Damsels in Distress – Recognize Goat Labor Problems

When a pregnant goat lying down is an emergency...

Damsels in Distress – Recognize Goat Labor Problems

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When your pregnant doe is in distress, there isn’t a lot of time to research goat labor problems. Gaining knowledge beforehand about goat labor problems helps you have better outcomes. In order to recognize that a pregnant doe is in distress, you should familiarize yourself with the usual goat kidding signs and the normal course of delivery.

Goat pregnancy lasts somewhere from 150 to 155 days. When you know the actual date that the buck had access to the doe, you can track the time closely. When you keep the buck with the does, it is harder to determine a possible delivery date. There are some signs you can look for as delivery is expected. The doe may refuse food and maintain some distance from the herd. Her vulva will swell, and the udder will likely begin to fill. As labor progresses the doe may become vocal, restless, and paw at the ground.

Photo by Carrissa Larsen

When Labor Begins

The first signs of active labor in goats can include refusing food, staying away from the herd, vulva swelling, udder filling, and restlessness. A normal goat labor timeline is approximately 12 hours. The actual delivery should be finished in under 30 minutes. Postpartum, the doe will clean her kids and allow them to nurse. The placenta will be delivered.

In longer labor and delivery situations, you might be seeing goat labor problems. The kid can be in a poor position for birth, or too big for the doe to deliver. When you see your goat lying down and begin to suspect that the kids are on the way, what should you be looking for?

A normal goat labor timeline is approximately 12 hours. The actual delivery should be finished in under 30 minutes.

Reasons Behind Goat Labor Problems

When dystocia (difficulties during labor and delivery) occur, the causes could be from a few possibilities. The cervix may not have dilated properly, or the kid could be extra-large. In some cases, just the head might be oversized. Twins presenting at the same time can cause an extended labor phase, or the kid may be in a bad position for birth. Stress can cause labor and delivery issues if the doe was disturbed or scared during early labor.

Making the Decision to Assist the Doe in Distress

A new goat keeper may wonder when the right time is to assist with goat labor problems. Honestly, even some of the most experienced goat keepers can be caught off guard when a goat is having difficulty delivering. The following are a few of the more common observations seen during a difficult delivery situation.

  • Stage 1 of labor continues for over eight hours.
  • Straining and attempting to push for over 30 minutes with no progress.
  • The birth sac is observed but no progress is made in the delivery.
  • The doe exhibits signs of distress, fatigue, and bleeding. Even in pregnant goats, bloody discharge is not normal.
  • Visually seeing an abnormal presentation, such as the rear legs appearing in the birth canal, or one leg with the other front leg folded back.
  • When the placenta fails to be delivered within 12 hours after the last kid is delivered.

Photo by Carrissa Larsen

What to Do when Your Doe has Goat Labor Problems

If you decide to assist with delivery because the labor is not progressing appropriately, call a vet or a trusted goat mentor. I recommend this because, during the difficult decision-making time, another person’s input can be invaluable. If no one is available and you are on your own, the following procedure can be used. After assisting and entering the birth canal, it’s a good idea to treat the doe with antibiotics or immune support, as a precaution.

  • Clip any excess hair around the vulva.
  • Clean the birth area.
  • Scrub your hands and clip your fingernails if needed.
  • Use long obstetrical gloves and apply a generous amount of lubricant.
  • Insert your hand in a folded position in between contractions.

Check Fetal Position

When your hand is inside the birth canal, try to determine the parts of the fetus that are furthest down the birth canal. The best-case scenario for a normal delivery position is often referred to as the superman position: the nose in a downward position and the front feet positioned on either side of the head. Other presentations for birth often lead to extended labor and delivery, death of the fetus, and sometimes death of the doe if assistance is not begun. If you can reposition the kid, use gentle pressure to assist by pulling the kid during contractions.

Try to determine if the fetus is still alive. To do this you can pinch between the toes or put your finger in the kid’s mouth. If it is alive, it will react. When presented with the back end of the kid, press on the rectum to elicit a response.

I clearly remember the first time I had to pull a fetus. The strength of the contractions was surprising.

Adjusting the Fetus’s Position

Repositioning the fetus might be necessary. This is not as easy as it sounds, and you will be working with the contractions and in tight quarters. I clearly remember the first time I had to pull a fetus. The strength of the contractions was surprising. Repositioning might be necessary in order to have a live kid and save the life of the doe.

Pregnant Goats in Distress from Other Causes

Other scenarios can cause goat labor problems. Toxemia and Ketosis occurring in the last days of pregnancy can cause death if not corrected quickly. Hypocalcemia, (milk fever), mastitis, congested udder, and a prolapsed uterus are a few other conditions that can derail an otherwise normal goat pregnancy.  

Photo by Carrissa Larsen

The best guidance I can offer you is to be ready to act. If you have supplies on hand, have done some reading, and possibly helped another farmer through kidding season, you will know when to act. Helping a doe through a difficult labor and delivery can fill you with emotions. Remain calm as possible, think through the situation, and envision what you can’t see. After the delivery, give your doe some TLC such as molasses water, electrolytes, and some grain. Keep a close eye on her as she will be vulnerable to parasites and infection. Seeing the doe caring for her kid later will be the reward of a lifetime.

Originally published in the March/April 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

6 thoughts on “Damsels in Distress – Recognize Goat Labor Problems”
  1. She seems to have had an early miscarriage ( maybe a month and a half pregnantat most). I have been with her about 45 minutes and there is no sign of any contractions. She just has this thing about 12 inches long hanging out her backside with 3 little clumps. I assume it’s better to finish on her own (deliver the placenta) so I don’t cause excessive bleeding. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Heather, I’m so sorry for the loss. I would let her finish on her own, but if she doesn’t expel the fetal tissue and placenta within 12 hours, then she will need antibiotics as the exposed tissue can draw bacteria into the uterus. Also, if she fails to expel the tissue, you will probably need to consult a veterinarian for a shot of Lutalyse or other care. Good luck!

      1. My goat seemed like she was in labor with her 2nd baby she has ever had . she is a pygmy and the billy that she was bred with wasn’t so I feel the baby was to large for her to Deliver and those morning I found my precious crystal dead so I lost 2 goat mama and her

  2. I had a goat give birth yestarday to one little boy about 6inches long and she has had a bubble in her v and nothing is passing how do I help I am in a town with no vets that deal with goats

  3. I have a pygmy doe. She gave birth to a stillborn that was breach. Its been 24 hrs now & no placenta. My family thinks she is still pregnant with at least one more baby. She’s not is discomfort she nibbles at food. Still drinking & using the bathroom normally. Im at a loss. This is her 1st pregnancy

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