Aurora and Georgina were born in the very, very early hours of March 7 to our sweet Pandora. Their birth was fully unremarkable (we were sleeping), and Panny has been doing a fabulous job taking care of them. We noticed Pandora was in labor when I peeked at the barn camera/baby monitor on my phone, and when we made it to the barn both kids had been born. Within 45 minutes, the kids were standing and nursing and they’ve been growing crazy fast ever since.
Like most herbivores that generally live in big, open areas, goats are prey to many carnivores. It is important, then, that the newborn babies be agile quickly, in order to keep up with a moving herd and evade predators. By the time they are 24 hours old, goat kids start bouncing. They practice running. They spring up into the air from all four feet at once, and they jump on things. Constantly. It’s adorable. But, I think it also serves two useful purposes. First, it hones the kids’ agility. They are practicing evasive moves that will help them escape a predator. Second, they are demonstrating to any predators that may be watching or stalking the herd that they are fast, capable, and healthy, so maybe that wolf should think about chasing someone else instead. Play is fun, but it is also important in development.
We keep new babies locked in a stall with their mamas for 3 or 4 days, depending on the health and thriftiness of the animals, as well as the weather. The gate to the pen has open slats, and the other animals like to check in, but keeping the newborns isolated helps keep them out of trouble while they practice those gross motor skills, and it makes sure they bond sufficiently with their mama. Aurora and Georgina are the only two babies in the barn at the moment, but Pandora still smells them every time they are near her and especially when they nurse. She recognizes them by scent and wants to make sure no one else’s babies are stealing her milk.
After a few days of isolation, we do supervised excursions out of the pen. We divide our pastures with electric fences and it’s important that the babies learn how they work. Goat kids, and lambs, learn by touching, sniffing, and biting everything. It only takes two or three encounters with the electric fence for the kids to learn to stay away from them. We want to be there when they are learning so that we can help them out if they get tangled in the fence, or end up on the wrong side of it. Bill and I work together to teach the kids about the fence with one of us being near the animals and the other standing next to the fence switch, ready to turn it off if needed. It is a little heartbreaking to watch the kids get shocked, but the fences keep predators away from the herd, and the babies need to learn to stay away. Plus, it only hurts for a second. (I’ve been shocked many times. Because I’m not as smart as a baby goat…)
When the goat kids are about a week old, they are usually fully integrated into the herd – sleeping and grazing along with everyone else. This afternoon when I went to check on them, Aurora and Georgina were sleeping in a hay feeder in the barn while Pandora was out eating the paltry pasture offerings with the rest of the goats and sheep. The kids woke up when they saw me and started bouncing around, heading for the barn door.
But, since mom was way out in the back field, I encouraged them to return to their nap. I picked one up in each hand, noticed their bellies were quite full, and plopped them back in the hay feeder. They stretched and snuggled back to sleep. The sun is shining, but today is pretty cold – still below freezing in the late afternoon. If it were a nicer day, I bet the goats would be napping in the field. The kids seem to know to stay put when mom is away and I’m sure Pandora will be checking in on them regularly.
At this point, the kids are only starting to explore hay and grass. They pay attention to Pandora when she’s eating in the pasture or at the feeders, and try to copy her behavior. To me, this is as adorable as bouncing. There is nothing cuter than seeing a tiny baby kid standing at a feeder with enormous sheep and goats. It is going to be a while before the kids’ rumens develop and they’ll be able to eat hay, so for now, when the adults are eating, the kids spend most of their time jumping and napping. Soon, though, they’ll be munching on grass and burping up cud with the rest of them!
The last exciting milestone to discuss is the initiation of sheep surfing. I saw a precursor to sheep surfing this morning when Georgina was standing casually on sleeping Clara’s back. Climbing on a sheep that’s laying down is the first step toward jumping on a standing one. It may happen in the next set of ten days, and I hope to bring you photos when it does!