“The days are long but the years are short,” as experienced parents says. As an Iowa livestock producer, I can tell you that the month of January was long!
The New Year greeted us with subzero temperatures. The National Weather Service reported a record low temperature in Dubuque of 21 degrees below zero (-29 Celsius) on Jan. 1, 2018. Wind chills on the first two days of the year reached negative 30 degrees (-34 Celsius).
Our little farm is about two hours south of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and 90 minutes north and west of Waterloo, Iowa, which set records for the cold stretch between Dec. 23 and Jan. 5. It was so cold that we spent nearly eight hours on New Year’s Day thawing pipes and working diligently to thaw water pipes to provide drinking water for our livestock.
Thankfully, more average temperatures of 25 degrees moved into our region before our first Boer goat kids arrived. I walked inside my goat shed late in the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 22, to find one new mother with six newborn kids. (Just like a baby cow is called a calf, a kid is the correct term for a baby goat.) I knew all those kids didn’t belong to one doe, so I went in search of the other mothers. They had a job to do!
Once I had all three moms penned up, I watched and waited for them to claim their young. Much to my dismay, nothing happened! It’s instinct for animals that have given birth to “mother” their young. This means they lick their young, which cleans off the newborn and allows them to bond, and the mothers encourage their babies to begin nursing. It’s important for them to drink colostrum, which contains antibodies or essential proteins that protect kids from disease.
Like other mammals, does (female goats) identify their babies through their sense of smell. It’s common for a doe to sniff a kid and nudge it out of the way if it’s not hers. None of the does were claiming kids, and as a result, two of the kids were still wet. When you consider the kids came from about 100-degree temperatures inside the womb, they were experiencing a huge temperature change! My daughter, Elle, and I began drying off and warming up the newborns with hair dryers.
Meanwhile, my parents began the 30-minute drive from their place to mine. Once they arrived, we began the process of sorting out mamas and babies. We moved each doe into a pen with two kids and watched to see which one she either wanted or didn’t. We switched babies until each doe was claiming twins. Next, we made sure each of the kids got their first drinks of milk. Three hours later we left the barn, feeling like we’d done all that we could.
The next morning all mamas and babies were alive and kicking! (That is always such a relief. When you put that much time, energy and love into helping bring life into the world, you want to see those young ones thriving.)
Some of the babies’ tummies weren’t as filled out as they should have been after 16 hours. Sometimes one twin dominates or one of the twins isn’t strong enough to drink milk on its own. Other times the does don’t have enough milk to support both kids, so we bottle feed battles to supplement what they’re getting from their mothers.
Newborn goats require to be fed four times daily until their 30 days old. I fed the kids 4 times daily for the first two days, but then they weren’t hungry. Like a human baby, they’ll refuse to drink or spit out the nipple when they’ve had enough. Now I’m down to giving them supplemental bodies every morning and evening.
So why do we do it? There’s a lot of time that goes into caring for the land and livestock. I don’t even want to know how many hours I spend because the hourly wage wouldn’t be worth it. But there’s something magical about experiencing birth and watching animals grow. Like any proud parent, I believe my babies are the cutest. Ever. (We have some seriously cute and colorful goats. Click here to see last year’s kid crop. The total of 11 babies that were born last week include more paint, dapple and spots than we had last year!)
It feels good to nurture livestock. It feels good to make a difference. There’s a sense of accomplishment when you see livestock reach their purpose in life, whether their purpose is to become a mother or to become high quality meat on someone’s dinner table.
Tending to Creature Comforts during Winter Weather