Kidding: Goat Pregnancy and Labor

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Pay close attention to your does to know when they are pregnant and when they may go in to labor.
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“Goat School,” by Janice Spaulding, is a must-have guide for anyone who has, is about to get, or dreams of one day owning goats.

Looking to add some goats to your homestead? Goat School (Down East, 2011), by Janice Spaulding, is part manual, part cookbook, and is perfect for homesteaders looking to own goats for fun or for more self-sustainability. This excerpt, which discusses tips for knowing the signs of pregnancy in your does and delivering goat kids, is from the section “Breeding Goats and Health.”

Goat Kidding: The Signs of Pregnancy

99.9 percent of the time the whole kidding procedure will go smoothly, and it will progress in the following fashion:

Goats are like women in their pregnancy. Some get swollen legs, some get really cranky, and some moan and groan and complain. Others go through their pregnancy and you would never know they are pregnant! We had one Angora doe that we didn’t realize was even bred until spring shearing; the shearer flipped her over and lo and behold there was an udder forming!

How do you know when your goat is ready to deliver? Watch. The poor girl will get crankier as she gets closer. Some girls produce a lot of mucous. Some of it is stringy and can hang down quite a ways, even dragging on the ground. This is a sign that labor may take place in a short time or within a few days. Recordkeeping comes in really handy at this juncture, more about paperwork later. Our NanC goes 4 or 5 days with a drippy butt, and other goats do not have any mucous at all. Some of them, as soon as I see the mucous string, go into the kidding pen. This is especially true of Angoras.

Watch their udders. You will see changes as their delivery date nears. In some goats the udder will expand greatly (others will expand a few hours before delivery), and when labor is imminent it gets very big, solid feeling, and almost shiny in appearance.

Not all does do this, but one of the best indicators is calling. The doe will walk around looking like she is in a panic, searching for something. She will call out over and over again. Sometimes it’s a very soft call, sometimes a gentle talking to her belly, and sometimes a really loud yelling. She is calling to her baby, which hasn’t been born yet. This goat needs to be quickly put in her kidding pen. I’ve found this usually happens in the morning as you are getting ready to feed, as the goats are feeding, or shortly after eating. The girls enjoy eating first, birthing after.

A goat nearing labor will either eat like she’ll never see grain again or she will not have any appetite at all. Again, observe your goats ahead of time so that these changes are apparent to you.

Kinds of Goat Kidding

There is a big difference in the labor and delivery of Angoras, dairy goats, and Boers. Angora’s seem to have a very quick labor with a delivery that I describe as stop, drop, and roll. The goat stops in her tracks, squats, and pushes out the baby, the baby rolls out, mom cleans it up, and she’s done!

Boers have more of a prolonged labor and need to do some pushing before the baby is born. Dairy goats fall somewhere in between. Please be aware that most dairy goats are not good mothers. They have not learned mothering because they were probably taken away at birth and bottle fed. Many of our dairy girls drop and run! The baby is born and they run away from it!

What to Do When Your Goat Goes into Labor

When we hear the sounds of labor beginning, we grab our “kit,” and off we go to the barn. You will know when a goat is in labor. Some goats get so cranky it’s amazing, and may even try to bite!

Your doe will sometimes call in what starts out as the same sounds you have been hearing and end with a pushing or straining sound. A water bubble might be visible and will usually break. She will get up, lie down, squat, get up, pee, lie down, and so on, so many times it will make you crazy.

We also have heat lamps ready for possible use, which here in Maine is nearly all the time! If you have a close relationship with your doe, she may not want to have her kids without you being around! They can hold back their labor for quite some time.

Once you see that the goat is actually in labor, you will want to put down clean hay in her pen and get your gloves on. DO NOT put your fingers or hands inside the goat unless absolutely necessary! If you have to do this, remember to give your doe a shot of antibiotic as soon as she is done kidding, even if it was just the tip of your finger! If it becomes evident that the doe needs some help, put some K-Y Jelly on your fingers and insert one finger and massage the orifice of the vulva gently from inside. This will usually relax and lubricate enough for the baby to slide out.

If a doe’s water breaks and there is no sign of a baby after one hour, you will need to go in and examine. Close your eyes and think about what you should be feeling; remember two front legs and a head. The usual problem in this case is that the head is turned toward the back end. You will have to push the baby back a little to get the head to face forward. If you should need to pull, and the doe is having contractions, pull with the contraction, in a downward and outward motion.

The usual position should be a nose between two little hoofs. This is, of course, the perfect position and it doesn’t always happen. (Don’t be alarmed if you see a little tongue hanging out of the kid’s mouth! They nearly always are born this way, and it’s really quite cute!)

There are always things that can go wrong. The main thing is DON’T PANIC! If you are seeing two legs that look like back legs, don’t worry, the baby can be born this way, too. Quite often if the doe is having twins or triplets, the second baby may be born feet first. Of course, the doe is relaxed and stretched at this point, so the baby will pretty much slide out.

After the kids are born, they need to be cleaned and wiped down quickly. I usually bring the baby around to the front of mom and clean along with her licking. We work together to keep baby warm and get it dried off. If there is more than one kid, make sure both or all of the babies are kept in front of the doe. You certainly don’t want her to reject any of her babies if you’ll be keeping them with their mom.

Be aware that sometimes kids are bright yellow when they are born. This will be more evident in the Angoras. They look like little yellow chicks! This is normal. It usually happens when a baby is a day or two overdue. The baby’s internal organs are beginning to function and the baby passes some of the meconium into the amniotic fluid, thus coloring it and the baby with it.

Once the babies are dried off, fill the small plastic cup with iodine and dip the first kid’s umbilical cord and navel area with the iodine. This will cauterize the area and also disinfect it. Simply, place the cup tightly over the umbilical cord stub and the belly button and turn the kid over slightly. The iodine will get all over the kid, don’t worry, it comes off! Please throw away the cup and use a new one for the next kid.

About 50 percent of the time, a goat’s teat will have a little waxy plug in the end of it, or over the orifice (more common in Angoras). This needs to be removed so the baby can nurse. By milking a small amount from each teat, you will be assured that the teat is free from this plug. If nothing comes out, gently scrape the end of the teat with your fingernail. In really drastic cases, warm cloths will help. Some kids can nurse the plug out, but others can’t, so always make sure you have taken this step.

Going back to the umbilical cord, sometimes the cord breaks by itself, other times you must help it break. Do this by shredding it with your fingernail. Never cut it. We have a scale hanging in our barn most of the year. Once the baby is cleaned up really well, we put it in the large canvas bag (the one we keep all our “delivery” towels in,) hang it from the scale, and weigh it. (Make sure you calibrate your scale to minus out the weight of the bag!)

As for the bath towels, they are big and absorbent. You can wrap a kid up in them and keep them warm while being cleaned up. Also, they are washable. We shake them out really well to get rid of the hay stuck to them. I also try to pick off the larger pieces of mucous. Wash them in hot water with detergent and bleach and you’re good to go for the next round. I might mention here that iodine comes out in the wash.

Caring for Your Doe After Labor

So this is the progression that we use: DRY, DIP, TAG, SHOT, WEIGH, then MOM.

Once the babies are all set, this is the point where your doe needs some attention. She has done some hard work and needs a reward. We fill a small bucket with warm water and molasses (1 gallon of water, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of molasses). It gives the poor girl some extra energy, plus most of them love the taste. They are also very thirsty at this stage. If she did not eat at feeding time, I give her some grain. Always, always give clean hay.

During the three or four days that the doe is in her kidding pen, I will give her extra grain. About 1-1/2 times her normal ration. Our does typically get about one pound of 18 percent protein grain per day, so one and one-half pounds would be a good amount. After her seclusion time is over, if the pen is not in use by another goat, I do put mom and babies back in the pen at night and keep them in until after morning feeding time. This is done for two reasons: one, to protect the babies during feeding frenzy, and the other so that I can give a little extra grain to Mom. During the first few days, the babies are nursing a lot and taking a lot from Mom. It’s also at this time the babies will imitate mom and start nibbling on grain!

The Afterbirth

The afterbirth (placenta) usually will be delivered in an hour or two. (However, it can take up to 24 hours sometimes!) A placenta isn’t considered retained until after 12 hours. We did have a doe that did not deliver it for 2 days, but it certainly wasn’t a problem. Try to watch for it. We dispose of it in empty grain bags unless the doe decides to eat it. I know this is gross, but there are all kinds of nutrients and vitamins in the placenta that are good for the doe and help in her healing after birthing. It also contains hormones that trigger her milk production. Some will eat it and some most definitely will not.

DO NOT pull, tug, or in any way try to get the afterbirth out yourself. Let nature take its course.

Goat Coats for Cold Kids

If it is cold out and you choose to use goat coats for your babies, make sure to rub the coat on Mom before putting it on. Also, put the coat on the kid in front of Mom! Make sure the babies are quite dry before you do this! If you notice that the baby is damp underneath, remove ASAP! Kids can die of pneumonia really quickly!

Handling Goat Excrement

This is a bit on the gross side, but if you’re gonna have goats, you gotta know!

Mom will get a very yucky, crusty area on and around her tail. Once she is finished streaming (getting rid of what is left in her uterus), which can be up to a month, and it’s all dried up and cakey, you can trim it off with scissors. Some of it will pull off and parts will just brush off. It is best to clean her up when she is done streaming, especially in fly season! Now let’s address the kids and their poop. The first poop is a black tar-like substance that hopefully Mom will clean up for you! Otherwise, it’s difficult to clean up. Warm water and a good butt soak will work nicely to soften and loosen up this gooey substance. I also use baby shampoo if necessary.

Once the meconium (black poop) passes, the next bowel movements will be bright yellow, about the same color as yellow mustard. This is sticky and messy also! Mom will usually clean this up, too, but if she doesn’t, you will have to. I emphasize HAVE to. If this yellow poop cakes over the anal opening, it will get hard and make it impossible for the little one to have a bowel movement. This will eventually cause death. Through the years, I have found this is more of a problem with Angoras than with any other breeds. I think it’s more difficult for the mom to clean up all those little curls around the butt area. Most of the time you can pull off the stuck-on mess, other times it will take a butt soak.

Leave the Newborn Goats and Mother Alone

Once you’ve taken care of the essential kidding procedures, for Pete’s sake, leave the doe and her new kid alone. DON’T OBSESS! Leave her alone! Just because you don’t see the baby nurse doesn’t mean the baby isn’t nursing. Don’t stand there and watch, you’ll just make the mom nervous! If she’s a first-time mom, and you’re concerned that the kid hasn’t nursed yet, check the baby after an hour or so. Stick your little finger in the baby’s mouth and see if it’s warm. If it is, the kid is nursing! If the mom is a seasoned mom, she knows what to do, believe me!

If the kid is yelling,  see if you can attach it to the teat. Once they nurse they’ll find it again. But please wait a while. Some moms won’t want to nurse until the afterbirth is delivered.

These little relationships are very important. We feel that splitting mom and kids apart causes depression and general unhappiness. Kids that are sent off to new farms without a kid of its own age to bond with are picked on by the new herd, and definitely ostracized. Leaving two buddies together or sending a mom and her daughter, or neutered son, is so much less stressful! We do what we do for our goats, not for our customers.

Want more from Goat School? Have a look at these other articles:

The Benefits of Dairy Goats
Brick Cheese Recipe with Goat Buttermilk

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Goat School, by Janice Spaulding and published by Down East, 2011.Buy this book from our store: Goat School.