Well, there is breeding, having kids and raising them up. There is also butchering, but until I have actually gone through the process and see what can be done better or what was useless to do, I don’t want to write about that right now.
You have a doe. You have or can get access to a buck. What now?
The goats should have been kept wormed, have loose mineral available at all times, be up to date on CD & T vaccinations. Both sexes should be healthy, well nourished (dairy goats carry their fat in their abdomen, not so much over the body, but you don’t want to see ribs). They should be sleek and shiny and act like they feel good. Please don’t breed a goat that is not feeling well or is skinny. You will lose the kids and maybe the doe, too.
Bucks can be stinky. It’s usually best if they are separated from the does for several reasons. One is that if a doe cycles, he is going to breed her. This could be a problem in July because you will have January kids. When you have a newborn, wet kid and sub degree weather, it’s a recipe for disaster. If you have a protected barn and lots of straw and some kind of heat source, even if it is just the other does around with the door closed, that will raise the temp a good 30 degrees. In the north, I used to use a heat lamp but be aware that goats are curious and like to get into things. A heat lamp that is still on and in the straw will mean dead goats and a burned out barn. I hung them up over the place where the kids could go to stay warm, which was the bottom of an old plastic dog house. But the doe still must be watched regularly when she is near her time to kid.
Breeding usually takes place in the late summer or fall. Count up 5 months for an approximate date of kids arriving. Bucks will go into rut about mid-summer to late summer. They will do disgusting things like pee on their faces and sometimes on you, too! Some people cannot abide the smell, it doesn’t bother me but it is stinky. If you must do something with your bucks during this time, move them somewhere, give them vaccinations, trim their feet, worm them, then wear old clothes and wash them with double the soap when you are done. I find plenty of dish soap on my hands and a good scrub removes most of the smell, or you can wear gloves. My boys are friendly and sweet even when they are stupid with the rut, and like to be petted, so I generally wear gloves just so I can rub them some. Learning to mouth breathe helps.
Being in rut will entice the does to cycle and come into season. You will see the bucks gather at the fence, rolling their eyes, doing a spitting noise, braying, peeing on themselves. Pretty much what you see at Bubba’s Bar and Grill on a Saturday night. The girls will let you know when they are ready, too, standing nearby, walking up and down in front of the boys, sometimes there is a whitish discharge. The most reliable thing for me to notice is that they wag their tails, quite vigorously. I watch my does every day to see who is ready to visit their boyfriend.
Now we are ready to accomplish The Deed.
I will not elaborate a lot on the birds and the bees here; I’m hoping that you all understand the basic mechanics of the process! There are three ways to accomplish this. One is to leave the buck in with the does. This will make your milk have an odor if you are currently milking the doe. It also means that you never know for sure if the deed has taken place and you may wait 5 months for nothing. The second way is to put the two lovers together and let nature take its course over an hour or so. Then put the buck back where he lives and the doe back where she lives. I usually linger nearby during this time, to observe and be sure she was actually bred. The third way is called “hand breeding” and consists of you holding the doe’s collar/head while the buck mounts her. This is what I usually do. It is quick like a bunny. Very quick. You will know if he has penetrated because the doe will arch her back and squat almost like she is trying to pass urine.
Just as a matter of information, there is a fourth way to breed with artificial insemination but I could probably write a lot on it and it would go over your heads. For the average goat owner, this is usually not an option.
Make sure your does have access to plenty of fresh hay, good pasture and maybe a handful of grain if it makes you feel good. They are feeding 2 or more now!
Kids have an average gestation period of around 150 days (5 months). This can vary each way by about 5 days. If you leave your buck in with your does, you never quite know “when” things will happen and run the risk of losing kids, particularly if it is cold. Most does have 2 kids, one kid on the first kidding, then two, and some girls have had a litter, as many as six kids!
Signs of pregnancy are not obvious until 1-2 months before kids are due. They will thicken around the waist, and begin to develop an udder. When they lie down to rest, you will think “battleship” and will pet and apologize to them. While the rumen is prominent on the right, the left side will fill out, too. Some are still not as obvious but in that case, I treat them as if they are pregnant because they could have a singleton kid in there, and need the same care.
Some of the signs of kidding being imminent are: the ligaments around the tail disappear. If you look around on the internet, you can see how to feel for this. I have not learned the “knack” yet so I only mention it in passing. I can’t feel the ligaments for 2 weeks before they kid, but people who are skilled at this can narrow it down to 24 hours. A day or two before, you may notice some white “goo” from the doe’s vulva. This is perfectly normal. Sometimes you see it a week before, too. My girls tend to keep to themselves, in the barn, quietly contemplative, just chilling out. I am thinking of beginning to take their temperatures, in dogs, the temperature drops about 24 hours before a girl will whelp pups, so I wonder if that is true with goats. I will let you all know if this is so next spring.
Just a note: the rumen, one of the stomachs, is on the right side of the doe. It can look quite huge at times and can often be mistaken for pregnancy or more babies inside than there really are.
I have stalls so I fill them with straw, a small hole hay bag (goats waste a lot of hay) and a water bucket. Hang the bucket up high because 1) they poop in it and 2) they could have a kid in it. If you have to, put a small step of some kind so they must step up to drink. My stalls are made of wire panels so they can see each other and that seems to calm them, they are still in a herd situation. Keep some old towels and a couple of rolls of paper towels down in the barn, along with a bucket of fresh water for you to rinse your hands in if necessary. Keep your cell phone with the vet’s number in it and it’s always helpful to call the vet a day or two before and tell them that you are a first time goat kidder and that you may need assistance. It’s rare that you will have to call them.
Once you have decided that the time is close, stay nearby. You may see her begin to dig in the straw. Sometimes they just lie down and wait, chewing their cud. I check about every 30 minutes. If I see contractions, I turn a bucket over, have a seat and get ready to help. Mostly they don’t need much help but I do go in with my does. You will see a series of contractions and then some hard pushing. This can take anywhere from an hour or maybe two, to move the kid down into the right position. You may see a “bubble” presented first and this is normal. It will break and the baby will follow in a while.
A perfect kidding will have the kid be presented right side up, first two front hooves and then quickly a nose. A few good pushes and soon the most darling of animals will be on the hay. I tear open the membrane on the face if it is still intact and push it back. Then take some paper towels and wipe the nose and inside of the mouth to clean it up. The baby should be breathing when you wipe them up. This just gets the gunk and goo out of the way so he can breathe better. Usually the umbilical cord will tear and separate, if it does not then DO NOT PULL ON IT! Take your fingers and tear a little bit a time, as close to the vulva as you can. The afterbirth will come out in a while. You don’t want to cut it because it will bleed quite a bit. You can tie it with a piece of string or even dental floss if it seems to be bleeding more than you are comfortable with. And I should mention that most does have their babies just fine on their own but I still like to be present.
On occasion, you will have a breech birth. These are tricky because being presented with the back feet first, the umbilical cord (lifeline) of the kid may be compressed or torn before the kid is completely out. You have four minutes to get that kid out safely before it dies in that case.
If you feel the doe is having trouble, you must rinse your hand/arm and go inside. It doesn’t happen often but sometimes kids get mashed together and you must try and push one back and encourage the other to come into the space so it can come out. At this point I don’t care whether it comes out front or back, I just want it out. A kid may be presented with the head thrown back and will never be born, so if you don’t push it back a little and then get that head turned around, you will lose the kids and the doe. If you cannot do this, call a vet to come out and help. Another malpresentation is with one leg and the head coming out and one leg back along the side of the body. If there is room for you to get your hand in there, you can often bring that leg forward.
If the doe is having problems, pushing and you have a presentation occurring, wait until the legs appear. Take about 6 paper towels, wrap them around the middle of the lower part of the legs (like between your wrists and your elbows) and pull steadily, arcing towards the ground. Only pull when she is pushing. When she stops, you stop. I had a very large kid that I had to help this spring, and I wondered that I would ever get him out. It seemed to take 20 minutes but a friend who was there with me said it only took about 4 minutes. He would come out about an inch with each push/pull. Momma was yelling the whole time and she wanted him out.
Once the kid is out and you have cleaned his face, take the towel and rub him dry. Kick some clean straw over the wettish area and put the kid on a dry area. Encourage the doe to nose and lick, when she does, you can step back. If it is cold, though, I keep rubbing and drying. I am always surprised at how quickly they dry out. In a few minutes, he will be trying to stand and it’s so sweet to sit in a stall with a new baby, the smell of sweet hay in your nose and the miracle of birth in front of you. Jesus was born in a barn and I can’t think of a better place to be. Time for some smiles at the standing lessons and a nice pat for Momma Goat.
If there are more kids, then within an hour or even less, you will see more contractions.
I like to give Momma Goat a bucket of warm water to drink and will freshen up the stall, take out the wet spots of straw and fluff up some new straw for the new family.
Watch to be sure the babies find the teat and drink. They will just take 2 or 3 sips and then walk away. They will drink more vigorously as they grow. Watch the little ones, if you have more than two, the big ones will push it away and it will weaken and die in a day if you don’t pull it away from Mom and get a bottle with some formula in it. If you are going to milk Momma Goat, let them stay with her about 12-24 hours, then move them to a separate stall where she cannot see them. You can begin to give them a bottle then. You will have to train them to it and remember they like it quite warm. Momma Goat should have had stanchion lessons before the birth, be able to stand on the milking stanchion, eat grain, have her head restrained and you touching her teats and udder on both sides. She may struggle a little on the first milking or two but when she sees that you are relieving the pressure she feels, and she has grain, she will be cooperative and give her milk willingly. She can then go out with the general herd in a day or two. Watch her for mastitis, an infection of the teat/udder, redness, swelling, heat, pain. Also watch her general demeanor, if she acts off or sick in any way, she may have retained a placenta and you will have to call the vet. Sometimes a placenta will come out and just hang for a while. It’s enough to drive someone with OCD out of their minds but do not pull it. It will come out in a day or so. I have cut it off about 6 inches away from the vulva just so it doesn’t look so gross.
The first milk is called colostrum and is essential for the kids to have some of this. If you have a weak kid, you may have to milk her and try to get it down him with a bottle or you can tube feed it. I do have a tube feeding kid for young kids, I have never had to use it, though. They usually drink from the bottle.
The milk will be watery looking for a few days, then will become more opaque in a week or so. Give the kids the milk right along and all that they want. You will have to milk twice a day if you do this.
You can let Momma Goat raise the kids herself if you don’t want the milk, but the kids must be handled and held every day for a few minutes to keep them friendly toward humans. I raise all my babies myself, they are friendly and easy to sell this way. I prefer my babies to go as pets or as milkers because they are dairy goats. This probably isn’t an issue if you have meat goats but some of them are really big so if you want to be able to handle your goats well, I would advise milking and feed the babies, keeping the extra milk for yourself.
Goats can be milked for nearly a year but most advise to slow down the milking and stop when they are getting close to being bred. This will allow the doe to have a rest.
I’m sure there is more I can write but will need to think about other subjects on goats that will be important to know!
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