Goat Birthing: How Much Should You Help?

Episode 64
For the Love of Goats

Goat Birthing: How Much Should You Help featured image

Practices with birthing goats vary tremendously from one breeder to another. Some people are very hands-on while others want to stay away as much as possible. How do you figure out what you feel comfortable with?

In today’s episode, I’m talking about the different reasons why a kid may be born weak or why a doe may have difficulty giving birth. Although it sounds like you are breeding the best of the best when you are more hands-off, I give you an example of when that was not true — and the tiny weak one turned out to be the best.

Can goats be raised naturally? Check out Episode #63.

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More on goat birthing:

Carmen the Goat
ARMCH Antiquity Oaks Carmen *D was half the size of her brothers when she was born in 2004, but she grew up to be the matriarch of some of my best milk producers and the goats with the best natural parasite resistance in my herd, so I was definitely not saving a kid that was genetically flawed when I saved her from hypothermia at birth.

TRANSCRIPT – Goat Birthing: How Much Should You Help?

Introduction 0:03
For the love of goats! We are talking about everything goat. Whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures, we’ve got you covered. And now, here is Deborah Niemann.

Deborah Niemann 0:19
Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. This episode is brought to you by my brand-new free course about getting ready for kidding season, and you can find it at Thrifty Homesteader Academy, but I will also have a link in the show notes. So, you can just click on that.

Deborah Niemann 0:38
If you listened to the last episode, you may be thinking that today’s episode was planned as part of a two-part series. And it wasn’t. I did last week’s episode and thought, “That’s it. That’s all I’ve got to say on that topic.” And then, I got an email from Aja Linder in California. And she said, “Some people attend every birth, and other people purposely don’t do that so that their herd naturally selects for animals that need no assistance. My biggest concern in my first birthing season is trying to find out what’s right for me and my herd, and where I fall on that spectrum.” So, I started to answer her email. And after about three sentences, I realized that I had so much to say on it that I should just do a whole podcast episode on it. And I let her know that, and she said she’s looking forward to hearing my long answer. So she got the short answer, and so here’s a long answer to that question.

Deborah Niemann 1:41
I totally understand where she’s coming from. And I hear this a lot. And I was there, too. You know, back in 2002, when we first got goats, I wanted to do everything naturally. One of the reasons that we got heritage breeds of animals was because they are known for being really good at giving birth on their own; they don’t need a lot of help. They’re good in terms of, like, you know, being naturally grass-fed. And so, it was really important to me not to be interfering in the birthing process much. And the first year, we didn’t. Everything was fine. And the second year, however, things changed a little. And, that was the year that Carmen was born.

Deborah Niemann 2:30
Her mom was Dancy. And we kept thinking Dancy was in labor. And we would go out there and check on her, and go out there and check on her… For two days, I had wanted to go to the grocery store, and I thought she was in labor, and so I was afraid to go to the grocery store. So after two days, I went out there, and I looked at her, and she wasn’t doing anything obvious. And I was just like, “Okay, fine. Obviously, I don’t know what I’m doing. We’re just gonna go to the grocery store.” And so I came inside, and I changed my clothes. And then, just as a very last minute thought, I said to my son, “Just go take one last look at Dancy. Just see how she’s doing.” And he comes running back from the barn saying, “She’s got triplets! She’s got triplets, and I think one of them might be dead!” And so, we all go running to the barn. And I see her standing there with these two kids who are wobbling around on their legs, like, bopping at her sides; you know, you can tell they’re looking for their first meal. And then, there is this little tiny kid that looked like it was half the size of the other two, just laying there in the straw, not moving. And I picked it up, and I realized it was alive, but it was very cold. Obviously, the mom had not cleaned it off; she had cleaned off the other ones. And at that moment, all thoughts of “Oh, let’s let nature take its course” just went right out the window. Like, I just saw this tiny little kid that really needed my help.

Deborah Niemann 4:13
And so, I called my mentor, and she told me to put it into a bucket of warm water to try and get its body temperature up, and she told me how to tube-feed it and all this other stuff. I mean, like, we’re talking super interventions—and actually today I would just dry it off with a blow dryer and put it on a heating pad. And you know, if I’d been more experienced, I probably could have got it started on a bottle. But you know, I was brand-new. This was, like, my fourth birth ever. And so, you know, I was just doing everything exactly like my mentor said, and it all worked out fine. Little Carmen wound up being literally half the size of her brothers. She weighed half as much. I took a picture of her, like, standing right next to them. She was just so tiny compared to them. And I realized, like, there is no way that she could compete with them. Like, as soon as she tried to go for the teat, one of them would just knock her on her back, you know, because they were just so much bigger than her. So, we brought her inside, and we bottle-fed her, and my husband said to me, “I thought we were gonna do things naturally. Like, don’t you feel like you’re really messing with nature by going to such extremes to save her?” And like, “You know, this was, like, a small, weakly kid. Like, didn’t you just save some really bad genetics?” And I can tell you now that not only did I not save some bad genetics, I saved the best genetics in my herd. Actually, the heartiest, healthiest genetics in my herd.

Deborah Niemann 5:52
That little doe Carmen went on to get a 305-day milk star; she became a finished champion. And, the thing that I am most excited about to this day is that she is the matriarch of one of my two favorite genetic lines in my herd. I have so many of her daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters, great-great-granddaughters. They are many of my best milkers, and they have the absolute best parasite resistance of any goats in my herd. So, had I just let her die from hypothermia right there, I wouldn’t have her. I would not have all of these amazing goats today that came from her—you know, this tiny, little, weak-looking kid. So, it’s not always genetics.

Deborah Niemann 6:54
If you’ve heard, I think, some of the interviews I’ve done with Dr. Van Saun, we’ve talked about every kid has its own attachment to the placenta. Some are going to be better than others. So, when you get these super tiny kids, sometimes it just means they didn’t have the best attachment to the placenta, so they didn’t get as many nutrients as the siblings who are much bigger. It doesn’t mean that they’re small and weakly; they’re not a runt piglet. If you’ve ever raised pigs, trying to save a runt piglet is just pretty much impossible. Like, I’ve talked to quite a few people about that. And you know, if you read Charlotte’s Web, that’s the whole basis of that story is that the father was about to kill this runt piglet, because runts never survive. And with raising pigs, like, that was certainly our experience. But it is not the situation with goats at all.

Deborah Niemann 7:47
One of the things I want to talk about before I get into this too much is, let’s talk about what it means actually in terms of, like, intervening in goat births. Does it mean that you’re going to dry off a kid when it’s born, you know? Or does it mean that you’re going to do an internal check on every single doe the second you know that she goes into labor? Now, those are two really big extremes. But there are people that would consider drying off with a towel like, “Oh, why do you have to do that? Why shouldn’t the mother do that?” Well, you know, we live in Illinois, and goats are desert animals. And we raise Nigerian Dwarfs. And so, if we have a little bitty 3-pound kid born, and it’s 10 degrees outside, that is not a natural situation. And it would die from hypothermia.

Deborah Niemann 8:41
And the reason I know this is because, unfortunately, in the early days… You know, we got lucky with Carmen; we found her before she was dead. But we did not always get lucky. In fact, I got so frustrated, because we got to be such experts at dealing with kids who had hypothermia. And I was like, “Nobody should get this good at dealing with kids who have hypothermia! Like, we have to figure out, like, when these goats are in labor so that we can be there and get the kids dry, so that we don’t wind up with these kids that are, you know, half-dead with hypothermia by the time that we find them.” Because that’s really not the best start in life. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you know, if we found a kid, if it still had a beating heart when we found it, we saved it. And then we did eventually get really good at knowing when goats were in labor. Really understanding how to check tail ligaments, we got baby monitors, and things like that, so that we didn’t miss any births so that we could get those kids dry. And really, you know, if it’s 10 degrees—or 20 degrees even—then we’re out there with a blow dryer and we just get them dry.

Deborah Niemann 9:58
And that’s something… You know, we actually never even thought about using a blow dryer until we knew that we were going to have a kidding that was below 0. And that’s when we used it. And then, I saw this amazing correlation between the temperature of the air and how fast a kid would get up and nurse—and Illinois has crazy springs. And it was, like, within a one-week period we had temperatures that varied from 70 degrees to 20 degrees. And the difference in the amount of time… Like, the kids that were born at 70 degrees were on their feet, looking for the teat, within 10 to 15 minutes. And then the colder it got, the longer it took those kids to get up, the more remedial work we had to do in terms of, like, trying to get them warmed up so that they could nurse. Because when kids get hypothermia, the very first thing to go is their sucking instinct. Which really, I always tell people, you know, that’s fine. Because if a kid has hypothermia, it can’t digest the colostrum anyway. So, if a kid has hypothermia, step number one is to get it warmed up—not to tube-feed it. Like, it has to get warmed up first. And usually, once you get it warmed up, you’re able to get it to take a bottle. Now that, you know, I’ve got so much more experience, I wind up tube-feeding maybe once every five years, because, you know, like I said, once the kid is warmed up, the sucking instinct comes back and it’ll take a bottle, or you can, you know, get it to nurse on mom. So, saying that you don’t want to dry the kid with a towel or anything is just cruel, because in nature… Like I said, they’re desert animals. Okay? They would all be born in nice, warm temperatures.

Deborah Niemann 11:47
And then, if it’s really hot, in a lot of parts of the U.S., you know, we have a lot of flies. And so, if you don’t get all the birth goo off of it, you could wind up with fly strike. And if you’ve never dealt with fly strike, that’s awesome. Trust me when I say that you never do want to deal with fly strike. I have seen it three times in my life, and I will die a happy woman if I never see it again. I’ve seen it twice in lambs, and I’ve seen it once in a turkey after she got attacked by a coyote. And basically what it is, is that mama flies find some amazing, tasty, raw flesh or birth goo or blood or whatever, and they say, “Oh, this would be a great place to have a family.” And so, they lay their eggs in that place. And when the eggs hatch, that’s baby maggots. And then baby maggots burrow into the skin. And, it is not something I ever, ever want to see again. So, you know, that’s the thing in the middle of summer. Like, yeah, sure, I could let the does lick them off. But, you know, if I’ve got a towel there, let’s just give them a head start, especially if you see a lot of flies around. Because again, like, that has nothing to do with breeding bad genetics. Like, flies are just a fact of life in a lot of parts of the country. And you’re not perpetuating bad genetics if a fly lays eggs on a goat and then burrows into the skin. Luckily, that does not happen nearly as much with goats as it does with sheep. I have never lambed in summer again since I had that problem with flystrike in a lamb.

Deborah Niemann 13:37
So, on the flip side of this, you know, I do want to talk about people who feel like, oh, they need to do a check on every single doe. I think some people maybe feel like they missed their calling as an obstetrician or something, because not only is there no need to do that, but you are introducing a potential risk of infection. If somebody is brand-new, and they start by doing that, they have no idea what they’re doing, there’s a risk of injuring the doe. And, there is just no benefit to doing that. And the other thing is that if you are intervening on every single goat, then you really do not have any idea which of your goats have good genetics or bad genetics in terms of being able to give birth.

Deborah Niemann 14:26
I personally have a two strikes rule: The second time that a goat needs intervention, she is retired. I have only broken that rule once, and I paid for it with a C-section. The whole two hours to the university vet hospital, I was kicking myself. “You knew you should not have bred her again. You knew you should not have bred her again.” Because she was basically too small, and she had big kids. She was small because of parasites when she was younger—which I did not understand that at the time, because I was still fairly new when she was young. And, we were dealing with a problem with dewormer resistance, and it wound up stunting her growth permanently. So, she was a pretty small doe. And the first four times she gave birth, I had to help three of those four times. So, I gave her a pass more than once. Then, number five wound up being a C-section. And this is the thing: I get very, very nervous when people talk about like, “Oh, this doe is small because that’s just the way she is.” If her mother is not that small, I’m not buying it, because this goat’s mother was not that small. None of this doe’s kids were ever that small—and she gave birth to kids that were, like, 4 to 5 pounds, which would have been fine if she would have been a couple inches taller. So in that case, again, it was not bad genetics; it was bad management. And that was 100% on me. Totally my fault, because I was new. And I didn’t, you know, have anybody around to help me understand, you know, what was going on with this goat. Like, “Yeah, she’s this little 19-inch tall Nigerian Dwarf, and she’s trying to give birth to these 4- and 5-pound kids, and that’s just not gonna work.”

Deborah Niemann 16:28
Now, before you tell yourself that you are not going to intervene, there is one very important question that you are going to have to answer for yourself. And that is: If you’re not going to intervene, then what are you going to do when a doe has problems and can’t give birth? I get emails and messages and hear from people a lot of different parts of the world, and an Irish missionary who was in Nigeria asked me a few years ago what could have been done with this goat that was in labor and was not able to give birth. This doe was in labor, and she was just pushing and pushing, and she couldn’t give birth. And the local people just decided that they were going to butcher her. Like, right there. And so, this Irish missionary emailed me and said, like, “You know, isn’t there something that they could have done?” And I said, “Well, yeah, it probably was just a malposition. Like, if they could have, you know, just reached in and seen, like, if the spine was presenting or something like that, and then they could turn the kid and pull it out.” And she came back and said that she had talked to them, and they said, “Oh, no, we don’t do that.” And so, that’s the question, you know? And this is where, like, people panic and feel like, “I have to do something right now,” because they think that, like, the goat is just going to drop dead on them. And that isn’t what happens. What happens is if a goat is pushing and pushing and pushing, and she can’t give birth, at some point she is going to be completely exhausted, and she’s just going to give up and stop pushing. And then, you know, within a number of hours, the kids will die, and then they probably will start to decompose. And she will get sepsis, and then she will die from an infection a few days later. Is that what your plan is going to be if you’re not gonna intervene? Or, will your plan be to just butcher her like, you know, the people that did in Nigeria?

Deborah Niemann 18:27
I’ve met very, very few people who like either one of those options. You know, most people are either going to try to help or call the vet. And sometimes maybe they’ll call the vet, and if the answer is going to be a C-section, if people can’t afford that, then they make the decision to have the vet put the goat down. But the idea of, like, not doing anything at all is really not very palatable to most people. And I agree. Like, I think it would be really inhumane to just let a doe push and push and push until she was exhausted, and then, you know, die from an infection a few days later.

Deborah Niemann 19:04
So, I think I’ve given you a few things to think about here. And, you know, like I said, there’s a really huge range when we’re talking about, you know, what does intervening mean, and I am very middle of the road. You know, I think I’m more of a goat midwife. I have a midwife attitude, and that is watchful waiting. You know, my motto is “If the goat’s happy, I’m happy.” If she’s walking around eating, drinking, acting like a goat, then I’m happy. But if she’s screaming bloody murder, and her tongue is hanging out, and I’m seeing no signs of progress at all, then at that point, I feel like I need to do something.

Deborah Niemann 19:51
So, good luck with figuring out what your own personal philosophy is on this. And thanks so much to Asia for emailing me this question. And, if you’ve got any questions you’d like me to address on the podcast, feel free to drop me an email: Deborah@ThriftyHomesteader.com. And remember that I do have a free course now that is available, Preparing for Kidding Season, which you can find on my Thrifty Homesteader Academy website, and I will have a link in the show notes. Take care!

Deborah Niemann 20:24
And that’s it for today’s show. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to hit the “subscribe” button so that you don’t miss any episodes. To see show notes, you can always visit ForTheLoveOfGoats.com, and you can follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoveGoatsPodcast. See you again next time. Bye for now!

Two newly born goat kids

2 thoughts on “Goat Birthing: How Much Should You Help?”

  1. Thank you for this balanced perspective!
    My thoughts on the tiny doeling you saved: I can see why she was the hardiest and best….she survived and overcame great odds! That IS the best genetics.


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