To have a good general idea of when kids may be expected is the first step in saving 100% of the kids born. Marking two calendars each fall with pertinent data is the first step in preparedness for spring kidding. One of these calenders stays in the house for use in preparing the Chronological List of Kiddings, the sales list, and the list of kids that have been reserved. The other remains in the milk house and also records all observed heats and breedings. Both lists record bucks’ names who have sired the kids and the dates of service.
The milk house list alerts those doing chores on any given day to what might be expected as they make their rounds, as well as what additional chores will need to be done. It is the list that is used to determine what does need to be brought down to the kidding barn.
Three weeks before expected kidding, does are brought into single pen confinement and given CD&T injections, plus a selenium booster. They are introduced to the dairy mix as a part of their twice daily feeding. This milker grain is increased a bit each day until they are on full feed at the anticipated time of kidding. During this time of need for additional caloric intake, the rumen is prepared for maximum utilization of the mix they will receive for the next 305 days of their lactation. Gradual increase is monitored carefully to prevent rumen upset or scours.
Activity of each doe is noted to determine what may be considered normal for her. The barn monitor that provides tv coverage of the kidding pens is a most useful tool for observation without human distraction. Knowing how each doe reacts to the stay in the kidding pen is essential in making a judgment about subtle changes in attitude if kidding difficulties occur.
My calender indicates that all does will kid on the 150th day of gestation, give or take five days. In our experience, LaManchas generally will kid on day 145, and Nubians may go as long as 155 days without a great deal of concern. Grades that are crossbred Nubian-LaManchas may be expected to kid around the 148th day. Usually does that take the longest seem to have sets of doe kids. Buck kids tend to be born a couple of days sooner.
Indicators of impending birth observed in the daily chore routines take precedence over the calendar in all cases. Knowing what to look for will never save those eight to ten days of watching, waiting, and fretting, but knowing when to intervene when the time comes is critical if all kids are to be saved. We like to “let nature take its course” when at all possible, but saving the doe from an unnecessary drawn out labor and the delivery of tangled or dead kids is a priority.
One of the first signs of impending kidding is the loosening of the tail head and the dorsal process across the rump. When the dorsal process loosens you may feel tendons on each side that run diagonally from the pelvic bone to the dorsal spine bones just in front of the tail head. You may not feel these tendons if it is too early. Watch for changes in the configuration of the rump beginning with the first day in the kidding pen. Running your hands down the dorsal bones each day will alert you to the subtle changes. You will at some point feel the tail head loosen and the tendons become prominent. When kidding is near, within the next 24 hours, these tendons become so loose that they are once again imperceptible.
Being alert to changes in mucus discharge is also a clue to impending birth. There is a chance you may notice a clear mucus discharge at the 72 to 36 hour mark prior to birth. This discharge may actually string down similar to a doe in heat. Another sign to note is a white to cream pasty discharge as the cervical plug is shed—a sign that the cervix is opening a bit. The expulsion of the cervical plug is extremely variable, appearing anywhere from a day in advance to being presented with the first kid.
Prior to delivery of the kids the doe may be restless, getting up and down in an attempt to be comfortable or to position herself for the most advantageous delivery. Alternating sides to lay on is a signal things may not be right. She may pace around the pen, stopping now and then to look at her sides. She may dig up the bedding for a nest. Usually at this point there is a marked increase in territorialism and any cats or chickens that happen by are chased out of her area.
It would be expected that soon observable contractions would begin and kids would be presented within the hour. The signs that the doe is headed for trouble are very subtle and it will pay big dividends if the herd manager makes the right call. When the does is restless, calls quietly to kids that have not yet arrived, looks absent-mindedly into the corners of her pen, or stops to eat and only takes a wisp or two of hay it is sometimes a good idea to scrub your hand good with nolvasan, or betadine, put on asterile glove and insert a couple of fingers into the vagina to “see” if there is a reason for the progression of early labor to be stalled.
It might be expected to feel the cervix partially open with nothing against it from the uterine side. Should this be the case, more waiting is in store. A hoof or a nose needs to press the cervix to trigger it to open. The doe may then progress on to contractions and move forward to deliver the kid. If the cervix is partially open with a kid presenting in such a manner that the cervix is blocked, the blockage of the cervical opening may not start hard contractions, and labor is effectively prevented. This position will also block the passage of mucus discharge. At this point it may be necessary to manually dilate the cervix and reposition the kid for delivery.
Delivering kids is an exercise in finesse not strength. Gently run a finger around the ring of the cervix stretching it open. When this is achieved, search for the feet to line them up for delivery. Be sure that the feet you have found both belong to the same kid. Feel to “see” if they are front feet. The dewclaws will be pointing down and the hoof bends downward. The knees also bend in the same direction. It is important to note this, as on rare occasions it is possible to have a kid positioned upside down. In this case it is the rigidity of the spine that prevents the kid from being able to “dive” into the birth canal. The legs you are feeling could be front legs masquerading as hind legs or a backwards kid presenting hind legs which can seem to be front legs when only the dewclaws are used to determine the position. The head must be present with front feet. Position the head on top of the front legs and be sure it stays there as the kid is drawn into the birth canal. To pull a kid with its head turned back causes a great risk to the kid by breaking of the neck. It also causes great risk to the doe. Pulling a kid in this position can easily rupture the uterus.
Hind legs have dewclaws pointing up, with the pastern joint allowing the toes to curl pointing toward them. The hock joint is formed in such a manner that the lower leg points down, in the opposite direction of the pastern. Pulling kids hind legs first is not a difficult maneuver. However, these kids may be slower to breathe and have more mucus in their throat and mouth than kids that receive the stimulating contractions of the birth process. We like to rub them vigorously with towels and suction out the mouth to be sure they are breathing normally. Our vet has provided us with a drug called Dopran, which is a respiratory stimulant. It is used under his supervision and has been very useful in cases of extreme need.
True breech, both hind legs forward and tail presenting first should not be attempted. The hocks of the kid hook under the pelvic arch. This kid will need to be pushed forward and both rear legs brought into the birth canal. Once again, be sure the legs you feel belong to the kid of your choice. It is not unheard of to have two kids attempting to arrive at the same time. Jamming two kids against the cervix at once will prevent the correct stimulus for birth to continue. All legs should be followed to the body of origin before delivery is attempted.
The second most critical question in the kidding barn is, “Is she finished?” A good guestimate that she is done will be her attitude about the kids you have taken away. If she is alert to the fact her kids are not there with her she is probably finished with delivery. She may go to the manger and begin to eat hay. It pays to know the doe and what she might typically do. Some will eat hay off and on all through the delivery process and this will provide no clue. Almost all of them will be glad to drink a bucket of hot water during or after kidding.
The best indicator that all the kids are delivered is to bump the doe. Standing with your side to the doe facing the front, reach your arms around her rear barrel right in front of the udder. Lift up sharply and allow the barrel to fall into your hands. If she is done the muscles will be quite relaxed and you should feel no mass inside except maybe a ball of placental material. If you feel a hard lump, you most likely have another kid inside. Proceed with this bumping by moving your hands forward on the belly, bumping her every four or five inches until you reach the end of the rear rib. You may find a kid by bumping up near the rib cage that you have not felt my manual exploration inside the uterus.
As a rule of thumb, we feel that any delivery that has needed manual assistance in pulling a kid needs assistance to deliver each and every one of them. In the case of large, capacious does it is possible to have kids in so deep that you cannot reach them to pull them forward. It is possible to assist the attendant pulling the kids by lifting up on the belly of the doe to bring the kid forward so a hoof can be grasped.
The last observable act of the delivery process is the passing of the afterbirth. One might expect this to occur within a 24 hour period. Usually within the first six hours placental material from all kids will be sloughed off and found lying on the ground. We do not like to have the doe eat this, as we have heard of cases where it has caused rumen obstruction.
Should the afterbirth not be presented in a timely manner, there may be an indication that calcium stores may be low. Under the direction of our veterinarian, we administer calcium dextrose under the skin in three or four sites. Herdsmen noting that does are slow to clean after kidding might consider the possibility that their does are deficient in either calcium or selenium. A systemic antibiotic may be given under the advisement of the veterinarian to prevent further difficulties in all cases where kids were pulled or when a doe is slow to clean.
All departures from the expected are noted in a kidding log. We have found that some does will follow a pattern year after year. Being prepared can pay big dividends in reduction of stress for the doe as well as in healthy kids delivered.