There's no kidding about kidding, it's serious business. Does give birth to one and two kids in one kidding -- and so, it's all hands on deck at The Simple Farm, where kidding season lasts from mid-January through February. Eventually, the little ladies born will assist in making the milk that is the basis for the Ledners' famous goat milk caramels. Here, we give a behind-the-scenes look at what the Ledners do as goats are born on the farm.
The gestational period for goats is about 150 days. The day we visited the farm, "Nancy" was on day 151 and ready to give birth. Lylah Ledner first checked Nancy's back ligaments (the part where the back connects to the tail) because the ligaments there soften when the goat prepares for birth. When grabbing around the tail, it will feel like you could grab around the tail head. Next, she noted that Nancy had found her "spot" in a stall that was dark, clean, and away from the other goats.
As we sat next to Nancy, Ledner noted her teeth-grinding, also a sign of labor. She pawed at the ground and seemed to have trouble getting comfortable. She would sit down, then stand up, only to sit down again. By the end of visit, Nancy had entered a somewhat standard labor position, with her bottom on the ground and her front legs in an almost standing position. Other signs of labor and contractions include yawning, licking, discharge, short bouts of urinating, and ears going back.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Before the babies come, there's lots of preparation. "Rhonda Crow [of Crow's Dairy] has been an incredible support for me. The first kidding was really difficult and I had Rhonda on the phone at 11 o'clock at night." says Ledner, who has been through kiddings for the past four years. There's a team to help the Ledners, and it varies depending on how many babies are expected. They try not to interfere with the natural process too much, but sometimes mothers and babies need help. This is the Ledners' livelihood, and they love their goats, so much care is taken to ensure everyone is healthy.
In the weeks prior to birth, each mother has a prenatal "trim" of udders, belly, and tail to help keep everything clean. The goats' hooves are trimmed and everyone on the birthing team clips their own nails short, too. In the weeks leading up to birth, a birthing kit is prepared and baby monitors are used to check on goats at night. The Ledners hand-breed in August and typically breed each doe once a year.
Ledner does a two-finger "check" on the doe, but is careful not to be too invasive. The best scenario is that within an hour of serious labor and pushing, the first kid is delivered in what can only be described as a "diving" post; front hooves and head first. Some kids are breeched but will make it out without assistance, while others miss the "diving" position and get stuck with one of their legs bent back. There are a number of less-than-desirable and dangerous positions kids can maneuver into. This is when it's critical for help to intervene, and the Ledners keep a close watch during the birthing process.
The fix for a non-preferable birthing position? You guessed it -- someone needs to reach into the mother to skillfully and safely move the kid into a better position. No one said this was easy. "The goat community of women will talk you through it," Ledner says.
From here, the team that has "scrubbed in" kicks into action, with each person having an assignment. This includes aspirating the mouth, cleaning the baby, and keeping the baby warm. "We hold the babies by their back feet and pound them . . . f there's any coughing that needs to be done."
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Within the first hour, the doe is "milked out," as her milk contains colostrum, which is fed to the kids. They get 20ccs within 12 hours. "After the 12-hour period, the colostrum doesn't really work for them." It's important to get the goat in front of the mother to bond. All the kids are bottle-fed for about 12 weeks, but the Ledners want the babies to bond.
How do the Ledners decide who to keep? "It's all about genetics." All the Ledners' ladies are purebred Nubians. The health and quality of the udder dictates milk production. "I'm fortunate to have rock-star milkers," says Ledner. Their caramel business is going well and growing quickly, so they are careful about the females they choose to keep. "When we sell our kids, then the sale of the kids is budgeted into the purchasing of alfalfa."
"Every birth is different, every goat is different," says Ledner who along with husband Michael are strategic, smart, and knowledgable about their business. Kidding is just one very important part of the business that the Ledners are gracious enough to share details on their blog and with local media. And what about Nancy? She gave birth to two girls, Molly and Milly, just a few hours after our visit.