What a week! For almost a month now I’ve been wishing and wishing for our goats to give birth. Watching the signs, checking the girls, hoping, fretting, worrying. Trying to make them comfortable in every way I know to make a goat comfortable. And then…all at once the floodgates opened and baby goats are everywhere!!! 3 of our 4 pregnant does gave birth within the same 24 hours. It was a combination of adrenaline, exhaustion and beauty.
But now we have ourselves in a fine how-do-you-do. For some reason, all three does rejected their babies. Our vet said that “sometimes these things happen”, but the logical side of me wants to know why. I feel it is too coincidental for there not to be an explanation, perhaps something we can do differently? But then again, maybe it is just nature or bad luck like the vet said and I’m trying to make sense of something that has no answer…or maybe just not to us humans. Here is our story.
We bred 1 Angora doe, 2 Nubians, and an Alpine last fall. We’ve been raising goats going on 4 years now, but this is our second year kidding. Last year we bred two of our Angora does. The first birth went beautifully. The doe (Knit) gave birth, cleaned her doeling (Beatrix) and after a short rest, got her up and began nursing. It was amazing!
Our other angora doe (Purl) gave birth, cleaned her buckling (Ichabod) and then ignored him. Ichabod chased his mother for hours trying to nurse. Each time Purl would flare her ears at him and bolt to the opposite side of the pen. This went on until poor little Ichabod was exhausted and gave up trying. We ended up milking her and feeding it back to him. He lived with his mother, aunt and sister in the barn but took the bottle from us.
Many a goat person told me that this was classic behavior for a first timer, and that if we bred her again, chances are, she would accept the next kid.
Not the case. This year Purl followed suit. She gave birth to her doeling Harriette. Cleaned her, nuzzled with her, but refused to let her nurse. We figured it was just something about this particular goat and if we are going to breed her we would have to be prepared to bottle feed. We were disappointed but willing.
Seven hours later Gretta our Nubian gave birth while we were in the house to twins; a buckling Gepetto and a doeling Ingrid. We were checking the girls every hour because it was a particular cold night and they looked like they could go any minute. We found the babies in opposite corners of the kidding stall, soaked to the bone and freezing. Gretta had completely ignored them. Didn’t even clean them and was ignorantly munching hay from her trough.
We brought the babies in the house to dry and warm them. The buck was very weak and both kids were shaking with chill. We milked Gretta and gave them each a bottle. The buck perked up a bit which was quite the relief.
4 hours later, while we were still trying to get the first two going, Nan gave birth to twin doelings, Abigail and Eleanor. We were present for this birth. We kept our distance outside the stall and let her take care of things. After the babies were born, she half heartedly licked them for a couple minutes, stood and walked on them in route to eat some hay. We left them be for about an hour, hoping that they would work things out for themselves. Soon the babies began to shake with chill and knowing that colostrum is so important in the first hours of life. We took these babies in as well to warm and dry them, milked the mother and fed her babies.
We struggled at this point as to what to do with the kids. I feel really strong that goats should be with goats...that’s where they belong. It is natural and the best way. But with the way the mother’s were behaving, I didn’t trust them to lay with the babies on a 15 degree night. We decided that we would keep the babies inside over night and try to reintroduce them to their mothers in the morning.
Morning came and we carried the babies out to their mothers. They completely ignored them. Which we were half expecting and ready to be patient, until one of the babies let out a cry and Nan rammed it. At this point we gave in. We brought the babies back in the house where they will stay until the weather warms and they can go into a kidding pen in the barn.
I have wracked my brain trying to figure out a pattern, something we might have done wrong. We tried to give each goat distance during the birth, in fact for Gretta’s we were in the house. We separated Purl in her own maternity stall, but kept Nan and Gretta together because they get really stressed when they are apart. They are sisters and have such similar personalities, sweet, sweet girls and you never see one without the other. They get really frantic if they are separated and will call to each other in a panic. I didn’t think this sort of stress in the last days of their pregnancy would be a good thing. It broke my heart to see them acting so cold towards their own babies.
We are now bottle feeding 5 baby goats! Four are living in a giant play pen in our living room until the weather warms above freezing, and Harriette comes back and forth to get her bottle. Later in the week I’d like to introduce them to the rest of the herd with supervision. The kidding pen will also be near the adult goats so they can see and smell each other through the fence. We still have Esther, our Alpine to get through. She is due any minute and hopefully she will possess the mothering instinct. She didn’t live with us during her first two seasons, but the farm we got her from never mentioned any issues with her and her babies so we are hopeful.
Right now we’re taking one day at a time and enjoying our little ones. They are precious and I count each one as a true, true blessing.
For more about last year’s kidding story read my post Our Kidding Story.
Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on modern homesteading, animal husbandry, gardening, real food and more!LEARN MORE