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What to Have on Hand for Kidding in a Holistic Herd

One of the most asked questions in my goat group, second to “should I vaccinate my goats?” (my thoughts here) is about what to have on hand for kidding.  I rarely answer with my own list, simply because it’s a little…underwhelming.  Having embraced a “less is more” approach in my holistic goat management, I really don’t keep much on hand specifically for kidding and there’s very little I do in terms of intervention.  I realize though that this, too, is a useful thing to talk about even if it doesn’t directly answer the question.  So in this article, I’ll do my best to go over what I do have on hand for kidding and how my kidding seasons look.

First, Some Kidding Philosophy

I’ve shared this story somewhere, but it’s relevant here so I’ll share it again.  I learned how to goat largely from online mentors and groups and one of the underlying themes of most of those sources of advice is insanely high intervention.  We helicopter mom our way through goat raising to the point that our goats, if left alone, might not even remember how to do it themselves.  So, like a good little goat soldier, I carried on the tradition and interventioned the hell out of my goats, always there, always drying off, always always always “helping.”

Then one day, well past my bedtime and during an all-day kidding spree, I was too exhausted to do my normal thing.  Instead, I watched Frannie, my most beloved goat of all time (photo shown here just before kidding one year, RIP my dear friend), while I rested near Dolly, who was just starting to push.  I was there and ready if something went wrong, but I was bone tired and just…couldn’t.

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And as I watched this beautiful, magical process unfold, I began to realize that perhaps by denying the goats the struggle of being born and becoming fully alive on their own, we are denying an integral part of who they are.  The first kid had a bit of a fight to break through the placenta.  I tensed, uncertain and anxious to get in there, but I forced myself to just observe.  After a few agonizingly long seconds, he was free, breathing and stronger for his battle.  I continued to watch as all three somehow managed to be born and not die all on their own and as I reflected on that, I concluded that probably most of my interventions were unnecessary because, as Nature would have it, goats have managed to do this stuff all by themselves for thousands of years.  From that day on, I no longer “helped” unless it was clearly necessary to save a life.  Instead, I sit back and enjoy the wonder and beauty of this miracle that, going on 15 years now of owning goats, has yet to fail to move me.

The Goat Kidding Kit: What to Have on Hand

So with that philosophy in mind, what I actually have in a kit to take out to the kidding area is so simple you might want to roll your eyes: towels, rags, a bulb syringe, a comfy chair and my phone for getting hot action shots and hopefully some cool birthing videos.  I also like to hype it up with some Facebook posts while I’m waiting.

The photo includes Tyvek wrist bands we intended to use for keeping track of kids one year.  We never did, but the tote and the towels are what I have staged in the kidding area.  It is rare anymore that I need to use any of it, but if I have to pull, I prefer the rags because they’re small enough to grip easily.  I’ll wrap those around any presented body part for a little extra grip.  The syringe has probably only been used a handful of times in all the years and usually when a kid comes out rear first breech because fluid accumulates in the lungs, nose and throat more readily in that position.  I don’t use gloves, feeling that it removes my ability to sense what’s going on.  In the rare event there isn’t enough birthing fluid to use as lube, I’ll run into the house for a bottle of olive oil, but I use it so rarely I don’t keep it where we kid.

What to Have on Hand for Kidding: Stored in the House

The most commonly used item in the house for kidding is the blow dryer, purchased only for drying kids and never used otherwise.  Since we routinely kid in freezing temperatures, I sometimes need to help get kids dry to avoid frostbite.  In my experience, this happens only when temps hit the teens or below.  In that scenario, I give mom a couple minutes to clean the kid so she has time to smell and bond with it.  If possible, I wait until the second kid is born before I take the first inside to dry off because it causes mom so much stress to have her kid removed.  If she’s busy with another one, she won’t notice.  Frostbite acts very quickly, usually within minutes, so I don’t delay and will work to dry ears while she’s cleaning if I think another kid is close at hand.

I’ll wrap the kid in a towel to keep it from freezing on the way to the house, and then carefully dry and blow dry its whole body, paying particular attention to the ears and hooves.  Those sites are the most common locations of frostbite.

Fully dried kids go immediately back out to mom.  If there are multiples, I’ll often have one of my own children drying off the first one while I go help dry the second, swapping out as soon as the first is fully dry.  In this way, we keep them safe and get them warm while avoiding unnecessary stress on mom, who is already in a flurry of emotions due to kidding.

J, my youngest, a few years ago helping blow dry a kid.  That was the coldest kidding season we’d ever experienced and we did lose some ears to frostbite.  A hard lesson learned, now we’re much more proactive about getting those ears dried in cold temps.

On Heat Lamps

I don’t like heat lamps but have relaxed in my hard stance against them over the years.  Kidding in single digits tends to do that to a person.  (Side note: 2023 is the year I will kid in April, a long time dream after years of fighting nature and kidding too early in the season.)

Heat lamps are the most common cause of winter barn fires, so they must be used with great care.  We kid in our hoop greenhouse, a building that is a. made mostly of non burnable materials and b. not something I’d be devastated to lose in the event of a fire.  Even still, we only use the Premier 1 heat lamp with a plastic cage and we attach it to the roof with a solid chain that cannot be broken.  If temps are above frostbite risk, I don’t use a heat lamp unless I have a large litter with a runt or some other obvious struggling kid.  I usually only use it for the first overnight after birth, or the first few hours if I need it for another delivery.

If temps insist on staying below teens, I set up a corner of the greenhouse for the first few days that kids can access by climbing through a cattle panel.  They quickly learn to go where the warm is and all kids will pile up together for even more warmth.  By day 2 or 3, they’re moved up to the main barn with no supplemental heat.  Anyone struggling for whatever reason will stay in the greenhouse.

After Kidding Care for Doe and Kids

Does have access to hay and a bucket of water hung up with a hook above kid level.  I bring out one bucket of warm tap water after kidding to ensure they rehydrate.  My does don’t like molasses in their water and except in emergencies, I never force them to consume something they don’t desire.

Aside from ensuring kids are fully dry in the colder temperatures, we do nothing routinely for kids.  That includes cord dipping – a hard no from me.  I’d rather have a clean environment and healthy, resilient animals than put a caustic substance like iodine on tender new skin.  Check out this advice from the Mayo Clinic about iodine for human babies.  Animals are somehow magically able to withstand the same things, probably because collectively we don’t really care if they suffer*:

“Use of topical iodine is not recommended for newborn infants because it may cause skin and thyroid problems.”

*My comments may seem dramatic, but I’m fighting decades of conventional advice that has led to CAFOs, antibiotic resistance, sick animals, sick people and a sick society.  I passionately, passionately believe that there is not only a better way to raise animals, but also a way that leads to increased health and happiness for both the animals and society at large.  So I absolutely will question and resist every single piece of conventional advice that goes against that vision.  In 15 years and hundreds of kids, we have not had a single case of joint ill, the big bad bogeyman threat that we’re supposed to be avoiding by risking thyroid disruption through iodine dipping.  If I felt the need to dip cords to prevent illness, I’d use colloidal silver.  But I don’t.  Off the soap box I go. 😁

I check kids every couple of hours the first day to be sure they’re eating well.  Here, we have anywhere from 10-20 does kidding in a year and I breed them all at once.  I love the intensity and busyness of kidding all together, but more importantly, I love getting it done in a few days so kids are born and growing together and everyone can move as a herd.  Because of the fast pace, kids and moms, who are ready after they’re dried off and well fed anyway, go back out with the herd after 6-8 hours.  Anyone needing more time gets it, but my girls are ready to go back to their herdmates and the kids quickly figure out how to buddy up with one another for endless play, cuddles and entertainment.  Another benefit of this system is that does often share parenting, willingly or not, so kids who may need more than they get from their own mom can often make up for it with another doe.

Supplements and Vaccinations to Give Does After Kidding

In mainstream groups and references, there are many things to give a goat both before and after kidding.  Here’s a photo representation of how many of those we give:

The only exception to this policy is my herbal parasite formula if I feel like there’s a need.  Some years I give it to everyone, some years I don’t give it at all.  By focusing on the basics of good nutrition, environment and genetics, none of those “preventive” interventions are needed.  And I’ve realized that the more I stay out of the way and let my goats follow their natural inclinations, the better they do and the healthier they are.  I have learned not to believe that I know better than a goat how to goat.  This philosophy has given me oodles of free time to do things like write articles and post advice in goat groups.😅

Stay tuned – I’ll write a post soon on the herbs I keep on hand and the uses they might find in kidding scenarios.

Here are a couple of other articles about this topic that you might be interested in:

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