Back from The Vet: Just Kidding
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Goat kids are among the most adorable of creatures. Their birth, however, can often be a stressful time. While does most commonly deliver their kids without incident, proper preparation ensures that when problems with kidding arise, they can be identified and corrected quickly. Both the veteran goat herd and the new goat hobby farmer should refresh their kidding knowledge and supplies yearly.
To identify abnormalities in the kidding process, it is necessary to understand the normal kidding process. Kidding is divided into three stages. Stage 1 of labor involves the doe showing signs of discomfort and restlessness. Often the signs are very subtle. This stage can last anywhere from one to eight hours. Does may separate themselves from their herd, or paw or nest in the ground. Stringy vaginal discharge may also become visible. Stage 2 of labor begins when the fetus enters the birth canal and the doe’s water breaks. During this stage, the doe will be in active labor with visible abdominal contractions. Depending upon the number of kids within the womb, this stage can last from one to four hours, however, the goat should have progress with her labor every 30 minutes. Stage 3 of labor is the passing of the placenta. This should occur within 12 hours, though it frequently occurs within 30 minutes. During this time, kids should be standing up and nursing. They should have nursed one to two ounces of colostrum, ideally within two hours of birth.
When assessing a goat’s progress through the stages of birth, it is necessary to know roughly when these stages have begun. This requires increased monitoring of does when birth is near. Having breeding dates of does is one of the best ways to ensure that monitoring can begin when kidding is nigh. When an exact breeding date is not known, more careful observation must be used. Does can be assessed for mammary gland development, vulvar swelling, and relaxing of pelvic muscles to help anticipate kidding. As the time for kidding nears, does should be observed with increased frequency to note when the stages of labor begin. Checking of expectant does is recommended every two to four hours.
To ensure a healthy set of kids, the environment and kidding kit should also be prepared. The pen for kidding should be cleaned thoroughly. It is recommended to disinfect the dirt base with lime or similar material, especially in high animal traffic areas. Bedding should be freshened and clean. In cool climates, heat lamps should be inspected and prepared to ensure that kids can stay warm. The kidding kit should be cleaned and re-stocked. For veteran goat owners, the kidding kit may be more extensive, while for those new to raising goats it should at least contain the basics. Basic kidding items include clean and dry towels, chlorhexidine solution for dipping navels and cleaning does, disposable gloves, and a list of emergency phone numbers. When tracking doe and kid health, keeping a scale and recording birth weights is also advised. Tags and taggers can also be kept here if kids are being tagged in their first weeks of life. For more veteran goat owners who feel comfortable in providing assistance in delivery, further items should be kept in the kit and refreshed yearly. These may include obstetrical lube in an abundant quantity, long plastic sleeves, a kid puller, and feeding tubes and syringes.
The pens are cleaned, the kit is refreshed, and the does nearing birth are being monitored for signs of labor. So now what? If all proceeds smoothly, the kids are born, cleaned and dried by their mother, stand for nursing, and have their navels dipped. But what happens when kidding does not proceed smoothly? And how do we know it’s not going smoothly? As stated before, goats should have progression in active labor every half hour. If a goat has been laboring for that time with no appearance of a kid, then intervention needs to begin. Intervention for those with limited goat kidding experience should involve calling your herd veterinarian. For those with more experience, intervention involves vaginal assessment. The vulva of the doe should be cleaned with chlorhexidine diluted in warm water. Plentiful amounts of lubricant should be placed on a gloved hand and assessment of birth canal performed (there is no such thing as too much lube). Common causes of goat dystocia include ringwomb, turned-back heads, and multiple fetuses attempting to enter the birth canal. Careful assessment of the canal can generally indicate what the problem is. If after 30 minutes of well lubricated and careful manipulation, progress can still not be made, then the herd veterinarian should be called. Cesarean sections can be performed if vaginal birth is not an option. While these are not without risk, if done in a timely fashion does can give birth to live kids and live to be productive members of the herd.
Once the kids have been delivered, continued monitoring is still required. Kids should be able to stand and nurse within one to two hours of birth. If they are weak and cannot rise, then steps should be taken to ensure they receive adequate amounts of colostrum. Goats kids can be given colostrum via an orogastric tube. This procedure should only be performed by a confident and experience individual, as administration of milk into the lungs of an animal is fatal. If you have several goats kidding, it may be wise to preserve colostrum from a goat that has only one or two kids, in case there is a goat with little milk or a bad bag. This can be done by milking a post-kidding doe and freezing the colostrum. It is recommended to freeze in ice cube trays as that allows for easy thawing of small amounts.
If the goat has kidded and the kids are up and nursing, all that remains is to ensure complete passage of the placenta. Separating the goat in a small pen ensures that the placenta is easy to find. It can be eaten by the doe or scavengers if she is left out. If the placenta has not passed within 12 hours, it is considered retained. At that point, antibiotics should be begun to ensure that no uterine infection occurs. These should be prescribed by your veterinarian to ensure appropriate dosage and withdrawn are observed. If the goat owner is confident, gentle traction can be placed on the placenta to encourage to release. It should not be tugged on aggressively, as this can result in ripping of the placenta. If the placenta cannot be removed within a few hours, a professional should be consulted to reduce risk of metritis, or uterine infection.
While goat kidding may be a stressful time, having a plan in place can greatly reduce anxiety. It is also important to know what procedures you feel confident and comfortable performing. As you begin intervention, keep an eye on the clock to ensure that if progress is not being made, the next step is taken in a timely manner. Though generally fewer than 5% of does have difficulty kidding, catching problems early, and proceeding with intervention quickly ensures a higher likelihood of healthy does and kids.
Katie Estill, DVM, is a veterinarian consultant for Goat Journal, Countryside & Small Stock Journal, and Countryside online. She works with goats and other large livestock at Desert Trails Veterinary Services in Winnemucca, Nevada.
Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.