Our first kidding season was indeed a different experience than what we go through now, with more than 30 years of goat raising experience under our belts. When we first started out, we didn’t know much about what was going on and there seemed to be an enormous amount of information (gleaned by us from others in the dairy goat business) that we were supposed to remember.
Daisy (that first doe of indeterminable ancestry) taught us a lot. I remember walking past the barn and hearing a strange sound. It was a grunt and sounded like somebody in there was lifting a heavy load. I went in to investigate and found Daisy lying on her side with her back against the wall and pushing against the wall with her head, grunting. This strange behavior worried me, so I ran back to the house to get my wife, Barbara.
Just about the time we got back to the barn, we heard an ear-splitting bellow and rushed in just in time to see a sack slip out of the back end of Daisy. It broke open, and we were greeted by a coughing kid with a long pink tongue sticking out of his mouth. What a thrill for us! Daisy licked the newborn a few times, then repeated the whole process…again and again and again.
Daisy knew what to do as far as her part in the kidding experience went, now it was up to us to make the right decisions regarding the rearing of her babies.
We mulled over this situation. We had heard from other goat owners that we now faced a choice: Did we want Daisy to raise her four kids (they might grow up to be pretty wild), or did we want to take the time and trouble to bottle raise them and make sure they get heat-treated colostrum, pasteurized milk and the healthiest start possible?
First things first, however. The new quads were messy, so Barbara went to the house to get some old clean towels. Then she made another trip to get some string to tie off the umbilical cords. Another trip was needed to locate a scissors. Soon I had to run to the house for other supplies. It got pretty hectic trying to deal with four noisy kids and both of us running back and forth to the house. Somehow, in the middle of the chaos, we made the decision to raise these kids ourselves and milk Daisy (as recommended by our more experienced acquaintances) and I went to work making a kid pen.
That first kidding experience taught us many things, including the benefits of preparing for those new arrivals before the momentous occasion actually occurs. Our supplies and equipment now have a permanent place in the barn, and about two weeks before our first expected kidding date, we make a quick check to make sure everything needed is in place.
Our kidding supplies and equipment list includes: several rolls of paper towels, a half dozen (old, but clean) bath towels, several fairly clean paper feed sacks, a hair dryer, a magnifying glass, a small bottle with a 1:10 mixture of iodine/water and a half dozen strings about eight inches long soaking in the iodine water, scissors, note pad and pencil (to record each dam, sire, birth date and time, sex of kid, basic color and special identifying markings), a heat lamp (when the weather is cold), and a bottle of molasses.
We also like to keep a manure fork handy and have found that a large cardboard box can be very useful, especially if you’re dealing with several kids at once. A clothes dryer box is about the right size to house up to four kids for those initial days of life. As we acquired portable kennels for shipping the kids, we found the kennels to make good “nursery boxes” for a few days, as well.
Since our “Daisy initiation” we developed a routine for kidding season, which always starts with careful observance of the does-in-waiting.
Several hours to a couple days previous to kidding, the doe’s vulva is already soft, swollen, and spongy. The cervical plug (thick mucus) is discharged. The tail head (spine between the pelvis and end of the tail) is arched upward so a thumb and forefinger can wrap around the bone and almost touch together. The ligaments surrounding this area loosen considerably. It is a sure indication that “Daisy” is about to go into labor.
Usually, the doe will paw up the bedding to make a place to lie down and deliver. Some does will almost be like miniature backhoes. They often will paw up an area, then lay down, then repeat the process a number of times for several hours in advance of the actual labor and kidding. If possible, we separate the doe from the rest of the herd.
Labor with does, like labor with women, may start with some twinges, and I’ve seen does wrinkling their lips with these advance pains. Sometimes a doe will start and stop labor several times. It definitely becomes more serious when the contractions occur less than five minutes apart.
When the doe finally goes into the last phase, labor is very intense, and the doe may cry out with the last couple of pushes. We try to be present at each birth and slide one of the clean paper feed sacks up underneath the vulva area. This catches the kid, much of the water, birthing sack, and any pellets that are discharged. We strip off any of the birth sack that remains attached to the kid and use the paper towels to wipe excess mucus and water off the kid. The kid is carried to the drying table where another clean feed sack has been place on the table surface with a clean dry bath towel on top of that. The first feed sack, with the waste on it can be removed from the doe and disposed of later.
If the doe is not already delivering another kid and in need of attention, it’s time to tend to the first kid. We rub the kid down with another clean dry bath towel, and dry it off with the hair dryer. Since we raise Nubians, we also make sure the ears are dried with a towel outside and inside, and smooth them out. If done immediately this often reduces the amount of folding. The longer the time before the ears are dried and smooth, the more there is a chance that the ears could remain in a folded position. When the ear(s) remain folded after three or four days, it is still possible to tape a shaped piece of cardboard on each side of the ear to keep it straight and tape it on with duct tape. We put a small portion of the tape on the ear itself to keep the cardboard from slipping from falling off. About two weeks later, when the cardboard is removed, the ear remains straight.
After a thorough drying, it is time to inspect the kid. Does it have an overshot jaw? Are the genitals in proper order? Doe kids should not have a bulb at the base of the vulva. Buck kids should not have testes located forward of the teats. Neither bucks or does should have double teats or spur teats, or extra teats. On these new born kids with their tiny teats, we find the magnifying glass is a must! These are genetic defects and kids with any of these faults should be destroyed immediately, unless they are being raised for slaughter.
I’ve heard of several ways of destroying unwanted kids: drowning in a bucket of cold water, injection of a veterinarian prescribed drug, a hammer blow to the top of the head. Remember, though, as unpleasant as this chore is to face, the fear and discomfort these kids face after being raised for a couple months and then going through the slaughter line and receiving a knock in the head is worse than doing it quickly and immediately at the time of birth before the kid knows what’s happening.
If that faulty kid is allowed to grow, there’s a good chance that somehow, some way, it will produce offspring with those faults! They must not be raised for sale, breeding stock, replacement stock, or dairy. These are major faults. From an economic standpoint, it costs approximately $80 in milk, feed, and hay to raise a kid to reproductive age. It wouldn’t make sense to do this, just to sell it for $50 for meat.
Destroying faulty kids is not a pleasant thing to do, but a responsible breeder must deal with the problem. Bad genetics lasts for generations.
If the kid is a keeper, it’s time to take a string from the iodine solution, wrap it around the umbilical cord about one-eighth of an inch from the body, knot it several times, and, using the scissors, cut off additional umbilical cord and strings about one-quarter of an inch beyond the knotted area. We splash a little extra iodine solution on the umbilical cord that is still attached to the body and then place the kid into a prepared box that has a couple inches of dry straw in the bottom.
On our farm, we follow this routine for all subsequent kids as well. If the weather is cold (below 50?F), I place a heat lamp about 15-18″ above where the top of the kid would be if it were standing. I prefer to use a standard 75-100W light bulb, because heat lamps can get too hot.
After the kid is cared for, we make a point to immediately record the dam, sire, date of birth, time, birth order, sex, and special color/markings. These records are invaluable later on.
The doe needs some attention after the last kid is born. Afterbirth will be hanging out of the vulva and when a small group of cherry-sized globules appear on it, we know that (in almost all cases) the birthing process is over. The doe may eat some of the afterbirth and lick up some of the mucus. As long as it is not discolored, it is usually okay, and it may contain hormones or nutrients that assist the healing of the reproductive area and help stimulate milk production. Discolored afterbirth and anything else left can be removed with the manure fork. We replace the soiled bedding with new, clean bedding.
At this time we have found that our does appreciate about two quarts of very warm water with about one-quarter of a cup of molasses stirred into it. Remember, she has just lost about two to four gallons of 100 degree water, flesh, and blood! Her body is right now being stimulated to produce milk. The iron and calories in that molasses and very warm water is relished!
After she has had a drink, we prepare to milk the doe to get the colostrum (first milk that is loaded with special energy and antibodies), and prepare it to feed the kids. We, personally, choose to bottle-raise our goat kids because they bond better to us, and we can monitor the amounts they are getting. Some kids eat faster, some kids that are bigger will eat more than their share, and it’s easier to tell if a kid is not eating well. It is, however, more time consuming than using a lambar, and definitely much more work than letting the dams raise the kids.
We bring the just fresh doe to the milk room, put her gently on the milk stand and proceed to clean her udder with warm water and milk her. During this process the doe is affectionate, often licking the scent of her kids from our hands. This is a close bonding time with the does, one that lasts several days, and it makes the average goat herder realize anew how much these delightful animals appreciate good care and attention, especially at kidding time.