Posted by Jennifer Sartell, Professional Homesteader & Blogger, Mon, May 4, 2015
Every time one of our goats gives birth for the first time, it serves as a transition for how we see her. Our little girls become big girls and I tend to get emotional about the whole thing. Seeing her care for her babies changes and deepens the relationship, showing an instinctual side that we’ve never witnessed. It’s very beautiful.
One of the most amazing parts is watching her know exactly what to do. She reads no books, attends no birthing classes, and yet understands her body and what is right for her kids.
It’s so easy to get stressed out when your goat is expecting. But try to keep the above in mind. She is wise, and you both will be fine.
What to Expect When Your Goat is Expecting
Some goats hide their pregnancies well. Some of our girls develop huge bulging sides, leaving no doubt that she has babies growing within. Some of our other goats carry much more discreetly. Because of this, it can be difficult to tell if your goat is indeed pregnant.
We introduce our bucks on Halloween. A goat’s gestation period is 140 to 150 days, so we start checking for signs around early March.
One of the first signs is bagging udders. If you have a seasoned doe, she will sometimes make udders within a month of giving birth. First-time does tend to bag up later, sometimes only a week to a few days before giving birth.
A first-timer’s udders might be smaller and held tightly to her body. Her teats might stay small for a while as well.
As the babies grow inside her, you will be able to feel kicking. Place a flat hand on her lower right side, in front of her udders and on the inside of her leg. You will often feel the bump of a nose, or the point of a soft hoof.
Because we see our goats every day, subtle changes in her growing body can be hard to keep track of. A great tool is to take a few photos of your doe when she isn’t pregnant. You can compare these images to view how your goat is progressing. Sometimes the changes are quite noticeable.
Signs of Labor
All goats are different. Each doe may exhibit different signs that she is going into labor. Some goats are very subtle, while others are more obvious. As you witness more births, you will begin to notice changes and similarities among your girls.
Here are some common pre-labor behaviors we see in our herd.
- Arching and stretching of the back
- Lengthened or awkward tail position
- Pawing at the ground
- Gathering bedding, moving things around with her nose or “nesting”
- Waddling when she walks, with a spread to the hind legs
- Difficulty getting comfortable while lying down
- Udder formation
- Teat lengthening and growing in circumference
Change in personality
- Oftentimes our does will develop this “glazed over” look to them. We call it the pregnancy trance. It’s a subtle thing, but if you know your goats well you might pick up on it. Our goats are usually perky, rambunctious and alert, but when they’re getting close to delivery day they act as if they’re daydreaming
- Our goats also love to greet us by jumping up on their fences/gates/paddocks. I notice that our heavily pregnant girls are reluctant to get up on things
- Some does that are friendly won’t want to be touched, while others might want extra affection
Check for these signs as the labor develops. This is when you want to check your doe often and have supplies close at hand. (Visit my Goat Birthing Kit post for more information.)
- A wave effect across the side of her abdomen
- Teeth grinding
- Lying down and standing up (signs of discomfort)
- She might breathe heavily, lower her head and close her eyes
- Pin bone softening
- Leaking from the vulva, or loosing the plug. The discharge often starts out clear, then becomes thicker and more opaque as labor progresses
- Vulva swelling
- Vulva opening and lengthening
- Bleating, moaning, grunting and heavy panting
Some goats will give birth lying down, while others prefer to stand. Some will even walk around and eat as the kid is coming out.
When birth starts, the goat might rock a bit and push. A bubble filled with liquid will appear from her vagina. This is the amniotic membrane. The bubble will come out a little at a time. It might contract slightly after the push is over.
If everything is as it should be, you will see two little hooves inside the bubble followed by a nose. If the doe is having a hard time, after the head is delivered I often break the bubble if it hasn’t broken already. This will ease her labor. (If you’ve never experienced a doe giving birth, check out a video of our Angora doe giving birth. It really is amazing.)
Clear the newborn kid’s nasal passages immediately. It will sometimes shake its head.
The doe should continue to push and deliver the kid rather quickly. The last of the kid will be delivered swiftly, sliding out in one swooshing motion.
Make sure that, if you are assisting the doe, you bring the kid up to her face immediately after giving birth. Again, check to make sure the kid is breathing and allow the doe to begin cleaning the kid.
Goats can successfully deliver kids in several different positions without assistance. However, two of the most dangerous are when the head is back, or when she tries to deliver two kids at the same time.
If the head doesn’t appear shortly after the hooves and the doe seems to be in distress, then it’s time to check the kid’s position.
Wear clean surgical gloves and apply a personal lubricant to your fingers. Be very gentle, and only insert as much of your hand as needed. I tend to use two fingers. If the head is back, you will feel the neck straining backward. Reach in as far as necessary and try to pull the head around. You might have to push the kid back slightly to make room for the head to turn. If all is well, the kid should be born quickly after.
One of our Alpine does attempted to deliver two of her triplets at the same time. Both bubbles appeared along with two sets of hooves. I broke the bubble of the kid that had progressed the most and gently stopped the other one from progressing. With each push of the doe, I pulled the pair of hooves and stopped the other kid from coming out. Eventually, with little involvement from me, the kids rearranged themselves in the birth canal and the first kid was born, followed shortly by the second.
Give the doe time to rest. Often she will have another kid to deliver, so she needs this precious time to take care of her first kid and let her body gain some strength.
She will appreciate a bucket of warm molasses water. The sugar will give her energy, the water will rehydrate her and the iron will replenish her body. She might also take grain if offered. But don’t distract her with too many food options—you want her focus to be on her kid.
When all her kids have been delivered, we offer water with electrolytes. Our does drink an enormous amount of water after birth. To support hydration and optimal fluid balance, try Manna Pro® Goat Electrolyte. This product is formulated to keep goats hydrated during times of stress.
Within a half hour after giving birth, she will deliver the placenta. I usually try to catch the placenta on a tarp or feed bag so she can easily eat it without it getting mixed into the bedding. While this might seem strange, it is a natural thing, healthy and instinctual.
Make sure the kids are dried thoroughly, especially if the weather is chilly and mom is concentrating on delivering additional kids.
Tie the umbilical cord about 3/4 of an inch away from the belly with floss. Snip the extra so it doesn’t get stepped on and tugged off. Dip the tied cord in iodine to prevent bacteria from entering the cord. This dipping can be repeated twice a day for the first two days.
Within the first hour after birth, the kid should be attempting to stand and nurse. This is an adorable balancing act and a delicate dance between mother and kid. A good mother will open her leg and sort of squat to encourage the kid to latch. She will often lick their rear end and mumble soft, throaty “maas” to her kid. It is beautiful to watch them communicate.
In this first hour the kid will ingest their first meal. The doe will have filled her udders with nutrient-dense colostrum, which will provide a healthy beginning to her kid’s future.
Check out my next post to read about raising kids, how to bottle feed and much, much more!