When to Intervene During Kidding
Reading Time: 7 minutes
The big day has finally arrived and your goat is about to bring new kids into the world! Whether you’re a first-time goat doula or a seasoned caprine midwife, this day will probably find you feeling a mix of excitement and anxiety. No matter how many preparations you’ve made, how many good supplies you have stocked in your kidding kit, or how comfortable you feel with the basics of kidding, you are undoubtedly going to worry about how prepared you are if you need to intervene in the event that something goes wrong. It’s helpful to have your vet or a goat friend/mentor on standby in case you need some advice or assistance, but having some knowledge and guidelines is a huge help as well.
It is often said that most goats deliver their kids with no need for assistance, and while that may be true, I find there are many times when some assistance might make the kids’ entry into the world a little easier for both the dam and the kids. There are generally three reasons that you might want to intervene:
- For the health of the kid;
- For the health of the dam;
- To increase the likelihood that all will go well in the days/weeks after kidding.
Those first two reasons might seem obvious, but I find that the third one is often overlooked. If I can minimize the stress experienced by either the kids or the dam, they will be more likely to bond well, the kids will feed better, and the dam’s recovery may be quicker and less painful.
Goat labor and delivery has three distinct stages of kidding:
Stage One: Doe is uncomfortable, might isolate herself, and slight contractions will begin. You are likely to see some long, stringy discharge when she’s getting close to delivery. This can last an hour or up to half a day for seasoned does, or up to 12 hours for first fresheners.
Stage Two: Contractions get stronger and pushing begins. This stage usually lasts up to two hours depending on how many kids are born, but some does have it all done in a matter of minutes!
Stage Three: The placenta and afterbirth are delivered — usually within four hours but could take as long as 12 hours, with some residual discharge for several days.
Knowing when to intervene is as important as knowing how to help. Here are several guidelines I find helpful in deciding if my help is needed:
WHEN to intervene:
- Stage One Labor: If a seasoned doe who has kidded before in Stage One Labor for more than half a day, or a first-freshener for more than 12 hours, it might be time to check on things and help her along.
- Stage Two Labor: Use the 30-30-30 rule during this stage. This means that once the doe starts pushing, you should have some kind of progress every 30 minutes or so. Within the first 30 minutes, you should see the bubble or even a foot or nose. This could happen much faster than 30 minutes but shouldn’t take much longer. Then within another 30 minutes, you should see more progress, and possibly the baby is out. Then within another 30 minutes, if the doe is pushing, the next kids should come out. And so on. By re-setting the clock every time you have progress, you will have an idea when things aren’t progressing as they should and it might be time to assist.
- Stage Three Labor: If the doe has not delivered her placenta within 12 hours, you would be wise to call a veterinarian as she may have a retained placenta or even another kid (alive or dead) that needs to be pulled.
- Extreme Maternal Distress: Some does will be very vocal during contractions and pushing while others are silent sufferers! Either way, this is nothing to be concerned about if things are progressing as normal. But a doe is who is crying or moaning a lot and straining hard with little or no progress, or a doe who is listless and lethargic might warrant a check-in with your vet or goat friend/mentor.
HOW to Intervene if Needed:
- Stage One Stalled: Checking the doe’s cervix to see if it has dilated may be the first step. With very clean or gloved hands, put a liberal amount of lubricant on your fingers and begin massaging the cervix to see if you can help get things moving along. Sometimes just doing this for several minutes will help it dilate and begin the contractions necessary to move babies along. But if the cervix feels dilated and still no hard contractions begin, you may need to “go in” further and feel for the positioning of the babies. A baby who is mispresenting, usually with head back or in a breech position, may fail to stimulate contractions and will remain stuck indefinitely without help from you. See below for normal and abnormal presentation positions.
- Stage Two Stalled: If things aren’t progressing following the 30-30-30 guidelines above, the babies may be in a difficult presentation position and may need help from you to get things turned around. The helpful pictures below are from an earlier article by Linda Carlson on what to do in a kidding emergency and can guide you as to what you’ll need to do to get the baby unstuck.
There are several positions that are normal or close to normal and will require little, if any, assistance from you.
- “Diving” Position (head first with nose between two feet) = Ideal kidding presentation.
- Nose and one foot first, with one leg back: For a big doe with normal-sized kids, this may require no help from you. But if the doe is small and/or the kid is big, you may need to reach in and find the foot that is back, bringing it up and in line with the other foot. (See drawings A and B.)
- Back feet first: Normal and common for the second kid when there are two or more, and less common but still normal for the first kid as well. As long as the kid is all the way out rather quickly, you may not need to intervene, but if pushing seems to stall midway give a gentle but firm tug to get that baby out rather quickly. Once the baby’s torso is in the birth canal, the blood flow will be cut off from the umbilical cord and you’ll want to get that baby out quickly.
There are several categories of positions that are problematic and may require you to intervene:
- Category 1: Head Back (head back, to the side, or down) — In each of the scenarios, the kid will be stuck and labor will stall. You will need to go in with a snare or thin rope, or with a lubricated clean or gloved hand, and reposition the baby’s head. (See drawings C, D, and E.)
- Category II: Breech (rump first, hock up, one leg first and other down, or upside down) — If labor has stalled and you go in to feel for the baby’s position and find something hard and bony, you may not be sure whether it is a rump or a head. I find the easiest way to distinguish is to feel for a mouth and teeth, or for a tail, which will likely be down and between the legs. It’s harder to find the tail than to find teeth, so if you don’t find teeth, you might assume that lump is a rump! If so, you will need to push the baby deeper into the womb so you have room to work with a snare or your clean, lubricated fingers. You will need to work your way down past the hocks and find the feet to pull them up into the birth canal. Then with gentle, steady traction, pull that baby out. Remember that once its torso is in the birth canal, it is not getting oxygen so at that point, work quickly to bring it out. (See drawings F, G, H, and I.)
- Category III: Entangled (two babies trying to come at the same time) — There may be times when you have two front feet presenting nicely, but then with a few more pushes you have two more front feet. Or perhaps you have two front feet and then two back feet. Or a front foot and a back foot. In any of these scenarios, the problem is that you have two babies trying to come out at the same time but one, or both, are not in the proper position. In this case, you will need to push one or both babies back in, get them untangled and repositioned, and then proceed. This can be tricky but I find it helpful to close my eyes and try to imagine what I’m feeling in there, as well as to try to move from a known part, like a leg, up to find another known part, like a shoulder and then a head, in order to figure out whose foot goes with whose head.
Remember, most of the time things do go fairly easily and you might even find that you come out to a barn with fresh babies on the ground being dried off by a doting mama before you even knew she was in labor! But in the case that your help is needed, knowing when and how to intervene will ensure a good outcome for all.
Thanks to Linda Carlson of MythosFarm.com, formerly GryphonTor, for allowing us to use her illustrations. You can read Linda’s original story, written for Dairy Goat Journal in 2017, and additional photos HERE.
Originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.