Kidding Malpresentations on the Canyon
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Even experienced goat owners encounter difficult births and malpresentations.
By Karen Kopf It has been a chaotic kidding season for us with out-of-season weather. So far, out of over 100 births, two does presented with kidding difficulty — a second freshener that had twins unassisted last year and a first freshener. Both had large singles, and those were straightforward. Then, yesterday, I confronted one of the most difficult malpresentations I have ever encountered in over a decade and a half of births. Of course, it was one of my sweetest favorites, a small first freshener.
I was tagging in the pasture and peeked over the side of the canyon. KCR Kokichi saw me and called me. Usually, I make a note to go back to that place and check to tag in a few hours, but it was Kokichi, so I stayed. Sometimes it’s nice to sit with the does and witness the miracle.
She presented a hind leg and struggled to present more, so I helped her bring the second leg forward so she could deliver. Most breech births are uneventful.
She couldn’t progress, so I went in further and couldn’t make sense of the tangled mess. I called my husband, Dale, to help. My hands are not small, and it was going to be hard and painful, so I needed someone to hold her. We didn’t need to slide down the canyon while assisting. This is another reason that doe temperament is important. If Kokichi had been unwilling to allow me to assist, we would have lost her and the kids.
It doesn’t matter how much experience you have; assisting with birth is never easy. You may feel completely paralyzed with fear and, simultaneously, jittery with adrenaline. As you work inside the doe, she will likely scream and continue screaming until the babies are delivered. It is intense. In those moments, it helps to talk calmly and breathe. Identify each part as you feel it and try to visualize it. It took me quite a while to discern what I was feeling. I was overcome by fear and helplessness.
I had to push in the back legs and whatever was in the birth canal. I found three feet and what felt like a rump, but it wasn’t. I wanted to get the head forward, at least; if I could get everything else back, we could try a head-only delivery to untangle them. I got everything back and tried to assess it. I can still hear myself saying, over and over, in frustration and desperation, “I don’t know what I’m feeling!”
Her kids were belly-to-belly in opposite directions, with each head tucked between the rear legs of the other, and there was no separating them. Thankfully, I had seen the presenting legs and knew they were breech and did not belong to the head I was feeling. It felt like the classic head-tucked position. I brought the head forward with no legs, to try a head-only delivery to separate them.
Kokichi struggled to present the head. Since there was no room for me to work inside her, I did what I could from the outside. I wasn’t sure if she was tired or if her pelvis wasn’t wide enough for the kids to pass.
One of the symptoms of imminent delivery is the disappearance of the ligaments around the tail, and the area appears sunken in. When the head presents in the birth canal, it is in this area. I positioned my hand on her spine, just behind the baby’s head, and as she pushed, I squeezed to help move it forward. Sometimes the head can get hung up on the pubic bone here as well, and you can push it down and forward, guiding it from the outside.
Once I delivered the baby’s head, I had room to work inside alongside its neck. It is risky to do; you can harm the baby, but in this case, if the babies were not delivered one way or another, we would lose their dam, too. Again, I found two feet and knew they were the hind feet of the other kid. This kid’s feet were down and back along the belly of the other kid. The only way to deliver the first kid would be to find the shoulder and try to hook a front leg forward. I moved my hand along the baby’s neck until I felt the scapula and then followed it down to the armpit void. I had it! I brought the baby’s leg forward and out. Mama was still pressing hard without success to deliver the shoulders, and I had no choice but to use heavy traction with her contractions to pull the baby down and out.
I was stunned and relieved to hear the baby cry! I rubbed it quickly to stimulate it and put it before her to clean as a distraction. I had to get the other baby, and I knew it was breech. There was a risk of compressing or breaking the cord too short and the baby aspirating. Once again, it took heavy traction. As he was born, I saw bright red blood and feared the worst — that her uterus had been injured in all of the manipulation. Thankfully, it was only cord blood.
The breech baby was very disorganized and sputtering, which isn’t unusual if the cord is compressed during birth, restricting blood flow and oxygen. Since we were on the hill’s incline, I draped him sternally across my lap, his back legs underneath him and forward — the best position for his lungs to inflate. I rubbed him vigorously to stimulate circulation. It took several minutes for him to breathe normally, pink up, and finally lift his head and cry. Kokichi was still very engaged in cleaning the first.
We brought the babies up to the rim of the canyon and were going to go back for Kokichi. To our surprise, she followed us. She was still moving under the high adrenaline; she would feel the pain later. Kokichi started to nurse the babies and passed two placentas quickly without abnormal bleeding. That was a good sign.
I was covered in her birth fluids. Since I might be handling other kids, I needed to clean up so I wouldn’t confuse the other dams with the scent. We left Kokichi and her kids in a sunny, flat spot to bond and rest, which is exactly where I found them when I returned. The first buckling weighed 8.3 pounds, and the second, 9. They were big babies.
We didn’t pen her or move her back with the herd. She had already experienced enough stress. They spent the night on pasture under peaceful stars, alone and safe with the llamas and livestock guardian dogs. All were bright and active the next morning.
I was surprised to find a happy outcome, given the circumstances. There are many ways to injure kids and does when assisting a birth, but it is a risk that must be taken for the doe and kids to have any chance of survival. While we hope you will never need it, learning how and when to assist — or seek assistance — is critical knowledge for any breeder.
Kidding malpresentations happen, and lives are at stake. If you are going to breed goats, it is critical to have emergency access to veterinary assistance or the knowledge and skills to intervene when necessary. Goat Journal offers excellent malpresentation illustrations to assist with visualizing and delivering a variety of kid positions.
Karen Kopf and her husband Dale own Kopf Canyon Ranch (KCR) in Troy, Idaho. They enjoy “goating” together and helping others goat. You can learn more about them at Kopf Canyon Ranch on Facebook or kikogoats.org
Originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.