Monday, January 14, 2013

Know your due dates!

For some reason, no matter how much I tell myself and then expound to other people the benefits of knowing exactly when your doe goat got bred, I always seem to find myself with a pregnant goat with no known due date. Sometimes it is not me, personally, who has the goat version of the "Immaculate Conception" but a close friend. Even if the goat isn't on my farm, I wind up fretting and worrying along with my friends as much as I would if that goat were mine.

The reason it is not good to have no idea when your pregnant goat is due to kid is because goats are notoriously bad at giving good signals as to when the impending date is coming. Even a seasoned goat farmer may only notice the signs of labor a few hours (or minutes) before the kids start popping out. Some people say, "But Rose, goats have been having kids for millennia in nature without any help, why should I worry about when my goat is going to give birth?". My short answer is "Nature is a bitch".

In nature when a goat gives birth, there's a large chance that if something goes wrong then both the mother and the kids will die. On a farm, that chance is much decreased if someone can be there to help out in the case of an emergency. Most goat births happen without any problems but sometimes there is an issue that can be very easily remedied if someone is around to help.

Another reason to be present at delivery is that if you only have three goats on your farm and one of them dies in an easily prevented birthing emergency, then you have just culled your herd by 1/3 (not to mention the loss of production that the dead kids would have added if they had lived too). It's cheaper to correctly calculate a due date and be present at the birth than to walk into the barn to a pile of dead moms and kids. It's also a real buzz-kill to wait expectantly for 5 months for kids to be born, only to have them die at the last possible moment when you know you could have done something.

Calculating a correct due date requires that you know exactly when your goat was bred. The easiest way to do this is to only put the does in with the bucks long enough to WATCH them breed with your own eyes. Female goats in heat and male goats in rut are usually not shy about their amorous activities so it is easy enough to physically witness copulation. This strategy does absolutely require that you have a separate space for the buck, away from the does, so breeding doesn't happen while you aren't watching. Bucks can smell a doe in heat from miles away and they will do almost anything to "get some" from said doe, so it is imperative that your buck pen be heavily fortified and your farm helpers be warned that Mr. Bucky needs to behave himself and not be allowed to wander about the farm unsupervised.

Keep in mind that it is basically impossible to calculate a due date if you put your bucks and does together from September until December. A lot of people subscribe to this idea but I think it is a good way to get burned. On the one hand, it does guarantee that your does will most likely get bred at some point. But on the other hand it guarantees that you will have babies dropping from January to May, with no clue as to when the next ones will come. Most people justify this method because it is easier than waiting for a doe to come into heat and then taking her to the buck for him to do his job. I say it is harder because the time you spend during the breeding season will be saved during kidding season because you won't have to spend every day watching and palpating 50 does to guess which one is going to kid next. I have a much easier time with determining when my goats come into heat versus when they are going into labor.

The amorousness of bucks must not be underestimated. If it is four legs and a tail, they are going to try to breed it. Sometimes it can have two legs and be yelling "GET OFF YOU SONNOFABITCH!" and they will still try to breed with it. Bucks are very non-discriminating when it comes to having a good time. Here is the reason why if you have does who you do not want to get bred, it is very, very important that they stay as far away from a buck as possible. If you have very young does or very old does who are not capable of handling pregnancy well, then you need to be extra diligent. A female goat can become impregnated as early as 10-12 weeks old. They can also continue to be bred well past the age of 10. Neither of these ages is ideal for pregnancy because producing kids places a lot of demands on the doe's body.

A very young doe will most likely stop growing in order to provide energy and nutrients to the kids. She will become permanently stunted and will never reach her full production potential. Not to mention she may be too small to carry the kids to term or she may get all the way into labor and then not be mature enough physically for the kids to pass through the birth canal. The kids will get stuck and both mom and kids could die.

A very old doe will have a hard time producing kids because her body won't be able to absorb and allocate nutrients efficiently in order to keep her and the kids alive. Old goats are prone to pregnancy hypocalcemia due to lack of bone density (yep, goats can have osteoporosis too) and the decrease in blood calcium levels. It's hard to nutritionally supplement an older pregnant goat enough to keep them going all the way to term.

I have to argue against breeding very young goats or very old goats with the same justification I have for the importance of knowing exact due dates. If your herd is small and you love your goats, why would you take the risk of something bad happening? Your goats depend on you to take care of them. That's why it's called "farming" and not "throwing some animals on your property to fend for themselves and hoping they do alright". It's up to you to manage them properly.

No comments: