For the Love of Goats
Have you ever wished you could attend a few goat births with a mentor? That’s the idea behind my newest book, Goats Giving Birth: What to Expect During Kidding Season.
In today’s episode I’m telling you a little about the book and reading the introduction, as well as the first birth story in the first chapter. The book includes more than 20 birth stories from normal to complicated to tragic. Each birth includes two parts — the original blog post that I wrote when the birth occurred and then my thoughts on the birth today. It also includes dozens of full-color photographs of births.
You can visit my new online store to learn more about Goats Giving Birth. When buying the book directly from me, you’ll get a download of a birthing supply list that explains everything you need — and what you don’t need — as well as how and when to use it.
If you’d like to read the introduction or first birth story, here you go …
Transcript of Goats Giving Birth Introduction
There is nothing about goat ownership that creates more anticipation, excitement, frustration, and fear than birthing. It’s wonderful to walk into the barn one morning and see a couple of kids bouncing around and nursing. But it feels like you’ve been punched in the stomach when you walk in and see a distressed doe or a dead or malformed kid. If you’ve never seen a goat give birth before, you don’t really know if something is normal or not. As a former childbirth educator and doula, I knew all about human birth, but I soon learned that goats are very different.
Only three months after I brought home my first goats in 2002, I became a member of several goat groups on Yahoo. Because I knew no goat owners, other than the woman who sold me the goats, the Yahoo groups filled the role that a knowledgeable neighbor or parent would have filled a century ago. Whenever something happened that worried me, I’d sign on and ask for help. There were always other goat owners out there in cyberspace who offered advice and encouragement.
Today there are also Google groups, Facebook groups, and a host of other groups. In 2009, I started my own group on Ning for owners of Nigerian dwarf goats (nigeriandwarfgoats.ning.com). Through the years, I have seen thousands of posts from goat owners all over the world, and I’ve noticed that kidding is the event that causes more anxiety than anything else.
So many people join an online group and post something like this:
We’re new goat owners and awaiting the birth of our first kids! Anything we need to do or know? How do we know everything is going okay? What do we do if we have to help? Any advice is appreciated! Thanks!
They may also sign on and post something like this:
Our first goat has been in labor for two days, and we’re worried! What should we do?
This book is part of the answer to those questions, but because every birth is different, it is also useful for those who are not new to kidding. In my book Raising Goats Naturally: The Complete Guide to Milk, Meat, and More, I explain all of the technical aspects of birthing goats. But most goat owners don’t feel that information is enough preparation because there are so many exceptions to “normal” and so many of them are not problematic. Knowing textbook averages is not very helpful. The average length of time for the first stage of labor for a first freshener is twelve hours, but three hours is normal, and eighteen hours can also be normal. Just as some women are in labor for two hours and others for two days, goats can be different from one another.
When someone asks me if something is normal, my answer is almost always “It depends,” and then I ask a dozen questions or more as I try to understand that particular situation. Every goat is unique, and every birth is different, even from one year to the next with the same doe. I have some goats that were born on this farm, gave birth for ten years and are now retired. Each birth was different even though they could usually be described as “normal.”
In this book, I share stories of my goats giving birth. I want to make my experience your knowledge— not because I’ve experienced everything but because the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. I describe the experiences bluntly and share my thoughts and fears and confusion at the time. The pictures, too, illustrate the reality of these births. My hope is that these stories will take the place of being at the birth and add to your knowledge base and confidence in yourselves but more importantly in your goats. When you’re new, the big overarching fear is that your goats can’t do it. You have to help— or even worse, you believe you have to save them. This is almost never true. According to Goat Medicine by Mary Smith and David Sherman, 95 percent of births require no assistance, and the longer I have goats the more I believe this number is accurate.
The idea behind this book is to share stories of real goats giving birth to help you sort out which 5 percent actually need your assistance. I view every kidding as a learning experience, from the very first one to the ones that will happen in our next kidding season. In addition, I learn from experiences that other people share with me, and I sometimes think of those stories when I am with a goat in labor. Many of the stories in this book come from my Antiquity Oaks blog, where I chronicled the births of our goats from 2006 to 2016. Most of the posts were written within a day or two of the kidding, so you get to read all of the raw emotions— the joy and sometimes the sadness— that came with each birth.
The advantage of reading the birth stories here is that in addition to the original story of the birth, I give you my assessment of the birth as I understand it today with accumulated knowledge and experience. I look back on some of these births and know that I should have done something differently. With other births, I realize that nothing would have made a difference in the outcome. As you read through these births, you will probably be thinking about what you would have done in that situation and how you might have responded differently. At some point, you might also get paranoid— or you might think that there is something terribly wrong with our goats and that none of this will ever happen to you.
The book starts with a variety of “normal” birth stories so that you can see the wide range of what’s normal. Please do not be tempted to skip over these “boring” stories. Often when someone has never seen a goat give birth, they think something is wrong when it isn’t. Sometimes the doe is not even in labor yet! I knew one woman who spent several nights in the barn and finally called her vet out, only to learn that her two does were not even pregnant. In fact, the most common mistake that I see is someone assuming something is wrong when everything is perfectly normal. Birth takes time, and unfortunately, that gives us plenty of time to worry, which means plenty of time to do something wrong.
Stories of difficult births are presented in chapters “Not So Normal Births,” “Caesarean Section Births” and “Death.” I purposely share the stories of our worst births. We have had more than 650 kids born on our farm as I write this, and the vast majority of births have been happy occasions with smiling humans and healthy kids. We have had only two caesarean sections, and only two does have died as a result of kidding complications. There are farms with worse records, and there are farms with better records, but if you have goats long enough, you will have some unhappy experiences. However, the happy experiences will far outweigh the sad ones. Whenever anyone asks me what I love most about our farm life, I always respond, “Kidding season!”
Part 1: Normal Births
Although 95 percent of goat births don’t require intervention, you don’t know if your 5 percent will happen after you’ve had fifty or eighty goats give birth or if it will happen when your first goat gives birth. I have one friend who had two or three does for fifteen years before she had to assist in a birth. On the other hand, someone bought two does from me, and the first birth ended with both kids dying when they were about nine hours old because they never nursed and she didn’t know that was a problem. The second birth involved a kid that needed assistance to be born and the doe died a few hours later.
But if you have never seen a normal birth, how do you know if the goat in front of you is acting normally? It is fairly common for new goat owners to think that something is wrong when everything is going fine. It seems that if you could just see a birth or two, you wouldn’t worry as much. Right? Chapters “Normal Births” and “Normal But Different Births” tell stories of normal births and how “normal” humans respond. You will see that it is normal for us to wonder if everything is okay, even after having seen quite a few goats give birth. After a few years, my motto became “If the goat is happy, I’m happy,” and even after eighteen years of seeing goats give birth, I still chant that in my head when I start to wonder if everything is okay.
Cleo’s twin doelings
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
We had a visit last weekend from Sarah, our apprentice from November. She came back because she wanted to see a goat give birth. Starting on Thursday, Cleo’s ligaments were so soft that I kept thinking she was going to give birth “pretty soon.” When I left for a speaking engagement in Chicago on Thursday, I figured she’d give birth later that night. When I left to pick up pigs on Friday, I figured she’d give birth while I was gone. When I got home with the piglets, however, Mike and Sarah said that Cleo had been waiting for me.
I went into the barn and sat down on the straw with her. She gave me more kisses than I’ve ever had from any goat. She licked my face and my neck over and over as I sat with her in the kidding pen. She kept making little two-syllable “ma-a, ma-a” bleats. She kept looking at my lap and pawing at my legs. I could tell she was thinking about crawling into my lap. She would lie down next to me on one side, and then almost immediately, she would get up again, turn around, and lie down on her other side. She was clearly uncomfortable. I went to the walnut grove where Mike and Sarah were finishing repairs on the fence before releasing the piglets into their new home.
“Cleo is getting close,” I said to Sarah. “You don’t need to hurry, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to come get you later.”
Sarah came with me, and when we got back to the barn, I could tell that Cleo was very serious about giving birth. She was no longer making the little bleating sounds. Instead, a whispery moan escaped her throat with each push. She lay on her side and pushed her legs out in front of her body. Her big belly almost caused her to roll onto her back, but she jerked and pulled herself upright again.
“No matter how many times you see this, you always get to a point where you feel like it’s taking too long,” I said to Sarah. “But really, she’s fine. There’s no sign that anything is wrong.”
Finally, a hoof started to peek out, then a second hoof. “This is exactly the way it’s supposed to be,” I said. “First the front hooves, then the nose.” And as if it were scripted, a nose appeared. “This is a textbook birth.” The whole head appeared, and the body quickly followed. I put the little doe up by Cleo’s face, so she could help me clean it off.
While Cleo licked her baby, I wiped it with a towel. The little doe shook her head and sneezed. Within minutes, she was scooting around the straw performing the goat baby equivalent of crawling. Cleo stood up and lay down a couple times. Then she seemed to stare off into the distance as if concentrating on something that none of us could see. I said to the little doe, “Okay, kid, you’re on your own. It’s time for mommy to birth another baby.” And the second kid was born quickly.
Two does! Of the sixteen kids born so far this year, twelve are does. When you raise dairy goats, that’s the equivalent of winning the lottery. Of course, we are only halfway through kidding for the year, and things could turn around, but I’m enjoying the dozen little does in the barn at the moment. And yeah, I’m keeping one of these.
Usually Cleo was a very aloof doe. She was not a cuddly goat the rest of the year. But I always knew when she was in labor because she suddenly became the friendliest doe on the farm. This birth occurred after we’d been raising goats for eight years, and, thankfully, I was learning patience by then.
It is important that there not be a big audience when a doe is in labor. Over the years, we have had a lot of interns during kidding season, but it has never been more than one at a time, and the goats usually get a chance to know the intern before giving birth. It’s important for goats to feel safe when they are in labor, or their contractions may not be productive. Remember, they are prey animals and are always wondering if a new stranger is going to eat them. Twice we’ve had does go into labor during an open farm day, and in both cases, labor was unusually long and the doe didn’t give birth until almost everyone was gone. In the case of the second doe, I was ready to take her to the university vet clinic and told my husband to get a dog crate loaded into my car as soon as the event ended. Luckily, it took him forty-five minutes, because when he came back to tell me it was ready, she was pushing, which saved me a two-hour drive — and the experience of delivering baby goats in my car! So, as tempting as it is to invite guests for your goat births, it’s not a great idea.
Subscribe to my weekly newsletter!
My weekly newsletter includes recipes and articles on homesteading, raising livestock, health, and gardening.