Somehow, birthing season sneaks up on me every year. I know it’s coming, I know what I need to do to be ready for it, and inevitably, I think I have “just one more week” to get things prepared before goatlings or lambs start arriving. That phrase is the cue for labor to begin.
This year, I was slightly more ahead of the game than usual. I had converted an unused area in the barn into a large “maternity ward” where I would put all of the pregnant animals when it looked like they were close to birthing. I previously wrote about my intent to build lambing jugs that could be set up as needed in that area. The new lambing jugs didn’t happen due to several reasons — time to build them being the biggest one. I had panels and gates that I could set up in a nearby pen, and decided that would be fine for this year. It wasn’t ideal, but it would suffice.
There were some signs that the four goat does were getting close to birthing, so I moved them over to the maternity ward. And waited. And kept their hay and water filled. And kept waiting. For a month. So much for the signs of impending birth being accurate. Finally, I heard the sound of goatlings when I went to the barn for morning chores – twins! My herd matron, Athena, had a healthy baby girl and baby boy on February 9. Into the lambing jug they went, and over the next week, the other three does birthed a set of twins and two sets of triplets. I’m pretty sure they decided that 10 babies would be a wonderful Valentine’s present for me! That’s goat math for you, where 4 equals 10.
Only one of the mamas was not immediately a good mother, but a night of being separated from her babies convinced her that letting them nurse was a much better idea than being milked twice a day for me to bottle feed them. I do have one bottle baby, but his mama is a first freshener and wasn’t sure what to do with triplets. He is the smallest of the three and just wasn’t strong enough to push his way through his siblings to nurse. He is doing well though, and is still in with his siblings and mama. I’ve found that if the bottle babies stay with the family, they do much better than if I need to separate them completely.
Fast-forward to this past weekend: Three of the four does are back in the large maternity ward area with their seven babies. I moved them over a period of several days to closely watch the mamas and make sure there wouldn’t be any fighting between them. It takes a day or so for them to get reacclimated to each other, and when you add in babies, they can get very protective, even to the point of harming the little ones that aren’t theirs. I’ve found that taking things slow is better for everyone involved. I’d rather take a week to get everyone back together than toss four adults and 10 babies together all at once and find hurt (or worse) babies.
Due to the low temperatures we’ve been having, we moved one of the heat lamps to that common area. I wanted them to have an extra bit of heat, but the goatlings haven’t been using the lamp very much, preferring to cuddle up next to their mamas or sleep all together in a big goat puddle. They also love to climb into the hay ring and sleep there.
Not every year is as smooth as this year was, so I’m very thankful for easy births, healthy babies, and good mothers. Now I’ll turn my attention to the Shetland sheep and start Lamb Watch 2021! Has baby season started on your farm or homestead? What babies will you have this year, either born on your farm or brought in?
Keba M. Hitzeman is an advocate, baseball fan, caregiver, chicken wrangler, daughter, farmer, fiber artist, gamer, gardener, herbalist, laborer, manager, musician, nature-lover, potter, shepherdess, and teacher. She owns and operates Innisfree on the Stillwater, a former beef cattle farm, where she currently raises sheep and goats. Read all of Keba’s posts in her GRIT series, Returning to Innisfree.
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