Kidding: The Reality of Goat Birth

April 4, 2011 · 16 comments

checking in with mom

One fact about keeping a dairy goat is that there are always kids. Whether you want them or not, you don’t get any milk without kids. In my case, I only breed one doe per year because the milk from a single goat more than enough for our needs. We’ve had five sets of kids (twins, twins, triplets, triplets, twins) in the five years I’ve raised goats.

This post does not include any gory birth photos. If that’s what you’re looking for, I recommend Fiasco Farm’s website.

The Past

Goats have a reputation for generally punctual, speedy, and uncomplicated deliveries, but that first year I was really nervous. I read everything I could find about assisting with the birth. At 7:00 AM on her due date (150 days after breeding), I went out to check my doe, and there were two kids already on the ground. The second and third years went about the same, although I was able to witness the births.

This is me five years ago with one of the first kids born at our place.

Last year was different. During the pregnancy, I had an infant and a toddler of my own to care for, and my goats were not always at the top of my priority list. They weren’t neglected, but I will admit that they would run out of free-choice minerals, and it would take days or weeks for me to notice, and I didn’t give my pregnant doe grain every day as is recommended. I had grown a bit complacent about the birth itself and was expecting another swift and timely delivery. My goat went into labor three days early, which was a complete surprise, and by the time we got out to the barn, the first kid was out and stillborn. Two more emerged, and they seemed to be healthy. I checked them out quickly, and then went back to the house to attend to my own children.

Throughout the course of that morning, I would pop out to the barn to see how the kids were doing, and it wasn’t long before I noticed that one wasn’t getting up, and I hadn’t seen her nursing. I assumed that she had nursed while I was in the house and that everything was going to work out fine. Hours passed, and I realized that she wasn’t doing well, and she wasn’t improving. At that point, I started calling around to a couple close friends that have long histories with animal birth. My friend Carol told me to try bottle feeding her, but it didn’t work. When I got Lois, a neighbor and owner of Bellwether Wool Company, on the phone, she told me to put my finger in the kid’s mouth. If it was cold, that was bad.

The kid’s mouth was cold. Lois dropped everything and rushed up to my house to give me a demo on tube feeding. This technique involved inserting a small flexible tube down the throat and directly into the stomach. A large syringe attached to the tube and milk was forced into the digestive system. The kid needed to be fed every 2-4 hours this way until she could nurse or bottle feed on her own. I tube fed her all night, but by the next morning, she was not recovering. She died later that day.

The experience was pretty awful and left me feeling guilty about having an optimistic  “wait and see”  attitude. I never wanted to go through that again.

The Present

This year, my doe, Bella, was pretty pampered. She got minerals, she got grain, and she got choice red clover hay. I went back to reading about kidding and care of newborn kids. I was nervous again, but I also had some experience under my belt.

Bella was due on a Sunday, but on Friday night, I heard some unusual pawing in the barn. About an hour later, she started vocalizing in a distinctive “I’m-in-labor” kind of way. I grabbed my coat, an old towel, and a flashlight, and I ran out to the barn, which is only about 50 feet from the house. By the time I got there, one kid was already born. I was prepared this time to take an active role in the minutes and hours immediately following the birth. I grabbed the kid by the hind feet and held it in the air to drain any fluids that might have gotten in the lungs, and I wiped its nose and mouth clear of birth goo. I dried it with a towel while Bella was preparing for a second delivery.

Kai and Bella

The second kid was born quickly as well, coming out in a normal “diving” position. It was all over about 10:30 PM, and the whole process took maybe a half hour. When both kids were dry, I doused their umbilical cords with iodine and began to pick them up and attempt to get them to nurse on their mom. This is something that can be incredibly frustrating. You put the kid with its nose touching the udder, and it seems to try to suck on anything but a teat. Even though the instinct to eat is deeply ingrained, any newborn kid bumps around for a while before making the necessary connection to get mom’s milk. In this case, one of the kids, the boy, latched on rather quickly. The girl was slower, and after a while, it became apparent that her sucking instinct was not as strong. She was up and walking around, but no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get her to nurse.

Kids need to feed within a few short hours of birth or else they weaken quickly. That first milk that does produce is called colostrum, a thick, yellowish substance that contains much-needed antibodies. Without it, kids are likely to die.

After midnight, I fumbled around trying to find an old water bottle and screwtop rubber nipple. I tried to bottle feed her, but she wanted nothing to do with it. At 1:00 AM after working through Plan A (nursing on mom) and Plan B (bottle feeding), I moved on to Plan C (tube feeding). I was so thankful to have the skills and experience to take action in this situation. While last year’s kidding had turned out so badly, something good had come out of it.

I tube fed the little doeling every 2-4 hours overnight, thinking that by morning she would be nursing, or I could get her to bottle feed. I tried all day to coax/force her to eat. I got pooped on, peed on, and I had colostrum all over myself. It was the same routine every couple hours, and each session ended with me tube feeding her. She seemed perfectly healthy, standing and walking with no trouble. She was at least as big as her brother, and at no time did I feel like she was in imminent danger of withering away. Tube feeding a healthy, day-old kid is hard, too, because she was squirming all over the place. With tube feeding, there is some small risk of injecting fluids into the lungs if the tube isn’t in the proper place, so I was worried that she would jerk around so much that the tube would disengage enough to cause her harm. Once the tube popped off the syringe, and I gave myself a squirt of goat milk directly in the eye. It was not much fun, but I felt compelled to do whatever I had to in order to save this goat.

Neda stretching

I continued to tube feed for a second night and a second morning. Then I got a return call from Lois (Bellwether Wool Company). Though she’s not a goat expert, she has 30 years of experience with sheep and lambs. She convinced me that tube feeding was an emergency procedure that should be used when a life was on the line. What I had was a happy, healthy goatlet frolicking around the barn. Lois suggested that I let hunger be her motivation to nurse. I quit the tube feeding, and a couple hours later, the doeling started nursing on her own. I was so incredibly relieved.

Neda, what would I do without her?

The kids, Kai Ryssdal and Neda Ulaby, are a week old now and doing great. They romp and leap, cuddle and nap. They have bonded well with their mom, and Bella is doing everything right. They’ll spend the next three weeks or so with her full time, eating whenever they want to. When they’re about a month old and eating hay, I’ll start to separate doe and kids at night, and I’ll milk in the morning. Kids will get to spend the day with Bella.

learning to climb

Neda

Neda (left) has white ears. Kai (right) has brown ears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will be posting more about goat care and dairying in the future. If you have specific questions, leave them in the comment section below, and I will either address it as best as I can now or write about it in a longer entry coming up.

 

 

 

 

 

Their dam (mom) is a nubian, know for their pendulous ears, and their sire (dad) is a La Mancha, known for their tiny or lack of ears. The cross produces what they call "elf" ears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Hans April 4, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Very interesting story. I love the pictures, your goats are cute.
What are the requirements to own goats? do they take a lot of space?

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Camille April 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm

They need quality food, clean water, and shelter. Goat owners should plan on committing time and energy to goat care every day. Goats don’t need tons of space, but stored hay does take up a lot of room. It’s way cheaper to buy hay in bulk, but you need to have a dry place to keep it.

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Heather April 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm

I’m so glad that the little girl is doing well. They are really adorable!

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Camille April 4, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I am so glad, too! Thanks

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Catey April 4, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Camille, these are great pics! Do you grow any supplemental feed cover crops in the winter?

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Camille April 4, 2011 at 2:14 pm

I cut and feed a lot of evergreen blackberry canes. We also throw in occasional bamboo or kale/cabbage/broccoli leftovers. They love madrone or just about anything wild and green in the winter. Sometimes I get buckets of reject turnips and carrots from a local farm where I used to work, and chop those up to feed to them.

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Laura April 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm

this is a great read! Enjoyed it.
thanks

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Lois Olund April 4, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Hey Camille, you forgot to mention that goats need FENCES. Good fences. That’s why I have sheep, not goats!
I’m glad your little girl is doing well. Next week I might need your help with lambs ; )
Lois

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Camille April 4, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Thanks a million, Lois! I owe you.

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Erika April 5, 2011 at 1:50 am

Great post! Wish I had a farm, but it sure take alot of commitment. Love the photos at the end. Thanks for sharing part of farm life with us.

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cynthia April 5, 2011 at 4:54 am

camille, i love goats, they are my chinese animal. as for the kids,they are both so cute, you should have named one of them cynthia.lol! thanks for this. i thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to updates. you inspire me!

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Mo April 5, 2011 at 8:12 am

Love this!!! I’m sure I’ll back to you with a million questions I didn’t already ask on facebook!

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Baby Aunt Sue April 11, 2011 at 7:03 am

So glad you are writing about these things you do! Finally took some time to read this and very much enjoyed it. Henry is wrong. It is not too long. Your writing flows well and was engaging and down-to-earth (“birth goo” was my favorite). Now I want to hear about cheese and yogurt making.

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Kate Smith May 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Love their names! You should email NPR and Marketplace and let them know about their namesakes.

Reading your blog sparks my secret desire to get off the grid and have my own farm. Reading your blog reminds me that I’m too lazy to do such a thing. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you.

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Camille May 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I have about a hundred more ideas for things to write about, so expect lots more in the coming months. Thanks for reading.

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Tresea March 11, 2013 at 7:34 am

Hi there,
cute blog and pics! Just another suggestion for kids healthy happy but not eating.
They need their RUMEN started. A easy natural way to do this is put some baking soda on your finger and put it in their mouth. The baking soda is made by putting a small amount in a bowl and moistened with water, just to make a paste. (just a dab will do)
Put that in your little goaties mouth on your finger. This helps start the rumen! They will do a “patuey” little jig with their mouth as anyone of US would do, but hey! it works and it’s all natural!
I love anthing non medicinal that is easy! Aslo Hoegger has a great product called BOVI-SERA, it is full of vitamins ( even people can take it). Give and injection of 10cc at birth or ANY TIME a goat is an “off” way or if they have a cold etc. It is an immune system boost! I give it to each kid on their first day of life! Do not get this confused with the medicinal one of similar name. (can’t remember name). Anyway, Go to Hoegger supply..they are the only ones that carry the this Colorado serum. I cannot say enough good things about Bovi-sera!!! 🙂 It is a must in your medicine cabinet. Call Hoegger any time for goatie questions they are awesome , talk to ANN she will walk you through anything!
Happy goating!

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