PARTURITION – As the time for kidding approaches, does will become swollen and slow. The maturing kids are using her remaining energy reserves and she needs as much care as possible. Most important is plenty of drinking water as that is the major component of the amniotic fluid and of milk. Goats in general are very water conservative, able to go up to three days without water. But during these last few days, water intake by the pregnant does is very important. The last trimester is not the time to perform any management activities such as foot trimming or moving over long distances.
Does about to go into labor will normally seek a secluded spot. If possible, freshening does should not be allowed to go out with the herd and should be kept close to the barn or camp. They should be left alone during this time and allowed to birth their kids without interruption. Labor is characterized by heavy breathing, bearing down and the occasional bleat. The doe will most often lie down. Straining for more than 20 minutes may indicate that there is an abnormal presentation that may require the intervention of the herder. Normally, goats are able to birth their kids without intervention and this is a trait that we must strive to preserve during our intensive breeding and selection program. Does requiring intervention during kidding should not be part of an elite herd.
Birthing usually begins with the tips of one or two front feet peaking through the vulva. The hooves are covered in a waxy/rubbery shoe that protects the birth canal wall. A tiny muzzle and head should closely follow the feet. Once the head is out, the rest of the body should follow easily. Usually the impact of the kid upon the ground breaks the amniotic sac, clearing the nostrils for their first breath. If not, the doe is usually right there to clean the newborn, although her methods are somewhat random and she may not begin at the nose. If there are twins, the second will closely follow the first. Once the placenta is passed, there will be no more kids born.
The does will eagerly lick newborn kids and she may even eat the hormone-rich placenta and amniotic sac. The stimulus of her licking not only dries the kids, but also stimulates them to try to stand. Once upright, they will instinctively seek the teat, although they may begin the hunt at the does’ brisket. During this time period, it is very important to leave the doe and kids alone. They should not be disturbed until the kids have had a chance to fill their bellies with colostrum. Colostrum is THE KEY to kid survival for it contains antibodies against the diseases most likely to kill the kid during the first 30 days of life. Kids are not born with antibodies and must get them through the colostrum.
Colostrum is the thick, yellowish milk that the doe produces the first few days after delivery. As stated above, it is rich not only in antibodies but also in fats and protein that will give the kid a head start in life. The most important thing to remember is that there is a short period of time during which the kid must eat the colostrum or else it will do no good. This is because the antibody molecules are very large physically and they must pass through the kid’s gut wall during the first 6 to 8 hours of life. After the first 8 hours and definitely after the first 12 hours of life, the large antibodies become physically unable to pass through the shrinking apertures in the kid’s gut wall and they will exit ineffectually or be broken down by the activating gut acids instead of being absorbed into the bloodstream. Separation of the kid from its dam during these first 6 to 8 hours is to be avoided at all costs. If a doe looks as if shemight kid that day, do not let her go out with the rest of the herd. Keep her nearby and keep an eye on her. If a kid does not get colostrum from its mother, milk from a doe that has very recently kidded should be manually fed to the newborn via a bottle and the kid returned to the natural mother as soon as possible. Bonding between the kid and its mother will occur during these first critical hours. Reasons to intervene in this bonding and feeding cycle include inclement weather and life-threatening situations such as predator approach or relocation. But kids and dams should be reunited as soon as possible after separation.
Kid bucks born to does that are not part of the elite herd can be castrated during the first week of life or castrated later at age 1.5 to 2 months of age. This can be accomplished by cutting off the end of the scrotum, opening the elastic bag that encloses each teste and removing both testicles by severing the epididymus with a scissors/blunt pincher device called a burdizzo. That device crushes the epididymus, not only severing it but also seals off its blood supply. Alternatively, a rubber castration band can be placed around the scrotum above both testicles but close to the body wall. This technique is faster, less stressful to the bucks and reduces the risk of infection and fly problems, but is best used on animals less than three weeks old. Does that are not part of the elite herd may give birth to very nice male kids, but in order to accelerate the progress in a breeding scheme, only bucks born to superior does should be used as breeders. The best way to keep inferior bucks from breeding is to castrate them. They will also spend less energy on “male” play and will eat more and be in better condition.
During the first week of life, the kids are not able to cover long distances but are really very quick if necessary. They are also practically odorless and will tend to remain perfectly motionless if threatened. This makes them invisible to predators. If the doe runs or wanders away from her kids, she will eventually return to them, if not prevented by the herder, or get close enough so her calls will attract their attention. Every doe knows the voice of her kids and visa versa. Some does will return to the kids only once or twice a day, preferring to stash them in a safe, warm place. Others prefer to stay with their kids even if it means segregating themselves from the herd. As the kids get older, large groups of them will band together and remain in an entertaining area to play with one or two does remaining nearby as baby sitters.