It felt like discovering an overlooked pot of gold in our goat barn early in the morning on the day after St. Patrick’s day. After five months of anticipation, our hopes for Essie to give birth have been rewarded. I had retired to bed for the evening after turning on the baby monitor we had installed in our goat barn last week. At 9:30 PM Eastern Standard Time (our farm will not be switching to Daylight Savings Time this year), I was awakened by some sharp loud cries. At first, I thought it might be from the movie Barb was watching in the living room. However, I quickly determined the painful cries were coming from the baby monitor, and I quickly dressed to go out to the goat barn. I found her standing in the center of the goat barn panting furiously and crying in pain. I noticed that she was producing a clear mucus discharge. She was in labor, but her cervix had not begun to dilate. We soon realized it could be hours before she gave birth.
Essie was mated to a dwarf Nigerian buck named Little Bit, who we borrowed from Dale and Merrily Carroll’s farm roughly three miles to our south at the entrance to Smoke Hole. That meant that Essie’s babies would not be purebred Oberhasli dairy goats. Cross-bred goats between an Oberhasli and dwarf Nigerian are commonly called “mini-Oberhaslis” due to the generally smaller size of the offspring. Being smaller in size than a full-bred Oberhasli kid makes it easier on the mother to give birth. That was an important benefit to us, since we wanted the milk that Essie would eventually produce after giving birth. Even so, most experts have told us that roughly 95% of all goat births are uneventful. We simply did what we could to improve those odds.
We waited until 11:00 PM as she became quiet and laid down on the hay. We returned to the house to begin the waiting process. Barb checked the barn again shortly after midnight, and Essie was still resting peacefully. We heard nothing more from the barn during the night.
Both of us awoke before 4:30 AM EST and dressed to see how she was progressing. To our surprise, we were greeted by two twin baby does huddled securely against momma Essie. They appeared to be identical twins, but may have some very subtle differences in the shade of their ears and the shape of their noses. We were focused immediately on making sure they were fed some colostrum. Colostrum is a mother’s first milk, which is rich in proteins and antibodies from the mother that are critical to a newborn mammal’s undeveloped immune system. It is most important for the survival of her babies to drink this enriched milk or they may not survive. That is nature’s way.
We are concerned about Essie’s mothering skills and instinct for two reasons. First, Essie was bottle-fed as a baby and may not understand what her own udders are for. She has never been milked. This concern is reinforced by the fact that her first offspring, born just days before her first birthday in February 2018, suddenly died within days. The most likely cause was poor mother skills.
As a result, we are spending most of the morning trying to get her newborn kids fed. I made sure that she was producing colostrum, while Barb prepared a batch of artificial colostrum to feed them. We first tried to teach the babies to suck on a rubber bottle nipple and when that failed, we used an eyedropper to carefully feed them some of the artificial colostrum. We will sanitize our milking equipment and try to milk some colostrum from Essie a little later this morning. It is best for us to feed the kids colostrum taken from the mother because the artificial colostrum lacks the antibodies that the mother produces to protect her kids from viruses and bacteria that are common to our farm. I want to wait an hour or so before milking some colostrum from her so that we don’t compete for it with the kids, who need to learn how to suckle it on their own. They may have done so earlier this morning before we found them in the barn.
Essie will produce colostrum for the first four or five days after birth to feed her babies the special nutrients they need. After that period has passed, she will begin producing the natural milk that we will hope to share with her babies until they are ready to be weaned some two-to-three months later. However, these first four days are the most critical for the survival of Essie’s newborn goats—the first born at our farm since we started keeping goats in 2017. We have now successfully completed the entire birthing process. Now we must work hard to make sure Essie’s beautiful mini-Oberhasli does will carry her genes on to the next generation of goats here at Peeper Pond Farm. Wish us luck! No matter how much we learn about goat-keeping, we still depend upon a good dose of luck.