Spring and summer on a homestead are the seasons of new babies. It's a time of excitement and unbearable cuteness and unexpected problems, extra work, and potential emergencies. Getting ready to welcome this year's crop of little goats, geese, and chickens means I need to have the right supplies on hand, but it's even more critical that I get in the right frame of mind. If I'm short on supplies, the local Tractor Supply is still open (for the moment, with reduced hours, so we'd better not schedule any emergencies after 6 p.m.). But if I'm short on information and attention, things will go seriously wrong.
Aiming for a smooth delivery
Last year I only had two doe goats due, so kidding was over in a week. This year I have four, two already done, and two left to go. One of these was too young to breed during the regular time. Another was ill last fall, so I let her regain condition before the stress of pregnancy. We're relatively new at kidding, so it's still a nervous process full of questions. Is she actually pregnant? How many are in there? Will they get out okay or get their legs all wrapped around each other in a goatherd's delivery nightmare??
The truth is, I haven't yet had a problem delivery. Most of my moms have been first fresheners (it's their first baby), and all have delivered on their own with no issues. Of the five kids born here so far, I've entirely missed the births of four, and it's not because I'm not checking on them. As kidding approaches, I spend a lot more time at the barn observing, checking does for signs of labor or impending labor, and just generally attuning my senses to what's happening out there.
Be prepared! Even careful observation doesn't always work.
Last year a first-time doe was placidly chewing cud, no signs of labor, and when I got back to the barn 40 minutes later, she had a baby already up and nursing. This year the first doe kidded three weeks before I was expecting her to. Surprise!
Part of our success so far is just luck. We will eventually have a problem delivery, so I'm ready at the start of the season with warm, clean towels, a flashlight, a way to sanitize my hands, and a reasonably good idea of what I may need to do to get a stuck baby out. The phone number of an experienced local goat handler is also an essential preparedness item. Having a goat mentor is priceless.
What else can be done to help ensure healthy farm babies?
Another part of our success is supplementing our animals carefully with selenium and zinc, both of which promote a functional reproductive system. Selenium, in particular, is critical. Without enough, the doe's muscles will tire too quickly. Even if she can get baby out, she may fail to expel the placenta, which is fatal. A baby born selenium-deficient will have white muscle disease. My goats get 4ml of selenium and vitamin E paste once per month. My does in the last several months of pregnancy get 6ml. Some soils have too much selenium rather than too little, so this issue is place-dependent (more on selenium in our herd here).
Vaccinating mom with a goat or multi-species CDT (tetanus shot) is also part of our protocol. Some data suggest the ideal time is between 60 and 30 days before kidding, to let mom develop antibodies before birth but also to let baby develop them, so they are already protected when they are de-horned at 7-10 days old. Baby gets another shot at de-horning, and another one 21 days later. I have used this protocol with success and never had a tetanus problem, but I am pretty concerned about tetanus after hearing what an ugly death it is. I was distraught when my favorite little doe spiked a fever (and a great big swollen lump) immediately after de-horning this year. My goat mentor correctly diagnosed it as a general infection, and I was able to treat it with penicillin I had on hand.
Babies have to get dry and warm pretty quickly if the air temperature is cold. Mom has an instinct to lick the goo off the kid, but one of my new moms didn't get the concept until after I had already dried the shivering baby with a towel. Then, mom licked the dry baby, the towel, and my hands and coat and face.
We have no electricity in the barn, so I have found myself holding a newborn kid in my coat for an hour or two to get her body temperature up.
A first freshener may not stand to let baby nurse, instead walking away or kicking the baby off. It's a new sensation, and udders are ticklish! To get a new mom used to the feeling of fingers or baby goat noses down there, I feed her on the stand and let her practice having her udder touched at least once every couple of days in the weeks before kidding. Doing this also makes her easier to milk from the beginning.
Another potential problem is that mom may let baby nurse, but the baby may nurse only one side. Sometimes with multiples, all of them will nurse the same side of mom. None of them will get enough milk, while the other side of mom is full to the point of damaging the udder. They have to be directed to the other teat.