Kidding in Cold Weather

Episode 38
For the Love of Goats

Kidding in Cold Weather featured image

Whether you live in Florida or Canada, odds are good that you will be worried about your goats giving birth when it is cold out. However, the definition of cold can vary dramatically between those two places. When I’m talking to people in southern states, they are worried when temperatures are dipping below 50. Whereas those of us in Illinois and other northern states don’t worry too much until it looks like temperatures will be dipping into the single digits or below zero.

We’ve had more kiddings below zero than I can recall at this point, and personally I’d be happy if it never happened again. There are so many things to worry about at those temperatures, which are not a concern at warmer temperatures. 

In this episode, I am talking to Lisa and Michael Davis of Sweet Doe Dairy, whom you first met in Episode 18, which was about their gelato dairy in Vermont. Since they have temperatures that are similar to Illinois in winter, I thought it would be interesting to compare stories and experiences about goats giving birth in cold weather. 

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TRANSCRIPT – Kidding in Cold Weather

Deborah Niemann 0:18
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode. Today I am joined once again by Michael and Lisa Davis of Sweet Doe Dairy. And, if the name sounds familiar to you, that’s because we talked in Episode 18 about their gelato that they make with their Nigerian Dwarf goat milk at their farm in Vermont, which they then sell directly to consumers. So, if you want to know more about that, check out Episode 18. Since they’re in Vermont, I thought it would be great to have them join me to talk about what it’s like to have goats giving birth in the middle of a very cold winter. This episode is brought to you by my goat birthing course, which you can find at Welcome to the show, Lisa and Michael!

Lisa Davis 1:11
Thanks, Deborah! Thanks for having us.

Michael Davis 1:13
It’s good to be back.

Deborah Niemann 1:14
Yeah, I’m excited to have you guys back again. It’s so much fun to talk to people who are in an equally cold place. We were just comparing temperatures before I hit “record.” And, yay! We win here in Illinois. It’s seven degrees today, and it’s a balmy 10 degrees in Vermont.

Lisa Davis 1:36
It is. Yeah, just a few degrees difference between us. It’s pretty chilly. But not the worst we’ve seen by a long shot.

Deborah Niemann 1:43
Right. Yeah, two years ago is when we had our worst winter ever, which is where it did not get above 15 degrees below 0 Fahrenheit for 36 hours. And during that 36 hours, the low was 25 below 0. And I am happy to say all of our goats did fine. I am also really happy to say nobody gave birth during that time.

Lisa Davis 2:10
Yeah, we experienced something very similar here in Vermont, where we had long stretches, like between three and five days worth, of minus 20-ish temperatures—minus 17, minus 20, at nighttime temperatures. And same here, our goats all did fine, and we did not kid during that. But it is awfully cold, and it does make you think about, you know, what else you should be doing to help them out in those long stretches.

Deborah Niemann 2:43
Exactly. And it’s really funny, you know, I get emails this time a year from people, you know, like in Georgia and places like that. And they’re really worried because it’s gonna be 40 degrees, and they’re wondering if their goats are going to be okay, especially because, like, one’s due to kid and so they’re really, really worried about it. And for us, you know, when we were doing middle-of-the-winter kiddings, I would be ecstatic if, like, “Oh, it’s gonna be 40 degrees today!” And, you know, had my fingers crossed that like, “Every goat that’s within that 145 to 150 day window, come on, give birth today! This is awesome.” So cold is really subjective based on where you live. And so that’s why I was excited to have Lisa and Michael on, so that we could talk about, like, really cold temperatures, so…

Deborah Niemann 3:34
And people ask, always, like, “Why are you giving birth at this time of year?” So, one reason—and the reason we did it for a long time—is because we had a problem with dewormer resistance. So, if my goats gave birth in the spring after there was grass on the ground, and the temperatures were above 50 degrees, then they would have a really bad case of worms. I couldn’t do anything; I would just have all these really insanely skinny goats because none of the dewormers worked anymore. And, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go back and listen to some of my episodes that we’ve done on parasites where I’ve interviewed parasite researchers. We’ve talked about how to avoid dewormer resistance. This year, I’m so excited. Our first goat is due on April 4th. So, when are you guys gonna start kidding this year?

Michael Davis 4:25
Round March 15th.

Lisa Davis 4:27
Yeah, we used to kid sooner. We used to start kidding at the end of February. And we’ve gradually shifted that date a little bit more into spring. And the reason we do it, you know… I say it’s spring in March, but really it’s still winter very much so here in Vermont. We have snow here, and snow storms, all the way through the month of April. And we really don’t see the last of the snow melt on our property until the end of May. So even for us, you know, shifting into March, it’s still very much winter here.

Deborah Niemann 5:05
Wow. Oh, that is…

Lisa Davis 5:08
Yeah. And the reason that we kid when we do is because, since we use all of the milk that we generate on our farm for gelato production, and the spring and summer is when we’re in the height of gelato selling season, we actually need that milk supply in that early part of spring so that we can start to build gelato inventory for that busy selling season. So, we actually are fortunate in that we’ve never had a problem with dewormer resistance. We are able to very intensively rotationally graze our herd, and we have the luxury of never having to put them back on the same piece of pasture twice in a season. And so that’s helped us on the parasite front a lot. So, the reason that we kid when we do has more to do with our creamery and production schedule on the gelato side.

Deborah Niemann 6:04
Right. And then sometimes you just have accidental breedings, too. And you wind up with middle-of-winter kidding.

Michael Davis 6:13
We’ve never had an accidental breeding.

Lisa Davis 6:14
No, we actually don’t, because, like, we actually breed differently.

Michael Davis 6:19
Our bucks are pretty far away. And everyone’s hand-bred.

Deborah Niemann 6:22
Oh, that’s good.

Michael Davis 6:24
So, we go up and get them for each breeding. We’ve never had an accident.

Lisa Davis 6:27
Yeah, we don’t turn our bucks in with groups of does. Like, we actually, you know, bring a buck down for a particular breeding, and we sort of wait until that breeding happens, and that allows us to have a very clear indication of when the due dates are.

Deborah Niemann 6:41
That’s good. Yeah. It’s crazy how, you know, a lot of goats will find a way.

Lisa Davis 6:48

Deborah Niemann 6:48
And then, I mean, there are human errors. Like, a few years ago, I was traveling a lot, like, I was really not home for six weeks other than: fly in one day, do my laundry, and fly out again the next day. And somebody had left some young bucks in—they were four- and five-month-old bucks—in with the does.

Lisa Davis 7:07
Oh, gosh. That’ll do it.

Deborah Niemann 7:12
I think it was, like, around 15 or 16 does that got bred from that.

Lisa Davis 7:17
I do have that fear, because we have so many kids born on our farm. And, of course, you know, we’re selling a lot in the springtime. But I always do have that fear that there’s gonna be some, like, young buckling that we forget to isolate, and then we’re gonna end up with that very situation on our hands. And I can see how it would happen easily.

Deborah Niemann 7:37
Yeah. So we got to be pros at DNA testing the following spring.

Deborah Niemann 7:44
So, let’s talk about some of the challenges when it comes to kidding in the middle of winter. One of the things that we do is, we have heat lamps, as well as a blow dryer, and a heating pad. And, I joke that the heating pad is as much for me as it is for the kids, because I put the heating pad in my lap, and put a towel on top of it, and then put the kid on top of that. So its bottom half is warmed up, my legs are being warmed up, and then I’m blow-drying the top of it to get it dry. Because when kids get hypothermia, the first thing that goes is their sucking instinct. It’s like, you stick your finger in their mouth, and they do nothing, and their mouth is ice-cold. And people are like, “How do you know if it’s cold?” And it’s like, “Come on! This is not complicated.” Like, so….

Lisa Davis 8:39
Yeah, their tongues can get really cold. And we also put the hairdryer to good use during kidding season and try to get those babies dry as quick as humanly possible. I’ve never even thought to use a heating pad. But we have a small workroom in our barn, and so usually when a baby is born, we’ll bring them in there, and we have, um, actually…

Michael Davis 9:04
They’re salamander heaters.

Lisa Davis 9:07

Michael Davis 9:07
So it’s propane—

Lisa Davis 9:08
Forced hot air.

Michael Davis 9:09
—or kerosene. And it’s… They use them on construction sites.

Deborah Niemann 9:13

Lisa Davis 9:14
Yep, and so we have one of those that just literally blasts hot air into a very small workroom where we bring the babies, and so it very quickly gets to be, like, 90 degrees in there.

Deborah Niemann 9:30

Lisa Davis 9:30
And we’ll just, like, get that hairdryer on the baby, and put it on the floor, and that hot air is sort of blowing on it and getting them as warm as we possibly can as fast as we can.

Deborah Niemann 9:42
So now, you are bottle-raising all your kids, because you have a dairy, and we’re dam-raising all of ours. So, you’re taking the kids away as soon as they’re born, and then you take them into your workroom, where you dry them off. And then, what do you do with them after they’re dry?

Lisa Davis 9:57
So, I mean, we obviously take their weight. We give them all of their initial injections. But, like, in terms of their warmth, the key is really getting them dry and warm as fast as possible, and then fed as quickly as possible. And the two are really linked together. Because, as you said, Deborah, the first thing to go when they’re cold is their sucking reflex. They just don’t have the ability to suck. You can stick your finger in their mouth, and sometimes their tongue is ice-cold. And you just know there’s no way that baby is going to eat, whether it’s nursing, or you’re trying to get it to take a bottle. It doesn’t matter. It’s not going to eat if it’s cold. And so, getting that body temp up is really critical. And then you see an almost immediate difference and an immediate willingness to eat. And getting that colostrum in them right away is critical. So, we try to get them to eat as soon as possible. Of course, we milk the colostrum out of their dam, and then we feed that colostrum back via bottle to the babies.

Deborah Niemann 11:04
So, do you leave them in a heated room for a while? Or do you put them back out into the open barn right away?

Michael Davis 11:11
They go in the open barn. They leave that workroom, and then we have kid pens set up based on their age. And they’ll go into the very first one off to that room. So it’s open to the barn. And all of those kid pens have heat lamps in them as well.

Lisa Davis 11:27
Yeah, yeah.

Michael Davis 11:27
And we’re fortunate enough, we have sweaters for every baby.

Lisa Davis 11:31
We do!

Michael Davis 11:31
A friend did it for us.

Lisa Davis 11:32
Yes, if they need them, you know, or if it’s particularly cold and we feel as though they need them, or there’s maybe just not quite enough babies in a pen…. Like, the more babies that are in a pen, they’ll keep each other warm with their body heat. But if there’s just a couple in there, and they need an extra boost, we put fleece sweaters on them, and it does help sometimes in those first few days.

Michael Davis 11:53
I think we do it more for the cute factor.

Lisa Davis 11:56
That too.

Deborah Niemann 11:58
Yeah, there is the cute factor, so…

Michael Davis 12:01
But I would say, from the time we put a kid into that room, if I have time to go in and work on them right away if I’m not delivering other kids, you can have it dried and vaccinated, or whatever you’re gonna do for your steps, and have a collar on it. It’ll be totally done in less than 10 minutes.

Lisa Davis 12:22
Yeah. If you’re really working quickly, I mean.

Michael Davis 12:25
And at the end of those 10 minutes, they get so hot, they are sucking on you instantly, and they’re ready to eat within about 15 minutes.

Deborah Niemann 12:34
Yeah. And that is the difference. It’s just crazy the difference between, like, a nice warm room like that. Since we’re dam-raising, I’m doing everything next to the mom.

Michael Davis 12:47

Deborah Niemann 12:47
And so, this is why I have a heating pad, like, you guys have your awesome heater in your little room there. And I’ve got a heating pad in my lap while I’m blow-drying the kid. When… If it’s—especially, like, below 0 is the worst—below 0, the blow dryer is gonna have to be, like, an inch or two away from the kid.

Lisa Davis 12:50

Deborah Niemann 13:00
Because you can feel, like, the farther away it gets, suddenly it’s cold air.

Lisa Davis 13:12
Cold, yes.

Deborah Niemann 13:13
And you have your hand right there, and you’re brushing against the hair and everything to make it stand up. But it is just nuts how long it takes to dry a kid when it is that cold out there.

Lisa Davis 13:26
Yep. And, to be honest with you, our dog helps a lot. Our farm dog helps a lot at getting kids dry really quick. It’s, like, one of his favorite jobs to have on our farm. We have an Australian Shepherd, and he is a pro at drying babies. I mean, I don’t know what it is about the size of his tongue, and, like, how rapidly he’s able to lick them clean, but he sometimes… Like, if I’m blow-drying one, he’s got the other one dry just as fast as I do with the hairdryer.

Deborah Niemann 13:57
Wow, that’s talented.

Michael Davis 13:59
And they’ll actually bite off the umbilical where it needs to be.

Lisa Davis 14:03
Yes! He’ll actually naturally, like, get the umbilical cord just at the right spot. It’s incredible.

Michael Davis 14:10
And all of these steps that we take for our routine were all accidental.

Lisa Davis 14:16
Yeah, kind of.

Michael Davis 14:16
The heater was in there, because I would turn it on when I worked on does so I wouldn’t be cold. And then, one time, we had so many does giving birth that I was getting cold, so I turned the heater on. And it was so busy, I was just throwing kids onto a towel on the floor in front of the heater. And when I went back in, I noticed how dry they were. And I was like, “Huh, it does all the work for us.”

Lisa Davis 14:40
Yeah, the one thing I’ll say too, Deborah, is I can totally relate, because when we first started, we used to dam-raise kids. And, oh my gosh, if I could, you know, tell you how many hours I spent literally, like, laying on my back in a cold barn, like, trying to get those babies to latch… Oh my gosh, it was some of the most frustrating days, and it was before we realized that, like, a cold baby is not going to eat no matter what. And it was, like, it took us so long to come to that realization. And then, like, afterwards, it’s like, “Oh my gosh, how could we have not realized that, like, they’re just not inclined to have a sucking reflex if they’re cold?”

Deborah Niemann 15:23
When I got started, I was in Yahoo Groups—which was the thing back then, in the early 2000s—and nobody ever talked about that. I mean, I know there were people with goats who lived in cold climates, but nobody ever talked about the fact that if they’re cold, they’re not going to suck. You know, and people did say, like, “Oh, don’t tube-feed a kid that has hypothermia.” Like, that was out there, you know, like, “If its temperature is less than 100, don’t tube-feed it because it can’t digest anything when it’s that cold.”

Lisa Davis 15:47

Deborah Niemann 15:56
So… And I still don’t think it gets out there very much. And it drives me crazy that so many times, like, on social media when people say, “I have a kid that won’t nurse,” nobody says, “What’s the temperature outside?”

Lisa Davis 16:11

Deborah Niemann 16:13
Everybody’s saying “Give it a BoSe shot!” And it’s like, that is not gonna help it if it’s 10 degrees and the kid has hypothermia.

Lisa Davis 16:20
Exactly, Deborah, like, you hit the nail on the head. I’m always amazed, too, like, sometimes the simplest things, it’s like, “Oh my gosh,” like, why isn’t that out there more? Like, it took us forever to figure that out! And it was nowhere to be found!

Deborah Niemann 16:33
Yeah. We had to figure it out on our own, too!

Lisa Davis 16:37
Yeah, and I find so many things are like that. It’s, like, accidental, or, like, something is just not working, and then something randomly happens that you didn’t really plan, and then all of a sudden the light bulb goes off. And you’re just like, “Oh…” Like, it doesn’t have to be this difficult.

Deborah Niemann 16:54
Yeah, exactly. So, one of the other things I want to talk about, too, is basically taking care of the humans when we’re working in these temperatures. You know, especially for somebody that only has three or four goats, and so like, their chores in the morning maybe, you know, last 20 or 30 minutes. That is so different. Like, I don’t really ever assume that I am going to be in and out of the barn in less than two hours, even though we’ve got, like, a video monitor. Which like, that… Don’t even think of having babies without some kind of a barn monitor. This is like, the craziest story: I think it was about 5 or 6 degrees below 0. And we had multiple goats who were due. And, this one goat was making noise, and I could hear her over the monitor and I thought, “Well, it sounds like she might be kind of serious.” And I go out there, and I look at her; she just looked completely fine. And I checked her ligaments, though, and her tail ligaments were really soft. So I’m like, “Okay, you might give birth overnight.” So I put her into a kidding pen. And it takes me, like, I don’t know, a minute to get from the barn to the house. And so, I put her in the kidding pen, I come in the house, and I start brushing my teeth. And my husband says, “Honey, I think I hear a kid over the baby monitor.” And I’m like, “No, you don’t, I was just out there.” And he’s like, “I really think I hear a kid on the baby monitor.” And, I’m thinking like, “Gosh, it’s, you know, 5 degrees, 6 degrees, below 0. I’ll feel like a big jerk if I go out there tomorrow and we find frozen kids.” So okay, I’ll go out there. So, I go out there, and there was not one kid, there were three kids laying in this massive puddle of water. It’s like, she had just—you know how they scratch sometimes before they give birth? She had, like, made this lovely little hole in the straw where she then plopped her butt. And so, like, these three kids, it’s like they were in this massive puddle that was a couple inches deep. And I was screaming bloody murder over the monitor. I’m like, “She’s kidded! Help! Get out here now! She’s kidded!” And my husband grabs our daughter and brings her out here. And so the three of us, like, we each have a kid in a towel, and we’re trying to dry them off. And then she pushed out a fourth one.

Lisa Davis 19:23

Deborah Niemann 19:24
And, I mean, that is how quick it was. So that’s why when somebody says, “Oh, I’m setting my alarm to check on her every two hours,” I would have gone out there and found four dead kids two hours later.

Lisa Davis 19:37
Yep. We don’t have the luxury of having video monitors in our barn, but we do use a baby monitor during kidding season. It’s on 24/7, and we can nearly always tell, just by the sound of the doe, if she’s in hard labor. Like you said, usually it’s two hours from start to finish. Taking care of the babies doesn’t really take that long if you’re focused and you’re just, you know, going through the steps really quickly. But, like, we also are out there, and then we’re milking colostrum, we’re replenishing her… Like, we usually feed out some hot water and molasses for the does, which really helps them get a lot of their energy back. And then, you know, sometimes we’re out there just doing stuff and, like, monitoring when she passes her placenta. And for us, we have a very consolidated kidding season, so we’re basically kidding out about 50 does within a six-week period. That’s a lot of babies. And so it’s not uncommon for us to have multiple does in labor at the same time.

Deborah Niemann 20:47
Yeah. Last year, I had two does that gave birth at the same time. Literally, like… And it was great, because in terms of my time, it didn’t take any more time.

Lisa Davis 20:59
Right, right.

Deborah Niemann 21:00
And it was crazy, because these two does, I’m like, I’m looking at them going, “I don’t know who’s gonna go first. Like, really either one of you could start popping out kids, like, at any moment now.” So, I put both of them into a regular stall in the barn. And it turned out, ultimately, one doe I was carrying five, one was carrying a single, and the single was born in between the five.

Lisa Davis 21:24
Exactly, yep. And having great—like, going back to, like, taking care of the humans—having great layers, and a really good pair of Carhartt overalls, or Michael’s favorites are his Ridgecut ones from Tractor Supply. Those are really awesome, too, and a very unfashionable barn coat.

Deborah Niemann 21:46
Yeah, when we first moved out here, and I started seeing farmers wearing Carhartt’s, I thought those were the ugliest things I had ever seen. And then, one year, they had the insulated overalls on sale at Tractor Supply towards the end of the season, and it was, like, a really good deal. And I thought, “Hmm…” And so, I got them, and brought them home, and was like, “Oh my gosh, this is like my body’s not even outside.”

Lisa Davis 22:15

Deborah Niemann 22:15
You know? “My face feels the cold, but my body is so much warmer now.”

Lisa Davis 22:20
Yeah, it makes all the difference in the world when you have proper clothing on. I mean, there’s nothing worse than having to deal with, like, wet kids soaking through clothing.

Deborah Niemann 22:31

Lisa Davis 22:32
And it is, like, the biggest challenge with keeping ourselves warm is always our extremities. And, like, when we were doing work in the barn, like, sometimes gloves are just not practical. It’s just like, it’s worse if your gloves get wet. I’d rather have it, like, make my skin wet and then be able to dry my hands off with a towel. That’s the other thing we always have on hand, especially for winter kidding, is a good hearty supply of towels. You know, get all your neighbors used towels when they get a beautiful new set for their bathroom, and, you know, we’ll take any unwanted towel.

Deborah Niemann 23:07
Yeah, I think some of the people in my kidding course… You know, nobody’s ever asked me about it, probably because they just think we’re weird, because we bought some monogrammed towels like 20 years ago, and used them until they were all frayed around the edges and everything, and now they’re goat towels. And so, in some of my videos, you see, like, this monogram on the towels that I’m using to dry the baby goats.

Lisa Davis 23:31
Yes. The amount of, like, laundry that we do during kidding season, because of all the towels we constantly have to wash, is mind-boggling.

Deborah Niemann 23:42
Yeah, exactly. And like, you mentioned the kind of learning things as you go along. Because, a lot of times when people are seeing my videos, they’re like, “Why are you pulling on the kid?” So I try to make a point of saying, “I am not pulling on the kid. I am trying… I’m just supporting them so they don’t fall into the straw.” Because, if they fall in the straw, they will have massive quantities of straw on them, and then that straw is gonna get on your towels, and then you’re gonna have to clean off your towels—

Lisa Davis 24:08
Yes, yep.

Deborah Niemann 24:08
—before you throw them into the washing machine. And initially, we were like, “Oh, we’ll just slide the towel under the doe’s butt. Well, if you do that, then the towel is gonna be completely soaked before the kid even gets out.

Lisa Davis 24:22

Deborah Niemann 24:23
So there’s, like, this evolution, and you’re like, “Okay, honey, so I’m just gonna support this baby so it doesn’t get straw stuck to all the goop. And, because otherwise…

Lisa Davis 24:33
And it’s worse if you use shavings! Like, straw’s easier to even pull out. Like, you get some shavings mixed in with some goat poop that’s inevitably in there, too, and you’re like, “Oh, God,” you know? Now you’ve gotta shake the towel out, and you’re just, you know, trying to get as many of those shavings off, and I don’t want to clog up the washing machine.

Deborah Niemann 24:58
Because, some people are so completely grossed out with their first birth or so about all of the mucus and everything. Like, one lady emailed me and said she threw all the towels away.

Lisa Davis 25:08
Oh, gosh.

Deborah Niemann 25:09
And I’m like, “What? No!” Like, just like, you shouldn’t have done that! Like, I’ve been using the same kidding towels for years. The only thing is, you just don’t want, like, straw and shavings and stuff on there that’s gonna clog up your machine. But the mucus washes out, no problem.

Lisa Davis 25:27
Oh, it does wash out. Like, we usually keep, like, a big heavy-duty trash bag that we use as a laundry bag; we just hang it on a peg in that workroom. And then, like, we… Once it’s filled up with dirty kidding towels, I do a load of laundry, or two loads of laundry, to wash all those towels. And then I bring the fresh ones back out to the barn.

Deborah Niemann 25:49
Let’s talk a little bit now about potential worst case scenarios. So, I know our very first kidding that we ever had with temperatures below 0, we wound up with a kid who lost the tip of his ear to frostbite. And, I did not even know that was possible. Both of my daughters were out there, and I thought I’m, like, done with one, I would hand it to them, and they would give me another one, and I’d start blow-drying it. And then my daughter’s like, “Mom, I think this kid’s ears are freezing.” And you feel it. And, you know, normally their ears are warm and pliable and stuff. And it wasn’t. It was, like, cold and hard and crunchy. And I was like, “Oh my gosh!” I’m, like, blow-drying that, and we got most of it thawed out, but the kid did lose the tip of its ear. And I’m happy to say that’s the only time we’ve lost an ear, I became absolutely obsessive about the ears after that when it was below 0. But then, I did not think about the tail. And that tail has a lot more hair on it. And so, there was another goat that we had that was born, again, below 0. And, about a week after it was born, it’s walking around, and its tail is an L-shape. And so, I picked it up, and half of the tail was hanging by, like, the teensy-weensiest little piece of skin. Which I cut, and, like, it didn’t even bleed, you know, because the skin was dead.

Lisa Davis 27:20

Deborah Niemann 27:20
So, have you had anything that happened in really cold weather that you wanted to share?

Lisa Davis 27:28
Yeah, I mean, you want to talk about where we located the pens?

Michael Davis 27:32
Yeah, I mean, the first year that we did this, we were new. And we were just getting acquainted with the old barn. And it’s a big, old, drafty bank barn, and there’s really no way to insulate it or control all the drafts that are going through it. And the first year, we made a big mistake, and put our kidding pens in a wrong area of the barn where we didn’t know the draft was coming through. And this was the year when we used to dam-raise, so we weren’t always right on top of everything right away. And we lost quite a few kids the first week. It was extremely cold here, below 0, and we would go out, and we would have a dead kid here or there. And we found out it was… We put it directly where the draft came right through the entire barn, and that’s where we had put our pens. And we ended up having to move them all, and then that solved the problem, and we knew what we were looking for. But no, it was a costly mistake. And we didn’t know why, at first, but we soon figured it out.

Lisa Davis 28:39
Yeah, and there’s no worse feeling than like—first, the horrible feeling of, like, losing what was a perfectly viable kid, like… And these were kids that were in kidding pens with their dam, and with heat lamps, and we thought like, “What could it possibly be?” And then it happened, like, two nights in a row, like, right at the beginning of kidding season. And then it it hit us that, like, we had located the kidding pens on the exterior walls of our barn, where as, Michael said, the draft was the worst. And it was on nights where it was wicked wind and sub-0 temperatures. And we’re not just talking, like, 1 to 2 below, we were talking 15, 16, 17 below 0 with those wicked winds. And when you’re talking about raising Nigerian Dwarves, like we do, and, you know, you’re seeing an average birth weight of, say, 2-1/2 to 3 pounds… That’s not a lot of weight to be able to keep well-insulated from those kinds of gusty winds coming through a very drafty old barn.

Deborah Niemann 29:42
And it’s so weird, because what you usually see is that your barn should be well-ventilated, but not drafty. And you’re like, “What the heck does that mean?” That feels like a contradiction.

Deborah Niemann 29:52
Exactly! Yes.

Deborah Niemann 29:54
And it’s like, the example I give is in our barn. It is situated east-west, so it’s 100 feet long. And there are only windows and doors on the east side and the west side. And so, during the summer, we have doors and windows open on both ends. And once winter comes, we close everything on the west side. But we leave the door open on the east side, so that, like, ammonia can escape, and air can get in and stuff, but the wind can’t blow through there.

Lisa Davis 30:25
Yep, yep. And even this year, we’re still, like, taking steps to adjust things. Like, we had a staircase in the barn that, like, drew draft; it, like, pulled air from the top side of our barn. And it was pulling so much draft down the stairwell that we decided to close in the stairwell. It was open before. And it made a huge difference. Like, now you don’t feel nearly as much draft. And it wasn’t so much of an issue, because the draft was coming and it was more on our full-grown milking does, and by that time they could withstand more of that. But we still wanted to minimize that. And that was just a step that we took this year. And we’ve been now breeding for, you know, many years. And it’s still taken us that long to, like, make these kinds of adjustments, just because your priority list is always changing.

Deborah Niemann 31:18
And the wind—just to follow up on that. Like, so many people are scared of temperatures, but really, the wind is a really big deal. Because, the second year that we were kidding, we had this doe—of course, we did not know what we were doing—we had this doe that we kept thinking was in labor for, like, three days. And then, finally, I just got so frustrated, I was like, “Okay, clearly we have no idea what we’re doing. Let’s just put this goat outside.” Like, we’ve been keeping her in the barn for days, and watching her like a hawk, and I’m like, “Just put her out in the outside.” So we did. And then, a little later, one of my children came running in and said, “Mom, she gave birth! There’s kids out in the pasture!” And we go out there, and two of them were up and walking around. One of them was laying on the ground and looked dead. And when I picked her up, I could feel a heartbeat, but she was so cold. Like, she wasn’t moving or anything. And so we… My mentor at that time said, “Put her in a bucket of hot water.” And so that was basically what we did. The thing is, the temperatures were, like, in the 40s, but it was windy.

Lisa Davis 32:34

Deborah Niemann 32:34
And she was… She was smaller than the two brothers that had been born. And so—and she’s probably first, you know—and so she didn’t… Her mom was busy pushing out the other two instead of licking her off. So wind is definitely not your friend when it comes to—

Lisa Davis 32:51
No, it’s way worse than any cold temperature. Like, you don’t really need to worry about goats in the cold temperature. They’re extremely hardy, much hardier than we are as humans, certainly. But wind is—can be—a killer. But, you you raised another issue, Deborah, in your comments just now about, like, what do you do when a kid is really cold like that? And, like, you have to work quickly. Because that happens a lot. Sometimes in winter, no matter what you do, like, a kid, you know, might just be weak and can’t seem to get its body temperature regulated. And so there are also a lot of tricks that we learned over the years, some with tips from our vet, and some from other experienced goat owners in our area about, like, how do you get a kid warm really fast. And you mentioned one of them, like, sort of submerging it in hot water. But, of course, you need to be careful that it’s not so hot that you’re going to scald the kid. But that’s a really effective way of getting body temperature up. But another one is just taking a wool sock, and we fill it with rice, and just, like, close the end with a rubber band and heat it slowly in the microwave, like maybe on bursts of like 20 to 30 seconds at a time, until it’s good and warm. And we lay the sock kind of on the belly side of the kid, and on the backside of the kid, and between the wool and the rice it holds the heat in, and then we just wrap that baby and the rice-filled socks up in a warm blanket and towel. And that’s another really good way of getting a kid warm fast. And, of course, like, if you’re in a really dire situation, then, you know, we always have Ringers on hand. I’m sure you do, too.

Deborah Niemann 34:38
Lactated Ringers?

Lisa Davis 34:39
Yeah. We always have Ringers on hand for those occasions, you know, when you really need to get warm fluids in fast. You know, I always tell people it’s good to have those on hand for those kind of emergency situations, and certainly a tube-feeding kit. You don’t ever want to tube-feed a kid that’s freezing cold, but if you’re having trouble, and you really need to get something into that kid, those things are kind of critical in your winter kidding kit.

Deborah Niemann 35:08
Yeah. And hopefully it doesn’t happen that a kid is going to get that far gone. What usually… That doesn’t usually happen at birth, but sometimes, like, if a kid is a day or two old, and it hasn’t been nursing quite enough.

Lisa Davis 35:23
That’s right.

Deborah Niemann 35:24
And then, like, its body temperature starts to go down, and then it stops nursing as much, and it gets into this downward spiral. And you go out there, and you find this kid laying there crying. And in that situation… So like, you stick your finger in its mouth, it’s cold, so the first thing you have to do is get it warmed up. And, once you get it warmed up, usually that’s all it takes, like—

Lisa Davis 35:47
Right. Yeah, and so being able to, like, get that body temperature up is critical. Like, and knowing how to do it as fast as possible so that they can eat.

Deborah Niemann 35:57
Yeah. About… I think I’m pretty good at getting kids to the point where they don’t need to be tube-fed. And I always tell them this, I’m like, “I hate tube-feeding, so you have to get warmed up and take this bottle, because I do not like to tube-feed.”

Lisa Davis 36:12
Yep! Same here. Michael’s better at it. I’m, like, awful. And I’m too much of a Nervous Nellie to do it to begin with; I’m not bold enough, sometimes. So Michael usually does the tube-feeding, but we very rarely have to do that. Like, some seasons never at all, and other seasons maybe once.

Deborah Niemann 36:33
Right. Yeah, exactly. And you have a lot of kids. Like we… Like now, we only freshen about seven or eight does a year. But, at our peak, when our kids were all home, we had 20, 21 goats kidding most of the time, and 50 to 60 kids a year. And even in those situations, it was like, you know, maybe one kid. And it would be a tiny kid, usually, you know, one that’s, like, smaller than average, so it has a little bit more trouble maintaining its body temperature.

Lisa Davis 37:03
And then you have, like, some weird anomalies. Like, one year we has a little kid born, and he was so skinny. And he was a cream-colored goat. And, of course, when they come out, and they’re that skinny, and they’re all wet in birthing fluid, they almost look transparent. And he was so weak. We literally thought he was dead. And I think he may have been dead. But you know how, like, if you have a kid that comes out and he’s just totally limp and not able to move a muscle, we always, of course, hold it upside down and make sure that there’s no fluid, like, blocking his airways. Like you would, give them a good shake and see if anything happens. And we had this one kid, and he… We did that, like, little last shake, just to make sure he wasn’t alive. And he took one breath. He would take, like, one breath in what seemed like every 30 seconds. I’m sure it was more frequent than that, but it was really minimally breathing. And we’re like, “Okay, what do we do with this kid?” And so, he was so limp, but he was hanging on, and so we just got him good and dry, we laid him down in a cardboard box, and literally we had to take him with us wherever we went for days. But, the weird thing about him is that he would always take a bottle. He never needed to be tube-fed. He couldn’t move a muscle, but he would suck. And I was like, “You know what, this kid’s gonna make it.” And sure enough, he’s still out in our barn. We kept him as a wether. And he’s doing great and thriving. But it’s like, you have those weird instances where you’re… Like, you have a baby born, and you’re like, “This kid is never gonna make it,” and then by some odd miracle, it’s like, “Here he is.” You know?

Deborah Niemann 38:52
Yeah, exactly. Oh, that’s cute! I bet he is a sweetheart from having all that attention.

Lisa Davis 38:59
He’s definitely a farm favorite. And everyone who comes knows his story and always asks to see him. So…

Deborah Niemann 39:07
Well, speaking of fun, this has been a lot of fun to chat about this! And hopefully people are not so nervous now about kidding in cold weather. It is definitely not as scary as most of us think it is before we’ve actually done it a few years.

Lisa Davis 39:26
Yeah. For sure. I always tell people, you know, like, sometimes it’s the human nerves that cause more of the problems than the actual birth. Like, I see a lot of, like, new goat owners who just worry themselves to death, and sometimes it leads people to intervene too much and too quickly. And, you know, you have to sometimes just, like, step back and realize that the animal is far more capable of dealing with things than you might give them credit for. I mean, it’s always good to be there to help them when they need it, but they don’t often need a lot of assistance.

Deborah Niemann 40:05
Yeah, exactly. And the big reason you need to be there in the winter is just to get them dry and warm and make sure that they’re nursing, you know, before you leave the barn.

Lisa Davis 40:14
That’s exactly right.

Deborah Niemann 40:15
Remember, they’re desert animals. We brought them to this horrible climate. So, don’t talk to me about being natural. Because, if you got goats where there’s—in these horribly cold places, then we are responsible for making sure their babies don’t freeze to death when they’re born.

Lisa Davis 40:35
Right. That’s right.

Deborah Niemann 40:36
Well, thank you so much for joining us today! This has been a lot of fun, and hopefully it’s been very helpful for people who are listening.

Lisa Davis 40:44
Yeah, I hope so. Thanks so much for having us, Deborah! It’s always so great to chat with you.

Michael Davis 40:48
Yeah, it’s been fun.

baby goat in the barn

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