(This is the second installment in a series on goat pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Check out post number one on how to know if your goat is pregnant HERE.)
There are so many different things we need to have on hand as livestock owners in general and goat owners in particular — it would be impossible to list them all! That’s why today I am concentrating on one very important stash: the Kidding Kit.
Along with kidding season comes long nights checking the does in the wee hours in the morning, mad dashes to the barn when something changes on the barn cam, long waits, and fast paced action. In the wonderful chaos that ensues, it is incredibly helpful to have a pre-assembled “grab bag” that is ready for action at a moments notice. Not necessarily a comprehensive collection of all kidding essentials (I mean, we can’t keep frozen emergency colostrum in a room-temp tote bag, for one example), this is instead a bare necessities kind of kit. It has most of the things that one could need in a hurry during kidding season, but not everything that could be retrieved from the livestock medicine cabinet at the house if need arose.
Basically, a kidding kit is a goat midwife’s tool bag for necessary items that, once needed, are needed immediately and need to be right at hand. Pack it ahead of time, grab it whenever you’re headed for a delivery check, and you’ll always have the most important supplies close at hand when a doe gets serious about giving birth.
Here’s My Kidding Kit List of Necessities:
The Tote Bag
You can’t very well have a birthing kit without something to put it in! Mine was purchased at Stockdales and given to me as a birthday gift. It’s exactly like the one pictured here, albeit a bit beat up, and is actually a horse grooming bag. It works quite well. The multiple pockets make organizing things easier. You can use pretty much any tote bag, but you do want to be sure it’s durable and isn’t going to be ruined by a little muck and blood.
Before I had my tote, I actually used a plastic milk crate.
You will need two kinds of gloves for your kit: standard medical gloves and long obstetric (OB) gloves.
The standard medical gloves will be your all purpose kidding gloves, and you will probably go through them quickly. I like to use them routinely because they keep my hands clean — for both my sake and the sake of keeping the kidding environment as clean as possible. It’s much easier to peel off gloves and swap out a pair than to try to keep my hands clean in a barn with no running water. I prefer purple nitrile gloves for my standard gloves, and I like to avoid latex.
The OB gloves, which are much longer, are for emergencies that require you to go into the doe to reposition or pull kids. These will, thankfully, not be used very often — but when you need them, you need them. It’s important to be as clean as possible any time you have to intervene to prevent introducing harmful bacteria to the doe and causing an infection.
I will also mention that any aborted material should be treated as a biohazard. There are several abortive diseases in livestock that can be transmitted to humans. Pregnant women especially should take extra precautions and avoid coming anywhere near aborted material.
Following the theme of sanitation, teat dip was a new addition to my kit after what I learned about mastitis with Coraline’s tragic birth story. Mastitis occurs when bacteria enter the orifice of the goat’s teat(s). This can happen at any time, even occasionally in dry (not in milk) does. However, when a doe gives birth two things happen that increase the risk of exposure: 1) The doe’s orifices begin to open due to the hormones of labor. Up until kidding, the does orifices are closed with a waxy plug to keep out bacteria (don’t ever milk a doe before kidding), and 2) The does bed down, which tends to include a lot of scraping with their feet and disrupts the bedding, potentially exposing more bacteria or the earth underneath if your barn has dirt floors. And, of course, because the does are laying down, their expanding orifices come into contact with bedding, probably manure, and possibly dirt.
This combination of the orifices opening and the teats being in direct contact with the ground at the same time is recipe for potential disaster. No matter how clean you keep your kidding area, all organic matter — even fresh clean bedding and our hands — contains bacteria that can cause infection when they enter the wrong place. That’s why from Coraline’s kidding forward, I use a teat dip on all my does right after kidding. There are several options for different teat dips, but I personally use an iodine based dip and a handy-dandy no-return teat cup.
Umbilical Cord Dip
Another infection-preventer, umbilical cord dip is used on the kids’ umbilical cords just after birth, once the cords have been severed. The dip helps the cord to dry up more quickly and also aids in preventing navel ill, a potentially fatal illness that occurs when bacteria is wicked up the umbilical cord into the blood stream and causes wide-spread infection, usually affecting the joints. Naval ill or “joint ill” can affect any livestock species and is one reason I always make sure to dip those cords!
Medical Scissors/Floss and Forceps or Clamps
I don’t routinely cut or clamp umbilical cords. Typically they break right away after birth, and if they don’t the dams chew them as well. It’s less likely for the cords to bleed when they are severed in this way.
However, we don’t want the cords to be so long that they drag the ground, because that increases the chances of them wicking up bacteria. If the cord is dragging the ground, scissors or floss can be used to cut it shorter. Floss is less likely to cause bleeding, but can be harder to use. The clamps or forceps are to used to prevent or stop bleeding if it occurs after severing the cord. (I don’t like the weight that the clamps place on the cord and found them hard to remove, just in my personal experience.)
Another “in case of emergency” item, a general OB lubricant is fairly self-explanatory. If you find yourself in an emergency situation and need to go in to reposition or pull kids, lubricant is necessary to make the process as comfortable for the doe as possible.
Bulb Syringe/Nasal Aspirator
Such a small tool and yet so important! The very first thing I do when a kid comes out is clear its airways. Once the cord is severed that baby needs to breathe! If the amniotic sac is not broken, I pull it apart with my fingers. (Often it will break automatically upon birth.) Then I use a bulb syringe first to suck mucus and fluid out of the mouth and nose, and then I use a towel to wipe off the face and nose. I always keep at least two bulb syringes on hand just in case I misplace one. (Confession: This post prompted me to inventory my kit, and guess what? I’m missing an aspirator. I had to buy another one!)
Medical Disinfectant (Such as Betadine, Iodine, Etc)
Like the lubricant, a medical disinfectant needs to be applied when manually assisting with labor to help disinfect your hands and arms. Put on gloves, rub with disinfectant scrub, and then rub with lubricant. Also apply cleanser and lubricant to the back of the doe as well.
Invest in some inexpensive barn-only towels and always have more available than you think you will need! Kidding is messy business and clean towels will be used to help dry off kids as well as wipe off yourself. It is especially important that kids are dried quickly if the weather is cold, and mama goat will need some help if it’s cold or she’s having multiple kids in quick succession. Wet kids may get frostbite or hypothermia. In some cases you may even need a hair dryer to speed up the drying process. (It is not normally that cold in my climate.)
No kidding kit is complete without a couple of extra light sources. After all, the doe code demands that does kid in the most inconvenient times — like two o’clock in the morning, for example — and without a light you can’t see diddly squat to assist if necessary.
I prefer a nice head lamp (those things are seriously awesome — we have about 4 of varying styles) and a simple lantern. Both of these options allow you to have both hands free. The headlamp is great for a direct source of light that can be pointed wherever needed and the lantern provides a general ambient light.
Tube Feeding Syringe, Nipples, Bottles
It is vitally important that kids get colostrum within the first two hours after birth. Starting an hour after birth, the ability of the kid’s stomach to absorb the antibodies produced in colostrum already begins to decline. Without those anitbodies, the kids will have no natural immunity to the pathogens in their environment and their immune systems will suffer. Kids who don’t get colostrum within the first 24 hours are not likely to survive at all. The sooner they get colostrum in their systems, the better.
But sometimes kids are born weak, they lack a strong suck reflex, they get too cold, the litter is too large, or mom doesn’t produce adequate colostrum. Things happen, and when they do it is up to us to be sure the kids get the colostrum they need. Tube feeding syringes can be used to tube feed weak kids the necessary colostrum for their survival and thrival. If you’re unsure about how and when to tube feed, there is an extremely helpful guide HERE (pdf). For kids who do have a suck reflex but need to be hand fed for other reasons, a coke bottle and pritchard nipples can be used.
You should always have emergency colostrum available in your home so you can retrieve it if necessary. My first year with goats I purchased raw cow colostrum from a trusted, disease-free herd in case of emergency (I didn’t need it thankfully), and every year since then I save and freeze some colostrum from my does. Nothing beats the colostrum that is developed specifically for your own property.
You can check a kid’s suck reflex by sticking your finger in its mouth. It should immediately start sucking and its mouth should be warm. A cold mouth indicates that the kids body temperature needs to be raised. Always makes sure the kid is warm before feeding it — a cold kid can’t absorb the colostrum.
Leg Snare and Kid Puller
In case of a kidding that goes south and needs intervention, these tools are designed to help hold the kid in the correct position once you get them sorted out. Sometimes if a kid is trying to come out in the wrong position, such as with a head bent back or the front feet back, the body part in question may want to slip back into its original position even after you maneuver it be positioned correctly. If that happens, the leg snare can be used to hold the legs in the proper position until the kid is birthed. The kid puller, which is similarly designed but is more sturdy, can be used if the malpresentation is more severe.
Sometimes does will develop something called hypocalcemia or “milk fever.” In a nutshell, hypocalcemia is a deficiency of calcium levels in the blood and it can quickly become fatal. This is a complex metabolic disorder that is affected by many factors, including calcium and phosphorus levels in the diet, production level of milk, and number of kids in the litter. More information is available at the Merck Vet Manual website.
The simple thermometer is something every livestock owner should have on hand — body temperature can reveal so much. In the context of kidding, a high body temperature in the doe may indicate an infection while a low body temperature may indicate hypocalcemia. In the kids, a low body temp may indicate that the kid has gotten chilled or isn’t regulating its body temperature on its own in cold weather.
Many areas of North America are deficient in this vital mineral, and deficiency in goats can cause a number of problems ranging from fertility issues to retained placentas to weak kids or kids with white muscle disease and more. The purpose of having selenium gel in the kidding kit is to administer an appropriate dosage to kids who display those symptoms. You can read more about mineral deficiencies in goats at Hoegger Farmyard (an excerpt from my favorite goat book, Raising Goats Naturally by Deborah Niemann).
Pure black strap molasses can be offered to does after kidding as a boost after the hard work of labor. Some warm molasses water is an excellent treat for a doe who has delivered on a cold winter night. Molasses has a lot of vitamins and minerals and combining it with water will help replenish her fluids as well.
Cell phone + Emergency Numbers
The last thing you want is to be at the barn when a delivery is going south and have to rush back to the house to retrieve your phone or address book. Keep your cell phone with you at the barn and keep numbers for experienced goat friends and a trusted veterinarian (or multiple veterinarians if you are lucky enough) in your phone as well. This way you will be ready if an emergency arises, and you can also reach out to a friend or mentor for reassurance if something seems off. Cherish your friends who don’t mind being texted pictures of goat deliveries late at night! Sometimes it’s nice just to have someone more experienced say, “that looks normal.”
Well, that’s about all I can think of in terms of items that can be kept in a tote bag for easy access during active labor. Let me know if I have forgotten anything!
I hope this helps you be prepared for whatever kidding season may throw your way, but most of all I hope everything goes smoothly and your barnyard is filled with dancing baby goats!