Kidding season is on the horizon. We have five does bred -(I hope). Four of which are due in March. It has been a while since we've had first timers kidding. This will be the fourth kidding season for our original three does. We have two does, Zinnia and Zuri, who will be two this spring and this will be their first kidding. Zinnia and her dam Rose are due in four to five weeks. Zinnia's udder is just starting to take shape - very exciting! She is looking great. Much better than her dam, who is probably carrying two and maybe three kids. We got the does out for a walk today, and while Zinnia is still running around and quite frisky, Rose was lagging behind everyone, slowly trudging up the hill. She had three bucklings last spring!
As far as prenatal care goes, I suppose the most important thing is to know when your doe was bred and when she is due. Or, I suppose diet tops that. Diet is extremely important for bred milking does. Building kids and making milk puts enormous strain on their bodies. I'm not going to go into great detail on the different kidding related "diseases" in this post, other than to say that the big ones that are diet related are Pregnancy toxemia and Ketosis. The first happens during pregnancy and is caused by inadequate feeding or an excess of grain. Ketosis occurs shortly after kidding, due to the demands of producing milk and most likely not enough grain or feed. Here is a link to a reliable source on signs of these diseases and how to treat them.
So far we have been fortunate to have healthy does and healthy strong kids through all of our doe pregnancies so far. We did have one disaster two seasons ago where we lost two kids, but I see it as operator error rather than a component lacking in prenatal care. We had a doe that had three kids that were not presenting themselves in the correct position and we waited too long before going in and pulling them out. You can read about it here.
Our does get as much brome hay as they can eat, twice a day. They like leafy green hay. They do not like fine hay, stemmy hay or brown hay. Contrary to the myth that goats eat anything, goats are in fact extremely picky. The goats have constant access to a loose mineral supplement which is specifically for goats. As far as grain goes, I'm feeding the pregnant does between a half of a pound and a pound (depending on the goat's body condition) of COB, rolled corn, rolled oats and rolled barley. Other options would be to feed goat chow, a pelleted feed containing various grain by products and other supplements which increase the protein content of the feed. I feed a large handful of alfalfa pellets and one of black oil sunflower seeds to the bred does, and a light sprinkling to the dry does. The alfalfa pellets provide a source of protein and most importantly calcium. Sunflower seeds provide vitamin E, and a healthy source of fat and protein. Feeding hay, grain and supplying a loose mineral supplement to pregnant goats may not meet all of their calcium needs. When does don't get enough calcium during pregnancy a condition called Hypocalcemia occurs. I've thought that feeding some alfalfa hay or alfalfa pellets throughout pregnancy should solve this problem. I've been told not to feed calcium during the last few weeks of pregnancy. I've also read to do the opposite. Here is the most recent article I've read on Hypocalcemia, according to this article, I'm not feeding anywhere near enough calcium. Hm.
I've always purchased Molly's herbal pregnancy tonic to feed the goats during their last five or so weeks of pregnancy. In it are the same herbs you'd find in any pregnancy tea for women; fennel, raspberry leaves, alfalfa, cinnamon and nettles. I've also purchased and fed her herbal dietary supplement year round to everyone which has spirulina, alfalfa, dandelion, nettles and flax seed in it. I've been meaning to feed flax seed and kelp, both of which we buy in fifty pound bags for the chickens, but I've been slacking. We did harvest and dry our own wild raspberry leaves, nettles and dandelion this year. I've just one gallon of each dried. I've been saving them for this time of year. So the pregnant does are getting a small handful of each on top of their grain each morning. This isn't as much as I'd like to have, but it is something. Hopefully next year we can harvest two to three times as much of each of these herbs.
The only other supplement I'm giving the goats is selenium. Some soil in the interior is deficient in selenium. So there is a good chance our hay is low in selenium. I guess the mineral supplement may not have enough selenium, so it is recommended that goats in low selenium soil areas be given additional selenium. So I buy the selenium/vitamin E gel. About seven weeks before kidding I give the does a dose, then every couple weeks till kidding.
Other care ideas for pregnant goats is trimming their hooves 5-7 weeks before kidding. The does may have a hard time balancing for hoof trimming closer to their kidding date. If their hooves are too long it will make walking around that much more difficult. And of course exercise is also important for all of us, including pregnant goats. It makes sense that pregnant goats will have healthier kids, less complicated labors and suffer less from the stresses of pregnancy if they get regular exercise.
Shortly before kidding I give the does a hair trimming around their tail and udder area so that they clean up easier after kidding. About a week before the goat is due, I start putting the doe in her own stall at night and feeling for her tail ligaments. I'll write more about kidding as we get closer.
If feeding pregnant does sounds complicated, it kind of is. When you start reading about mineral deficiencies in goats, it does get kind of scary. We would like to think that feeding quality green leafy hay, the right amount of grain, providing fresh water and a constant mineral supplement should be enough to keep goats in healthy condition. However, the reality is that goats were not meant to be confined in small pens and fed dried hay and grain. They are browsers. If you let goats out to pasture in a field of hay, they will look for the weeds, or the browse on the side of the field. They prefer the bark, leaves and branches of trees, the tender tips and buds of shrubs. If you think about the root systems of trees and shrubs, they extend deeper into the ground than hay and grasses, therefor are absorbing higher amounts of nutrients. The standard diet for feeding goats is not their natural diet, and therefor extra measures are needed to make it work.
If you are new to goats, getting into goats, and especially if this is your first kidding season, I strongly recommend Molly's Fiasco Farm site. I consider her the online goat care bible. She has a comprehensive section on goats kidding and what to expect.
This year is the letter B for goat names with the American Dairy Goat Association. My favorites so far are Bella, Blue, Bernadette (Bernie), Bridget and Bridie. I've got a disbudding iron and instructions for building a kid box ordered. Other than that I suppose we are ready for kids. I'm enjoying sleeping through the night and not looking forward to waking up for midnight doe checks. Our farm helper will be helping with goat kidding this year as she has been working with the goats regularly since last spring. I'm looking forward to having fresh milk. I don't know why I do this to myself, breed all of our goats and not leave someone in milk to get us through. I figured it was only seven weeks without milk and I had some milk frozen - but it is not the same. I'm looking forward to making pudding and having cream for my tea.