Two of my eight mama goats this year were due to kid last week. I didn’t write down the exact day I turned the buck in with them (a healthy goat carries her kids exactly 150 days. It isn’t like cows who have a 20-day window), but it’s easy to see when they are ready, if you are used to seeing it.
The earliest sign I can tell of pregnancy is their vulva begins to look softer, and maybe slightly pink. Later, their udders begin to swell. A week beforehand, their udders will look full and taut. A few days before the vulva becomes very, very soft and swollen looking, and hours before the birth it looks suddenly tucked in slightly. Yes, i have spent years observing the back ends of animals!
Two of the mamas were ready last week. Clo and I had just looked at them the day before and said to each other, “It’s either later today or tomorrow!”
I was woken up unpleasantly early the next morning by one of the cats pouncing on my face. Everyone else was still asleep, breathing quietly in the soft dawn. I thought of baby goats, and got up.
It was very misty, and the day promised rain. I also had to move the pigs over to a completely new paddock – sometimes a very tiresome and difficult task if they won’t follow me carrying a bucket.
As I walked over to the goat milking barn, all the goats saw me and came rushing over (I have penned them up for kidding this spring. I’ve had too many seasons of them misplacing their kids somewhere while out grazing, and me spending the whole afternoon unsuccessfully walking over 40 acres searching for something that strongly resembles one of the many cow pies left all over the place, and then a sleepless night hearing hysterical mother goats screaming into the darkness for their babies they forgot somewhere.)
Everyone except Mab. She had been very quiet the past few days, hanging out apart between the oak trees. She was there now, peering over at me, and I saw a little flutter of movement at her feet – a little flap of soft white-speckled ears, around a little brown face. Ignoring the other goat’s pleading-for-breakfast looks as I pushed past them, I walked quickly over to Mab.
I had been worried about her. Last year her two kids were undersized and very weak, and died a few months after they were born. She has also looked unhealthy the fall and winter before that. Her copper levels were good, and she wasn’t anemic, but her coat looked dull, and she was thin and slow when trying to keep up with the herd. She showed no signs of parasites, but she left her daily milking ration only half eaten. Her joints creaked too. I suspect tick-borne disease, as I had pulled a lot of ticks off of her that spring. I gave her extra sulfur – which will usually put a shine in their coats – with no effect. Finally I started giving her a large portion of kelp with her daily ration. She would gobble the kelp and leave her feed. This was the best remedy – she finally started looking healthy again. I had kept a close eye on her this season, and kept up her copper levels, faithfully fed her worming herbs, and continued to supplement her with extra kelp.
When I got up to her, there were two kids there, and the afterbirth was still hanging out. One of them, the littlest and the female of the pair of twins, was up wagging her tail. She bounced away when she saw me – a very good sign of health for just-born goatlings. The male, who was larger, was still on the ground and wet. It wasn’t cold, but he was shivering, so I got a towel, locked the other goats into the headgate so they wouldn’t be in the way, and rubbed him down and held him a bit to warm him up while Mab munched on her feed, and nibbled at her kelp. The little female was very spry on her feet, and was hopping around, watching me skeptically and trying to nurse.
Rose and Clo were up by now, and came running over, and promptly named the babies Strawberry (the buckling) and Shortcake (the doeling, because she is so small). Her small size and spunky energy probably came from Mab’s mother, April, who is part Pygmy goat. My goats are mostly Nubian, except for a few that are related in less and less degrees to a buck we used one year out of desperation. He came from my friend Denise, and was a real oddball – his father was a kinder goat (a cross of Nubian and Pygmy goats), who had gotten in with the La Manchas by accident. If you are not familiar with goats this might not mean anything to you, but the result was very weird – waddles, tiny Shrek ears, tuffty beard, twisty horns, etc. So two of our mamas from that season have tiny Shrek ears, and their babies have shorter ears than the full Nubians. They have actually been exceptionally healthy and productive goats, so looks aren’t everything. I’ve kept a kinder goat for a few months for a friend of mine, and they are short, long-horned, and very spunky, with big personality. Every now and then that seems to come out in the gene pool.
Everything that morning went well. I moved the pigs with no problems. They followed me easily with the bucket, and were very excited to be in a new spot. Later that afternoon, it began to rain, so the girls and I moved Mab and the babies into the milking shed with fresh hay bedding, and a full manger to stay dry and comfortable. This was more difficult than you might think, because mama goats don’t see little goatlings in your arms. They only recognize them on the ground. And we had to fight past the other goats to get everyone in. So after the babies were settled into a nest of fresh hay, we had to coax/drag Mab over to be with them. While we were doing this, it began raining hard, and I noticed Avacado, the other mama who was due, lying under the hay manger laboring.
I debated on whether I should wait until the baby(ies) were born before moving her to shelter. My fear was that the kid(s) would get chilled and possibly die if they got soaked by rain just after birth. The wetness from the birth isn’t quite water, and dries very quickly. It rained harder and harder, and I decided to bring her in under the shed for shelter.
She really didn’t like being moved, and I felt bad separating her from her mother, who she was staying close to. I tried to let her mother Cricket in too, but she just horned Mab and the little babies aside and tried to ravage the feed buckets on the headgate, and had to be put out, as her obnoxious behavior seemed to cancel out any benefit to Avacado.
Avacado scorned the shelter however, and chose to labor in the rain despite our efforts. The girls and I sat by and waited to move her and the kid(s) in once they were on the ground. I could see her back end dip down as she began to push. She pushed and pushed, and stretched and yawned. At last we could see little hooves presenting when she turned around. The rain began to slow, and she pushed and pushed and pushed. There was no progress for a long time.
Everyone always asks me if I help the animals with birth. The truth is, I hardly ever get to actually be there for a birth. I’ve only ever had to pull one calf from a cow with a very narrow pelvis (we don’t have her anymore), and last year I helped out two of the young mama goats who had large babies. They could have given birth alone, but it was over much quicker with a little help, and I was right there, and I felt like those particular goats wanted me to help them (some goats like your company when they are giving birth, some like to be alone). Even if I am there, as someone who has given birth naturally three times, I have a lot of respect for the process of birth, and I think less interference the better – unless there is a clear issue. You never know what problems you can cause accidentally by interfering.
However, nothing seemed to be happening. The feet were there, stuck, and she was pushing and pushing and pushing. Clo held her collar and petted her to reassure her while I checked it out. The feet seemed bunched up, so I pulled them straighter to make it easier. She pushed and pushed again, but I realized the head was stuck. I reached in and felt the head was twisted sideways, so I tried my best not to hurt the little baby as I pushed the slippery nose forward gently with my fingertips. Then I realized the baby was huge, and it was just stuck. She pushed and pushed more – this is the point when the kid usually slips out easily, only he couldn’t get past her bones.
I pulled the feet gently with the contractions to help, but again, he was just stuck. I was worried for her and the baby. I didn’t want to hurt them by accident, but I also knew they could both die. I did my best to ease the baby forward, trying to hook my fingers around it’s head and bring it forward, without hurting it, but it was very slippery and jammed in between her bones. Avacado, who had been very quiet while laboring, started to scream. It was awful. I knew I had to help her, but it was really painful for her – and worse because I knew what it felt like. Meanwhile, the rain was pelting down more and more again.
I pulled the legs forward more, extending them and making them slimmer. Avacado fell on the ground, screaming. I wriggled my fingers around the head and finally got it as forward-facing as possible. It just seemed impossible for him to fit through for a few minutes, but I pulled and fiddled with him, she pushed, and finally the kid slid out. He was breathing and sneezing right away. She lay next to him for a minute to recover, and then started to bleat to him, the small sweet noises that mama goats make just for their babies. I stood up. The rain had slacked off again, and my whole leg felt like it was on fire. Only then did I notice she had given birth in the only patch of fire nettle in the whole pen, and I had sat in it.
I got a towel and started to dry him off and noticed what a gigantic baby he was. His legs were extra chunky, and he looked a week older at least than Mab’s buckling. Poor Avacado – this was her first kidding. She’s still a small goat, and her baby was huge. We moved them under the shelter, and he began trying to stand and nuzzle her udder. Later, when we checked on them, she was helping him nurse.
All three of the first kids are doing well. The mamas are doing well. Avacado is doing great other than “losing” her baby if he’s more than 10 feet away from her. Three more mamas are due in the next two weeks, but all of them have kidded before and are very healthy, so hopefully it will be fun and not frightening to welcome their kids.