Kids are here. They arrived on Monday night actually. I’ve been waiting to write this post for a couple reasons. First off, things have been busy and photographing/writing about kids hasn’t been my first priority. Secondly, there were a few complications that I was hoping to tell you are now all fine and dandy, but the reality is that I’m still not sure how things are going to pan out, but I figured it was time to give you an update.
I was anticipating that Minnie would kid early because last year she delivered four days before her due date. (I always know her exact due date because I record when I take her to meet with the buck. More on goat breeding without a buck at home here.) I was concerned about her kidding while I was gone, but I made it home in time, and then the days came and went with no significant action. On Monday afternoon (the day before her due date), I went out to the barn to check on her, and it seemed like she was acting weird. She was subdued, laying down and sort of staring off into space all glassy eyed. She also had a blob of thick, whitish discharge hanging on her vulva. I decided that it was probably time to lock her up in a stall by herself. This was around 4:30.
I hung out in the barn watching her from 5:30 to 6:30, convinced that labor was imminent, but nothing happened. Eventually I got cold and a little discouraged, so I went inside to make a cup of tea. I remembered from last year, that Minnie was relatively quiet while kidding, so I wanted to be sure to check her often instead of just listening for guttural goat screams. At 7:00 with a mug of tea in hand, I went back out and saw that this time, it was really happening.
She was laying down, and after a few obvious contractions, her water broke. From what I understand, this is normal. Next, I saw a little black nub coming out of her vulva. Kids are generally supposed to present feet first, but the nub I could see was definitely not made of feet. This was concerning to me, but Minnie seemed to be making progress without my assistance, so I made the decision not to intervene.
About 20 minutes later, Minnie pushed the kid out on her own. I grabbed a towel and started to dry it off, but the kid wasn’t moving. When I looked at it, my first thought was that the body had no head. I looked at one end and saw no head. I looked at the other end and saw no head. I freaked out a little. I turned it over, and the head was there, but it wasn’t breathing. I toweled off the nose and mouth to make sure it wasn’t suffocating in goo, and I moved it over next to Minnie, so she could start licking it, but it still didn’t move or breathe. After a couple minutes, I decided it was stillborn, and I took it out of the barn.
**Lesson One: I don’t know if I should have assisted the birth or not. I could have, and it might have made a difference, but according to Fiasco Farm’s kidding positions graphic, a butt-first breech birth (which I think is what I saw) is rare but not necessarily bad. Any birth that takes a long time (over 45 minutes) will probably need human intervention, but this one happened in an appropriate amount of time. The thing that I did learn after talking to my neighbor Lois the next day, is that there are a few tricks for reviving “stillborn” kids (or lambs). If a kid comes out lifeless, first grab it by its hips and give it a couple good hard shakes upside down to clear any fluids out of its lungs. Then get a towel and rub vigorously for up to 10 minutes (way longer than you think it would still have a chance). Sometimes, these actions will stimulate a kid enough to bring it around.
After the first kid came out, Minnie birthed two more, first a little black doeling and then a little brown buckling, without any major trouble. The last one came out around 7:35. These two kids were very much alive, squirming around and kicking immediately. I dried them off, and Minnie got to licking them down. I scooped out birth-goo soiled bedding straw and took it out of the barn, so Minnie wouldn’t eat it.
The girl started trying to stand and walk after 10 or 15 minutes. I dipped her cord in iodine and then helped her up to her mom’s udder. After a frustrating few clumsy minutes, she figured out how to latch on and nurse on Minnie’s teat. I learned the hard way not to wait to get food into a newborn kid. Most kids can eventually get things figured out on their own, but there’s no harm in forcing it early, and then you’ll know for sure that they’re either eating or they’re not.
The boy was slower to get up, and at first I thought it was just because he was a little newer in the world. I picked him up and held him to the teat, and it didn’t take too long before he started sucking even though he couldn’t support himself. Both kids nursed several times with assistance, but after about an hour or so, it became apparent to me that something was wrong with the boy’s legs. He was floppy and splayed out like a frog, but the thing that stood out most to me was the fact that when he did get up, his legs were folded back at the ankle, and he was trying to walk on the tops of his feet instead of the bottoms.
**Lesson Two: A few years ago, I was talking to Julie, the woman we got out original goats from (who still has the buck that we bred to last fall), and she told me a story about how one year, a bunch of her kids came out walking on their wrists. It was diagnosed as white muscle disease. White muscle disease is causes by a selenium or vitamin E deficiency and results in weak leg and back muscles. Our area is known to be selenium deficient, so white muscle disease can be prevented two ways. Some livestock breeders offer their animals free-choice salts with added selenium, and other breeders give selenium injections to pregnant females and/or newborn babies. The selenium booster that everyone I know uses is called Bo-Se (pronounced Bo-see). It’s only available from a veterinarian. A bottle costs about $50, and it expires after about a year. The first year I had goats, I bought Bo-Se but never used it, and I haven’t bought any since.
I was in the barn on Monday night until about 10 pm. Minnie passed one placenta without incident, and I pitched it out of the barn. I knew that the boy wasn’t fully mobile yet, so I set my alarm for midnight and 4 am feeding times. After each alarm, I drug myself out of bed and helped both kids eat before I went inside and crashed again. In the morning, I called my neighbor Lois because I knew she would have a bottle of Bo-Se, and she had some experience with white muscle disease. She graciously offered to give him the shot if I brought him down to her house, so I loaded him into the car, and we drove the two miles to Lois’s. After a quick shot and some chatting about animal birth, I brought him home.
During the first couple feedings, Minnie was being a perfect mom, sniffing, licking, and standing patiently, but by morning, she was noticeably less patient and welcoming. She was still locked up in the stall (maybe 4′ x 6′), but she wouldn’t hold still long enough for the kids to eat, or she’d kick them off when they got too near to her udder. A few times, I held her by the collar and forced her into a corner while the kids nursed, but she’s pretty strong, and I still had to hold up the boy with my other hand, so that method wasn’t working very well.
**Lesson Three: I called my friend Carol and asked her what to do about a new mom who wouldn’t stand to let kids nurse. Rejection or neglect of kids is most common with first-time moms, but Carol reminded me about the powerful contractions that second-time (or third, forth, etc.) moms get post-partum, especially brought on by nursing. I remember those contractions from my own personal birth experiences. They can be pretty uncomfortable, and maybe Minnie was just hurting and trying to avoid triggering more contractions. BUT kids gotta eat, so Carol advised me to put Minnie in the milking stanchion and tie down her legs while letting kids nurse. Hopefully after a session or two, she would snap out of it and let the kids do their thing without interruption.
The stanchion trick worked in so far as the kids got a nice big meal, but Minnie’s behavior when not locked down didn’t improve much.
Since Monday, some things have improved and some haven’t. The boy’s legs have straightened out, and thankfully he seems to be doing just fine. The Bo-Se is supposed to take two days to kick in, and that seemed to be about right in our experience.
I haven’t spent hours and hours in a row in the barn, but I’ve only seen Minnie let the girl nurse briefly one time. Judging by secondary signs such as belly size and peeing/pooping regularity, I think she is letting the girl nurse when I’m not around. Sometimes Minnie will sniff at the boy, but I’ve never seen her let him nurse. In fact, I’ve seen her headbutt him away from her on multiple occasions. On Wednesday, I let them eat on the stanchion four or fivetimes, but yesterday, I decided that hunger might be the best motivator, so I let them eat on the stanchion in the morning but not for the rest of the day. I was hoping they would find a way to access Minnie and her milk on their own. When I went out last night, the boy seemed very empty and very hungry. Again, I put Minnie on the stanchion, and he ate so much that I was almost a little concerned about his balloon belly. The girl ate a little, too, but I don’t think she was as hungry because hopefully she’d been eating throughout the day.
At this point, I’m not totally sure what to do. I let him eat again on the stanchion this morning. He looks healthy, big (bigger than the girl), and robust, but if mom’s not letting him eat, we still have a problem. If Minnie doesn’t have a change of heart and behavior in the next couple days, I guess I’ll either have to bottle feed him or continue the routine of lock-down feeding on the stanchion. Minnie definitely has enough milk, but I don’t really like either of these options because they seriously constrain my own life and schedule.
Under perfect circumstances, I would leave the kids together with Minnie full-time for about a month, and then I’d start separating them at night and milking in the morning. The once-a-day milkings allow me some freedom in the afternoons/evenings, and I would also have the option of not separating kids for a night or two and not milking at all if we would want to go for a quick vacation because the kids would keep her udder empty. Having a bottle baby means milking twice a day, every day on a strict schedule and being home for regular feedings of the kid(s). Bottle babies are supposed to be super friendly, but it’s a big commitment that I don’t think I’d take on voluntarily.
We’ll see how that all goes down.
In the meantime, the kids are adorable and friendly and soft and cuddly. And those EARS! I’ve really missed having full-nubian kids. After much debate and discussion, their names have been decided. Levi found my brother’s old coloring books from the ’80s a while back and now he’s pretty much obsessed with He-Man, so this year we have He-Man names. The boy is Bow, and the girl is Teela. Obscure for sure, but I think they’re pretty good goat names.
Kidding time every year reminds me of my huge appreciation for my network of friends who have decades of experience with animals. I’m lucky enough to have three people willing to help me out with my goat questions/troubles. Lois Olund is the closest. She’s raised sheep (most recently Wendsleydales) for over two decades, and she’s seen a lot. She also has a lot of supplies on hand, and when four years ago, I was in total crisis mode, she dropped everything and came over to teach me how to tube feed a kid. She’s fantastic, and all you knitters and spinners should buy some fiber from her business Bellwether Wool Company.
My friend Carol Hemphill is a little farther away (4ish miles), but when I was pregnant myself, I used to joke that if I went into labor couldn’t make it to the hospital in time, I’ll call 911, and then I’d call Carol because she’s seen more birth than anyone I know. She’s also patient and calm and willing to answer all my newbie dumb questions without being judgmental. She’s a cow person with plenty of experience around sheep, but even though she doesn’t know goats specifically, she aways has good advice for me. I’ve written about Carol a few times on Wayward Spark here, here, and here.
The person I try not to bother too often but who’s always been willing to talk goats is Julie Weiss. Julie’s daughter was in 4-H for years, and that’s how she got into the goat business. She’s had a herd of mostly nubians for over 10 years and has seen her fair share of successes and troubles. I always enjoy chatting with Julie (especially if I’m not in crisis mode) about goat-centric topics, and she’s also come through for me with critical advice a couple times when I was really in a pinch.
My point is….the internet is awesome, but I’ve found that when it comes to animal husbandry, it really helps to have real people in your corner. If you’re new to raising livestock or you’re thinking about getting into it, find some mentors. They will prove invaluable when the time comes that you really need them. If you don’t known anyone personally, try your local 4-H club, a breeder, or see if the closest large-animal vet has any recommendations. OSU offeres “lambing school” every spring, which I really think I should go to some year. (Sorry, but I can’t seem to find much info on lambing school online. Maybe you can Google better than I can.) Even other newbies can be helpful when trying to work out minor issues.
That said, I’ve had a few emails in the past two years of writing this blog where folks have basically asked ME to be in their goat network. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I just really don’t feel like an expert, and our place is not particularly well set up to receive (stranger) visitors. I’m definitely not qualified to diagnose specific conditions of your goats in crisis (something that I’ve been asked to do on several occasions). I hope that by writing posts like these, I am able to share what I know and what I’ve learned, but beyond that, I don’t have a lot more to offer.
So for now, I’m just watching, waiting, learning, and helping as needed. Everything’s a lot easier when dealing with what are quite possibly the cutest baby animals on the face of the earth. I hope your spring kidding/lambing/calving has been smooth sailing, or at least it’s been a pleasant learning experience.