The natural breeding season for goats is March to September; young females reach puberty at around five months and then cycle every three weeks. Gestation is about the same as for sheep – about 150 days or 5 months (to compare, cows take 9 months, horses 11 months, rabbits 31 days).
It’s a critical time for the pregnant does as we move into late winter – they are at a stage where the unborn kids are growing quickly, the nutrition requirements of the doe are higher and weather conditions can be harsh. So we need to ensure we provide all their nutritional requirements, particularly minerals, at this time, especially if pasture growth is slowed. Calcium, phosphorus magnesium and potassium are the major minerals that need to be kept in balance to avoid metabolic disorders.
There are plenty of things that can go wrong in pregnancy – uterus infection, calcium collapse, energy collapse (ketosis), milk fever, retained placenta, magnesium collapse, dehydration …. just reading the textbooks can make you nervous, but the key on our farm is having the does in good condition, calm and happy, and on a rising nutritional plane that will ensure their demands for birth and lactation are met.
We provide a formulated diet for our kidding goats, especially in the last 8 weeks of pregnancy, dependent upon pasture availability and the stage of pregnancy. First time mothers get particular attention. Six weeks before kidding pregnant does move on to a transition feed with a gradual increase in volume up to kidding. This transition feed is important as the rumen (one of the 4 stomachs in the goat) needs time to grow and adapt to the changed feed. As energy needs are high at kidding it’s important to build reserves to protect the doe from having a collapse into milk fever. Magnesium is the key to the goat being able to metabolise Calcium as the doe comes into lactation. An inability to meet Calcium needs at kidding causes milk fever.
Most does deliver their kid (or in 70% of cases twins – or triplets) without problems and we just need to ensure the entire afterbirth is delivered, that the newborn is dry, warm and sheltered, drinks the mother’s colostrum (the first milk produced after birth) and has the opportunity to bond with the doe. Colostrum is an incredibly high energy source of vitamins, minerals and fat and crucially, also contains antibodies to protect the kid against illness and stress. It’s important that the colostrum is ingested within the first hour of birth when its antibodies are at their peak just and the kid most able to absorb them. We also give the mothers electrolytes, lots of fresh hay and a concentrate mix.
Our goats tend to know when we are around and in the past few seasons, weekends have seen the bulk of births. We also seem to have a sixth sense of when something is happening, or if a particular goat is having difficulties. More likely though it’s from decades of observation and experience, knowing the genetics and maternal lines of the goats and having watched them right through the pregnancy.
In September we will wean the kids from their mothers, training them to drink from bottles then bucket feeders. Kids are fed 2 to 3 times a day. We also train the first time mothers onto the milking line. By the time kids are weaned our paddocks should be providing good spring growth for their growth and development, and for their lactating mothers.