How to Plan Your Breedings to Target Specific Holidays

weighing a kid
tatiana Stanton, July 2012

(Cornell Small Ruminant Extension Specialist)

It's important to time breedings carefully if the goal is to produce kids or lambs for specific holidays when demand is high. Many holidays such as Roman and Greek Easter, and Ramadan occur on different dates each year. It takes planning and skill to time your breedings to meet the demands of specific holidays.

The first steps are to check a calendar such as our Holiday Calendar to confirm the projected date each year for the holiday you are targeting. Additionally you need to find out what live weights your buyer is requiring for that holiday. Next, you need to calculate how long it will take a newborn kid or lamb in your herd or flock to reach that weight. This means being able to estimate birth weight and daily weight gain.

Background Information for Goats

Birth weights for kids can range from about 4 to 8 lbs. for Spanish goats and other small breeds, 5 to 9 lbs. for yearling dairy and Boer goats, and 6 to 12 lbs. for mature dairy and Boer kids.  Yearling does and very old does tend to have lighter weight kids even though they often have singles. Male kids tend to be larger than female kids.  The more kids there are in a litter, the smaller the weight of each kid tends to be.  Severely over or underweight does tend to have smaller kids.  Because birth weights can vary so much from farm to farm, it is good to keep track of the average birth weight for your own goat herd ( or if you raise sheep, for your flock's lambs).

Daily weight gains for baby goats from kidding to weaning at 3 months range from about 1/3 to ½ lb. daily in many meat goat herds although some kids can grow as slow as ¼ lb. daily and some big singles as much as 2/3 lb. daily. Kids from large litters will tend to grow slower than kids from small litters and kids to yearling does often grow slower than kids from mature does.  Most herds count on their kids gaining about 10 to 15 lbs. per month from birth to weaning and from 8 to 12 lbs. per month from weaning on.  It is good to know the average weight gains for kids in your herd (or lambs in your flock) because average gains can vary widely depending on breed and management.

The Scenario

Let's pretend you want to market suckling kids weighing 30 to 40 lbs. live for Western Easter on March 31st in 2013. We'll assume that your kids average about 7 lbs. at birth and most of your kids grow about ½ lb. daily. However, your twin kids from yearling does and some of your kids from triplet litters only grow 1/3 lb. daily. Goats are generally purchased and shipped to slaughter about 7 to 10 days before Easter so you want your kids to weigh 30 - 40 lbs. by March 21st. When should your kids be born?


Growthy kids:  40 lb. target weight – 7 lb. birth weight = 33 lbs. of gain.  At ½ lb. of gain daily your growthy kids will need about 66 days to be ready to market.

Slower growing kids:  30 lb. target weight – 7 lb. birth weight = 23 lbs. of gain.  At 1/3 lb. of gain daily, these kids will need about 69 days to be ready to market.

Count backwards on a calendar 66 to 69 days before March 21st to see when your kids need to be born.

Mar, 21 days; Feb, 28 days = 49 days.

Thus, you want your kids born about 17 to 20 days before the start of February, i.e., around Jan 11th -14th.

Now you need to figure out when to breed your does to get the vast majority to kid around Jan 11th to 14th. The gestation period for goats is about 150 days so ideally you want your does bred about Aug 11th to 14th. The heat cycle is about 18 - 21 days but early in the season most does will be stimulated to come into heat about 4- 7 days after you put the buck in with them. This is called the "buck effect". Thus, the vast majority of your herd will likely get bred within 2 weeks of the buck's introduction.  Theoretically, if you get the buck into the herd by July 28th, almost all your does should get bred by Aug 11th to 14th.  However, Easter is pretty early in 2013 and not all your does may be cycling initially. Chances are you will want to bring the buck into the herd by the beginning of the last week in July and hope that your does have begun to cycle by then. You may even want to "tease" the does in advance by either putting the buck across a strong fence from them or walking him through the herd a week or so earlier. Greek Easter is not until May 5th in 2013 so it is going to be hard to breed for both markets. In fact, you may want to pull the buck out for a couple of weeks in mid to late August depending on how tolerate your Western Easter market is of underweight kids and your Greek Easter Market is of overweight kids.  In contrast both Western and Greek Easter are on April 20th in 2014.

Please keep in mind that the best time to put your bucks in with your does (or your rams with your ewes) will depend on 1) your market's weight preferences, 2) the expected birth weight of your kids or lambs, and 3) their expected daily growth rates. 

You can do similar calculations for lambs from most sheep breeds using 8 to 10 lb. birth weights, .4 to 1 lb. daily weight gains and 146 to 148 gestation periods.