We got an e-mail a while back asking what age of goats we recommended a new rancher purchase. Though I often make the case for beginners to purchase proven does instead of kids, the excitement of starting a herd at “ground zero” usually overrides the logic of buying grown stock. So, based on my experience, here is my advice for what age of goats to buy – take it or leave it!
I prefer not to buy does until they are at least a year old – preferably two years. When we purchased our original breeding stock, we tried buying both doelings and grown does. The older goats almost always had a better overall result. The obvious disadvantage of the grown does is that they are that much closer to the end of their usable years (usually around 8-9 years old). However, at two years old, they are just entering their prime.
The disadvantage of doelings is that the first year can be a very difficult one. We lose more does before they reach one year old than any other age (that's why the price goes up after they reach a year). Since they are smaller, they are easier targets for predators. No matter the breeding program, there will be some natural survival of the fittest. That first year is usually a very telling period for which goats are the fittest and which ones aren’t.
Bucks are another consideration when buying young does. When the doelings are 8-9 months old, they are still pretty small. This is why we keep a couple bucklings to breed our kids, instead of our older sires. Once the bucks reach about 2 years old, they are just too big to breed to the little doelings without hurting them. If you do decide to breed any doelings, you will definitely have a better result using a buckling instead of a grown buck. Young bucklings (under a year old) can usually cover 10-15 does per cycle.
But the doelings’ struggles don’t end after breeding. While they’re carrying their kids, the doelings are still very young - and it takes a toll on them to raise that first set while they are still trying to grow themselves. We breed our young doelings almost every year to get their hormones in phase (we usually wait until they are 8-9 months old though) - but we usually don't require much from their first kidding cycle. So the bottom line: this means that you must hold on to these does for almost a year and a half before you start seeing a decent number of kids hit the ground. As long as you understand that buying doelings is a long term investment, any age can be a good choice. But I think most new ranchers would like to see a return on investment a little sooner.