My does began cycling about a month ago. I know who's in season: the goat that's standing next to the buck's fence when I go out in the morning to feed, with the buck wishing he could get over or through that fence. The cool mornings and shorter days signal the does to begin cycling.
Goats (and cows, and all other mammals) only produce milk if they are bred and bear young, so a dairy goat must have a kid in order to produce milk. A goat's gestation period is five months, from breeding to kidding.
My reasons include the weather and the fact that I no longer have a barn to protect newborns from the worst of the winter's cold. Also, I have an annual weekend away from home in the summer, and I want the kids to still be nursing so that I don't have to ask someone to milk goats while I'm gone.
So, with a five-month gestation period, I count back from March, and breed my does in October.
When can you breed a doe for the first time? It depends on her size more than her age. Many goat owners breed their almost-yearlings. A friend told me she does this so that the doe will kid for the first time while her bones are still soft, and I see the wisdom in that. I personally wait until the doe is about eighteen months old. I prefer to let her mature a bit more before she kids. Again, it's a personal decision.
Several years ago we had an "oops" breeding. One morning when I went out to feed I found a tiny infant goat when I wasn't expecting any. I checked everyone's tail end and discovered that Wish, barely a year old, had kidded. I hadn't even known she was pregnant, and I felt terrible that I hadn't given her any prenatal care and special feeding, especially since she was so young. She grew up to be just as big and healthy as her herdmates though, in spite of it all, and the baby was healthy. So I know I can breed them earlier, but I still prefer to let them mature a bit more than that.
When her kids are three weeks old, I separate them from their mother overnight, with their own hay and grain to nibble. I prefer to have more than one kid, so if there's a single kid, sometimes I wait an extra few days or a week until there is a "buddy" old enough to keep the other one company overnight. Then I milk the mothers in the morning, and reunite the moms and babies during the day. The kids nurse all day and I don't have to milk in the evening. If I know I'm going to have an early morning without time to milk, I just leave the kids with their moms overnight and don't have to milk.
The accepted rule is to dry off a doe two or three months before she is due to kid again, so that she can focus on growing a healthy baby instead of producing milk. So, since I breed in October, and my does kid in March, I can milk my does from March until December or January, about nine or ten months.
Here's hoping for beautiful doe kids and plenty of milk next spring!
My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a