For the Love of Goats
Spring is when most goats give birth. Are you ready for kidding season? In this episode, I’m talking about what you need to have ready before kidding season starts, and I’m sharing some of the things we learned the hard way so you don’t have to make the same mistakes. (Like — don’t leave your clean kidding towels in the barn because mice will make a mess of them!) I’m also giving you tips and tricks for kidding in the middle of a cold winter so that you can reduce the risk of hypothermia for your baby goats.
How do you know if a kid has hypothermia? The first thing to go is their ability to suck, so if you have a kid that’s not nursing, stick your finger in its mouth, and if it’s cold, that’s a problem.
Here are photos of the kid coats that I made out of an old sweatshirt sleeve for our Nigerian dwarf kids when they were having trouble maintaining their body temperature in sub-zero weather. Most kids do just fine once you’ve dried them off, so I rarely use these, but if I have a kid who gets hypothermia after they are dry, that’s when I put a coat on them. They usually only need it for the first day. Leaving it on them longer is not really helping because they need to get acclimated to your regular temperatures. Remember that it is always possible that the coat could wind up getting snagged on something and causing injury or death.
The wrist band on the sweatshirt becomes the neck band for the kid coat during the transformation. If you have bucklings, be sure that there is no fabric under their belly so that they don’t wind up in a wet coat. If you have larger kids, you can use the leg of old sweatpants.
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Deborah Niemann 0:17
Hey, everyone, and welcome back to another episode. Today’s episode is sponsored by my very own online course, that you can find at goatsgivingbirth.com. I thought that was appropriate. Since today, I’m going to be talking about getting ready for kidding season.
Now, this is not nearly as complicated or expensive as you might expect. I know there are people out there online, who give you these huge, insanely long lists of things that you need. And most of the time you really don’t, it’s really pretty straightforward. The first thing that you need to have are towels, you probably already have plenty of towels at your house, I would suggest not using your favorite towels, just use some that are maybe not so great anymore for human use.
You can wash them up honestly, they will look as good as new after you wash them. But it’s just still kind of the thought that matters. So you might want to decide that this is a retirement plan for your old towels that, once they’re not good enough for the family to be using anymore, but not so rowdy that you feel good throwing them away, you can give them a demotion, and they can become a towel for your goats. I plan on having one towel per kid. Now I have Nigerian dwarfs. So that means that quads are not a completely unrealistic possibility. So I usually do not go out to the barn with less than four towels.
Now the other thing is, even though the larger breeds tend to not have as many kids, they are bigger. And so that’s a lot of fluid that you need to clean off. So with them, I… you know, when I used to have Lamanchas, it was like 1.5 to 2 towels per kid that I expected. Now they’re usually going to have twins, although I did have a couple Lamanchas that have triplets. So I always want to have more, rather than not enough. I have heard about awesome, incredibly brave people, you know, pulling off their shirt or their coat or whatever to dry a kid. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know that I could do that, if I was in a situation where I didn’t have enough towels.
You know this is Illinois. So we’ve certainly had our fair share of extremely cold kiddings, as well. So just make sure that you’ve got plenty of towels. Another word of caution. I thought I was going to be so brilliant and so prepared one year. And so we had washed all these towels and I had this stack of like 10 towels, and I put them out in the barn in our barn office, which seems like a nice place. Right? Well, I did it a few weeks before kidding actually started. And then at the time that kidding started I went out there to check on them.
And I discovered that the mice had discovered them and so they had mouse poop and pee on them. They stunk to high heaven. Thank goodness, I discovered this before anyone was actually in labor. So I was able to bring them all inside and get them all washed up again, so that they would be ready when our goats did start kidding. So you need to put them somewhere where the mice can’t get to them.
That the only thing we have in our barn that is safe for mice are some old freezers and refrigerators. Now if you have small children, I would not recommend having these around because of the risk of suffocation. You know, children have been known to get into old freezers and refrigerators, fall asleep and then suffocate. But basically, metal is one of the only things that can keep mice away. So if you’ve got something metal that you can put them in, that works great.
Now the number one most important thing that everybody absolutely has to have before kidding season starts is a baby monitor. Now I’m not talking about some big expensive thing that’s going to cost you hundreds of dollars. For 20 or $30, you can go down to your local discount store and buy a baby monitor. And I got to tell you, these things have improved so much over the years. Back when we got started, the quality of the electronics was not very good. And so we have metal barns and so we had to put those baby monitors in a place so that they did not have to go through metal. So that meant that they either had to be like sitting on a window sill, or right next to a door or something like that, because otherwise we wouldn’t hear anything.
We recently, I think, maybe two years ago had to buy a new one. And it works so much better, we can put it anywhere in either of the barns. And it works great. The other thing that’s really cool about the new ones is that the receiver, you can plug it into the wall, or you can battery operate it. And it’s got a little belt hook on it. So I am not tied to the house or the barn, when I have a goat that might be having a baby soon. I can go out into the garden or really anywhere on our on the farm. And I will hear them if something happens. And I’ve done that, you know, I was out working in the garden one day, I had the monitor out there with me and I heard the goat and so I knew I needed to get back to the barn.
So people ask about video monitors. And I have to tell you, I love, love, love my video monitors. About seven or eight years ago, Mike bought an inexpensive camera at Radio Shack, it is hardwired, we do have cable running between the house and the barn. So it was really easy for us to make that work. And we could watch it on our TV in our bedroom. And it was on whenever we wanted to know we could leave it on 24 hours a day. And we did, sometimes when we were in the middle of kidding season, we had a lot of goats due. That way, we were never really away from the goats. Like we always knew if anybody started to fuss or whatever. And we didn’t feel like we need to be going out there every hour to check on them.
Because in addition to hearing them, you can also see them. You know, there are some goats that are so dramatic and so emotional, that when you move them into the kidding barn, they would scream a lot. And sound really, really unhappy. And, so if when all I had was just the baby monitor, I would go out there. And, you think this goats like in the middle of pushing out a kid and you look at her and she’s just standing there screaming at you. Because she’s just mad that you put her in the new barn. She doesn’t want to be there.
So having the video monitor is great, because when you hear that you can look at the video and say, “Yes, she’s just mad. She’s just standing there screaming because she doesn’t like being in there”. Now, you may be wondering why we have a video monitor and just an old fashioned cheap baby monitor. Well, the inexpensive camera from Radio Shack died two years ago. So we went and bought a web-based camera security system kind of thing. It’s called D-Link and I have no affiliation with them whatsoever. Honestly, it’s not my most favorite thing in the whole world. It’s kind of buggy. And that’s why we have a baby monitor. So in addition to the app being kind of buggy and just freezing sometimes.
The other thing is that we don’t have the world’s most reliable internet. And if our internet hiccups for even 20 seconds, it’s gone. And it does not come back, you know. So the first when we first got it, I got up at two o’clock in the morning, go to the bathroom, and looked at my phone. And it was off, there was no video coming through. So I had to restart it. The other thing is that of course video is going to run your phone down really crazy fast. So you have to keep your phone plugged in or your iPad or whatever you’re using as your receiver. If you’ve got, you know one of these things that you can use with Wi Fi. And that is why we are once again using an old fashioned baby monitor, so that we can have 24 hour coverage of the goats if we need it.
If a goat is suddenly screaming in the middle of the night, we will hear it. And then we can get up and then if the app on the phone is not on we can turn it on and we can look at it and see what’s happening. Usually in the middle of the night, though, if they start screaming at three o’clock in the morning, there’s only one reason for that you’d goats like to sleep, you know as much as we do. And so they are not usually screaming at two or three o’clock in the morning just because they’re mad at you.
The next thing that you need, if you’re in a place that’s cold, and by cold I mean and if it’s less than 40 degrees or so or if it could be less than 40 degrees when you’re goat gives birth, I would suggest having a blow dryer. We had…we went through quite a few kidding seasons without using a blow dryer. It wasn’t until our first kidding below zero that we realized that we needed a blow dryer. And then after that I’ve just kind of started using them at warmer and warmer temperatures. For those of you down south you’re going 40 degrees is not warm. But in their early years, my goats survived a lot.
So, if a goat does go into labor and give birth, and it’s 10 degrees or 20 degrees, the kids are going to survive. The biggest thing is, if it is really cold out and a kid gets hypothermia, the very first thing to go is its ability to suck. And so it is really hard to get kids nursing, once they get cold. You really have to get them warmed back up again, before they will start to nurse.
Another thing that is really important now if you are getting into single digits, or below zero, is frostbite. The very first time that we had doe give birth below zero, we had a kid whose ears kept freezing. And I discovered that dry when it’s 30 degrees out is very different than dry when it’s below zero. Because if it’s 20 or 30 degrees, you know, in the tips of the hair wet, it’s not a big deal. But if it’s below zero, that becomes ice really fast. And you don’t want, little kidsicles, so you need to get them 100% dry.
I always felt when I went to get my haircut at a salon, that they it’s really overkill how your hair is so, so dry. I do not do that, if I’m at home like I blow dry it for like, if I’m going out and I went to look nice, I’m gonna blow dry it for like maybe a minute tops, whereas when I’m at a salon, it takes them like four or five minutes to blow dry my hair and I’ve really short hair, because they’re getting it super dry.
So what I’m telling you is that if it’s below zero, those babies need to be beauty salon dry. Because if they’re not, you will have problems and the first place you’ll have problems is the ears. And you’ll know that it’s bad because when you feel them, they should be nice and soft and pliable. But if you feel the ears and they feel hard or crunchy, that means that they have frozen. So when that happened to us, we just held them between our fingers, blow dried them, you don’t want to rub it because you could cause damage. So blow dry it and try to get them warmed up again.
Unfortunately, the ears are not the only thing that can freeze. A tail can also freeze as well as feet and lower legs. So you also want to make sure that you get the tail very, very dry. I am sorry to say we honestly learned all of this stuff the hard way. The first time we had one kid who did wind up losing a tiny bit of the tip of one of his ears to frostbite. So the second time I was so obsessed with the ears, that I really didn’t think about anything else. And really, I didn’t know that the tail could freeze off. And it wound up we did not get the tail dry. And about half of this kid’s tail wound up falling off because it got frostbite.
And then you can also wind up with frostbite on the lower legs. Now this can happen even after the birth. And it’s truly it’s very hard to prevent if you’ve got temperatures falling below minus 15 is really about where the danger is going to start here. Kids normally sleep with their legs tucked underneath them. But we did have a kid once lose two of its legs to frostbite when the temperature unexpectedly fell to 20 below zero. The forecast had said it was supposed to be minus three when we went to bed the night before.
We got up in the morning and the temperature was minus 20. So the weather forecasters failed us big time on that one. And we didn’t realize that there was anything wrong with this little kids feet until he started limping. And then we realized that the lower part of his feet or the lower part of his legs are frozen. And most cases what people do in that case is put the kid down because the lower part of the legs or the feet will fall off and so you’ll have a handicapped goat there.
Now going along with cold weather. You may also need a heat lamp. I have to say heat lamps are the number one cause of barn fires every single year. You see stories about this in the media and I personally know two people who have had fires caused by heat lamps. I know one man who lost all of his lambs, and a lot of his sheep one year because his barn caught on fire because of a heat lamp. And I know another woman whose garage burned down because she was breeding chicks in there with a heat lamp and that caught fire. So be very very, very careful with heat lamps and only use them when they are absolutely necessary.
Now if you live down south, you’re probably never going to need one. Unless you just happen to be unlucky enough to kid in the middle of a cold snap, we really…kids do not need them if it is above freezing. And they really only need them when it’s below freezing, if it’s the first couple days after they’re born, after that, they are very good at regulating their body temperature. And the irony is that once it gets below zero, the heat lamp really doesn’t help you that much, because you don’t feel the heat more than a foot or two away from it. So it’s really not warming things up very much.
If you live somewhere where you’re going to be looking at temperatures in the negative numbers Fahrenheit a lot, then you need to look in crate into creating little warming huts for your kids, which are basically, kind of like, what we’ve done is we’ve used dog kennels, take the door off so that a kid doesn’t go in there and accidentally, have it closed. The downside to a dog kennel though is that other goats will jump on top of it and pretty much destroy the whole thing pretty quickly. First they’re gonna poop on it and make it super gross. And then from them jumping on it, they will wind up breaking it up into lots of pieces. So it’s better if you build something out of wood. And I put a slanted roof on it to make it harder for them to stand on it and at least the poop and the pee will roll off if if they do jump up there.
Again, if you’re in a cold area, and you might be looking at some super cold kiddings like the below zero stuff, you might want to have a couple of sweatshirts set aside that you would be willing to sacrifice to make kid coats. I’d show you how to do this in my book, and I’ll post photos in the show notes for what these look like. But basically you just cut the lower half of a sweatshirt sleeve off for Nigerian dwarf kids. If you have standard size kids, you might want to use a sweat pants leg and use the lower part of that.
And so with a shirt, basically, what is the wristband on the shirt becomes the neck band for the kid. And then I make it so that the seam is going underneath their belly straight under their belly. And then I cut it in two holes in the front for their front legs. And then it’s, I cut it at an angle so that it covers their back and it’s short underneath their belly. Now if it’s a boy, you want to make sure it’s even shorter, because otherwise the first time he pees, he’s now wearing a wet coat and that is not going to do him any good. So we’re done with the cold stuff.
Now we’re gonna move into some other things like a bulb syringe, if you’ve ever had a baby in a hospital, you know what a bulb syringe is, we refer to them as snot suckers. You compress it, you put it in the baby’s nose, you let go of the bulb and it sucks the snot out. You will not need this for like 90% of kids that are born. The only time I use it is if a kid sounds really gurgly. And, they’re like having trouble breathing. And just (gurgling sounds), you know, like, every time they’re breathing, you can hear all this mucus.
Most of them are born screaming, sneezing, shaking their head, so they don’t really need it at all. But when you do need it like you have a kid that’s like really lethargic and having trouble breathing, you want it to be there right away. One important thing, I told you, we were done with cold weather, but not entirely. If you are in a place that’s cold, those things will freeze. If it gets left outside, and it freezes and you try to compress it, you just broke it, it will not work in cold weather. So I basically keep one in my pocket, in my coat pocket hanging up in the coat closet, for when I go out there and that way it’s warm, it stays warm. If I need it, I can pull it out of my pocket, and just use it.
Most people want to know what to do about the umbilical cord. And this is a pretty–I don’t want to say controversial. But people have a lot of different ideas about this. First of all, almost all the umbilical cords will break as the kid is being born. There’s always a thin place where it just breaks. And you don’t have to do anything. I did a survey on Facebook and several 100 people answered. And I think it was about two thirds of the people said that they do dip the cord in iodine about or some something else. And a third of people do not.
Now the third of us who do not dip, do not have kids dropping dead left and right. If we did, we wouldn’t be ignoring it. Like if we knew that something was important, we’d be doing it. I initially dipped chords in iodine when I got started because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. And then back in the day in the early 2000s I was on Yahoo groups and I saw people arguing about whether or not you needed to do it. And then I started reading some research. And the crazy thing is the research does not support dipping cords in iodine. And I should post some links to this, I should actually I have a whole blog post, I’m going to put up on this, about the research on using iodine and stuff.
So this is one of those things where I’m like, well, in my book, I tell you do whatever helps you sleep at night. For me, it’s just like, if I don’t have to do it, I’m not going to do it. And we’ve had 650 kids, we have never had one single case of naval ill. I will tell you on the rare occasion, when I have found a kid in a pile of poop, which I think has happened, like twice in all those births, because a goat surprised us. In those cases I do. I’m like bathing the kid, dipping the cord and all that kind of stuff. Because I’m like, “Oh my gosh, what is going to happen to you, because your mom had such poor judgment about where she should give birth, when there was like fresh clean grass out here where she could have had you”.
So anyway. But when I did the research, the research really does not support iodine. So, if you’re on the fence, then I would say don’t worry about it. So since the cord usually breaks on its own, you really don’t need a pair of scissors. On the very, very rare occasion, I think maybe in the last 500 births, I’ve had two or three cords that didn’t break. And I just rip it like, rip, it sounds wrong, I tear it. And I do it several inches from the belly, you don’t want to do it close, because you want to accidentally rip the umbilicus. But you know, like you wrap it around your finger like you would if you were gonna try to tear a piece of string. And that’s how I do it. And find a thin spot. Like there’s, like I said, there’s always a thin spot.
You really do need to have disposable gloves. This is so if you are pregnant, there are a couple of diseases that are zoonotic, meaning that if your goat happened to have one of those diseases, and you’re pregnant, you could get them and it could be dangerous for your baby. So if you are pregnant, absolutely, positively, have gloves with you at all times. Like just keep them in your coat pocket or whatever in case a goat surprises you.
But, even if you’re not like, I’ve honest, to be totally honest here I have attended most births with no gloves. But I’ve always said, “Oh, if you’ve got a cut on your finger or something, then you should wear gloves”. Well, last year I was at a birth and I had a cut on my finger. And I didn’t think about it until everything was done. And I was like, “Oh my goodness, I really hope this goat didn’t have some kind of a disease that I am now going to get”. Thankfully she did not, I’m totally fine.
But, this is top of mind for me now because a couple years ago, my husband cut himself when he was in the middle of butchering chickens. And he wound up with a really nasty infection, systemic infection, where he had to be on antibiotics for some ridiculous amount of time. So you want to have gloves available just to protect yourself.
Pritchard teat and bottles, I really prefer the Pritchard teat. People will tell you that you can use a human baby bottle, but the Pritchard teat is better. Because you’re going to have it in a, you’re going to use the bottle that comes with it that you can squeeze and when you…most of these babies are not just going to grab the nipple and go, Oh yeah, I’m gonna suck. Most babies are gonna fight you and act like you’re trying to poison them. So it’s really nice to have a bottle that you can squeeze a little bit and get a few drops of milk into their mouth.
Sometimes you will have to do this for like 10 minutes to get an ounce into them, and they’ll just swallow drip by drip. Sooner or later, they will get the idea like, Oh, if I suck, I get more milk and they’ll start. But until they learn how to do it, it’s so much easier to get them started if you’ve got a Pritchard teat. It’s also a nice idea to have a feeding tube with a 60 cc syringe, just in case. You never know when you’re going to need this when you have a kid that’s born really weak that can’t suck. And this is not the kind of thing that you can just go get at the local farm store in most cases.
When I was brand new, I did find a dog and cat vet who had this available and I was able to get it from them. Even though they were very skeptical. They didn’t want to sell it to me and I’m like, “No, I’m absolutely certain, this is what I need”. But you can get this online. From like a lot of different places online that sell goat supplies, lambing supplies, all that kind of stuff. And they last forever. So you just keep it in its sterile packaging, put away somewhere until the day that you actually need it.
And that is it. That’s all I have on my list of things that you need for getting ready for kidding season. And yes, I know there are lots of other things that you could buy. And you could have spent a small fortune on other stuff. But I really don’t recommend that you get some of the more advanced things like a kid puller until you’ve actually seen someone use it in real life and explain it to you and all that kind of stuff. Because it’s easy to make a mistake and do a lot of damage with something like that. Also, it is only needed in very rare situations. In fact, a kid puller has only been needed once out of our 650 births. And I find a lot of people if they have it, they think that they should use it. And then they don’t really know why even so that’s a discussion for another day.
Thanks so much for joining me today. Remember to check out goatsgivingbirth.com to learn more about my online kidding course. Next week, I am going to be joined by Chris McLaughlin, who has a fiber and flower farm. This honestly sounds like a huge recipe for disaster. She raises Angora goats and flowers. So it’s gonna be a lot of fun to talk to her about how those two things can not only coexist, but how they actually complement each other. So I’m looking forward to talking to you all again next week. Bye for now.