Congratulations, you’re having kids! Or rather, your doe is pregnant.
Given a female goat’s gestation length ranges between 147 and 155 days—an average of five months—a lot of things can and do happen in that time period, not to mention the actual birth at the end.
Here’s what to expect when your goat is expecting.
When it comes to breeding during certain months of the year—typical with some farm animals, such as sheep—goats are typically not picky. Females are most fertile when the days are shorter, but this can range from August to March.
That means that kidding season can begin at the start of the new year and continue until late summer.
A doe will frequently ovulate more than one egg, making it more common for goats to give birth to twins and triplets than a single kid. Once bred, confirmation of goat pregnancy can occur as early as 17 days gestation with the use of a transrectal ultrasound probe. Accuracy of pregnancy detection, however, improves later in the gestational development of your goat.
External transabdominal ultrasound is most accurate during the second half of gestation, when the fetus is large enough to detect through the body wall. Many goat producers choose to ultrasound their does between 45 and 90 days. This is a good window to count the number of goat fetuses present and then sort the does based on their pregnancy needs.
Before breeding, a doe should be in good body condition. On a scale of 1 to 5, a doe should have a body condition score (BCS) between 2.5 and 3 at breeding, meaning her backbone is not prominent and her ribs are barely felt.
Keeping a doe at a BCS of 3 during pregnancy is ideal. Watch her weight carefully and manage her diet. Later in pregnancy the goat fetuses grow quickly, placing heavy demands on the mother’s body stores of fat and daily calorie intake.
Knowing whether a doe is carrying a single versus multiple kids helps manage her dietary intake during gestation.
A goat in good health at the start of gestation has the best chance of a healthy pregnancy and kidding. In early gestation, assess the doe’s parasite burden and deworm if necessary.
Make sure she’s up to date on tetanus and clostridial vaccines. The most common combination vaccine is referred to as “CD&T,” which stands for clostridium Types C and D and tetanus. If you know your geographical area is endemic for bacterial pathogens such as chlamydia and campylobacter—two primary causes of infectious abortions in goats—vaccinate your doe for these at this time as well, and booster if necessary.
During pregnancy, a goat should receive high-quality forage as well as free access to a mineral and salt source and water. You may need a concentrate supplement in the last month or two of gestation.
Assess her BCS every two to three weeks during pregnancy to make sure her body condition remains ideal.
In addition to paying close attention to diet, stress reduction in a pregnant doe is very important, particularly in the last month of gestation. This means avoiding activities such as:
- introducing new animals to the herd
- moving animals to new pastures
- hoof trims
Abortion can occur at any time during gestation, although most are seen in the last two months. The normal abortion rate in goats is around 5 percent.
Most causes of abortion are infectious and primarily bacterial. However, there are some viral causes as well. Early vaccination can help prevent some of these bacterial causes — for example against the bacteria chlamydia and campylobacter.
Stress is also a common cause of abortion in goats. Heat stress in the summer months can result in fetal loss. Other herd stressors, such as predator attacks and severe weather (storms, flooding, etc.), can also have negative impacts on gestation.
The best two preventions against abortions in does are ensuring a low stress environment on the farm and instituting robust biosecurity measures. Keep pregnant goats away from cattle and hogs, and don’t allow contact with goats from other farms.
If a doe aborts, keep her away from others who haven’t kidded yet. Try to keep feed off the ground and away from urine- and feces-contaminated areas in the pen or field.
Submit any aborted fetus and tissue (such as placenta) to a laboratory with the capability of running abortion diagnostics, including bacteriology and virology testing. This may be a university laboratory. Contact your veterinarian or extension agent for the best place and methods to send samples in your area.
Also be aware of the zoonotic potential of some infectious agents that cause goat abortion. Always wear gloves and wash your hands after handling aborted tissues.
Goats are unique in that they occasionally experience a hormonal imbalance that causes pseudopregnancy. When this occurs, a doe’s body thinks she’s pregnant when she’s not, incredibly to the point where the doe will have an enlarged abdomen with a uterus full of fluid as well as udder development!
The cause of this imbalance is not entirely understood. Although not common, it may occur in the same individual only once, or multiple times.
An injection of prostaglandin by your vet will re-balance the reproductive hormones and treat this condition without further harm to the animal. When the uterus expels the excess fluid, the colloquial term is “cloudburst.”
The biggest danger for a goat entering the last few weeks of pregnancy is a condition called pregnancy toxicosis. Seen most commonly in thin does carrying multiple kids, this condition occurs when the doe can’t consume enough calories to support the growing fetuses.
This causes an emergency shift in her metabolism. The liver begins mobilizing fatty acids to produce more glucose. If the liver can’t produce enough glucose, it begins to make energy in the form of ketones, resulting in ketosis.
Over time, this becomes toxic.
Early signs of pregnancy toxicosis in a goat are depression and inappetence. If you notice a heavily pregnant doe not eating, act fast. This condition progresses rapidly, and the doe can quickly develop severe neurological signs, including:
- teeth grinding
Measuring ketones in the urine is diagnostic, although clinical signs warrant quick treatment without waiting for further tests.
Treatment has to be immediate and extreme. Primarily, the fetus(es) must be removed, as they are the drain on the doe’s glucose stores. This can be done by C-section or pregnancy induction with steroids, depending on how late in gestation this condition occurs.
If caught early and the fetus is mature enough for birth, mother and kids may survive. More commonly, the kids are premature and do not live.
Other supportive care for the doe includes IV dextrose and B vitamins. Oral supplementation with propylene glycol can also help support the liver. Transfaunation of rumen fluids from another healthy goat or cow can help, too.
Force-feeding yogurt with live active cultures and electrolytes may also be needed to stimulate digestion and get the doe eating again.
Prepping for Birth
Conveniently, many does give birth during the day. Reliable signs that show she is getting close to kidding include:
- filling of the udders
- relaxing of the pelvic muscles
- an enlarged vulva (which may show mucous discharge)
There are three stages of birth. The first stage occurs when the doe isolates herself from the rest of the herd. She may look uncomfortable or restless. This stage can last up to 12 hours as the doe prepares herself for the next stage.
The second stage is the actual delivery, which begins with active contractions as the fetus moves into the birth canal. In goats, this occurs over the course of one to two hours.
Check frequently on the doe at this point. If she isn’t making progress over the course of an hour, you’ll need to intervene to see if anything is wrong.
Remember that she is very likely delivering twins or triplets. Resting between births is normal and necessary.
If the doe is straining and not making progress, this is called dystocia, the medical term for “difficult birth.” This is the time for intervention.
Many experienced goat producers can fix common obstetrical issues themselves. But newer goat owners may feel anxious that they will harm the doe.
The three key points in helping with a birth are:
Of course, having small hands helps as well. Keeping those key aspects in mind, you may be able to help the doe yourself.
Otherwise, a call to your veterinarian is in order.
In goats, a forward-facing presentation of the kid—two front feet followed by a nose—is preferred. However, it’s normal if hind feet show first.
Fetal malalignment is the most common cause of dystocia. That means that the fetus is not in the proper position to fit efficiently through the birth canal. This could be as simple as having one forearm pushed back so that the shoulders lock against the pelvis. But delivery could be more complicated due to a true breach presentation or a tangle of limbs from different fetuses.
Another cause of dystocia is incomplete cervical dilation. Sometimes, a doe needs extra time to properly dilate. However, if re-checked after 30 minutes of active contractions with no change, this is a specific condition called “ringwomb” that is considered heritable. Remove such a doe from the breeding program.
If the cervix will not dilate, a C-section must be done. This surgery can be done on the farm with a local anesthetic. An incision into the flank and through the uterus results in the removal of the kid(s).
Having extra help during a C-section is always useful to attend to drying off and stimulating the neonates to breathe while the doe’s uterus and body wall are sutured back together. Barring other complications, most does recover from this surgery very well.
The third stage of birth is passing the placenta. Typically goats pass all placentas within six hours of the last birth, but it can take 12 to 18 hours and still be considered normal. Any longer than this and the doe is at risk of uterine infection.
Another unique aspect of goats is the presence of lochia. This is a nonodorous, reddish-brown discharge from the vulva for up to three weeks postpartum.
This is completely normal.
Once born, normal, healthy goat kids will attempt to stand within a few minutes and attempt to nurse within an hour. The doe should show interest in her kids and lick them vigorously to clean and dry them, stimulating them to breathe and stand.
Making sure kids nurse as soon as possible is imperative to their overall survival.
The doe’s initial milk is special. Called colostrum, it is full of antibodies that the kid must consume to support its underdeveloped immune system. These antibodies are large molecules, and the kid’s immature digestive system can only absorb them for a limited amount of time.
It’s a race to consume enough colostrum soon enough so that the kid’s immune system gets the boost it needs until it can develop antibodies on its own.
If a kid does not adequately nurse in the first eight hours or so, or if the doe doesn’t produce high-quality colostrum, the kid is at risk of failure of passive transfer. This results in an immune compromised kid that is highly susceptible to severe infections in its umbilicus, joints or blood, called sepsis.
Kids with failure of passive transfer benefit from a plasma transfusion of antibodies. They also need TLC for the first few weeks, until their own bodies are strong enough to start producing antibodies on their own.
Shortly after birth, in addition to making sure the kids are nursing, dip the umbilicus with dilute iodine or chlorhexidine. Protect the doe and kids from rain and cold weather for the first few days.
Newborn kids have no fat stores and are susceptible to hypoglycemia and hypothermia.
Closely monitor the new family for the first few days. Uterine prolapse can occur in weak does about 12 hours post-delivery. This is caused by low blood calcium and requires manual correction.
As with assisting in birth, cleanliness, lubrication and gentleness are key in pushing a prolapsed uterus back in place. Many veterinarians prefer to place temporary sutures in the vulvar opening to prevent re-prolapse.
Once healed, the prognosis is usually good.
If the doe delivered multiple kids, make sure that each kid is growing and eating. With triplets in particular, you may have one kid may be the “runt.” Does have only two nipples and it’s easy for the smallest of three kids to get pushed to the side by larger, more robust siblings.
Occasionally, a smaller kid may require supplemental care via bottle-feeding. However, most does are good mothers and can successfully raise multiple kids to weaning.
While there’s certainly a lot to keep in mind during a doe’s pregnancy and the resulting goat delivery, it’s all worth it when those wide-eyed kids start scampering around the yard. Mind your doe’s health and stay ready to help during and after delivery.
You’ll soon experience the gift of new life in the goat yard!
This article appeared in Hobby Farm‘s Best of Goats 101 2020 annual, a specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such asBest of Hobby Farms and Living off the Grid by following this link.