On Kidding, Process and Preparation

Baby goats get 60% of their growth in the last month, so does won’t really show until last month. It’s most common for goats to have two kids (as long as they’ve been well cared for). Then, in order of most common, it’s one, three, four, etc, etc. I’ve heard of goats who have had sextuplets! That’s insane though.

Goat udders will start filling up to a week before their due date. Some don’t until a few days before, or even hours before. The hormones of birth really start the milk flowing, but the body does like to prepare. The first milk that comes in is called colostrum, and is packed full of important nutrients and antibodies to get baby immune systems up and running.

There may also be some changes in personality a few days before. Blackberry gets incredibly clingy. Phe, when she kidded before, was just sleepy and wanted to lay on you all the time. Sari? She’s on the other side of the barn squinting at me. (Feelin’ the love, goat.)

As they start preparing, they’ll begin to stake out a spot in the barn they feel the most comfortable dropping kids. You don’t really have control of that, but I do recommend that you have a kidding pen.

Staking out their spots. Blackberry made the funniest noises defending her place!

If you’re planning on bottle-raising, it’s not as important, but if you’re dam raising, it’s pretty important to have a place that mom and babies can be tucked safely away for the first few days. I’ve also noticed that kidding does generally appreciate being secluded from the herd where they don’t have to deal with their herd-mates.

If I catch the doe in time before kidding, I’ll put her in the pen if she’s close. I worry about her having anxiety being separated from the herd before she’s ready, so I don’t usually do this until she starts obviously separating herself. If the kids are already on the ground, I’ll move them to the pen itself. I usually leave them in there for about a week before carefully reintroducing the herd. The pen I have is close to the herd and can see each other, but there’s no risk of babies being stepped on or yearlings getting rambunctious and thinking they need to prove dominance.

If bottle raising, you should also have a warm box for the kid(s), as well as heat-treated colostrum of some sort on the ready!

There’s also a few items I recommend to have on hand. Making a kidding supplies bucket is a good idea.

  • Clean towels (for cleaning babies and faces)
  • Scissors (for cutting umbilical cords that don’t detach)
  • Iodine (especially important for dipping cords, to disinfect them and made sure no bacteria gets in there)
  • Bottle and nipple (Even if you’re not bottle raising I recommend having them on hand. The nipples are cheap and can be screw on or rubber; both can be put on a plastic coke bottle or whatever is your fancy. Moms can reject kids, or they can have so many that it’s ridiculous for her to feed them all (and there’s a risk she’ll reject kids). I thought Sari would have triplets this year and I’d need to bottle raise one, but she ended up having just two REALLY BIG kids, so it worked out fine.

There are other recommendations (like kid pullers, etc), but the above are the bare minimums in my opinion.

Okay! And now, the key to goat kidding is watching their ligaments.

There are two ligaments that run out at an angle out from their spine on their rump that connect to either side of their tail like a peace sign. When they kid, those ligaments dissolve to allow the spine to push up for birth. So, dissolved ligaments = goat is ready to kid any time now. You should probably feel the ligaments before getting close to kidding so you know what to compare it all to.

They come out from the spine like my fingers show

Of course, estimating when they’re going to kid BEFORE the ligaments dissolve is tricky and aggravating… they can dissolve very quickly, or very slow. It’s one of those things you have to really watch. Blackberry, for example, starts loosening up days beforehand. Sari doesn’t until the seemingly last minute.

But besides ligaments, these are the things to watch for:

  • Restless moving around
  • Standing off by herself and digging at the ground — that’s seeking the best place to drop those kids.
  • Staring off into space and grinding teeth is usually a symptom of light contractions
  • Back arching (usually with tails going up, or flipping back and forth) is when they start getting stronger.
  • Mucus — usually thick and yellow or pale yellow. This one is kind of tricky though; Sari has had mucus days before sometimes. But usually it’s a sign of getting close.
  • Getting up and lying down over and over is also a big one, as mom tries to readjust babies into the best position.
  • Making little noises (that’s not for all goats — mine are just especially vocal)
  • Searching around on the ground after contractions

Some goats will want you there during and some won’t. Usually it’s best practice to be nearby but not on top of them; that can make them uncomfortable.

Usually they’ll lay down and it’ll be pretty obvious they’re pushing when the time comes. Some will be vocal, some won’t. There will probably be a fair amount of grunting, getting up and down, searching the group, lying back down and pushing…

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There’s a 30 minute rule with goat kidding. If the goat is pushing pretty obviously and there is no kid on the ground within 30 minutes, there’s a problem. Even if there’s a nose or feet, but no progress is being made, there’s something wrong in there.

If you’ve never pulled a kid, you should have a vet or trusted goat herder ready to call. I used to help 40-60 does a year kid, for about five years, so I don’t hesitate to get in there and fix things if a doe is in distress even before the 30 minute rule (I hate to see them in distress, and getting tired especially won’t help anything). But if you’ve never pulled a kid, I hesitate to tell you to try to correct a kid’s positioning. I will be writing a post about common problems and such, which I will link to at the end of this post when it’s done.

But anyway. Kids arriving!

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Look, little white toes!

With the picture above, I saw toes only a minutes before the kid was on the ground. In fact, I’d only just cleaned the kid’s face and placed him next to mom, when I turned around the second one was already out!

If you’re bottle raising, I recommend removing kids as soon as possible. It’s pretty sad when mom sees the kids (or gets to lick them) and then the kids are gone.

After the birth, mom should be all about those babies. Licking them is TOP priority; she’ll start even before the other kids are out (if there are more). You’ll probably get a bath as well if mom trusts you. She’ll often talk to them as well (the noises are freaking adorable). Besides cleaning faces to make sure the kids having a clear airway, I usually just leave it all up to mom.

If the kid happens to come out with the umbilical cord still attached, snip that quickly. An attached kid, especially if the mom stands, can tug too hard on the placenta and rip her uterus, or give the kid a hernia.

If the doe stands up, you can check to see if there’s more kids by lifting up firmly and quickly right in front of her udder. If you feel anything hard that moves around, there’s another kid. If it’s just gush you feel, and can lift up quite a ways, then she’s done.

The doe will eventually get up (if she’s not already) and kids will start rooting around for milk. Technically, kids don’t need milk for several hours after birth; they’ve been fed by the umbilical cord up until they came out. Either way, kids are born with the instinct to find the milk now, and it’s equally adorable and funny to watch, because they can be pretty uncoordinated and dumb about it.

Spray or dip those cords in iodine, after the kids are out. This will kill any bacteria and prevent an infection.

Especially good moms will lift their feet up very high and set them down very carefully to avoid stepping on babies, but some moms are dumb and will step on babies. Kids are surprisingly resilient, but injuries can occur. Watch out for those tiny little legs getting stepped on!

Some moms won’t get the idea of nursing immediately. They’ll jump or kick, which really won’t help the kids be able to nurse. If that happens, it’s usually fixed by holding her still to assisting the kids to nurse a few times. I usually will pin the doe against the wall and hold up a back leg (so she can’t kick or move without unbalancing — they trust me, so that usually works). Does will usually get the idea afterwards.

Sometimes you’ll have to do it for a few days to let the kids nurse before the dam gets it. Or, if the moms seem like they’re completely rejecting kids (won’t let them nurse, not interested in cleaning them or talking to them, or in bad cases, butting them away), you’ll need to bottle feed. That’s pretty uncommon, and usually those cases are because of a hard labor where the mom’s instincts get confused.

After all kids are out, the placenta will emerge. I’m not sure if there’s a ‘rule’ about when it should, but if it’s been over 12 hours I would worry about a retained placenta. Call your vet for that. Usually it starts emerging within a couple hours, and will look a little like this:

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She laid down and got some straw on it, obviously

DO NOT try to pull it out. The body detaches it all on it’s own and slowly; if you tug you could tear her uterus. If it’s been hanging there for hours without change, you can gently tug and see if it’s just detached but stuck there. But don’t overdo it.

Does might try to eat it. It’s an instinct, to clean up all their mess so predators are less attracted. It’s not a terrible idea to let her eat it (there are quite a few vitamins in there that can help the doe) but they can get sick from eating the whole thing. If the moms are interested in it, I usually let them eat some and bury the rest.

After birth, I personally prefer to get hot water with molasses for the doe. It helps replenish some iron and energy, and the does love it. I’ve had moms down half a bucket in one go. It’s a nice treat for the doe after working so hard!

After that… it’s rest and bonding time! The dam usually takes a power nap after, especially if it was a hard labor. Kid personalities vary; some will be all over everything and some will nap too. I usually hang out for a while afterwards (because how can you not!?) to make sure everyone is acting healthy and get attention.

If dam raised, it’s especially important to spend a lot of time with kids in the first hours of their life, and the following weeks. They need to associate you with herd. I usually grab a book to read, or get some paperwork done with a kid or two snoozing on my lap. Adding a half an hour during morning and night chores to sit down and play with them usually will suffice. They’re such time wasters; kid’s absolute joy of discovering how to do things like jump and play is heartbreakingly cute. I usually end up playing with them for longer than that. It’s almost impossible not to!

After that… well, that’s pretty much it! Just pay attention, make sure nobody is acting too weird or lethargic (though lots of sleeping is normal in the first couple days), and enjoy those new baby kids.

I’ll write another post on after-kidding care (for mom and kids) here shortly. Until then, any questions?

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Naptime, after a hard labor. Sari (dam), 2017

Further Reading:

Kidding Stories: Sari 2016

On Baby Goats Born with Weak Pasterns 

Nursing Kids and Lopsided Udders

First Year Of a Goat’s Life

On Pregnancy Toxemia (AKA Ketosis) and Milk Fever (AKA Hypocalcemia)

This article is actually about two different subjects (Ketosis and Hypocalcemia), but since their symptoms are almost identical, and Hypocalcemia leads to Ketosis, I thought it would be best to address them both at once.

Hypocalcemia’s definition is pretty straightforward: it’s when your goat’s levels of calcium is dangerously below what’s needed.

Ketosis is slightly more complicated. Ketosis is when the body isn’t getting enough energy, and the body starts breaking down fat reserves. This kind of metabolism is incomplete, and leaves behind deadly acid compounds called ketones. Too many of these ketones will turn the blood acidic and kill.

Both of these occur often because of an incorrect diet, and most often to pregnant or recently kidded goats. The last 6 weeks of pregnancy demands a lot on a doe’s body (as the kids are getting 60% of their growth, her body is preparing to create milk, and the birth process also requires a lot of energy and calcium), and if she doesn’t get what she needs, her body is going to start using her fat reserves in excess, resulting in all of the deadly ketones. Similarly, if she doesn’t get when she needs when she comes into milk, or if she’s a heavy producer, her body will pull from its own reserves.

These two problems can result from not getting enough feed, and, interestingly enough, from getting too much feed.

The simpler explanation is this: Grain is needed for the correct calcium/phosphorus ratio in a goat’s diet (I believe phosphorus is needed to process calcium). In the last 6 weeks to a month of pregnancy, when the babies are pulling a lot on on the doe for calcium, your doe is going to make a smart move and switch to focusing on eating alfalfa.

In Hypocalcemic situations, she doesn’t eat enough grain or isn’t able to consume enough to keep up the proper calcium/phosphorus ratio. Her body starts pulling calcium from her bones.

In ‘simple’ Ketonic situations, her body, which has been depending on this high-energy grain intake, panics. It starts drawing energy from her fat cells.

In either situation, the incomplete metabolic process results in an explosion of ketones, turning her blood extremely acidic.

So here’s the trick: in either situation, it’s best not to give any grain until the last month or so of pregnancy. Giving your does a little boost in this manner helps keep up her energy for growing kids and metabolizing alfalfa, but not early enough that the body depends on it and goes through a shock when the kids rapidly begin to pull more from the doe.

There is also a possibility of ketosis after a doe has kidded, if she’s a heavy milker. This is called Milk Fever (and is Hypocalcemia). It’s the same basic story: her milk production is demanding more calcium than she’s intaking, so it pulls from her reserves, and again with the ketones. The best way to prevent this problem is to make sure to increase her grain (not too fast, but enough) after she kids to keep up with her production.

Stress is also connected to a doe succumbing to Pregnancy Toxemia. Preventing sudden changes in her environment, in her herd, and in feeding will help combat this.

Hypocalcemia and Ketosis will kill a doe very quickly. So how can you tell if your doe has Ketosis or Hypocalcemia?

These are the common symptoms:

The doe eats less or stops eating completely
Depression
Separation from the herd
The doe may be slow to get up or may lie off in a corner
Her eyes are dull
Sometimes blindness
Muscle tremors & seizures
The doe’s breath and urine may have a fruity sweet odor. This is due to the excess ketones, which have a sweet smell.

So what do you do if see these symptoms?

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to diagnose whether it’s ‘simple’ Ketosis or Hypocalcemia, so treating for both is probably the best method. You must get her calcium and energy levels up, and get her eating again so she’ll keep these up herself. Often times a doe will refuse to eat when she feels sick in this way, exacerbating the problem.

For the calcium component, you will need something called CMPK. This stands for Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium — all of these minerals are needed to absorb the calcium. Giving straight calcium does no good if your doe doesn’t have the right minerals to process it.

If your doe is severely weak and refusing to eat, use an injectable CMPK. It takes time for the doe to absorb calcium through an oral solution and there are situations where there is no time for the absorption.

For this, inject subcutaneously, or under the skin, not into the muscle. After tying her down or having someone hold her head, pull up her skin a few inches down from her topline, where the skin is looser and you won’t be in danger of hitting any bone or major nerves. Inject 40-60 cc of Calcium Gluconate. The injections should be broken down into at least 4 injections in different sites. Do not give more than 10 cc per injection site. The injections should be given slowly.

If her symptoms are milder and you’ve just noticed a change in behavior, then you can probably get away with an oral calcium drench: 8 oz. three times a day until the doe is eating and symptoms are subsiding.

Important note: Please be careful with what kind of CMPK, because several types of calcium will burn or leave sores if given orally, or burn when given in shot form, which can result in putting your doe off her feed even more. CMPK with calcium chloride is the most common one to do this. Try to find a composition with calcium carbonate, or calcium gluconate. (I’ve also used, in milder situations, a for-human-consumption CMPK that’s flavored. They definitely want to eat that!)

To combat the energy and sugar side of the Ketosis equation, there are several things you can do. If you can convince your doe to take some tasty treats, give her all she’ll take! Grain works, anything that’s good and healthy with lots of calories and calcium. Also, follow any of the suggestions below:

  • Molasses & Karo syrup (corn syrup). Mix 2 parts corn syrup to 1 part molasses. 20 – 30ml every 2 hours. It also tastes good, which makes it easier to administer and nicer for your lady-goat.
  • You can use Propylene Glycol at 3-4 oz (90-120ml) 2 times a day, for 2 days, and then 1-2 oz (30ml-60ml) 2 times daily until the doe is eating normally, OR, 10 – 20ml every 2 hours
    • However, Propylene Glycol is an appetite suppressant and it inhibits rumen bacteria, so do not use unless the doe is off her feed.
    • Also, Propylene Glycol is extremely similar in composition to Anti-Freeze, which makes me feel a little weird giving them to my goats. There are other, less harmful sugars.
  • Nutridrench, Goatdrench: 2 oz. 2 times a day
  • Children’s chewable vitamins with extra calcium, or even Tums, are great to give to a goat who is still interested in eating. These are also an excellent thing to hand out in the barn as a preventative for Hypocalcemia.
  • An oral probiotic, like Probios, will stimulate the appetite and keep the rumen functioning as it should.
  • B-Complex injections will stimulate the appetite and give energy.

There are also a few aromatherapy things you can do to help with the stress aspect if you feel that is a factor:

  • Rescue Remedy can help calm.
  • Lavender Essential Oil also can help with stress and depression. Lavender has a calming and mood lifting effect. Place 4 drops of oil in three different places in the doe’s stall twice a day.

 

Once the doe has regained her appetite, make sure to increase her grain ration so that a relapse doesn’t occur. Also make sure she has access to enough alfalfa, and isn’t being bullied by other goats away from the feed.

(As a final note I’d like to add that I’ve had a goat who suffered from hypocalcemia and wasn’t pregnant. If you ever see a sick-looking goat who isn’t pregnant and is suffering from muscle tremors, I’d really advise you take her to the vet and test her calcium level! This lady of mine recovered with a heavy CMPK regime, and I gave her calcium supplements and treats pretty much the rest of her life, as she had other health problems that probably inhibited her ability to absorb calcium.)

 

Any questions? Any other methods you’ve used to help combat/prevent Ketosis or Hypocalcemia (Milk Fever)?

Kidding Stories: Sari, 2016

Easter Day, I had just returned from celebration #1 (with several families, holidays are a bouncing of place to place) to check on the new ducks I had just picked up the day before. They were, of course, out yonder and not where I wanted them to stay, so I herded them back where I wanted them.

During this escapade, I caught Sari eating something off the ground. Not where food is normally put. It was a bit odd, so I just watched a few more minutes while herding furiously-quacking ducks.

Then I saw her paw at the ground and lay down. That really got my attention. Forgoing duck herding for the moment, I watched a few more minutes, and saw her strain.

Yep! It was happening!

According to my online chart, she was supposed to kid in three days, not today. (I’m using an online calculator, and this is the second time it’s been wrong, so I need to stop trying to cheat and just make the calculations myself)

I had my partner’s brother (who was helping me herd ducks) call my partner down below and bring hot water and towels, and I got Sari into the kidding pen. She was even straining while standing up, which meant a kid was pressing against her cervix and really ready to get this show on the road.

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After about 20 minutes of serious straining I knew something wasn’t going right. I should have seen presentation of some sort. So after I lathered up with soap and water, I carefully pushed in to see what was happening.

I have a lot of experience with this. I used to help kid 40 – 60 goats a year, and at least half of them always had something wrong with presentation. It probably would have worked itself out over time, but it’s hard for me to watch them straining and obviously in pain and not do anything about it.

It took me a minute to locate the head – which was right there, as it was supposed to be – and then I found another head right next to it. Both kids were trying to come out at the same time. There wasn’t a lot of room for either one to really move around, so both of them were pressing. Not necessarily incorrectly aligned or one foot of each trying to come out (which I’ve had before), but still a problem.

I pushed one kid back and carefully followed a head down the neck to the shoulder to find the feet. I wasn’t able to do that totally (as it was pretty tightly crammed in there and I didn’t want to hurt mom any more than I had to) but I did a skip hop to feel both feet were there. Then I tugged a little to line them up right.

Sari pushed; I carefully pulled (just in case I had a wrong foot), and black baby doeling #1 entered the world. My partner and I cleared her mouth and nose, she sneezed and coughed a little, and there she was!

I placed her next to mom’s head, and Sari licked for half a second before starting to push again. A nose immediately presented, only a head – I was worried for a few minutes it was elbow-locked (front feet too far back and elbows flared out). But Sari pushed and I somewhat helped and blonde baby doeling #2 arrived!

Nose was cleared, and exhausted baby sprawled out next to mom. I noted that both of them were pretty skinny, but I blamed it on being early (which I now think may not be true).

I checked mom one more time for babies, just to be sure there weren’t any more (I’d already had my CLEAN hand inside, so I it wouldn’t hurt), and carefully found just growing-babies stuff, so I left Sari alone.

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Then I turned to the babies. Ohmygawd two baby girls, a black and a blonde!

I made sure to dip their cords in iodine and check noses and faces. The blonde girl was pretty sprawled out, enough to worry me just a tiny bit, as the black doeling was already trying to stand and was already making a lot of noise.

But after a little bit and a nap, she was just fine. A little cold the next morning, but both of them are slowly getting the hang of nursing, and mom is being incredibly patient and careful with them.

Yay, healthy goats all around!

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On Baby Goats Born with Weak Pasterns

 

These adorable little kiddos were born on January 15th, 2016, to Blackberry. She’s a first time mom and is one of the neediest, baby-like yearlings I’ve ever met, so I was worried she was going to be a terrible mom.

NOT.

I was actually at an event for work when they were born (typical goats – never kid when you want them to), so one of my house-mates found them first. I instructed him via the phone what to do until my fiancee could get home take over.

I received updates over the next few hours, telling me that, first, Blackberry wouldn’t let the kids nurse. But when they held her still for a moment and let the kids suckle, she immediately got the idea. We haven’t had a problem since. Like, absolutely no problems. Blackberry even cleaned butts and ears incessantly for days afterwards, and pretty much has an anxiety attack if she can’t check on her babies every 30 seconds.

I didn’t get home until nearly 10:30 at night (much to my extreme annoyance), to see all the important after-birth things done: the kids cords had been sprayed with iodine solution; mom and babies had been put together, separated from the herd, in a pen of fresh straw; mom had plenty of food and water; and since it was cold, babies had been tucked into fleece baby coats I’d picked up from Goodwill.

Apparently I’d overestimated how big these kids were going to be, because the kids were SWIMMING in the clothes I’d gotten. We ended up using twine and elastic bands around their bodies to keep the coats from tripping them up.

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Mom (Blackberry) with kids in oversized baby clothes

To be fair, the kids are TINY. (Not so tiny anymore!)

That evening I noticed that the kids – the girl more severely than the boy – were walking on their fetlocks. As in, their pasterns were so weak they didn’t support their weight, so instead of remaining on their hooves, they collapsed down onto the next joint. Unfortunately I didn’t think to take pictures, but I found a picture that’s close enough that I stole from here.

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Notice the extreme bend at the fetlock, causing the hooves to tip up at the toes? All of that should be pretty much straight.

My little girl was even worse than this picture, the bottom of her hooves pointing almost directly forward.

With a little research and a sneaking suspicion, I realized that this is due to a selenium deficiently. (Disclaimer: I am not a vet, nor am I trained as such. I do my best educated guesses based off of the knowledge I’ve gained and almighty Google). Selenium is naturally deficient in the area that I live (NW Oregon), and vets caution pretty much everyone to supply selenium in goats feed due to this.

Usually that means: supply mineral supplements (either loose or a block), feed alfalfa imported from Eastern Oregon (where selenium is not as deficient), and give a shot of selenium once a year. Preferably, 2 months to 6 weeks before a goat kids (if you’re breeding), so that the kids have an adequate supply of selenium from mom and won’t need shots themselves.

Severe cases of selenium deficiency result in white muscle disease. Less severe cases can result in… well, what happened with these kids!

The good news is that an injection of Vitamin E and selenium will usually fix the problem, even severe cases. As it was, I didn’t have any selenium on hand, and the kids’ pasterns were already better by the next day. Within three days, their feet were almost completely normal – and now, you would have never known they had that problem at birth. They’re climbing over everything!

And their names have been decided: Magnolia (Maggie, on the left) for the girl, and Aztec Gold (on the right) for the boy.