2000 by Lynne Edgar
My anticipation was high as I loaded the ATV and set out to check the goats. Five hundred Spanish and Spanish x Boer does are due to start kidding any day. They actually have four days to go by the calendar, but I know they didn't all read the book! Sure enough, when I get to the first field there is a set of twins and 2 singles. The third field holds two more sets of twins. All of them healthy, tummies full, and attended by loving mommas. A good start to the ending of a cycle that was begun many months ago.
Let me start off by saying I am not a goat expert. My husband, Russ, and I have had production Dorset sheep for many more years than goats. Now we have 500 Spanish and Spanish x Boer does along with 350 sheep. Since Russ still works away teaching school, the majority of the day to day farming is my responsibility. There are many differences between sheep and goats, but there are also many similarities in their management. I have talked with people and read as much as possible to put together a plan that works for us in our climate and location. It may or may not work for you, but at least will give you some ideas for consideration.
Preparations to kid a large group of goats begin many months in advance of the actual kidding. Probably the biggest thing I have learned with a large group of animals is you must take a proactive approach. You simply do not have enough time to deal with problems that are avoidable by proper feeding and management prior to kidding. There will be enough problems that are unavoidable with a large group, like the occasional lost or mismothered kid, bad weather or malpresentation at birth.
Our first decision was to decide when and how we wanted to kid. We decided on pasture kidding to keep labor and costs low. In our area (south central Missouri), the rule of thumb is you will have pasture by April 10 in most years. Weather in late April can, however, still be very nasty with days of cold drizzling rain and temperatures hovering just above freezing. The does have some trees and brush for shelter in the kidding pastures, but no buildings of any kind. Based on this we decided on May 1 as the date to begin kidding. This kidding date usually provides decent weather and allows the does to be on new grass and browse for about three weeks prior to the beginning of kidding.
Counting back from May 1 gives us a December 4th date for turning the bucks in with the does for breeding based on a 150 day gestation period. We learned the hard way to make sure the bucks (and does) are in a secure location well separated by distance or physical barriers unless you want your breeding plans changed for you! Thirty to 40 days before turn in we start flushing the does with .5 to .75 lb. of whole shell corn, soyhull pellets or corn gluten pellets depending on the pasture and browse available or hay quality and the condition of the does. The bucks are also checked for body condition and their feed adjusted if necessary. A week or so before breeding begins we drench for worms if needed and separate the does into breeding groups. If the does need wormed again less than 60 days after the bucks are turned in we use Safeguard mineral wormer at twice the cattle dose. This avoids stressing the does and possibly causing them to lose fetuses. We use both single sire and multi sire mating, so the group size varies. The Fullblood Boer bucks we use are aggressive breeders, but, to keep the kidding period as short as possible we plan on a maximum of 50 does per buck.
Through the winter and spring the does are fed .75 to 1 pound of whole shell corn, corn gluten pellets or soy hull pellets on the ground with an automatic feeder
that dumps the feed in small piles on the ground. After the grazing season the goats get free choice grass hay in big round bales. We put out at least 1 bale per 100 does so the more timid does will have plenty of room to eat, more bales if the weather if especially bad. The goats clean up big bales with very little waste. We go this route simply because with the low price of grain and grain by-products the last few years it has been cheaper than feeding all hay. A few pennies a day multiplied by 500 really adds up. A good trace mineral mix is kept out at all times. I use a spreadsheet ration balancing program along with hay tests and feed composition tables to balance the ration and have had no problems feeding this amount of grain to the goats and they stay in good condition. The goats are outside all winter with natural windbreaks or open front barns and sheds. One thing that is really important when feeding corn and grass hay is to add extra feedgrade lime to the mineral. Otherwise you get a calcium/phosphorus imbalance that can cause major problems as you get closer to kidding. A month before kidding I also add Vitamin E and a coccidiastat to the mineral. Adding Vitamin E is cheap insurance against white muscle disease.
The second or third week of April the does are wormed, given a CD&T booster separated into smaller groups of no more than 100, and set stocked until the end of kidding. One or two Great Pyrenees guard dogs and an automatic dog feeder are put with each group. Last year we ultrasounded the does and separated those carrying triplets into a separate smaller group. Depending on the number of does in each group they are put in paddocks of 5 to 40 acres. While worming and sorting we also check for anything that may cause a problem later kidding on pasture such as big or badly placed teats, low pendulous udder or bad half. These does are put in a small pasture at our home base to kid. Here they can be more closely watched and we have facilities for catching them to help the kids nurse, putting them in a kidding pen, or pulling the kids to be reared artificially if necessary. We have a few does that produce so much milk that they need to be milked after kidding. These are put with the home group.
Our farm is in three separate locations. The "home" farm where our house and barns are is 40 acres divided into 8 paddocks. The second is 200 acres divided into 17 permanent paddocks, mainly grass. The third is 120 acres divided into 5 paddocks, mainly brush and trees. The 200 acres is one mile and the 120 acres is three miles from the home farm with paddock sizes ranging from 10 to 40 acres. The does are reasonably gentle, but not the kind you just walk up to in the field and catch. Kids born on pasture must get up and nurse unassisted since the does are checked just once daily. If the doe has any type of problem that prevents this she is culled or we plan to have her where we can help if necessary! Feeding of grain is also discontinued after we separate the does into kidding groups. We want to keep the disruptions to the does and their new kids to an absolute minimum.
A week before kidding I put together my supplies in plastic buckets with lids and a waterproof backpack. These are carried on the ATV whenever I go to the field. I try to carry everything I might need including tagging equipment, tags, bander, notepad and pen, binoculars, halter, several colors of spray marker, antibiotics, Vitamin B, Calcium Gluconate, syringes and needles, kid tuber, warm colostrum, milk replacer, bottle and nipple, towels, ob lubricant and disposable rubber gloves. With these items I can take care of most problems in the field, mark the kid or doe, finish checking the goats, then take a kid to the house or go back for other supplies if needed. I don't have time to make unnecessary trips back and forth with most of the kidding pastures over a mile from the house.
Then the fun begins! I try to handle each new kid, tag the doelings, record birth dates, birth type and dam number or description and mark pairs with spraymarker. I work slowly and carefully around the does. If she is nervous about me I stay downhill if possible and avoid looking directly at her. Most of them handle it well. I will be the first to admit that there are days when things get away from me and it doesn't all get done. We had 300 ewes lambing at the same time in 2000. Many of those are registered and must be tagged and recorded. Up until this year we have not registered kids so the recorded information was for the benefit of our customers and us. The one thing we always do is check all the pastures daily for any problems. We don't want an animal to suffer needlessly.
The goats are extremely good mothers and have very few problems kidding. Overall in 2000 there were 10 or 12 "lost" kids that became bottle babies. Two kids died at birth (one suffocated from the sac covering his face, one had a head out with no feet and we were too late to save the kid). We delivered one kid with a leg back, lost one in a set of triplets who was probably backwards and had one kid starve. I tried to catch the starving kid for several days and couldn't. I felt really bad about it but I just couldn't risk too much disruption in a field of 80 does pregnant or with kids less than two weeks old. This is one of the reasons I'm trying to handle all the kids at birth. By imprinting the kids at birth I hope our replacement does will be less stressed in this type of situation. If this particular doe hadn't been so flighty that I couldn't get anywhere close and the kid stuck to her like glue, I could have saved the kid.
The kids are given their first CD&T shot at around 8 weeks and a booster 3-4 weeks later. The buck kids are banded and ear notched when we give the first shot. The kidding groups are put back together in one large group after working the kids. They stay on pasture with their mothers until sometime in the fall when they are weaned. We use a Management Intensive Grazing system that the goats rotate through during the grazing season. We do feed some grain to the goats in late summer and fall for two reasons. One is because our pasture quality declines in the late summer heat; the other is to introduce the kids to feed before they are weaned. This makes it much easier to start them on feed later. After weaning the kids are put on mixed feed and hay until they are sold since we seldom have the high quality pasture they would need. The wethers and some doelings are sold for meat in late November, December and January. The rest of the doelings are retained as replacements or sold as commercial breeding stock.
Some of our goals for the coming year are to increase our kidding percentage from 150% to 175% and begin registering our replacements. Hopefully we will not be dealing with the drought situation of the last year and a half and can cut down on purchased feedstuffs. We both really enjoy the goats and are excited about making further improvement in our genetics to improve reproductive and feed efficiencies.
Maryland Small Ruminant Page and Langston University Research & Extension are good sources for sheep and goat information.