by Amy Varner – Freshening out does in cold weather can be a challenge, but those cute soft babies are well worth the obstacles of raising baby goats in cold weather. I never believed I would be kidding in winter until my sisters and I decided to start raising and breeding Boer goats as part of our goat farming project. As 4-H projects the goat kids needed to be born in time to make weight at the fair, which meant they needed to arrive in December through February. So winter kidding became part of the routine. At first I just kidded out the Boers but have now started adding in a few dairy goats to kid. Dairy and Boer goats are pretty similar, so most of this can be applied to any herd. There are some essential supplies and techniques to help have a successful winter kidding.
When raising baby goats, it’s important to keep good records and project an accurate due date for the kids’ arrival in the early season or cold weather. This gives the breeder a window to watch the doe and makes it easier to watch for signs and catch the tricky does.
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Some kidding signs to watch for are loosening ligaments, udders filling, vaginal drainage, and out-of-character behavior. If I see a doe featuring any of the previous signs I check her every couple of hours. Sometimes the out-of-character behavior could be not jumping in and eating as much as usual, laying in an odd spot by themselves, building a nest, and walking and laying down restlessly. By regularly checking on does I am able to catch most does when they kid or when they are getting close.
When I see goat labor signs, I increase my checks to about every 30 minutes or stay until the kids arrive. My goal in the cold is to be with the doe when the kids arrive. I take towels out with me or have them close so that I can dry off the kid immediately. If they are kids I plan to bottle feed I will immediately pull them into a warm place and get them good and dry. I am fortunate that my family has a warm shop that is perfect for keeping kids nice and toasty. I do choose to leave the does and kids together sometimes.
When you’re raising baby goats in cold weather, it is important to have a pen that is large enough for both the babies and the doe. Typically this type of pen is in a corner or area is blocked off and a heat lamp is put up so that only the babies can get underneath. This helps keep the babies from getting smashed or pushed out into the cold.
No matter how careful the breeder, there are always a few tricky situations when it comes to cold weather kidding and raising baby goats in the colder months of winter.
Perhaps I didn’t hear the alarm clock go off to check in the middle of the night or just have a doe that quickly progresses from early labor to kids on the ground in a matter of minutes. It is important to have a plan in mind for kids born unattended and in the cold.
If I find newborn kids that are cold but not yet popsicles, I just get them into someplace warm. I have an old hair dryer I run over them for a little bit to add some extra heat. Usually within 30 minutes to one hour they are warmed up and much improved. If they are really cold and flat, it requires much more attention. I like to run them under hot water to help quickly bring up their body temperature. Kids that are this cold are going to take a while to get warm. Make sure to keep their heads above water and not get the water too hot. The goal at this point is to raise their body temperature. Once the kids are warmed up then it is time to get colostrum into them. It is more important to get the kid warmed up than to get that first colostrum in their system.
However a person chooses to start off their kids when you’re raising baby goats, at some point it is time to move them back outside. In one of my barns I have an area that is blocked off just for new kids. In this area I put up Premier 1 heat lamps so that the babies are still able to get some extra warmth. Since the kids typically want to start playing with the heat lamp, this is a safer option than a standard heat lamp. This also gives the babies an area to get away from does or other goats if they need to. There are many other ways to raise baby goats during the winter months and make cold weather kidding a success, but for me the most important thing is to be there when does go into labor. If that isn’t possible, make sure the newborn kids get warmed up quickly if they start out in less than ideal situations.
Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.