Human Pregnancy Risks When Raising Goats
When it's worth leaving the work to someone else...
Reading Time: 4 minutes
by Lacey Hughett, Registered Nurse
Country music says that farmers do things better, so it’s no surprise that includes our family planning strategies. When I was pregnant with my son, I still cared for my animals in most ways. The biggest change in my routine was to allow my partner to do the heavy lifting, but I was still elbows-deep, pulling my own, doing chores, wrestling goats, and processing chickens.
At least, that’s how I remember it.
I’m told that in reality, I waddled around like a duck, ill-tempered and bossy, complaining and eating tacos. Sounds fake but my memories are fuzzy.
One thing that really stands out, however, is an encounter I had with my beloved ex herd sire, Jake. Jake was a big boy. He was tall and strong; his head came up to my chest. I’ve never been afraid of Jake, but we respected each other and I was sweet on him. I was about seven months pregnant and already huge. Jake was not being aggressive, but one evening he placed his head on my pubic bone, under my baby belly, and pushed me ever so gently.
At the moment I wasn’t scared. I put my hands on his horns and stepped away from him, and he went back to getting scratches. I think he was trying to get my attention, but after it happened I felt a small twinge of discomfort and uncertainty.
Jake didn’t hurt me or my unborn, but he easily could have. He was an incredibly powerful goat and when he reared up he was a solid six feet tall. After that experience, I paid special attention to his body language and gave us both a little extra space.
Since I’d been around goats and animals for years, it didn’t click that I could be in any danger. I’ve been the target of kicks, stomping feet, and accidental horn pokes, but that’s just a part of farming. At no point would I consider that a reason to stop, and despite those things happening it took Jake pushing me to make me reconsider my safety during pregnancy.
Back then, I considered a head butting to be my highest risk so I enjoyed and participated — I think — in a full and lively kidding season before birthing my own kid. At no point did it occur to me to be vigilant of the other, fairly obvious to my non-pregnant mind, risk of zoonotic diseases.
Zoonotic diseases are infections that can be passed on from an animal to a human. And while the human is pregnant, she has more to lose should she get sick. While people getting ill by contracting a disease from their animals is never good and often frightening, pregnant women could see an increased risk to their unborn child.
Contracting a zoonotic disease is considered rare, but the risk is still present. Infections that may be passed to pregnant women include those such as Q fever, chlamydiosis, toxoplasmosis, listeriosis, and several more. These diseases often cause miscarriage in animals, are referred to as “Abortive zoonotic diseases” in humans, and pose the highest risk to pregnant women.
If an infection from a zoonotic disease occurs, it may result in birth defects, miscarriage, stillbirth, or even problems after the baby is born such as sepsis. Abortive zoonotic diseases are incredibly rare in women, however. If pregnant, seek professional medical care whenever showing flu-like symptoms, a high temperature, stomach problems, or dizziness, and if concerned about a zoonotic disease, mention that at your visit.
Despite the low risk, there are measures that moms-to-be can take that will virtually eliminate the possibility of contracting one of these diseases. Women should avoid helping deliver kids or coming into contact with aborted kids, newborn kids, afterbirth, birthing fluids, or contaminated equipment. Additionally, women shouldn’t milk goats during their pregnancy.
I spoke to a veterinarian in Michigan who preferred to remain anonymous, who said: “I tell pregnant women to stay away from pregnant and kidding/lambing sheep and goats, and definitely avoid raw milk.” It is key to have non-pregnant family members, friends, or workers temporarily assume care of the goat herd. Equipment should be thoroughly sanitized and clothes should be washed separately in their own load.
Another potential hazard for pregnant women is livestock medications. I asked my contact for further information. “Abortive zoonotic diseases and consumption of unpasteurized milk are probably more important than most drugs,” she said. “I can only think of a couple of prostaglandin type drugs I would avoid handling while pregnant, but tons of abortive diseases.”
Prostaglandins are hormone drugs used fairly infrequently in livestock but are used in Luting. Luting in goats refers to giving the animal certain drugs to cause her to abort her kid for a number of different reasons. Accidental needle sticks with this type of drug have the potential to cause problems in a pregnant woman.
If contact with medication or pregnant animal fluids happens, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. Only drink pasteurized milk. Remember, the risk is low and this information is not meant to scare goat owners; it is only to help them remain informed and make educated decisions.
Since the risk is so small, most owners choose to forgo the warnings and care for their goats anyway. It’s because we love what we do. Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted to pregnant women through cat feces, yet pregnant women don’t often insist on cleaning the litter box. Goats are different and they’re our family in many cases.
I cared for my goats when I was pregnant, albeit I didn’t know the risks. If given the chance to do it again, I’d still feed them and give them love, but I’m such a worry wort that I would exile myself from the kidding pens while asking (demanding) that my adoring family film the event so I could watch it later and cry. I’m a hot mess when I’m pregnant.
Safety is a key feature in farming and family planning. The risk of contracting an abortive zoonotic disease is low, but it is there. Use this information to plan accordingly and keep yourself and your future tiny loved ones healthy. And as always, if you’re expecting, congratulations!
Originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.