This past weekend two amazing miracles happened. After months of anticipation and many nights of worrying that I would screw everything up; our goats finally had their babies. Judy’s due date was on Thursday the 14th and Liza’s was on Wednesday the 20th. The day before and the day of Judy’s due date, I checked her over a few times throughout the day. I had heard that first timers usually kid a few days late anyway so I wasn’t all that concerned. But then around 5pm I went to check on her and saw Liza in the corner with babies. Well, so much for first kiddings going a few days late! Liza was six days early. This was the beginning of a whirlwind weekend and our experience of our first kidding with our first fresheners.
On the day of Judy’s due date, I kept checking her excessively. Looking at her udder, ligaments and lady parts for any change. But with this being her first kidding, as well as ours, I really had no idea what I was looking for. My google search phrases that day read “signs of first freshener labor,” “what time of day do goats give birth” and “goat mucus plug.” And then I got distracted and watched SNL clips on my phone. One thing I did know was that a watched goat never kids. So I went out in the garden to plant some edamame. While I was out there, I heard a moan/cry/bleat and looked into the goat pasture. I saw Judy browsing and grazing so I figured it was nothing. A while later I went up to the barn for my 25th check of the day and that’s when I got a surprise.
I walked in to see Liza in the corner of the barn with one tiny baby and one huge stillborn. What the what?! Liza wasn’t due for another six days! This was day 144 of her gestation. I screamed for Dave who was still out in the garden. He and Reeko came running, full sprint, to the barn. And all of a sudden I had no idea what to do. This was a huge surprise.. our first kidding that was six days early. And not perfect. I felt like all of the planning and researching I had been doing for the past few weeks was all for nothing. It was like I was in high school and spent all night cramming for a History test and then the teacher gave me a Geometry test instead. And that test was covered in placenta.
Since Liza’s baby girl was slightly premature, she was a tiny and fragile delicate flower. I waited to move them in the prepared kidding stall until Liza bonded with the baby by cleaning her off. Once they bonded and the baby was pretty much clean, the next task was to get the baby up on its feet and nursing. I had read/thought that kids needed colostrum within an hour of birth or else.. well, it would be bad. I started to panic a little bit. The baby wasn’t standing up or looking for a teat. We called our friend and farm mentor, Sharon, for advice. Sharon advised that since it was a difficult birth (early and stillborn) that they probably needed some time to rest. We gave Liza a healthy portion of grain and her special “momma tea” (warm water and molasses). About 30 minutes after we got off the phone with Sharon, we noticed that the baby still wasn’t standing up yet and not nursing. I held the baby up to try to get its footing but it really wasn’t strong enough yet. She wasn’t reaching for a teat either. And when she did, Liza wasn’t having it. It was first time jitters all around for all parties involved. I felt like a surgical doctor, ordering Dave to get colostrum mix ready, iodine and my camera. My parents always wanted me to go into the medical field so I think this would have pleased them. We called back Sharon. She suggested holding Liza still and lifting one of her legs so the baby could nurse without Liza moving away. We tried it and it worked! Eventually, the baby was able to stand unassisted and nurse. Small success! After that, we learned our next kidding lesson: get out of the way. Sometimes human assistance/midwifery can make the doe and kid nervous or anxious and it’s best to step back and let them do their thing.
Once we saw the baby nurse and get that liquid gold colostrum, we left the kidding stall and watched from a distance. Dave and I marveled at the miracle that had just happened. We had been waiting for this moment for almost two years! This was our first baby goat born at the farm. Life had just happened. We decided to come back and check on the pair every few hours throughout the night to make sure everything was going ok. Each time we came out to check on them, we encouraged the baby to nurse and helped Liza to get the hang of nursing. I was nervous for the little baby. She didn’t seem very strong, and was sleeping a lot. I thought that baby goats would be up and running around, bouncing off the walls. But being born is a lot of work and I’m sure very strange, so no wonder she was tired. We made sure that she nursed every few hours throughout the night and by the next morning, she was standing on her own and nursing. We didn’t need to hold Liza’s leg or anything! Another small success!
I woke up the next morning after a small nap, wondering if it had all been a dream. Liza’s baby was now starting to stand up and take a few steps, then fall down, and pick herself back up again. More small successes! It seemed like every time she nursed, she got stronger and more confident. That amazing milk was giving her super powers! Liza’s udder and teats were now huge and full of milk! Her udder doubled, almost tripled in size since Thursday morning. It had always been small throughout her pregnancy but she really bagged out after labor. But now I had to figure out what to do for them post-kidding. My google searches for that day read “what to do post-kidding,” “deworming after kidding,” “how do I know the baby is getting enough milk” and “old Hollywood actress names.” I kept Liza and the baby in her stall most of the day so they could bond, but let Liza out for a few breaks while the baby was sleeping. I wanted to make sure that she passed all of her placenta (she did), eating enough (she was) and that the baby passed the meuconium/first black tarry poop (she did). I gave Liza her grain topped with an herbal dewormer, followed by Ivermectin and some vitamin B complex for a boost. I gave the baby a tiny bit of the same vitamin B complex and it seemed to perk her up. But the way she was laying while she slept looked like she was a lifeless flop. I kept checking to make sure she wasn’t dead. I started to understand her routine; sleep a lot, get up and nurse until she was full (which didn’t take much because she was itty bitty), walk around a little bit then back to sleep. Periodically I would check her mouth to make sure it was warm. That told me that she had been nursing.
Meanwhile, Judy was still sitting pretty, not showing signs of labor. But then again, what did I know? I had no clue that Liza was about to pop out her baby yesterday.
This was two days after Judy’s due date (day 152 of gestation). We had a bunch of errands to run that day and it was raining, so it made sense that Judy would have her babies. And she did. About 10 minutes before we got home, we got a call from Reeko saying that Judy had two babies! They were still wet, but bonding nicely and already up and nursing. Wow! What a crazy difference from Liza and her baby! We were so excited to meet them, I was about to jump out of the car and start running home. She had one boy and one girl, it was perfect! Even at a few hours old, the two had so much personality and energy. I felt way more confident this time. I interacted with them (am I just NOT supposed to cuddle newborn baby goats?) but then got out of their way.
Liza’s baby was still continuing to make progress, she had more energy and confidence. She was actually starting to jump and hop and run a little ways before falling down and getting back up again. However, she was only nursing one side of Liza’s udder. To prevent mastitis, I had to start milking out the opposite side. While the baby was nursing the right side, I snuck around and milked a few squirts out of the left side.
Once word got out that we had baby goats, we had a steady stream of visitors at the farm. I’d like to think they came to visit us but let’s face it, they’re here to meet the golden goat children. My parents were the first to visit and they were also the witness to my very first milking! I planned to milk out Liza’s left side completely 2-3 times a day. While they were here, she stood still for me while I milked out my very first half pint! I sang her “Soft Kitty” so she would associate her being good with me milking her. You know, the song that Penny sings to Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory. By the end of Sunday I was able to milk out about two pints from her left side! I think this means she’ll end up being a great milker! She has a huge udder and nice big teats which made milking a breeze. I proudly marched into the house with my mason jar trophy of milk. It was real milk! Like, the kind you see in the store! But it’s just coming out of her! After it cooled down in the fridge I tasted it and it was awesome. Everyone we offered it to tasted it, then said “Wow, it tastes just like milk.” Yep! No goaty smell of after taste. It was delicious. Many other farmers commented that I was about to fall in love with the farm all over again and that milking is one of the greatest joys of farming. So far, they have been proven to be right.
This was also the day that the babies started to socialize in the barn and meet their other herdmates. I couldn’t help but pick them up and cuddle them close. I don’t know if you’ve ever smelled fresh baby goat before but they smell like sweet milk and they’re softer than a Williams Sonoma bath towel/Four Seasons comforter/your favorite hoodie straight out of the dryer hybrid. That smell lingered with me the rest of the day and made me smile. It’s so easy to spend hours and hours and hours in the goat barn now. When I want to take a break and drink some coffee or eat some lunch, I’m doing it in the goat barn. If Dave needs to find me, I’m probably in the goat barn. One time I think I actually fell nodded off and fell asleep in there.
Every day is filled with small victories and laughs. But also a lot more google searches. Lately it’s been “post-kidding care and record keeping” “when can baby goats go onto pasture” and “how soon can I milk a goat after freshening.” Also, “cute baby goat coats,” “baby goat playpens” and “are baby goats the greatest gift ever to mankind.” The answer is… yes.
So.. lessons learned from our first kidding
1. Keep an eye on your doe beginning one week before her due date. They can go early or late. But there is no science as to exactly when.
2. When she is in labor and even post-labor, resist the urge to be right on top of the new glorious goat child. You’ll probably make them more nervous and just interfere with their instincts. Take a step back, watch from outside the kidding stall. If the doe is a good mom, she’ll clean off her baby, pass her own placenta and encourage them to nurse.
2a. First time moms can be weird with nursing. Judy started nursing right away and Liza didn’t. But when we held her tightly and lifted her leg so the baby could nurse, she caught on quickly. We only had to do that twice before Liza and her baby nursed without assistance.
3. Afterwards, mom and babies need to rest. They’ve both been through a lot. Don’t be discouraged if the babies sleep a lot. They’re probably fine and not dead. (I seriously thought that every time the babies were laying down I had messed something up and killed them. I didn’t. They’re just tired.) They’ll get up, nurse, walk around for a few minutes then take a nap. Then repeat.
3a. A happy and healthy baby will wag their tail when nursing, look alert with bright eyes, walk around, explore, nap and nurse. A good mom will encourage their babies to nurse, stand still when they’re nursing, clean them off, call out to them periodically, eat and drink normally.
4. Let mom and babies bond overnight in their own kidding stall. Then beginning the next day, let mom and the babies explore the barn for a few supervised hours at a time. Then eventually they’ll be out running around on pasture in one big herd.
5. The does should produce enough milk for her babies. The babies will let her know when they need to nurse and the’ll nurse until they’re full. If you’re unsure if they’re getting any, sneakily milk out a few squirts from each teat to make sure there’s not a plug and she’s releasing her milk. All does are built differently. Liza has a very large udder with large teats with large openings so her baby nurses just for a little bit every few hours since she’s getting a lot of milk at one time. Judy has a smaller udder with small teats and small openings so her babies nurse for a longer period of time more frequently.
6. If you have a doe that has a single kid and that kid is only favoring one side of her udder, try to milk out the opposite side a few times a day to prevent mastitis and encourage the kid to switch sides. I’ve been milking Liza out 2-3 times a day and so far I’ve been able to get about 2 pints a day from one side of her.
7. Take lots and lots of records and notes. Did the doe kid before or after her due date? What time of day did she kid? How many and what sex? Did you give her a chemical dewormer after? Did she accept or reject the kids? How much milk is she producing? Etc. We have a calendar in our goat barn dedicated to such records. Like a goat diary but with less gossip.
8. Take lots of pictures and videos until your husband politely asks you to come inside for the night because you’ve been in the barn for three hours just staring at the babies. And you may have nodded off in there for a little bit.
9. Get ready for milking! That’s my plan for next week.
10. Have a list of “goat people” you can contact with questions.
11. Get ready to be bombarded with people wanting to come visit. And that can be a great thing! Socializing dam raised goats is very important so they can grow up loving people and not just their momma.
12. Goats also respond very well to routine. Every night at 9pm we lock Liza and her baby in one stall and Judy and her babies in another. In the morning we go out to the barn at 9am and let Liza on the milkstand first to feed her grain, followed by Judy. Then Lucy and Babs, because while they’re not even close to being bred yet, they’ll be ready for it early. And now I’m making sure that I feel their bellies so when they do have their babies, they’re not weirded out like Judy and Liza are.
And finally… the most fun part: naming the babies! Baby goat names are very important to me and I took a lot of care and consideration in naming them. Here are the names and stories behind them.
And as for our boy, we’re planning on rehoming him to Green Finned Hippy Farms once he’s weaned. They need a herd sire and we don’t have the need for one right now. But if we were keeping him, he’d be Fred Astaire. Obviously.