The Doe Code
Is Your Goat In Labor? Nope, Just Kidding!
Reading Time: 7 minutes
Oh, the game is strong with this experienced one… She knows the Doe Code all too well! Contractions about a minute apart.
Why is our goat in labor tonight?
Dutchess came to us bred, so we don’t know her due date. It is the perfect setup to activate the Doe Code.
Because it is snowing after over a week of springlike weather…because it is an hour until midnight…because my husband is coming home from a week in Alaska and will be landing just about the time she lands these kids.
But we have been played before, and the Doe Code mandates false alarms. So she is in the kidding pen and not the pasture, and a barn cam broadcasts every move to the warmth of the office. We casually bring in the suitcases and catch up.
Did she kid? Of course not. We were too calm, too ready. That violates every tenet of the Code. Catch them unprepared. Avenge the silly costumes, medications, tricks imposed on goats everywhere.
Dutchess crossed her legs and smugly stared into the barn cam.
Game on. No more contractions tonight. We would be wise to have the treats ready for the morning.
She held her hostages for 28 more days. Temperatures plummeted, life outside of her whims ceased. And I, the experienced midwife, was unable to delay a business trip any further and left town for a week. In the wee morning hours, with my husband alone in the house, she delivered quietly so as not to disturb his sleep. Quintuplets. He didn’t discover them until he was dressed for the office, leaving for work. I was unavailable by phone. Well-played, Dutchess, well-played.
We’ve delivered our fair share of kids at Kopf Canyon Ranch. Depending on the breed, goat gestation falls between 145 and 155 days. They cycle every 18 to 24 days, are in estrus between 12 and 48 hours, and ovulate from 9 to 72 hours after estrus begins. With all of that known, we can roughly calculate a due date. We can tell you the physical signs that indicate goat delivery is near: the ligaments at her tail relax, her udder fills and the teats strut to the sides, her vulva swells and she will begin losing the mucous plug. She will go off alone, vocalize, paw the ground…but don’t be fooled. These are not true goat labor signs according to the Doe Code.
It is not by coincidence that goat delivery is called kidding. You see, they give all of the indications of impending birth so you cancel plans to live life outside the pasture. Grocery shopping, celebrations, trips — not happening. Then, when you are near, they’ll go right back to business as usual. “Just kidding!”
“A due date is an estimate, not a promise,” cautions Catherine Salazar of Happy Bleats Dairy Farm in Texas, who has 13 years experience with the Code. “Goats have their own rule book and refuse to share it.” Her advice to bring a goat into labor” “Go grab a suitcase. Step outside and speaking loudly say…I’m not going to be home this week…sure looks like rain. Wow! Is that snow I feel? Sure hope they don’t kid yet…then walk away. Sneak back in and wait. She will kid any minute after that.”
A watched doe doesn’t kid. Kara Matthews of Riverstone Goat Farm in Virginia tells, “I was determined not to miss her first kidding since another first freshener kidded and didn’t tell anyone. I waited all day. I decided to take a small break and take a shower. I came out 20 minutes after I left her and she had given birth, cleaned them and they were up nursing! Twenty minutes and she did all that! The Doe Code is very, very real!”
Weather is another truism in the Doe Code. Do not provide live radio in the barn. Any indication of a severe storm warning cues the does to deliver. Best to stick to a playlist.
Wendy Stookey, in Wyoming, relates (from her goat’s perspective) “I know you have provided me warmth, shelter, and a clean barn, but I really prefer to drop my kids in the snow, with 40-mile-an-hour wind gusts, when the temperature is in the negatives and it’s two o’clock in the morning. Just because!”
The Doe Code is universal. It doesn’t matter where you live. Deanna O’Connor raises goats in Alaska. “Last year, I lost my favorite doe to pregnancy complications. Not wanting to risk any others, we brought her first-freshener daughter into the house for a week before her due date because it was so cold and we were concerned she would have them outside. I slept on the couch so I’d be handy to get any pees and poops before she made messes and made sure she knew I was more than ready to catch any babies the second she decided to have them. Days go by… and she gets stir crazy. She begs so hard to go out that I relent and give her 15 minutes outside with the herd. No signs of impending labor, so I figure it can’t hurt to give her some space. During that time, in single-digit temperatures, she squeezes out triplets. First timer, triplets, under 15 minutes, underneath a plastic toy fort. The one time in a week that she’s unsupervised.”
Often, it seems more like a hostage situation than a pregnancy, both for the kids and the caretakers. When we have offered adequate ransom, they release the hostages — us and the kids, on their terms. Some breeders laugh about resorting to hiring professional hostage negotiators. Treats every time we check on them, top-notch accommodations, lavish attention, praise, promises, and cajoling might produce kids…and it might not.
We have an Alpine doe, Poutine, that is a drama queen at delivery, unlike our stoic Kikos. As her time draws close, we pen her. She spent a week in the birthing suite, having her straw fluffed, meals prepared for one, regular visits with every need attended to, and treats. Another doe kidded triplets and Poutine was unceremoniously evicted to house the new family. Within hours, she was in the throes of labor and wanted her accommodations restored to her.
The Doe Code hinges on exhaustion of the breeder. Paula Smalling of Midget Meadows in Texas tells it best, as she gave us permission to share her real-time Facebook post. “I’m not ashamed of the abuse my doe has heaped upon me. I’ve had two hours of sleep in 48 hours. My hair is tangled. I can smell myself. My neck has a crick from dozing in a chair. I have dark circles under my eyes, my face is breaking out from the stress. My heart has raced at false moans, my arms are as empty as the promise of a new baby to cuddle and countless other cruel acts against my nurturing soul…I’m coming forward in hopes that ALL victims of the Doe Code will be unashamed at the abuse we have had to endure at the hooves of our does and raise our voices together for more humane treatment.”
After Paula had slept outside for two nights and three days, her doe Four Socks began showing goat labor signs late on the last morning. By evening she hadn’t progressed so Paula called the vet at 8:00 for an emergency farm call. The vet’s headlights pulled into the driveway at 10:00. As he parked, Four Socks delivered…and so did the vet — a $400 bill. Paula says “The Doe Code is real. It is a rite of passage for any goat owner.”
There are still unindoctrinated does, however. Does that breeders dream of. Kristen Jensen of Square Butte Meat Goats in Montana owns such a doe. #25.
#25 was due any time, but Kristen and her husband Matthew had made reservations for an overnight out of town and an all-day goat conference 400 miles away. They enjoyed the conference and drove straight home afterward, arriving at 1:00 in the morning. Exhausted, they went straight to bed and slept late the next morning. #25 twinned in the afternoon upon their return.
No matter what our does put us through, if the outcome is baby goats, all is forgiven. There is nothing cuter than baby goats! We are delighted with doelings…and secretly, so are they.
In the quiet of the night, as all of the goats bed down, the mamas murmur…and the Doe Code is passed to another generation.