70 degrees at the end of February makes it hard to believe we are just two weeks away from our first goat's due date. A typical February has us wringing our hands over the hay-burn rate, building kidding pens weeks in advance and dreading the hourly barn checks ahead. While the warmer weather has it's share of problems - mud, increased parasite loads, the fear of a long hot dry summer to come - a mild kidding season is a welcome change. So how are we preparing this year?
We raise Kiko Goats. They are extremely hardy, resilient breeds fully capable of kidding outdoors without any supervision. That said, we don't have a huge commercial herd and even one preventable loss is too many in our book. Over the years, we have tried every configuration you can think of for our goat maternity ward- High walled wooden individual box stalls, group free-range, group small indoor/outdoor pens, indoor group pens - and nothing has worked as well as individual kidding pens.
Individual kidding pens allow the mommas to focus on what's important - delivering and caring for their babies. They don't have to contend with the other mother goats in a shared pen, fight for food or space, or worry about predators. We have had mother goats steal another goat's baby when allowed to deliver in a group pen, babies have been stepped on by curious bystanders and have even lost babies when the mother is given too much space. Our pens allow the goats to see each other to satisfy their herd-animal instincts while also giving them the safety of being separated from others.
Step 1 - Cleaning and Disinfecting
Protecting mother and baby from common diseases begins with a clean environment. We scrape out all bedding that may have been left over, spray the walls with a Clorox/water mixture and coat the floor with barn lime. We leave the pens like this for at least a day to air out and disinfect.
Step 2 - Building the pens
Our pens are either 6' X 4' or 8' X 4'. For the long sides we use small animal panels (example here). We like these because it prevents babies from slipping through to the pen next door. We use eyelets in the wooden wall and rebar. For the fronts, we use normal 4' gates (example here). We like these because the goats can stick their head through to eat feed, keeping the feed pan clean. It also lets babies leave mom and visit the creep feeder when they are old enough. Add a water bucket and your pen is complete! Note, we have one goat that will stand and butt an open wire fence for hours until the gate is ruined. If you have a grumpy neighbor, a sheet of marine plywood fastened to the gate to block vision does the trick for us. We LOVE these hay feeders from Premier. They are a little pricey, so I was hesitant at first. They have held up for years and look exactly the same as the day we unboxed them. It's worth the investment!
Step 3 - Bedding
To protect the babies from the cold concrete, we add a nice thick layer of wood chips. This year we are also experimenting with pelleted horse bedding. So far, it has superior absorption compared to the wood chips alone. We are needing to clean out the pens far less often using a layer of pellets under a layer of wood chips. What do you use?
Step 4 - Add goats!
Unless absolutely necessary, we only trim hooves twice a year...once over the summer and when we are preparing for babies. All moms got a quick pedicure before checking out their new apartment.