Two little kids have arrived before the masses. We expect our major kidding moment to be somewhere between March 5 and 15th, stretching out to early April for our little ones. But be that as it may, one little buck arrived not quite a month ago – a surprise who shouldn’t have been a surprise. We knew the doe had been bred late August, but as she went into heat again at the farm, we just didn’t believe it. Then, since she was only carrying a single, she just didn’t stand out from the rest as being so far along. A lovely little surprise he was. Gave us a bit of practice in getting our protocol down, and got us all back into the art of hand-milking and caring for a small beastie. He has now gone off to his new home where he will roam pastures intact in every way (what a lucky little dude!).
Our second, a little doe, arrived this morning as expected (we’ve been awaiting her since Friday evening). She chose her moment well: the day after our small ruminants’ kidding intensive. She’s a beauty, from a dusty pink tan mother and a sturdy black father. She should be both a looker and a good milker. Sweet, and eagerly taking her bottle of heat-treated colostrum before going back to her most frequent and regular nap-state. She and her mother got the luxury treatment this morning as three of us were there to care for the two (and handle all the other morning chores). Our recipe for new mothers? coffee, molasses and a bit of warm water, plus a drenching of immuno-stimulating oligo-elements I brought back from France.
Four of us were able to get to the kidding seminar. We drove down through a snowy night (5 hours) and spent the night in a nearby hotel. The seminar was an all day affair held by the two small ruminant specialists of MSU extension. Richard (the most verbal and senior of the two) is a sheep farmer and Michael has raised dairy goats for over 20 years. The latter sells most of his milk production to Zingermann’s. Together they took us through a pretty rigorous outline of how to prepare for kidding and how to work your way through it all.
There was a strong sheep/lambing slant to the day, but all in all it was very informative and extremely helpful and demystifying of numerous procedures.
Richard is a specialist in feed and nourishment and gave many pointers on what is most important for which period of the year and stage of pregnancy/lactation of our goats. He introduced many of us to baleage – the art of taking an early grass harvest in round bales, wrapping them securely and allowing them to ferment anaerobically for six months before feeding it as a high protein feed for the winter. He also demystified minerals, trace and major, vitamines, and protein sources, stressing digestibility and accessibility. Apparently soy hulls are desirable (will be looking into this).
From a strong focus on feeding requirements we moved onto the actual moments of birthing – the various positions possible, the possible pitfalls (ketosis in under-nourished or over nourished mothers), difficult births requiring help, little tricks to help along a birth, how best to reach in and do what’s necessary so that a kid can present as it should, and the tip that sometimes, you do need to take off that plastic glove and go in with a bare hand as your fingers are ever more sensitive naked than covered. In this case, Richard recommended a disinfectant gel (chlorohexadine blue) all over his hand and arm, and very short finger nails.
Apparently sheep have much harder births than goats. Richard pointed out that 15% loss of lambs is normal, 10% good and 5% excellent. Sheep are also easy to trick and will happily foster a lamb from another mother if you get it in front of her fast enough. But, they do need help developing their mothering instinct and as such get small pens apart from the herd to ‘get to know’ their lambs.
As we’re following an anti-CAE protocol, we’ll be whisking away our kids before their mothers can so much as lick them dry, so this part of the discussion was interesting, but not particularly applicable to us at this time.
Fascinating though, was the portion of the day when our teacher dissected two dead lambs to investigate why they died. I’d read of many goat owners who’ve learned to do this as well (without a veterinarian degree) as it is extremely useful to know why an animal has died, and extremely costly to have this done by a local lab/veterinarian. Not sure we’re headed that way, but who knows. He showed us where fat deposits on a baby lamb at birth, what it looks like to have no fat at all (one had died from starvation), and what lungs that have breathed in oxygen look like compared to those that have never taken a breath (remarkably like the liver). Hopefully we’ll not be doing this this year. But, every experience takes you a step further.
We covered obscure (for goats) problems like prolapsed vaginas and uteruses. Our teacher took one of his sheep and quite unceremoniously turned her on her head, leaned her against a barrier and mimed pushing her uterus back inside, then pointed out where he would make sutures on her rear skin so as to hold it in. He also showed us the basic outline of where and how to tie on a harness to hold in an object that keeps a prolapsed vagina in place till the lamb can be easily born. Quite the technique!
We took away oodles of images and information, and as a group, sighed in relief that we have goats not sheep. However, it would be nice to have walls and fences in our barn that we could climb over rather than having them at a minimum of 4 ft. Those sheep just don’t even consider leaping, jumping or escaping. What a concept! But nor do they come to their owner for a cuddle and a caress. Nor did I see much intelligence and interest in their eyes. Nope, wouldn’t trade my goats for them any day.
Here’s an image from a kidding I participated in when back in France. In this particular herd the kids were left on the mothers to nurse the colostrum before being removed once the milk could be made into cheese (at one week).