Almost that time – when the goats begin to swell up like they swallowed watermelons, udders filling and nether-parts getting ready for birthing.
Generally our goats kid very well on their own. There have been just a handful of times in the past when we needed to give assistance, but being prepared is the number one key to success, (second only after choosing the time to put the buck in with the does 5 months prior), and many articles have been written about Preparing for Goat Kidding. Looking at our past experience, we have some pearls worth sharing as well as a few I can do without.
Timing of the buck. Aim for kidding when the weather is nice. April? May? September? We kidded in February one year and an Arctic blast dropped temps to -9F. The does all birthed at once and we lost ¾ of the kids. Frozen corpses were stacked like firewood outside the barn. A few kids who initially survived later succumbed to frostbite. We tried our best with heat lamps, kidding pens, but it just was not enough. Prevention would have averted this disaster, and we never kidded that early again. The buck is kept in an area with two fences between himself and the does from June through November, so a single falling tree will not grant him access to his girls.
Knowing the goat birthing process. Learn the different ways goat kids can present themselves. Be patient, educated and not afraid to step in if needed.
A nice place to birth. We would prefer the goats to kid in the field, but many will kid in the barn. A fresh layer of hay on the floor, keeping it dry and aired, will go a long way in the prevention of kidding infections.
Notebook and pen. You need to keep records of all kinds and a designated “Goat Book” is invaluable.
Weigh scale and 5-gallon bucket. A hand-held fish or livestock scale and a 5 gallon bucket are what we use to weigh newborns. Zero out the scale to the weight of the bucket and you are in business. I do not fret about different “baby goat smells” being in the bucket as we go from one kid to the next but I do keep it clean. Make sure it has fresh batteries every year.
Ear tags, tagger and antibiotic lube. We use scrapie tags provided for free (check your state’s ag department to get your farm listed and they will order you the tags and the applicator) to tag all our goats. Bucklings get tagged in the left ear, doelings in the right. Tag numbers are also logged in the Goat Book with the weight of the kids and dam information. A little bit of lube makes the tagging process easier, but baby goat ears are pretty darn thin.
Iodine for dipping/coating navels. Used this more when the kids are born in the barn. If they were born in the field and the cord is already drying, we leave it alone.
Old towels. To help dry off newborns, seems you can never have enough. We keep them in a bucket in the barn.
Umbilical cord clamps. Never used them.
Weigh sling. That is what the handy towel bucket is for.
Kid/lamb puller. Have only used it to help a neighbor with a sow and a retained dead piglet. Have not used it on a goat but at least we have it.
Feeding tube and 60-mL syringe. Have one and practice handling it BEFORE you need to use it. You can practice “tubing” a Coke bottle, figuring how to thread the tube and hold the tube at the opening, and then steadying it while you attach the syringe and pour warm water in to “feed” the bottle. Don’t laugh, it is the little skills like this one needs if you find yourself alone and the job needs to be done.
Colostrum replacer (not substitute). Powder mix for that crucial first feeding if you have a weak kid who cannot nurse and you are unable to milk a bit from the dam.
Heat lamps. Clever to have when you need them, but make sure they are goat-proof and not where a doe can chew on the cord or pop the bulb. Make sure they have bulb protectors.
Kidding pen, dog collar and leash. Once we had a doe whose kid was stepped on by a cow. It happens; they were near the hay feeder. I had another doe with triplets and decided to graft the smallest triplet to the now kid-less nanny. I put the graft doe in a pen (4’x4’) with collar on and tied her to a corner so she could not move much. The new kid was brought in and I was able to press the doe against the side of the pen with my body while we got the kid to nurse. Did this a few times and in two days the kid was grafted happily onto the doe. We allowed the doe a bit more “leash” in the pen but did not let her leash-free during the process. This allowed the kid to find a “safe corner” out of the doe’s head-butt range.
Find out if your area is selenium deficient. You can check this on the internet. If your area is deficient and you have never had kids born on your property before of have had weak kids or what you might consider a high death rate among newborns, suspect selenium deficiency/white muscle disease. A simple injection of BoSe to newborns can make a difference. We learned the hard way. Now, we have a custom made high-selenium mineral mix the herd uses and have not given selenium injections the past few years.
Wing person. There are loads of injectables, oral drenches and various medicines and the like but if this is your first time kidding or your first time with a specific dilemma, you need to have a backup. That person is your vet. Make a habit to have your vet’s number and check in with them from time to time. A good working relationship goes a long way. They are the trained ones and the goat learning curve can be steep. If you do not have access to a vet, then see if you can contact a neighbor with experience.
Preparation is the key to success and there are many, many products out there aimed at livestock producers. Find what works, be creative with what you have, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
SteelMeadow Farm raises heritage Valera Spanish,Spanish-cross goats and Irish Dexter cattle in Mansfield, MO.