Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Goatherds are Not Midwives

I wrote this blog post back in 2010 after watching some particularly disturbing youtube videos. It was nice to vent, but I don't feel it was as helpful a post as it could be, so I'm rewriting it.

Here's the thing folks - we are talking about animals here. They do know what to do and can birth and mother their kids on their own - most of the time. When I say "goatherds are not midwives", I mean you don't need to lay out chux pads, offer perineal support and coaching. When I see people treating livestock like humans, I get concerned. There is a term for this - anthropromorphism - ascribing human characteristics to something not human. The danger of anthropromorphism is that animals are not respected for what they are, and their unique needs are not met.

Folks new to goats often get nervous about attending their first goat births. While this is natural human emotion, your nervousness really doesn't do your goats any good. I'd like this article to help you prepare and put you at ease. The first rule of thumb is that easy birthing is typical for healthy animals. It is very important that you assimilate this belief. Say it to yourself over and over again as a mantra. Animals run on instinct. Any kind of animal trainer can tell you that animals pick up on how you are feeling. Additionally domesticated animals look to their humans as leaders. Do not stress your animals unneccesarily by acting worried and concerned everytime you look at them. Put forth calm confidence. If you don't believe it, fake it until you do.

The second rule of thumb is make sure your pregnant does are indeed healthy! I cannot think of anything more important to a pregnant doe than minerals. Mineral deficiencies are the root cause of a number of labor difficulties. The first mineral to consider is calcium. Goats need a ratio of Calcium to Phosphorus that is around 2:1. Grass hay and grain are high in phosphorus. Alfalfa is one of the easiest ways to add calcium to the diet. Lack of calcium can cause ineffectual contractions and hypocalcemia (often mistakenly diagnosed as toxemia or ketosis). Selenium is another important nutrient. Selenium supports effectual labors and healthy vibrant kids. Alot of folks use BoSe injections. BoSe is obtained from your veternarian. We use Selenium yeast on the feed 6 weeks prior to kidding. Copper is important for nervous system health. Avoid products labeled "for sheep and goats" - these products do not contain copper which is essential for goats. Zinc is important for immune function. Additionally make sure that your goats are in good condition for kidding. They shouldn't be jiggly with fat, but having a layer of fat over the ribs and spine is good, because a good milker will milk off alot of her reserves.

Third rule of thumb - Make every effort to attend kiddings! Sometimes easy kiddings will sneak up on you, but if you arrive to find a train wreck, chances are you weren't being attentive enough. Although most kiddings go well, and most goats worth their salt know how to care for their young, it is best that you be there to help if needed.

Fourth rule of thumb - Learn what a typical kidding looks like! Our Mini Nubians have good width and small kids. They typically kid very easily. When goo starts streaming, I know kidding is going to happen soon. Once I see pushing or hear hollering (mine don't holler much), then I expect to see a little nose and two feet very soon. This kind of kidding, I just sit back and watch, and enjoy the miracle of life. Often I arrive to find one kid on the ground, and the second coming out. Some people may advise doing a quick check as soon as labor is noticed to make sure kids are positioned correctly. I see no harm in that - like I said, with my typical kiddings, I'm likely to be to late to do that! Key is just don't bother your goat too much. Kids should come out with their noses on their front feet.

Fifth rule of thumb - Learn what an atypical kidding looks like. A very small number of times (as in I can count on my fingers), I have seen kiddings that did not progress normally - that is I saw pushing and no babies presenting. Since presentation generally comes very quickly with pushing in my herd, I will go in and check what's going on if I see a doe pushing for a few minutes without anything showing up. You don't want to wait too long. I've read of people waiting hours. Please don't do that. Remember goats are not people - there is nothing normal about long pushing phases for goats. Check presentation sooner than later, so that any corrections can be made while their is still room to work. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the ways kids can be malpositioned and methods of fixing them. There is alot of wisdom on the forum, and I reccommend getting on there and reading the advice given to people with problem kiddings. My strategy is to find the feet, try to get the head onto the feet, hold on and give gentle traction.

Finally - If you are dam raising (as opposed to bottle raising), it is most important to make sure the kid nurses. Make sure mom's teats are not blocked, and she has plenty of colostrum. If you get a slow to start kid (it's been say 30 min, and it hasn't nursed and now it wants to sleep), you can milk out a little oz from mom and bottlefeed it to give the kid some energy and then get it on mom. With selenium supplementation, I have kids are much more likely to get up and suck right away. Check the kid often throughout the first days to make sure they are nursing and have full bellies. Most healthy moms do a great job mothering, but occasionally things go wrong, and you need to be prepared to step in. You will also want to watch that the placenta and nothing is retained.

I hope this post provides you a healthy perspective on goat kiddings. May your kiddings be successful!


GirlNumber5 said...

So glad I just read your "you are not a midwife" post. I have kept goats for many years, but this is the first time we have decided to breed our two does. I have been reading up & asking questions where I can. Recently, I watched a live kidding on line. The "owner" was constantly what I would call "interfering" with the process. Poking, prodding, pulling. And as soon as the kid was out they scooped the kid up to clean it with towels, suction it, etc. The dam really wanted to do her job of cleaning & bonding but was not able to. Then the person "Interfered" with the first nursing, which I know is VERY important to happen relatively soon after birth. However, I think all of this just went against what was natural for the goats. An old timer friend of mine, who has kept goats for years & years said he has never had to help, they do it all on their own & just goes out in the morning & there the kiddies are.

I would like to be prepared for an emergency, of course, but would much rather let nature take it's course.

God's Blessings

Trish in CT

Angelia Mercer said...

I'm glad you found my posting useful! I guess it probably depends on the goats too - some goats are not as hardy as others and may need a little more help. But in general, I think they can do quite well on their own and prefer it that way. I've read of some weird stuff on this net - including one recommendation to take them in the house for a little bath before giving them to mom - a very bad idea and potentially dangerous. Goats are sweet and good fun, but they aren't people. We have to keep things in proper perspective!!