Article Index "Hypothermia - There's A Killer In Your Barn" Article Index


By: Robin Cotten
Sawtree Ridge Boer Goats, Atoka, TN
About the Author

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Here in the so-called "sunny South" weíve been blessed the last few years with relatively mild winters. Oh yes, weíve paid for these mild winters with increased insects, etc. in the summer, but from the goatís viewpoint, life has been good. However, the fall and winter (of Y2000) events have occurred that have set the stage for a very difficult kidding season. We had a very hot, dry summer. In many cases, our own included, breeders were forced to begin feeding hay months earlier than normal because the browse dried up and literally blew away. Hay producers got only one or two cuttings where they normally got three to four, and the quality of the hay was diminished. Prices have risen for both hay and concentrates.

Then, winter struck with a vengeance! Parts of the country that never see snow, have seen it this year. Areas where the temperature rarely drops below freezing for more than a day or two at a time, have seen freezing temperatures that lasted weeks instead of days. All of this has served to really stress our goats, especially the breeding bucks and newborn kids. Suddenly, weíre all concerned with HYPOTHERMIA! Hypothermia can kill, and it can do it quickly!

Picture life from the aspect of a newborn kid. She leaves an environment that ranges from 101.5 to 103, and enters a world that is 32 or below, and may be wet and windy in addition. Talk about shock! Mom tries, but when sheís kidding two, three or more, and quickly, she simply cannot clean and dry the kids quickly enough. They start to shiver. Then, and this is where begins to get life-threatening, their little systems begin to be 100% devoted to only the essentials ("We must get warm") and everything else shuts down. The kid becomes lethargic, loses its "suck" reflex, the core temperature drops, and the shivering stops. Pick this kid up, and it is limp and lifeless. "Oh no," we say, "sheís dead."

But wait! All is not lost! That kid CAN be saved, if you act quickly.

The first order of business is to get that baby warm! Bring her into the house, and immerse her in warm, almost hot, water (all but the head, of course). Remember Momís normal temperature: you want to warm that kid back to "normal" (101.5 to 103). Do NOT attempt to feed it anything while warming! I realize itís a normal "first reaction" to want to get colostrum into that kid, but right at this point that life-giving fluid could literally kill her. As she warms, she may start to shiver. This is normal, and simply means that some of her reflexes are returning. Keep her immersed until her body temperature is at least 100. Then dry her off (use a hair dryer on a low setting if necessary) and set her (sitting up if possible) in a warm, dry place, out of any drafts. We like to use a large box: put plastic, then a heating pad on "low", then more plastic (newborn kids pee a LOT) and finally towels or old tee shirts or other expendable warm cloth. Remember if you use a heating pad, this can quickly dehydrate a newborn, so watch fluids very carefully.

NOW, you can try to get some colostrum into her. If she can suck, use a Pritchard Teat (screw-on nipple that has a little flutter valve in it so the kid doesnít get too much liquid at a time, available in all catalogs and many local feed stores) on a clean plastic drink bottle. A gentle squeeze will drip some milk into her mouth, and she often will begin to suck, sometimes greedily. If she doesnít suck, youíll have to "tube" her - but if you donít know how, now is not the time to learn. Instead, get an eyedropper and put milk into her mouth a few drops at a time, making sure you see her swallow before dropping any more. Itís all too easy to send milk into the lungs (we used to call it "down the wrong pipe" when I was a youngster), thus setting the stage for pneumonia, another quick killer of newborns.

By now, your kid should be perking up. If she isnít, check to make sure she hasnít dehydrated. Dehydration usually shows up when the kid is a few days old, and has been chilled for a while so hasnít been nursing as often or as much as it should. It can also occur when Mom doesnít have enough milk. Pinch a fold of skin: it should quickly snap back into place. If it does not, she is dehydrated, and she is not going to like the cure! Fluids can be given SubQ (under the skin) by the most novice goatkeeper. Simply draw about 50cc out of a bag of Lactated Ringers (a vet item, but cheap), change needles, pick up a loose fold of skin and inject the fluid just under the skin. It will make a "bubble" that will quickly be absorbed (and unless the kid is almost comatose, sheíll tell you in no uncertain terms how much she doesnít like this treatment). Continue to do this until she pees. There is no "kitchen" substitute for Lactated Ringers; however, most pharmacies carry a sterile saline solution that makes a reasonable substitute in a pinch, though youíll have to get it directly from the pharmacist.

Now, you can add some GoatADE (or NutriDrench), ID-1 (or Goat Serum Concentrate or Immuno-G) to the bottle or eyedropper. Hopefully, the kid is now trying to stand, and showing some curiosity about her new world. If she is not, itís probably time to bundle her up and take her to your vet. Continue to monitor her temperature and other vital signs, feeding her frequently in small amounts ("just like Mom does"). Milk colostrum out of her Mom and feed that: this will keep her smelling "right" so Mom will take her back.

As she gets stronger, try taking her to Mom to nurse, but be sure to bring her back into her warm place at the first shiver. Weíve had some success with putting little coats on the kids. I watch for doggie coats on sale (I have one made of polar fleece that works well for kids of both sexes), or there are several places that sell "kid coats" for around $12. In a pinch, you can make a "kid coat" out of a pair of old sweat pants. The kidís head goes where your ankle goes, cut the leg a little longer than the kid (they grow fast, you know), then cut good-sized holes for the legs. Youíll also need to cut a slit under the tummy if itís going to be worn by a buckling (otherwise, youíll have a cold, wet kid to contend with all over again). Just like putting 2-legged kids out to play in the cold weather, that bundled-up baby can then stay with Mom. No, Mom wonít object to the strange clothing at all, unless someone elseís kid has worn it first. Be sure to watch the "fit" of the coat, and take it off when the weather warms. You may have to put the coat back on at night for a few days: the extra effort can prevent another case of Hypothermia.

Even after you return your kid to Mom, keep a careful eye on her, as pneumonia will often develop in a previously hypothermic kid. If she seems even the tiniest bit "off" to you, not as active as usual, take her temperature at once. If itís elevated, this can be an early symptom of that other kid-killer, Interstitial Pneumonia. In this type of pneumonia, the only symptom the goat may show is a little lethargy as a result of an elevated temperature. Left untreated, the kid quits eating, and the fever begins to go sub-normal as systems shut down. This pneumonia can kill in less than 24 hours! Scary? You bet! Weíve had success this year using a very powerful antibiotic called Nuflor (vet prescription) and tiny doses of Banamine to quickly reduce the fever. If you can keep the kid eating, you can usually save it.

It may take as long as a couple of weeks, but in time the kidís natural "thermostat" gets to work, the immune system goes on line, and the kid is off and running. Watching that kid you thought was dead, as it runs and jumps with the other kids makes all the hard work worth it!

About the author: Robin Cotten and her husband Bill raise fullblood and percent Boer goats for breeding, meat or show at "Sawtree Ridge Boer Goats" in Atoka, TN. (near Memphis) Contact Sawtree Ridge at (901) 837-7827 or e-mail to

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