By Alex Becker – Most dairy goat breeders look forward to the spring kidding season with great anticipation. When you know how to breed goats, what can be better than delivering healthy babies and then watching them bounce around the pen, playing with siblings, nibbling at new grass, or even harassing the older goats? It’s a wonderful feeling to watch a goat pregnancy come to fruition with a successful kidding season.
But most seasoned herdsmen know that there is a much darker side to the spring. The side that we all wish wasn’t there, the side where not every kid makes it. Some die at birth, some get sick, some get injured, some never even draw breath. When I was a newcomer to the world of dairy goats and learning how to breed goats, no one warned me about the hard times that could accompany the joy of kidding season. But, now, with several years of highs and lows under my belt, with hard choices and even harder losses to bear, I still can’t wait for kidding season to begin. There is something so special about welcoming new babies into the herd. I couldn’t live without this craziness in my life; which means I have to learn what I can—and share what I’ve learned so maybe some others will enter the dairy goat business and want to know how to breed goats are more prepared than I was.
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I remember over a year ago writing a story for class about kidding season. I was writing about how I use every sense when I go to the barn around kidding season. There is just something about a newborn kid that changes the atmosphere and everything about the barn, even with with 20 kids already born that season. I still remember my first Nigerian kids being born. It was only the second year we had any goats kid, I was still learning how to breed goats, and I still had no idea what I was doing. I was washing dishes and had a window open and heard one of the goats crying in the barn. It wasn’t a normal cry, so I ran out, literally dropping the dish I was cleaning. I wasn’t really any help to the doe, but I remember her bawling up a storm until I stepped in the stall. She looked up at me, heaved a sigh, and lay down as if saying, “My human is here, so everything is fine.” I was blessed to see her first kids born, healthy and strong; it was a herdsman’s dream really. I didn’t have to lift a hand if I hadn’t wanted to, I helped dry them and get them standing and she did all the rest. They nursed quickly and were off.
But we all know that that isn’t how it always goes. Just like when you’re learning how to raise goats, there’s more to having a successful kidding season than you might think. The trick to a successful kidding season when you’re learning how to breed goats is knowing what to do when things go wrong. My first suggestion for when kidding goes bad is to be calm. It doesn’t do anyone any good to start panicking. Sometimes that’s easier to do than others; and I wish to just share a few pointers to relieve the stress and panic that often accompany kidding season.
One of the best ways to ease some of that panic when you’re learning how to breed goats is to have a good relationship with a trusted veterinarian and have them on speed-dial. It doesn’t fix everything but it does ease some of the stress. Another option is to have a good relationship with a local experienced breeder. Though the breeder may not have access to everything the vet does, he or she probably has a list of tricks of the trade that have been learned over the years. Having these contacts to fall back on means that a new breeder just learning how to breed goats will have a better chance of saving a kid if something goes wrong. After a few years, and a couple times watching and learning when a kid needs to be pulled, a goat breeder gains confidence to take care of problem births (at least until the vet can be reached). I learned a lot about how to breed goats from the local vet when she helped pull a stuck kid, then ended up a couple years later using that knowledge to help a doe deliver four kids.
The best way to personally lessen kidding stress however, is to be prepared ahead of time. This means having secure and clean areas set up before does go into labor. The last thing needed in the chaos of kidding season is to find out that the designated area isn’t ready for kids. That means making sure that stalls or pens are strong enough to hold goats in and dangers out. Recently at BB Goats, we finally got smaller stalls in our barn. That means we incorporated six-foot by six-foot chain link stalls (dog runs essentially) into our horse-style stalled barn. We have found them to be useful if a doe with a weak kid in the winter needs to be kept close to a heat source. If the doe can get too far away from the heat, her weak kid may try to follow and get chilled, a condition which leads to other life-threatening problems. The kidding area must also be clean. A dirty area could automatically cause problems for a weak kid, since their immune system is already compromised. For example, a minor herd lice problem becomes out-of-control if a doe kids and is penned in a small lice-infested area. The result is a miserable, condition altering beginning for a helpless baby. Being prepared also means having a safe area. This includes making sure fences are secure, limiting holes for babies to slip through, and checking that water provided doesn’t become a drowning hazard to the kid(s).
When kidding actually happens there are a few things that I make sure are easily accessible. The number one piece of equipment is simply towels. I make sure to always have at least two clean towels near the door so that at most it takes two minutes to grab needed towels when on the run to save a baby. Our number one priority with newborns is to make sure they are breathing and getting their faces cleaned of mucous. I help my Nigerian Dwarfs clean their kids, but our Kikos don’t often give me much of a chance to “help” their kids. I try to keep a few other items readily available during kidding as well. One of them is our heating pad. It’s just a small simple one with three settings, ensuring it doesn’t get too hot. Placing newborns on a heating pad is an easy way to warm up cold kids when other business is at hand, like milking the colostrum for that first feeding. I also keep iodine handy for the kids’ navels. Finally, it is a good idea to have clean surgical gloves available. Gloves are recommended to manipulate a kid in the birthing canal, or if for cleaning a kid without getting dirty. With healthy kids and strong does, having towels, iodine, and a heat source just about guarantee the breeder will get things off to a good start.
Problems often surface when the kid or the doe isn’t healthy. If you’re raising goats for milk, keep some extra milk handy during kidding season. One thing that helps is having frozen milk and colostrum on hand from the previous year, if possible, when caring for a weak kid or problematic doe. We mix our formula in the bottles, part kid-milk replacer and part goat milk or whole cow milk. We have found this mix prevents scours and keeps the kids healthier than when we tried just straight commercially prepared milk replacer.
On our farm I’m the main one who handles the bottle babies, that doesn’t mean the others in my family don’t help but that I’m the one who wakes up throughout the night. We all have our roles and it is practically expected that I help with kidding and feed the babies just as it is expected that my sister take care of butchering and most of the showing. Having these designated roles helps us function better when in emergency mode, but, that being said, the last thing that I could tell anyone learning how to manage their own kidding season, would be to have a game plan. Having an idea who will be willing to get up throughout the night, who’s willing to handle the babies and take care of them, will help relieve stress immensely.
My summary of suggestions for those light on actual kidding experience are:
1. Have a relationship with a local vet, and his/her number on speed-dial.
2. Have secure stalls/ area for kidding that is clean.
3. Have towels easily accessible during kidding season.
4. Have something set up to keep kids warm if weather is cold.
5. Have frozen colostrum and milk or formula on hand before kidding season starts.
6. Be ready to bring weak kids into the house for special care or for bottle-feeding, if needed.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong during kidding season, but it can be extremely rewarding too. I love the kidding season, hate the deaths, but love the energy and joy. And I hope every goat breeder finds success this year with happy, healthy goat kids.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.