Our replacement does are selected for their ability to breed efficiently, kid unassisted, and raise their kids to weaning on minimal inputs. Our does generally give birth for the first time between 17-20 months old.
We expect our does to raise at least two kids a year, on average, and cull does that do not breed easily or repeatedly give birth to only a single kid. Similarly, we select for does who do not require assistance giving birth or raising their kids.
Many of our kids are born during the winter months, which necessitates breeding out of the traditional breeding season, so we also require our does to breed during the summer months.
There are many ways to manage does during kidding. The options include everything from separating the kids at birth and bottle feeding to counting surviving kids at weaning.
In line with most of our management strategies, we tend to use the least invasive management techniques when possible. For us, this means allowing our does to kid in their normal social groups without artificial separation.
One thing we do to prepare for kidding is booster each doe's CDT and Pneumonia vaccines and administer supplemental selenium in the form of BoSe approximately 30 days prior to her due date.
Just before a doe goes into labor, she typically will find a place to "nest" away from the rest of the herd to deliver her kids. After her kids are delivered, she will stay with them in order to clean and nurse them. Once the kids are strong enough to follow her, the doe will generally return to the herd with her kids in tow.
On our farm, we expect our does to deliver their kids completely on their own, without any assistance from us. Most times, we walk into the barn to find healthy, happy newborn kids being cleaned by an attentive mother. We have selected for this since we started raising goats and it has paid off in every way.
We don't interfere with a doe and her kids unless it is necessary for the kids' survival. We don't dip the umbilical cords in iodine, strip the dam's teats, or assist the kids in finding their first meal unless there is a problem. In extreme cold, we may towel dry the kids' head and ears to prevent frostbite.
About the only thing we routinely do when we have kids born is check the sex, weigh each kid, and apply ear tags for identification. We feel this allows optimal bonding between the kids and their dam and prevents many of the problems commonly seen in this time period, while allowing us to keep accurate, complete records.
In our experience, the main reason we may need to separate a doe and her kids from the herd are when one of the kids is weak for some reason, or the doe is allowing kids that don't belong to her to nurse during the initial bonding period. If we do separate a doe and her kids, we try to construct a pen around where she kidded that allows maximum visibility. We remove the pen as soon as possible and allow the doe and her kids to mix back into the herd.
Occasionally, we do have a kid who is weak at birth and unable to keep up with its dam and sibling(s). While we prefer not to separate newborn kids from their dams, we do our best to ensure each kid born on our farm has the best care possible. And sometimes, this means we end up with a bottle baby.
Our children are always happy to dote on a baby goat who needs extra attention, whether in the form of a bit of supplemental colostrum, some time spent inside while they gain strength, or being raised on a bottle until weaning. When possible, we always try to reunite the kid with its dam once it is strong enough.
If we have a doe who doesn't accept her kids and is constantly running away from them or acting aggressively toward them, we will do what we can to remedy the problem, including separating her from the herd with only her kids, if needed. That said, a doe who adamantly rejects her kids doesn't generally get a second chance on our farm.
The majority of our kids are born from December through February, when it can be bitter cold in New England. There are many reasons we do this, but the main one is that our does and kids have consistently been healthier on this schedule.
The cons of kidding when the temperatures are below zero include:
Pros of kidding in the winter:
One thing our winter visitors often notice is that we don't provide any artificial heat source for our kids, even in temperatures far below freezing.
We have found that as long as they can stay dry and out of the wind, a kid with a belly full of milk is a warm kid, even when temperatures dip to -25° F and below. Again, this is a testament to the maternal ability of our does; a doe with ample milk production will raise kids that thrive, even in extreme temperatures.
One way we help insulate kids from the cold is to utilize a deep bedding pack, which generates enough heat to keep kids from being chilled by laying on frozen ground. We also kid our does out in groups so we usually have at least 10-20 kids at a time who are able to curl up together for warmth.