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Living in the northeast, most farms we know kid in the coldest months of winter. There are a lot of important reasons for this. Kids born during the winter are known to be healthier and hardier – the lack of active parasites in the soil, absence of humidity in the air, and lots of active eating and drinking to stay warm encourages strong healthy growth. With stronger immune systems, they are better able to combat illnesses that come about as things warm up. Kidding in the winter months also ensures kids are ready to go to new homes in the spring, when show season and 4-H programs begin. Whatever your reason, kidding in the cold winter months is common, and very safe with a few extra precautions.
Dry, Dry, Dry!
We make sure we’re present for all of our kiddings in the cold with close video and audio monitoring. The primary reason for this is to make sure that kids are completely dry once they hit the ground. It’s very easy for newborn kids to get severely chilled if they’re damp. Once kids are out and mom has had a chance to check them over, we ensure they’re bone dry. We de-slime them first with a puppy pad, then rub them vigorously with a clean, dry towel. When it’s especially cold, we use an old hair dryer to make sure they’re completely dry and fluffy.
Once kids are dry we give them back to their dam and keep an eye on them to make sure they’re nursing and vigorous. If they seem lethargic or are having trouble nursing, we check their temperature to make sure it’s above 101 F. We also keep an eye out for first fresheners who may be overzealous with their cleaning, as it can get kids really damp, especially their ears.
When kidding in the cold, it’s essential that newborn kids get colostrum as soon as possible. This helps get important sugars and fats into their system that will help to keep them warm. Studies have also shown that getting kids colostrum within 20 minutes of being born also helps tremendously with boosting kid’s immune systems. As soon as one kid is delivered, we milk some colostrum from the dam. We then give the newborn kid colostrum, either slowly and carefully with a small syringe (must be careful to avoid aspirating) or from a bottle. This allows the kid to get colostrum immediately while allowing the dam to focus on birthing more kids, or taking a few moments to rest. If you bring out a thermos of hot water, you can keep the colostrum warm for additional kids.
Don’t Forget Mom
In order for kids to be well cared for, their dam must be well cared for. The cold takes a real toll on does during kidding. We always make sure dams have access to warm water during and after kidding. The warm water is always laced with molasses or electrolytes.
Watch the Ears
Frostbite can be a real concern for kids when kidding in the cold. The ears are the most susceptible area for frostbite risk. Kids will often suck on each other’s ears, and dams will clean them, leaving them wet. Be sure to keep ears clean and dry, and check often for signs of frostbite. Some people will coat the tips of kids ears in bag balm or Vaseline in order to provide a barrier against moisture.
To Heat or Not to Heat
We do everything we can to avoid using heat lamps or other sources of additional heat during kidding. Dams usually do a great job of keeping their kids warm, and we work hard to promote natural hardiness. But, when temps dip down into the negative numbers, there are measures we’ll take to make sure everyone stays warm enough.
One of the big things we do for additional warmth, is take one of our stalls, and wrap it it in thick, clear plastic. With a set of strong lights, this helps keep the stall at a comfortable temperature. The key thing to remember is to ensure there’s ventilation near the top so condensation doesn’t collect, and air flows well. We borrowed this valuable idea from our friend’s at Old Mountain Farm after seeing them do this during one particularly cold kidding season.
Using warming barrels to help keep kids warm is another great strategy. We constructed these using 50 gallon plastic barrels and heat lamps from Premier1. The barrels have small openings that allow the kids to go in and warm up, without any risk of interacting with the heat lamps, or allowing the dams to come in contact with them. Warming barrels are great for placing newborn kids in, allowing them to stay warm after they’re dried and fed while their dam births other kids.
Be There and Be Aware
Kidding in the cold can be safe and easy as long as you stay attentive. Try to be present for kiddings to manage any risks effectively. Video and audio monitoring can be a true life saver. You can start with a simple system like this, or something more high tech but still affordable, like this. Make sure you have clean dry areas for dams and newborn kids to establish themselves as comfortable as possible. Be prepared to be present both physically and mentally to assess any adverse effects the cold may be having on vulnerable goats.