Here's a little behind-the-scenes look at what kidding looks like here at the farm.
As seen in this video, as the Mommas get larger, their breathing becomes labored. It is especially noticeable when they are seated, like Razz in the video. This is not necessarily an indicator that delivery is imminent. Sometimes, this goes on for days.
Typically, on birthing day, we will see a bit of "goo" hanging from the back of Momma. As in humans, this mucous plug indicates that it won't be long. Also, momma's udder grows taut as it fills in preparation for her little ones.
Momma becomes increasingly uncomfortable and shows this in several different ways. Often, she will paw at the ground to make a nest or bed. She'll really fuss over getting perfectly comfortable in the bed she's made and then decide to get back up -- very restless. Often, they will spend some time on their knees, like Izzy in the above picture. Momma may yawn excessively or grind her teeth, and you can very often see her sides contort when contractions come on.
The contractions eventually get pretty violent as momma's back arches up and her hips are thrust underneath her. Once she's reached this phase, it really shouldn't be long before delivery. Some goats give birth lying down, but ours have only ever pushed a little while on the ground. Then, they stand to actually give birth. If this contracting/pushing phase lasts too long, baby may not be turned correctly, and it's time to don the obstetric gloves. Thankfully, we did not have to do that this year. Of course, it's uncomfortable to be up to your elbow inside your goat, but the biggest reason I don't want to have to turn a kid is that the momma will then need a round of antibiotics to ward off any infection related to the intrusion, and we try to avoid antibiotics whenever possible.
The above picture is dark, but you may be able to make out the "bubble" of fluid that usually precedes the baby. Once the bubble appears, it should just be another minute before baby is born!
If she's positioned correctly in the birth canal, the first thing you'll see are two little hooves, followed by head, and usually in one quick push, the baby kind of glops out and (since our mommas give birth standing up) falls to the ground. Momma immediately begins to lick the baby's face clean, removing the gooey encasing baby is born in. If she doesn't do this, we have to intervene and be sure that baby's face is uncovered and breathing passageways are clear. Multiples are born pretty close together, spaced only minutes apart. Usually, Momma is contracting and working on birthing #2 even as she's diligently cleaning off #1. Afterbirth must then be delivered. Sometimes this can take awhile. It took Nutmeg several hours to fully pass her afterbirth this year.
As if that's not all miraculous enough . . . just as momma gets baby cleaned up, baby will begin to try to find her legs. Often, babies are up and walking toward momma's udder within 15 minutes of birth.
Babies may need a little help finding the right spot to nurse, so a little nudge in the right direction tends to help a lot. Goat babies are born hypoglycemic, and it's critical that they get their first colostrum within an hour of birth. We were incredibly fortunate this year, that in the two births I failed to see coming, I happened upon the babies only minutes after birth. If baby is not strong enough to nurse, I milk a little colostrum into a bottle and feed it to baby as soon as possible. We have a store-bought colostrum paste that works okay in a pinch, but nothing beats what momma produces.
Once everything has kind of settled down, I trim umbilical cords. . .
. . . and dip the little remaining nub in iodine solution to prevent infection.
I weigh each baby (by weighing myself with and without the baby) and record birth weights. This is incredibly important, because we track their growth with weekly weigh-ins and supplement with bottles when someone isn't growing well. Additionally, babies aren't ready for weaning until they've tripled their birth weight, so we use this number for calculating that as well.
The first day, babies do a lot of sleeping. Being born is tough work! But, I try not to leave them completely alone with momma until I've seen each one nurse on its own. We had some this year that did that within 20 minutes of birth and others that had me traipsing to the barn every hour for a full day, placing momma's teat into the little one's mouth before they finally figured out where to latch on on their own.
It's hard to resist snuggling the little ones, but we do try to give momma and babies a lot of private time during the first day. They use this time to bond with one another, getting familiar with scents and sounds. From the moment when momma begins cleaning baby up just after birth, she speaks to the baby with a sound that is reserved only for her young, and they answer back. They speak back and forth to one another quite a bit during the first hours as they establish this new language that is just between them.
Early on, baby may sleep in what seem to be extremely awkward positions. Most likely this was a position she spent a lot of time in while in the womb.
Every birthing experience we've had has been a little different. Some go very smoothly, with strong babies and natural mothers. Other times, a mother may not know what to do or babies are lacking strength, and we have to step in and help. But, every birth is a complete miracle. Kidding season is absolutely exhausting, but it my favorite time of year on the farm!