The days and nights are busy. Cleaning stalls, re-bedding stalls, making sure “kids” have indeed nursed, feeding any orphans by bottle, serving a cocktail to the does after they deliver and smiling at the antics of these cute little animals. Kidding season has begun here at Green Spot Farm.
Dad has a herd of dairy goats. They are a mixed herd with registered, grade, and non-registered goats. They are primarily Nubian but we do have some LaMancha and Alpine in the group. We have 23 does that were bred and to date we have nine babies. Whether it is the breeding schedule or the does individual cycles, they seem to deliver in waves. We have had five does deliver thus far and are waiting for the next wave. Based on the signs we will be busy again very soon.
I generally spend a week or two per month here at the farm but this is the first year that I have just parked at the farm and helped 24/7 through this process. I am learning from Dad and it is a great experience. He is a wealth of knowledge and at 86 has practiced animal husbandry for many years. As the time for the delivery approaches there is a balance between waiting and assisting. Ninety-nine times out of 100, nature takes its course and the doe manages just fine. Occasionally, they need some assistance.
For anyone who is beginning with goats and going through the first “kidding” season I would suggest reading Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats by Jerry Belanger and Sara Thomson Bredesen. One tip that I found very helpful was the suggestion to offer the does a drink of molasses in warm water after the delivery process is complete. I have found that the does love this cocktail and suck it down like it is the best thing they have ever tasted. I am guessing that it is the sweet taste but also high in iron and calcium.
We have birthing stalls that are divided so that we can house the new moms individually and also stalls that are not divided that can house more does. Once the mom and baby have bonded and know who is who, we move them from the individual birth stall to the bigger group stall. It is a process of moving through the stalls/spaces so that we have birthing stalls available as the does need them. We had some sunshine the other day and so everyone in the group stall had the opportunity to go out for some sun and a chance to kick up their heels before going back into the group stall for the nighttime. It is interesting that the moms have a system where they share kid care. They have a messaging system where one stays with the kids and the others go out and about. The next day a different mom will stay with the kids and the others go out. I am not sure how they know whose turn it is but they do work it out.
This year the weather has been very erratic. We have had periods of zero and below weather and then some days of above normal temperatures. The extreme cold is hard on the does and on the babies. It seems as the temperature drops, does have kids. When this happens it is crucial to ensure that the kids are dried off and nurse as soon as possible. We have a hair dryer and rags available to help with the process, and we watch the does for signs that they are beginning the process. Generally you will have a good idea if you watch for the signs that the doe will give. We have a supply of big cardboard boxes and extra old towels. If it is extremely cold, we will bring the kids in the house to warm them up or to stay overnight as needed. We heat with wood, and they seem to love being in front of the wood stove. If the babies are in the house or away from their mothers for too long, there can be issues with bonding. Sometimes we have to make the choice between leaving them with Mom and creating a bottle baby. I would rather take on more bottle babies than to have them become chilled or freeze.
There are other reasons that you might end up with bottle babies. We have three kids that are on the bottle now. They were acquired from a neighbor who had a doe die birthing triplets. She was able to save two of the kids but she did not have milk frozen so that she could bottle feed the little ones. She called and we adopted them. The other bottle baby was also a triplet and the doe didn’t have enough milk to feed three babies. It is always best to have a supply of frozen goat milk. These little guys are constantly hungry but we have them on a schedule. In the beginning you do have to do nighttime feedings but as they get established you can feed several times during the day and skip the night.
It is amusing that they regard the person who feeds them as Mom and all you have to do is call and they come running. Last week we had several good days and we let the does out to graze. I took my three bottle babies along, and they frolicked and tried nibbling grass along with the other kids.
We have had a lot of success and some losses this year. This is true each year but the cold weather has been a significant factor this year. Most of our does were field bred and, based on the five-month gestation, have delivered in January and February. We have talked about using a selective process for next year. If you want to be first to market in the spring, then January and February birthing is fine. If, however, you have a winter like this one, you may want mid-March or April births. There are pros and cons both ways.
For the many years we have owned a registered Nubian buck that has produced very colorful kids of superior quality. He also has the distinction of fathering mostly twins, triplets and quads. He was a quad himself, which may have something to do with that fact. This was his last year as herd buck, and we have acquired a new registered kid that will hopefully grow into his own reputation. The new buck kid has champion blood lines and also milk production levels.
Some time has passed since I started writing this post. We now have 32 babies and have four does yet to freshen. We are a full working farm and enjoy the milk, cheese and meat provided by the herd. I have included some pictures of the does and kids from the 2014 kidding season.
Enjoy and thanks for shooting the breeze with me!
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