A few months ago, SurvivalBlog posted my article entitled “Dairy Goats 101” which described some basics of goat ownership. This follow-up article will take you through the five kiddings that we recently experienced.
Let me start by emphasizing what many others have stated on Survival Blog: Book learning is not enough – you must practice survival and self-sufficiency skills. Don’t just read about having livestock, get out there and buy some animals and gain experience immediately before you need to rely on these animals for food.
To get into milk production the does must give birth. We waited until February to breed our goats because we have long, wet springs – goats are susceptible to pneumonia when wet or chilled. Five months later in sunny June and July our five does gave birth. I read books and web sites about birthing baby goats, the only problem is that most of my goats did not read the same books!
About two weeks before our first doe was due to kid, I prepared a birthing kit containing large and small towels, paper towels, The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery, a bulb syringe, alcohol, and an iodine tincture. I added another large bag of towels, it seems that you just cannot have too many towels, especially when twins come along. With each birth we spread towels to keep the babies off the dirt and straw. This made it easier for the mothers to clean them off and prevented contamination with feces. We also wiped noses and mouths and sometimes suctioned them out if there was a lot of mucous.
Assisting with birthing animals is not for the faint-hearted or those with weak stomachs. My teenage daughter was quite put off by the amniotic sacs, membranes, fluids and blood attending each birth. Watching a doe eat the afterbirth is a bit unsettling, but is important for both predator protection and nourishment. After delivery, I prepared a large bowl of warm water with molasses for the mother. Some does drank two bowls; a couple refused it entirely.
The father of all the babies listed below is Cappuccino, a half Nubian, half Nigerian Dwarf yearling buck. Since Cappy is fairly small, we expected easy births of smaller babies, but that turned out to be just a theory as both male kids had large Nubian heads that caused a lot of birthing pain for the two smaller does.
Birth #1. Nana, our large Alpine doe, let me know she was ready to deliver while I was milking another doe early in the morning. How did she communicate this to me? She stuck her head over the fence to get my attention, then I saw her extremely full udder and that there were two deep hollows on either side of her backbone where it connects to the tail. I finished milking in record time, then used a halter to slowly lead Nana to a clean stall in our new barn. We stopped along the way for each contraction and then she bedded down in a clean stall with fresh hay.
First she passed a mucous plug, which she promptly ate. Nana is an experienced mother. She even sucked the wax plugs out of her teats during the contractions so her kids would be able to get the milk easier. I called my neighbor for help when I noticed a chunk of tissue coming out where I expected to see a sac of amniotic fluid. Anne, my neighbor, did not know what the tissue was, but by now the contractions were coming much stronger and finally a sac started to emerge. Anne punctured the sack with her fingernail (she had already washed her hands and poured alcohol over them). Soon we saw two little feet, then a nose. Anne put steady downward traction on the legs during each contraction. Traction means that she did not try to pull the kid out, just held the legs downward so they didn’t slip back inside between contractions. Soon a slippery little kid was out and struggling to get on her feet. We helped wipe the kid down while Nana licked her feverishly, making soothing goat sounds the entire time. We understood her hurry when she laid down and a second sac began to emerge. This kid was born much more quickly and again Nana did a great job of licking and cooing to her baby. About an hour later Nana delivered her afterbirth – a slimy mass of tissue, fluids and blood. It is important that the entire afterbirth comes out or deadly infections and/or bleeding can occur. Nana ate part of it, but as soon as she lost interest, I used a plastic bag to gather up the rest and I put it in the trash – we did not want to bury or compost it because the scent would attract our dogs and the local coyotes, mountain lions and bears.
Nana obviously read the same book I did and had a classic delivery – two beautiful twin girls, Keri and Fawn, who were on their feet within ten minutes of birth and experts at nursing after we helped them a couple of times. To help a newborn latch onto a teat, get them sucking on your finger then use your other hand to push the teat into their mouth, squeezing a little milk so they get the taste. Pushing their heads onto the teat does not work well.
For several days I had to milk Nana because her udder became too full for the kids to latch on. After that I put her in the milking stand with some grain and minerals just to get her in the routine for milking.
Birth #2. Baby is a sweet half Pygora, half Nubian doe. She was very uncomfortable during her pregnancy, resting on her front knees when she laid down and not wanting to be around the other goats. I eventually put her in an entryway by herself at night.
Baby’s birthing process was an absolute disaster. She went into labor one evening 20 days prior to her due date (typical gestation is about five months). Instead of being bedded down in a clean stall in the new barn, she went back to the old barn which was filthy and gave birth in quick succession to two small, weak kids. Then Baby began to bloat. She was grinding her teeth, breathing rapidly and obviously in great pain. She could not take care of her kids or move. We figured she was bleeding internally and was unable to pass the placenta. I thought we would have to put her down if her suffering grew much worse. We wrapped the kids in towels and kept rubbing them down to get them dry and warm. The male kid was chilled from the time he dropped and died within an hour. The little doe, whom we named Calico, was stronger.
We checked on Baby throughout the night and about 3:00 a.m. she had passed the placenta. In the morning we showed her her daughter (Calico was too weak to stand). We tried to get Baby to nurse Calico, but all she would do was lick her – we realized that Baby must have been bottle-fed and did not know how to mother. Calico put up a good fight for a day and a half (we used a heating pad to keep her warm and an eye dropper to feed her) then she too died. We kept Calico with Baby for several hours after she died so Baby would know that she had lost her kid. Still, two days later when Baby regained her strength, she spent many hours each day looking for Calico and crying for her.
I had to start milking her due to udder engorgement and it is still difficult to get her to stand still for a milking. Her teats are small so milking takes a long time. However, she is giving a half gallon a day of rich, sweet milk. Now when I lock her into the milking stand I give her a lot of fresh grass along with a bit of grain to keep her occupied while I milk. Some days it works, some days she fights and fidgets the whole time. With does who kick and fidget, I milk into small glass jars, emptying them into a larger jar every few minutes. Much more milk is saved this way.
Our research revealed that the most common cause of premature birth is being butted in the side during pregnancy. We sold Becky, a doe who continually butted other goats in the side, when we learned this.
Birth #3. We knew that Holly (a mixture of Alpine, Nigerian Dwarf and Nubian) had been bottle-fed, so we were concerned about her ability to mother. During the latter stages of the pregnancy I noticed that she had an extra teat right above her normal teat on one side of her udder. Her labor began normally, but then the contractions got stronger with no results. Finally I saw the hooves and began to feel around for a head, then I realized that this was only one very large hoof and I couldn’t find the other foot at first. Again, we called Anne.
With the contractions getting more forceful and Holly arching her back and screaming in pain, Anne finally got the second hoof out. Then she extended one leg more than the other to allow more room for the head. While Anne was at the action end, I was comforting Holly and helping support her body during the strenuous contractions. With tremendous effort, Holly managed to get the head out and delivered a healthy buck kid. The head was Nubian-style, much larger than an Alpine head. She licked him a little, but we did the majority of the cleaning up. Anne and my husband helped Holly get to her feet after a while. She did not eat her afterbirth so we disposed of it. By the way, washing huge loads of towels was an almost daily chore during kidding time.
Holly delivered late at night so I spent the night in the barn. She had apparently put something out of place in her neck during labor because she shook her head and cried most of the night. I comforted her and helped her kid nurse when he wanted to. She recovered the next day. Holly is not a wonderful mother, but she does an adequate job. Because of the udder defect we sold her as a pet along with Bandit, her son, to some very nice people who adore her.
Birth #4. Boots is 100% Nigerian Dwarf, a real cutie and an experienced mother. Generally a rather timid, stand-offish gal, she buddied up to me before her kidding time. I spend a lot of time with each doe to be sure we have a bond during labor – which translates to them waiting for me before they give birth and delivering in the barn rather than off on the mountainside.
Boots did not read the book. Her ligaments thinned three days prior to kidding and she had a mucous show every morning. After a few days no one believed me when I said that Boots was going to kid that day.
On the third day, Boots was ready to go into full labor when a friend arrived for a tour of the property.
While Boots put her labor on hold due to the interruption, our friend taught us how to use our dehorning iron by disbudding the two kids who were ready. One of the twins turned out to be naturally polled (hornless). He also showed me how to tell when the back ligaments are fully relaxed by feeling along the backbone. He said that Boots would deliver within a few hours.
As soon as he left, Boots laid down and went into serious labor. Again, hard contractions and no action, so dear Anne arrived again. This time my husband learned how to do the gentle traction as the legs were delivered. Boots worked very hard to deliver a large buck kid with a Nubian head. (Nubians have large wide heads, Alpines tend to be narrow and wedge-shaped). It is unnerving to have your little goats screaming in pain.
Boots also has a defective udder. She has double teats on one side, both of which give milk. I had to milk that side out for several days until her son was strong enough to handle both teats – now that seems to be his favorite side. We also sold Boots and her son as pets.
Birth #5. Angel Rose is the daughter of Nana and also a full-blooded Alpine. This was her first kidding. Her ligaments thinned and her bag got tight with milk, but she did not go into labor that day. I checked on her a few times in the evening, then opened my bedroom window so I could hear any noises from the barn during the night.
Early in the morning I ran out and checked, but still no action, so I turned her out with the other mothers. I was home alone and Anne out of town. It was afternoon when I saw Angel Rose lying down under the trees. I checked and sure enough there was a membrane showing and definite contractions. I coaxed her back into the barn with a bowl of grain. She ate some blackberries I picked for her and seemed pretty relaxed. I went to turn off some hoses in the orchard and by the time I got back I could see two hooves through the sac. I punctured the sac and soon a little nose and tongue protruded. A couple of easy pushes later her kid was born and she began licking and cleaning her up. A few minutes later I saw three different sacs protruding from her . Deciding it was best to just trust God that all would work out, I enjoyed watching the new baby get to her feet quickly and start looking for food. But just as she starting rooting in the right spot, Angel Rose moved away, laid down and quickly delivered another kid with the same ease as the first one. No screams, no hard labor; you would never know this was her first birth. While the second kid was being born, kid #1 crawled over to her mother, found a teat and nursed as her sister came out. The second little doe was trying to stand up before the hindquarters were delivered. All I basically did was put towels in the right places.
Angel Rose was fastidious about cleaning herself up after the birth, so I gathered the twins onto my lap and they took a nap until the afterbirth was delivered and eaten by their mother. While you do have to make sure that the entire afterbirth is delivered, you do not need watch it get eaten! I named the precious little girls Sugar and Spice.
So to sum up our experience: We had it easy, all the presentations were feet and head first, no breech births. While the two smaller does struggled with the large heads, they both delivered without tearing because Anne used clean gentle fingers to help ease those heads out of the birth canal. We are very pleased with the four doe kids and will be keeping them as a three-way cross that we expect will give lots of rich milk (from the Nubian and Nigerian Dwarf breeds) for a long time (from the Alpine side).
Because we are keeping the daughters, we have also sold Cappuccino, their father. We will not be breeding any does this coming fall and to keep Cappy separate from the herd for a year-and-a-half seemed a waste. To avoid the large head issue, we are going to get a Nigerian Dwarf or Alpine buck in a year so that all our does can have smaller babies. We will also be keeping the pregnant does in separate stalls to prevent injury during the latter stages of their pregnancy.
Within a few days of birth all the kids with horn buds must be disbudded unless you keep a horned herd. The two kinds cannot mix because goats like to butt each other. Disbudding is a painful, but quick process that kills the horn cells with extreme heat. We bought a highly recommended disbudding iron, the Rhinehart X-30 with a pygmy tip, for about $70, online. We use three people to disbud. My husband uses a leather glove on one hand to hold the head still and protect the ear while the other hand holds the hot iron. My daughter holds the rear legs off the ground to prevent jumping and I support the upper chest, front legs and help stabilize the head. It is not easy for us to deliberately inflict pain on our baby goats, but we do three 2-second holds on each horn bud to be sure the job is done right. The kids scream bloody murder while the iron is touching them, but quiet down as soon as it is off. We carry them right back to their mothers afterwards. Usually they run and play within minutes while we need a few hours to calm down. Since we sold the buck kids at a young age we made sure that the new owners would know how to castrate them in a few months.
[JWR Adds: A hinged-lid kid holding box can easily be constructed from plywood. (There are are also commercially-made boxes, available from companies like Caprine Supply.) A disbudding box has a hole for the kid’s head. The box minimizes the squirming factor, thus making disbudding safer, and reduces it to just a two-man job. In my experience, a box that is narrower than those shown in most of the online plans works best. The only crucial dimensions are the box height and the size of the neck aperture. Also, do not wimp out on the number of seconds that the iron must be applied, or the germinal roots will grow sharp horn scurs, which can be worse than full-size horns.]
Now that the birthing is behind us, we spend lots of time each day just enjoying the antics of these adorable kids. They run, jump, climb and play king of the mountain on every stump, then snuggle into chairs, boxes and hollow logs for their naps. They are learning their names and in a few years will be having kids of their own and providing milk for our homestead. I am milking two goats presently, getting 1-1/2 gallons of milk daily and making cheese, yogurt, ice cream and kefir to add nutrition and variety to our diet. I love my goats!
This is a good time of year to buy some goats. Check out Craigslist, the local feed store, and shopper ads. Get to know someone who has raised goats for many years who can mentor your first year. Start small and enjoy these amazing creatures while you become more prepared to face an uncertain future.