-15 degrees this morning. I’ll admit I was glad I didn’t have to milk any goats this morning. For the first time in two years, all my does are dry at the same time while we wait for kidding to start. (We really miss our lovely, luscious, fresh goat milk.)
Some people might think you can slack off the good food right now, but pregnant does have special nutritional needs. While a cow usually gives birth to one calf that’s 8-10% of mama’s weight, a sheep or goat often has twins or triplets with a total birthweight of 15-20% of mom’s normal size. That’s a tremendous load on mama goat. If she doesn’t receive enough – and the correct – nutrition, her body will leach calcium and other nutrients from the mother’s body for those developing kids. The result is a weakened mother and probably kids without good, strong bodies at birth. We believe in feeding to avoid problems – not cause them.
Why push for multiple births? There is a correlation between milk production and the number of kids. Our goats are bred for generations of multiple births and they can handle it – IF they get enough of the right food.
When temperatures start to dip below zero, I make sure my ladies receive a late night (10 PM) feeding of alfalfa. It doesn’t matter if they still have hay in their mangers. I go out and add a handful or adjust some of the hay in their feeder. That’s enough to get their curiosity going and they’ll usually come over to sniff and eat a bit. Even a little more hay will keep their rumen digesting that much longer and digestion keeps them warm. I get up at 5:30 AM or so for the first trip to the barn. Depending on how cold it is and how the does are acting, I may add a bit of hay. If they’re acting very cold, I might offer them some whole oats to kick start their consumption. Or I may put a little hay down by their faces so they can stay in their semi-warm beds and nibble. When it gets to -20 or so, I’ve been known to cover the sleeping does with straw.
In cold weather, I increase their grain or give alfalfa, especially for the really pregnant does who don’t have much room in their abdomen because of their babies. They need the extra nutrition of a concentrate….though they also need to consume some roughage from hay just to keep their rumen working and maintain good digestion. It’s a balancing act.
In general – I watch their calcium-phosphorus ratio. Alfalfa produces calcium and grain give phosphorus. Ca-P needs to be balanced or you can cause a multitude of problems, including ketosis. With the high metabolism of goats, any imbalance can be touchy to adjust. So it pays to understand your feed and the needs of your goats.
Observation is one of my best management tools. I have to know the habits of each doe. When they do something that’s not normal for them – I need to figure out what’s going on and get them back to their normal. That’s challenging. But it’s also part of the fun of having goats.