Since learning that mini-dairy goats fall under the same city guidelines as dogs I’ve had a serious hankering for home dairy. It’s on my list but for now I’m living vicariously through some other amazing women who have taken the plunge. My friend Sarah (mother, urban gardener, maker of cardboard solar ovens, chicken, honey bee and dairy goat owner) has recently helped her dairy goat kid and has written this guest post to share with us. Caution – graphic photos below! But life is graphic so buck up.
Guest Blog: The baby goats
When you don’t live closely with animals, you forget how their cycles are connected with the food they produce for us. People who learn that I have chickens often assume that a rooster is needed for the hens to lay eggs. This would make sense, but it is not the case. Hens produce unfertilized eggs without a mate; although no egg produced without a rooster could hatch.
Similarly, people who learn that I have goats will often ask questions that lead me to think that they have forgotten, or never put together, the connection between reproduction and milk.
To have a doe goat (or a cow or sheep) come into milk, she must be bred and produce offspring. Milk is made for the baby, but through breeding, ample food and daily milking, we have developed animals that will continue to produce milk long after their babies have stopped needing it.
Gloria, the Glory Goat, is our milker. She got her name because she is a bit of a prima donna. If I go out to check on another animal, she thinks I’m there for her. If she hears me talking on the phone, she starts bleating like she is part of the conversation. She doesn’t like corn, and like my eight year old son, she hates for different kinds of food to be touching each other.
Gloria’s pregnancy was fairly typical. We brought her to a breeder that specialized in milk production goats of her breed, the Oberhasli. She met her guy, and fifteen minutes later she was on the way back home, pregnant. Goats gestate for about 150 days, and we had May 24 marked on our calendar but she was a couple of days later. Near the end I had a lot of empathy for her. The weight of the kids is carried in the lower half of the abdomen, and put a lot of pressure on her back legs and feet. Add to that the weight of her gradually filling udder, and you have a very uncomfortable goat.
About a week before her due date, we separated Gloria from the other goats. We wanted her to be able to kid in privacy, and we also had some anxiety about the goats harming her babies. Further, we needed a clean spot where the kids would not be introduced to any parasites the herd might carry. We treat our goats for worms and other parasites, but this is never a guarantee that they are fully eliminated, and the newborns need time to develop a tolerance to them.
As I mentioned, I have an 8 year old, Noah. I wasn’t sure what he would think of the actual birthing process. We discussed it and looked at some pictures, but the real thing is notoriously more intense than anything you could imagine in conversation. Still, Noah signed up as photographer. That is why he’s not in any of the pictures.
Around 8:00 pm on the 26th, Gloria began to show signs of early labor. She had some discharge and was making little sounds like those a mother animal might make to babies. Most of all she was restless, pacing around her enclosure after days of being very mellow.
At 8:30, she started having serious contractions. Noah and I sang to her. Mostly the Star Spangled Banner, because Noah is trying to learn the words, and it seemed to calm her. With each series of contractions, we could see the bag of water with the little goat’s feet in it. Eventually, the hooves and nose emerged. Noah said “pull it out, Mom” and I explained that if I needed to I would help but Gloria seemed to be doing great.
A few minutes later, brother goat was born. He’s the tan and black one. Once he was out, the licking instinct took over Gloria. It was incredible – I had never seen anything quite like it and the books didn’t prepare me for how passionate she was about licking. She started licking the baby until he could breathe. She lapped up the afterbirth. Back to licking the baby, even as sister goat was being pushed out. Licked sister. Licked both babies. Licked my hair, started going for Noah and the camera. The licking instinct went on for hours; she was still doing it when we said goodnight to her after 11:30.
One other thing the books did not tell me was what the afterbirth looked like. It is scary – a red sack with veins on it. I briefly thought – what if it’s part of Gloria’s insides? But her calm demeanor and lack of stress reassured me, and eventually the afterbirth was delivered.
Once the babies were cleared of mucus, we helped them find the teats. They knew what they were supposed to do, they just didn’t know where. But once they got a good shot of milk, they learned fast. When we knew they could stand well, find the milk, and when we had treated their navels with iodine to prevent infection, there wasn’t much left to do but admire.
Gloria drank nearly a gallon of warm water and ate a bit of oatmeal. Hardly a glamorous feast after such an undertaking, but she seemed happy with her family and ready to go.
In the next few days we will let Gloria nurse her babies, and only milk her if she seems to be overproducing. As the babies get bigger, we can start milking Gloria once a day and let the babies have the rest of the milk, until eventually we will be milking her twice and they will become weaned. This worked for us before, although if we wanted the most possible milk, we would separate her from the kids, milk her and then bottle feed the kids. For us, that is too much intervention.
This is Sarah’s answer in response to me asking how frequently you need to breed goats in order to stay in milk:
A typical goat lactation cycle starts out with kidding and goes until about 2 months before she kids again. So traditionally goats were bred yearly, and dried up naturally or by design as their pregnancy became heavy.
That said, a lot of people who keep goats for home dairy will milk them for 2 years between kids. Or I milked Jeannette for 3 years. Less milk, but I’m not a dairy and I appreciated her never going dry. She had fairly mellow heat seasons, so it was no big deal. Gloria is a diva during her heats, and was clearly drying up, so in her case breeding her was the way to keep the milk coming.
I’ve heard that the heavier milkers (like Gloria) are more cyclical, while those with less output may be able to sustain the supply longer. A sort of slow and steady thing.