There is an old joke. I have no idea who said it first, but after many kidding seasons, I know what they mean: How do you know your goat is pregnant? When the babies show up.
We raise a few Nigerian Dwarf goats for milk. I love baby goat time. But I know how nerve-wracking it can be, especially when you’re just starting out. With my first baby goat season, I bought everything I found on lists for the birthing box and didn’t use most of it. In fact, I still haven’t. Plus, I was terrified that if I’d missed something, this would somehow hurt the babies.
So, I’ve put together a list of what needs to be done before the babies arrive. This helps me feel ready for the big event. I’m not a world expert on goat raising. But after more than a decade of kidding, these are the minimum I do and have in place for birthing, as well as things I recommend against.
I’ve also listed some things that are nice to have but you can get by without. I’m sure there are others, but I add to the list as the need arises. My babies aren’t due for a month yet, and I’m already getting prepared.
What to Do Before and During Kidding
Read and review information on normal and abnormal kidding. There are a lot of really good books out there. Just about any one that covers raising goats has a section on birthing. I do this every time and it boosts my confidence
Tell your veterinarian you have babies coming. My vet likes to know in case he’s needed. I did have to call him once for recommendations regarding a doe having trouble, but he didn’t need to come. And we’ve had dozens and dozens of babies here on Capering Pines Farm without his input.
Put fresh, clean straw in the birthing area. It won’t stay this way but it’s a good starting point for limiting infections.
Have fresh hay available. Most does in labor don’t eat, but some do, so I see to it she can if she wants to. Plus, she will definitely need it after the kids arrive.
Have a warm, dry place for mother and newborn. It could be the birthing area, but must be draft free and dry. We kid in April after the worst of the winter is past. It can be -30 degrees Fahrenheit here in winter and I don’t want to risk it.
Reassure the mother. Even if she was the orneriest creature on the planet who wouldn’t give you the time of day before, my experience is that she’ll suddenly be affectionate and needy.
What to Have Before and During Kidding
Fresh bucket of clean, slightly warmed water for mama to drink. Cold water may be hard on her stomach and my does will usually reject it even though they’re thirsty.
A second bucket of clean water to rinse your hands, dirtied instruments, etc. This is not enough to call something “clean.” That will take soap. This is to get rid of excess gunk.
Scissors and dental floss or other type of fine string to tie off umbilical cord.
Iodine for painting the umbilical stump.
Gloves to decrease the likelihood of infection.
Clean terry cloth or microfiber towels for drying off the babies. You’ll also be wiping your hands and instruments because things will get messy.
KY jelly or similar lubricant. Please don’t use Vaseline or other petroleum jellies. They work, but have been shown to increase infections, at least in people. If all goes well you will not need this. But it’s a must to have on hand in case things change. The majority of the time there is no reason to put your hands inside the mother. More about this later.
Colostrum mix in case baby doesn’t suckle, with bottle fitted with nipple for feeding. You can also feed the kid with a syringe if a bottle/nipple isn’t handy. I did have one baby that needed this, a triplet that mom rejected. But it should always be on hand, just in case.
Grain or other higher-energy food for mom for when it’s all over. I put molasses in warm water. Good energy fix while rehydrating the mother
Nice to Have But Not Essential
A low stool. This is for you. If you’re like me you want to be down where the action is and it’s nicer than sitting on the floor.
A thermometer. I have taken a baby goat’s temperature but you don’t have to. Others tell me they’ve saved babies by warming them up. You don’t have to have a thermometer for this though.
Scales: I use these with each kidding because it helps me to make some predictions about the baby, but it isn’t essential
A bulb for cleaning fluids out of the baby’s throat/nose. Have never needed one. Toweling off the baby and letting mom do her job have taken care of this.
Selenium/Vitamin E gel
Heat lamp, hair dryer other items for warming. Again, not essential: a towel for drying and mom to keep the baby warm work fine.
What to Avoid at Kidding Time
Do not believe everything you see on YouTube. There are some really good videos showing goats laboring. But then there are those that show people doing lots of things to the animal while the poor mother is just trying to have babies like goats have been having babies forever.
There is almost never a reason to put your fingers inside the doe to see if the labor is proceeding like they do in humans. Because if you’re wrong and she isn’t in labor, baby may not yet be in position because it’s too soon. Unless you’re a goat veterinarian with hundreds of goat births behind you, you probably wouldn’t know the difference by feel anyway. You can push bacteria into the birth canal causing infection. There are enough germs around without you intentionally jamming them into the laboring doe. You can injure the mother if you get too rough, for example, snagging and tearing the vaginal wall with your fingernails
Get impatient and try to speed things up by pulling. Of the dozens of babies born at Capering Pines farm, I have only had to help the mom three times, and in each case it was quite obvious something was wrong. When I did pull it was gently and at the same time the doe was pushing. My veterinarian told me of an owner who “helped” his doe during what sounded like a normal birth. The man pulled the baby out, rupturing the uterus, causing peritonitis and death.
Panic. If something goes wrong, somebody has to be in control — and you’re it. As long as I’ve done my research and readied the things I can, I can usually leave things to Mother Nature to take care of the rest. The above is what I do to help me breathe easier and actually enjoy baby goat time.
Jean Silver writes how-to articles on handcrafts, animal husbandry, and putting up food from Capering Pines Farm in Wisconsin.
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