The Goat Barn: Basic Kidding
Reading Time: 7 minutes
By Cheryl K. Smith
One of the best parts of raising a small herd of goats for dairy or meat is the kids. Having kids around is fun and never fails to bring smiles and laughter. Goats are normally bred in the fall and winter, and have their kids in the spring and early summer. While goat owners who have never had a goat give birth may be worried about getting them through the process safely, the reality is that with proper nutrition and care, the process usually goes smoothly — as nature intended.
Knowing what to do when a problem occurs is essential, but don’t anticipate problems. As the saying goes, “Expect the best, but prepare for the worst.” This article will provide an overview of what to look for in labor and how to recognize and deal with common problems that may occur.
The gestation period for a goat is 150 days. Some does may give birth as early as 145 days and some as late as 155 days. To be prepared, get your kidding pen ready by the 144th day (or earlier, especially if the exact day of breeding is unknown.)
How To Tell When The Doe Is Getting Close To Giving Birth
Most of the growth in the fetuses occurs in the last two months, especially in the last 30 days. This is why it is important to start slowly adding grain and alfalfa to a doe’s normal ration of grass hay and minerals at this time. The movement of fetuses may also be felt around this time, particularly if there is more than one kid. (Goats most frequently have twins.) To check for kids, feel the right side of the goat’s abdomen (otherwise movement in the rumen, which is more pronounced on the left side, may be mistaken for that of kids).
Some goats will begin to have minor discharge in the last four to six weeks. In some does, the udder also begins to develop in the last month, although this is highly variable. I have had does whose udder didn’t fill until right after they kidded; others had enlarged udders a month before kidding. Normally, in the days leading up to kidding, the udder will completely fill so that it looks tight and shiny. This is a big clue to imminent kidding. Another helpful sign is softening of the tail ligaments. Using this method to determine when to put a doe in the kidding pen is almost, but not totally, foolproof. Some goats will have intermittent softening and tightening over a few days, which can lead to several false starts!
To master this method of determining kidding readiness, start checking early in the pregnancy. The ligaments are usually very firm at this time, although spacing may vary from goat to goat. Visualize a peace sign on top of the goat’s rump, stretching to the tail, with the center line at the tail and the two short lines to each side of the tail. These two short lines are the tail ligaments, and when they become completely mushy the doe will kid within 24, and often 12, hours. This is the best sign that she is entering the first stage of labor. The tail will often flop to the side and the area in front of and to the sides of the tail may appear indented.
As kidding time approaches, the doe’s body will also change in shape because the kids are moving into position to be born. Watch for behavior changes, as well, which will vary from goat to goat. Some goats will isolate and some will even fight others. Each doe is different and may exhibit different signs of impending labor. (See sidebar)
When these signs appear, move the doe into the clean, kidding pen that is bedded with fresh straw, and have a kidding kit at hand. At a minimum, include clean towels or rags for helping to dry kids, lubricants such as KY jelly, 7% iodine and a prescription container, scissors, a feeding tube, pop bottle with Pritchard teat, and Ob gloves.
Stages Of Labor
Kidding, also called parturition, is divided into three stages. In the first stage, the uterine contracts dilate the cervix by forcing the fetus, placenta and amniotic fluid against it. This stage can last up to 12 hours but often takes less time, especially in experienced does.
The second stage is the period during which the doe pushes the kids out of her body. It normally takes less than two hours but can be longer.
In the third stage, the placenta is expelled and the uterus contracts back into its normal size. This stage usually takes an hour or two, although the uterus does not reach its pre-pregnancy size until about four weeks after birth. In goats, unlike in humans, the placenta is not considered to be retained until 12 hours have passed.
The first stage begins with an orchestrated release of numerous hormones. Estrogen secretion begins the process, causing the uterus to contract. The kid(s) stop moving and line up to be born, and the tail ligaments will relax.
The doe will start getting restless and uncomfortable. The doe, like all mammals, will appreciate being moved to a clean, quiet and safe place for her birthing process. It should be well-enough lit to allow for assistance if needed, but dim enough to be relaxing and comfortable. The area should also not be too small so that the doe can move around as needed and a person can comfortably work by her side.
At this point, she will likely not want to eat a lot and will dig a nest in the straw as labor progresses. Many goats will spend the first stage chewing their cud, and while some have no interest in food, others particularly enjoy eating straw, fir branches, or other woody roughage. She also may move around a lot—lying down and then standing up—as she tries to get comfortable. Some goats will want their owner there, and others need to be left alone.
You may see a thick discharge, which means the doe has lost her mucous plug. Further discharge will occur, which can be tinged with blood. Thick, rusty-brown discharge is a warning sign that something is wrong and that you should contact your veterinarian.
Also known as hard labor, the second stage often announces itself as a bubble at the entrance to the vagina. The babies have lined up for birth so the doe can push them out. Contractions are stronger and more frequent. The doe may begin to vocalize as she uses her energy to push the baby out. Most does will be lying down at this point, but some stand up to deliver their kids.
The ideal presentation is a nose and two little hooves that are facing down. This is called diving position and is considered “normal.” If a nose and no feet are showing, and the progress seems to have stopped or the head comes out and then goes back in, intervention is called for. Insert a clean finger into the vagina to feel for legs that are bent back. You only have to straighten one of these to get the kid out, although you may straighten both. If one is pulled out farther than the other, it lessens the width of the shoulders, making it easier for mom to push the kid out. I always clean off the nose if the head is out and the amniotic sac is broken, so the kid doesn’t aspirate fluid.
Also normal in goats is breech position. You will see a tail, but no feet for a frank breech; you will see two hooves facing up for a footling breech. If the kid is small enough, it can be born in a breech position. The biggest concern is aspiration, if the amniotic sac is broken. A sign that a breech kid is stressed is meconium, which is black and is the first stool.
Crown presentation is another, less common problem. The top of the head is coming first, and so the kid cannot be born. This takes a little more expertise, but it requires pushing the kid back a little way and getting the nose up while ensuring that legs are also coming out. A lamb snare is helpful for this.
Also less common is the kid with his head turned toward his back. You will see the legs but no head. The trick to solving this problem is to push the kid gently back in, which often straightens the head. These are the most common problems that are easily solved without a veterinarian, and with some practice and luck.
If a kid is not breathing or is having difficulty breathing shortly after birth, “swing” it or hang it upside down by the feet briefly. To swing a kid, hold tightly with one hand on the back legs and one on the neck to stabilize the head and swing back and forth in a 90-degree arc to clear the mucus. The kid will be slippery, so be careful.
After each kid is born, help the doe clean her up. She will lick and you can towel dry. Then check the umbilical cord and dip it in iodine. In most cases, the cord will break on its own. You can cut it to one inch from the belly and then dip twice with the prescription container that has been filled with iodine. If it doesn’t break and is still attached, tie in two places and then cut between them with clean scissors before dipping.
Once kids are born, the placenta is normally delivered within two hours. Only after 12 hours without a placenta is it considered “retained.” You can usually tell when the doe is done kidding, often by witnessing the delivery of the placenta.
In goats, often a bag of amniotic fluid and part of the umbilical cord will help to naturally pull the placenta out after it detaches from the uterine wall. (Avoid the urge to pull on the membranes yourself; this can cause them to break and the placenta to be retained.)
Failure to deliver the placenta may indicate that another kid is still in the doe. One way to check for this is to “bump” or “bounce” the doe. This entails standing behind her with your hands around the abdomen and fingers intertwined and flat on the abdomen and then lifting up quickly. If there is another kid, you should feel his bones.
If you leave the doe after kids are born and come back to no membranes hanging from the doe any longer and no sign of a placenta, she probably ate it. Like most mammals, goats engage in placentophagy, or eating the placenta. Doing so is believed to improve milk production and may even provide needed iron.
A truly retained placenta can be treated with oxytocin, obtained after consultation with a veterinarian. Some people have had good luck with giving about five ivy leaves, and one study showed that bamboo root was helpful.
Make sure that kids begin nursing as soon as possible, but within an hour, after kidding. If a kid is too weak to suck, tube-feed some colostrum. Nursing causes contractions that make the uterus start to shrink back to its normal size. This helps with delivery of the placenta, and it also helps with bonding. Both of these functions are brought on by a release of oxytocin. (Milking a doe, when kids are to be bottle-fed, will have the same effect.)
Sometimes you will need to help the kids get started with nursing, although it is instinctive on the part of mother and kid. In rare cases, a new mom will not know to nurse her young and may need to be restrained to allow it.
Once mom and kids are settled, provide the doe with some fresh, warm water spiked with a little molasses and some fresh alfalfa. She will be thirsty and ready for a rest, and you probably will, too.
Signs That A Goat Is Going Into Labor
• Pawing the ground
• Loss of appetite
• Personality change, such as fighting, isolation or neediness
• Discomfort, with frequent position changes
• Breathing heavily
• Staring into space
• Mama-talking or licking, as though a kid is already there
• Kids no longer moving on the right side
Cheryl K. Smith has been raising miniature dairy goats at Mystic Acres Farm in the coast range of Oregon since 1998. She is author of Goat Health Care and Raising Goats for Dummies.