep his circulation going. I like to prop a goat on its chest, because it is less likely to get fluid on its lungs and develop pneumonia in this position. I once had a sick buck kid who had to have a nightlight and have several times left a radio tuned to an easy listening station, turned low, near a sick goat for company, while its human and herdmates are off doing something else.
Unless there is no other choice, you should never give your buck antibiotics (penicillin, tetracycline, etc) from about midsummer on through the breeding season, as they can render him sterile for 2 months or so after the last treatment. Should you have to give him antibiotics for some reason, do not stand him at stud for outside does until he has got one of your own does pregnant (she has been served and has gone more than 21 days without return to heat). It will do his, and your, reputation no good if people keep bringing their does back for return services because the drugs have killed his sperm. They are likely to decide your buck is no good and go somewhere else instead, and spread the word widely, which is worse.
Sulpha (sulfa) drugs do not affect fertility in bucks, I have found. They can usually be used as an alternative to antibiotics. Personally, I prefer sulpha drugs anyway, as many goats take up to 2 months for their rumen bacteria to recover from antibiotics, where sulpha only affects them for about a week. Nowadays we replace the rumen bacteria with probios or yoghurt or yeast, but no-one had thought of that when this article was originally written in 1980.
A buck should never be given steroids – cortisone, for instance – these have been known to affect fertility in stallions from 2 years to life, and I would imagine a similar effect in bucks. TLC (Tender Loving Care) is 90% of the success in treating sick bucks anyway, they are awful wimps when they are sick.
A high fever, for whatever reason, can kill off developing sperm and render a buck temporarily sterile. If this happens in the heat of summer, he will go into the breeding season shooting blanks, which is very frustrating when he has half the county booked in to him. This happened to one of mine when he got a touch of the sun one year! Sometimes a buck will get a sore on the tip of his scrotum, which is the result of burning from ammonia-soaked bedding. It can be cleared up by applying Vaseline, vitamin A ointment, or Rawleighs yellow salve. Frequent clean bedding will stop a recurrence unless you have a buck who does a great puddle on his straw, then lies down on the wet bit. This habit can cause pizzle rot as well. I’ve found a good squirt of iodine works great to dry up the gunge, and the buck doesn’t seem to mind the sting because it stops the itch! Long grass with seed heads, or wet long grass, can also cause pizzle rot, though this cause more often affects fibre goats because the belly fibre is wet and helps to incubate fungal organisms round the pizzle area. Keeping the belly shorn short helps – that fibre is very low grade, anyway, so is no financial loss.
Scrotal mange is usually treated by dosing with an avermectin. Topically, you can apply the avermectin as well, or alternatively, mineral oil to smother the mites. If the buck licks some of this off,
he may have loose bowels next day.
Some bucks have very little hair on the scrotum; in such cases applying sunscreen is a good precaution, you don’t want skin cancer to develop. Some bucks get a hard substance, often black, round their teats and scrotal attachment. This is a type of wax exuded by the body to protect the area, but if allowed to build up, can become most uncomfortable and even lift the skin. It can be removed by bathing gently with warm soapy water to soften and loosen it. Dry him afterwards, and if he looks tender, apply vaseline. Depending on the humidity in your area, your buck may never need this done, or you may have to do it every six months, or for shows.
Sometimes a buck may fall in serving a doe and damage his penis – usually gravel rash (that doesn’t mean he landed on gravel, it means the penis is scraped). He will feel uncomfortable for about 2 weeks, so it is best to rest him, as he is likely to refuse to work anyway. If you try to make him serve, and he finds penetration hurts him, you may damage his performance for life, so it is in your own interests to give him a spell. Bucks are very fussy about cleaning the penis, unlike stallions who have to be cleaned by their handlers, so you do not have to worry about the build up of ammoniate crystals which can cause scratching to the wall of the female’s vagina during mating.
Some bucks burn the skin off the backs of their front legs and nosefrom spraying. To a pint of warm water add 1 tablespoon white vinegar and wash the affected areas. Vinegar is soothing on ammonia damaged skin. Dry and apply vaseline or diaper cream. Some bucks get dry, cardboardy skin in various parts of their bodies. First wash off any scurf (dandruff) with warm water containing anti-fungicidal pet shampoo, dry well and apply vaseline or mineral oil. The old-fashioned remedy of goose-grease would probably be even better!
A bucks who doesn’t seem interested in his work can have his libido (love-making urge) toned up by giving 6 kelp tablets daily for 10 days (adult dose) and rainwater to drink instead of your usual supply. The buck is usually in fine fettle after about 4 days! Have a close look at his diet; it is probably too high in calcium, or the legumes it contains are unusually high in oestrogens.
Mud scald between the claws of the hooves and even further up the legs, usually responds quickly to iodine. If it doesn’t, because that particular fungus is not sensitive to iodine, try zinc diaper cream, 10% copper sulphate (sulfate) solution, 1% alum solution, gentian violet, or a paste of flowers of sulphur and lard. If none of these work, there are plenty of ideas – some people find athlete’s foot ointment works, for instance. When the skin starts to heal, it will shed the hair and often go bright pink, but it is not as sensitive as it looks. The new hair starts to grow in a couple of weeks.
Your buck’s mental health is as important as his physical health. If he is bright and alert and happy, he will work better. He needs to see plenty going on around him, and lots of physical contact with his human slave (walks, head-scratching, etc). The more handling you give him, the better for his peace of mind, and he will be easier to treat if he gets ill when he is used to plenty of handling.
Don’t hurt your buck’s feelings by laughing at him as he works, or make rude remarks. Don’t let other people do so either. I’ve seen a serious-minded buck so upset by human hilarity that he couldn’t complete the job, and he was normally extremely efficient. Sure, some bucks do have comical foreplay, but would YOU like to be laughed at when mating? Don’t smack his penis if he sticks it out when you don’t want him to. Animals are not embarrassed by sex but they are sensitive to human atmosphere. I know of one buck who got so sensitive about his function
in life, because of his owner’s attitude, that he took to loving himself, and was no use at all if presented with a wife. He died aged 4 years, of premature old age brought on by frustration.
Finally, consider giving your buck a medical each summer. If it’s done then, he won’t smell, and won’t try to ‘do’ the vet either. That way, you may pick up on a possible future problem (such as a heart murmur developing) before it becomes one.
– Irene Ramsay.
This article was originally published in New Zealand in 1980. Updated January 2007.
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