Beekman 1802 is a seasonal farm which means that during the winter months we breed the entire herd. This gives the goats (and Farmer John) about a 5 month respite from the morning and afternoon milking ritual.
Watching the birth of anything, be it human or any other animal, is one of the most beautiful moments in life. On the farm it’s a signal that winter will eventually come to an end and all the world will once again spring to life.
We thought we’d give you a little glimpse into what to expect when you’re expecting 120 baby goats over the next several months.
Last Month of Pregnancy
During the last month of pregnancy the doe will need more energy to keep up with the demands of the kids growing inside of her. During this time, her belly will grow and her udder will begin to produce colostrum, the first milk. At this point the doe has more difficulty getting up and moving around due to the weight of her pregnancy.
Last Week of Pregnancy
During the last week of pregnancy the doe’s body begins to prepare for kidding. A few days before she goes into labor, her vulva will begin to change from light pink to a dark pink color. The vulva will also begin to swell. The udder is full of colostrum and will feel tight and hard. The last change to take place is a relaxation of the muscles of the hip as the body prepares itself for the birth.
The Onset of Labor
At the start of labor, the doe will become unsociable and restless. (This happens to Josh, too) She moves away from the main part of the herd and will spend extra time getting up and laying down. Her vulva will be very swollen and will appear very relaxed. If it is feeding time, the doe will be reluctant to eat with the rest of the herd. This is one of the clues Farmer John looks for to know when to expect an overnight delivery. He’s VERY accurate with his predictions.
As the onset of labor gets closer, the doe will start to dig a nest in the straw. As the labor progresses, the doe intermittently stands up and lays down. She may also turn circles while bleating. This can go on for quite some time, especially if it is a doe’s first experience delivering. She will also protect her nest vigorously by head butting any of the members of the herd that become too curious.
The first sign that the kids are coming is the appearance of the water bag. Once the water bag breaks, the kids are typically born within 30 minutes. One of the most amazing things we’ve seen is the baby goat and the entire amniotic sac coming out at the same time, so the baby looked as if he was being born in a bubble. Farmer John sometimes uses a piece of straw to rupture the sac.
It is normal for the doe to lick the bedding where the water has broken.
The Birth Process
Once the water breaks you soon see the appearance of the front feet. The kid’s head should lay above and between the front legs in a normal presentation. The feet should also be pointing downward in a normal presentation. Feet that are pointing upward are generally from a breech birth. Kids can be born in the breech position, but as soon as a breech-positioned kid is born, he is held up by his back legs and rubbed down his sides to help remove any fluid from his lungs.
The next step in the birth process is the appearance of the head. Most of the time a thin membrane will still cover the kid. This membrane should break as the kid is born. If it doesn’t and the mother is preoccupied with caring for other births and does not clean the infant, the kid might suffocate
It’s amazing how smoothly the process goes without any intervention from those of us gawking.
When the doe stands up after the kid is completely out, the umbilical cord will break on its own.
Once the kid is born, Farmer John checks to make sure that it is breathing. He wipes the head and nose off well to make it easier for the kid to breath. If the kid is not breathing, he inserts a piece of straw a short way into a nostril to encourage the kid to sneeze.
The new mother then licks the kid to clean it off and begins “talking” to her kid. This is a bonding process for the mother and kid. They will be able to use this audible imprint to identify each other once they are turned out with a group of does.
Most goats give birth to twins or triplets. It’s fairly uncommon to have a singleton birth.
A vigorous kid will soon be trying to stand up. For weaker kids, they may need a few minutes longer (sometimes up to an hour) before they are ready to stand up to nurse.
Soon after the birth, the new mothers are given a mixture of molasses to help restore their strength. They also will consume the after birth.
Using the mother’s milk, Farmer John bottle feeds all of the new births. This helps the babies become more accustomed to human interaction which makes for a friendlier and more manageable herd.
Within a few weeks, the new kids will wean off of milk and start eating straw and grain. As long as the goats continue to be milked, they will continue producing the milk that has made the Beekman 1802 soaps and cheese so famous around the world.
By late fall, the milk production cycle gradually wanes. Once levels fall below a certain volume, the goats are no longer milked and the breeding starts again.