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Labor and Kidding Out a Goat

The normal gestation time for goats is 145 to 155 days. Most goats will kid between 149 and 151 days. The last month or two before your doe is due, you should raise the sugar content of her feed a little to avoid pregnancy toxemia and to help her kids to grow to their full potential (see ‘Pregnancy Toxemia’ in the chapter of this book called “Health Needs and Potential Problems”). You can do this by adding a little molassified grain to her feed ration, especially if you have been feeding plain alfalfa without grain.

For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to assume that you are kidding in a barn or shed. Many goats kid just fine out in the pasture, under a bush or behind a wall. And for the breeder who is raising 600 meat goats, you will probably see the doe stay to herself, or refuse to go out to pasture at all that day. Whether you are kidding in the pasture or in a kidding pen, the following will help you to know that all is progressing as it should.

There are many signs that your goat is coming into labor. However, just like in women, every goat and every labor is different. I have had three children and have never spoken to another women who has had an experience just like any of mine. I said that to say this: These are the signs that your doe is coming close to kidding. Not every goat will show every sign, and you have to be watching pretty closely to see any of them. So use them as mile markers, and don’t worry if you never see her do some of them.

  • Your doe will ‘bag up’. Starting as much as weeks before the birth, her bag will begin to fill. If your doe is a dairy doe that has been bred for generations to produce huge amounts of milk, she may (in extreme cases) even need to be milked before the kids are born to avoid mastitis. The problem with this is that she won’t have any colostrum for her kids, so early milking is to be avoided except in emergencies. The last few hours before she gives birth, the doe’s bag will suddenly get very full and tight.
  • Some people feel the doe’s abdomen for the kids. If you are good at this, the kids can be felt on the right side of the doe (the left is the rumen). If you can still feel the kids, the doe will probably not kid for at least 12 hours.
  • The doe will ‘loosen up’ before she kids. This term refers to the condition of the vulva. A goat’s vulva is normally kind of puckered as though it has a draw string in the middle. When they are in heat, or especially when they are getting ready to kid, the vulva will get loose and open.
  • A few nights before the birth your goat may display what we call ‘dead goat syndrome’. She will fall into such a deep sleep that you may wonder if she is still alive.
  • Goats, and people, don’t just wake up from a nap and find that they have had a baby. They get nervous, worry and ‘nest’. With me it was always scrubbing the bathroom floor the day before the baby arrived. With goats it is usually finding a place to lie down that she has never laid in before, then pushing all the straw out of the way so she can lay on the nice clean dirt (which is never under the straw in kidding pens, but she doesn’t seem to realize that). This is one reason it is often said that kidding in the pasture can be more sanitary.
  • She will walk around and try to stand with her front feet on a little higher level than her back feet. She will not sleep, act uncomfortable and be generally unhappy.
  • The perfect pear shape that she has been maintaining for weeks (with her belly as the fat bottom of the pear and her tail as the stem) will suddenly disappear. Her right side will shrink or even hollow out as the kids travel ‘down’ into the birth canal. She will probably kid within a few hours after this happens.
  • There is a ligament that runs from the pin bones to the dorsal process. When a goat is getting ready to kid, this ligament will move out of the way to allow the kids to get between the pelvic bones. To feel for this ligament, you can put your hand on the doe’s tail head. Measure about two to three inches up her rump toward her hip bones. Try to put your fingers around her spine at this point. If you can’t, she is not ready. When you can feel your own fingers and thumb touching (except for skin and fur) around her spine, she will kid within twelve hours.
  • Your doe’s tail may seem to become ‘unhinged’ as it lays along her back and, usually, a little to one side.
  • She will be nervous and get up, walk around, kick at her nest, lay down, bounce right back up, walk around, lay down on her other side, bounce back up, walk around… She is in early labor.
  • The doe will look at her belly as though it belongs to someone else. She may kick at it or rub it with her head.
  • One of the most obvious signs is that there will be a long string of clear yellowish mucus hanging almost to the floor. Some goats have a discharge for several days before they give birth, but if you have been watching, you will see that this is different.
  • Eventually she will lay down and give a big push. Then jump up and walk around. Then lay down and give another push. Many does become very vocal about this time. Eventually she will get serious.
  • She may remain standing, or more likely, she may lay down, but she will start to give serious pushes – one after another. When your doe reaches this stage, start timing her. She should not be allowed to push like this for more than 30 minutes without making progress. Progress means that you should be able to see something coming out. If she gets past 30 minutes, and nothing is happening, you should be considering that she might have a problem.

If all goes well (which, by the way, it usually does with healthy goats) you will soon see a bag of water protruding from the vulva. Just leave her alone and let her work it out. Soon the water will break or be expelled and another bag will appear. This one has a kid in it. If you are watching you will soon see two little hooves and a nose. Often the tongue is hanging out. That is normal. It usually takes a while for the doe to stretch enough to free the kid’s forehead, especially in first time kidders. I like to let her work her way through this stage on her own. You can help the kid out if you clean the mucous off its nose at this point. However, if she is tiring, or has been working on it for more than about 45 minutes (from the time you see the first bag of water to the time the forehead is free), it will help her if you straighten the kid’s legs out in front of it. This is a little bit dangerous if she thrashes around at all, because the kid’s legs could be broken by getting bashed against a wall. However, the kid usually just slides out at this point, and it is all over in a matter of minutes.

Sometimes, a little help is required if the doe just can’t get things to progress. You can pull downward on the kid’s front legs, but be sure to do it only when she is pushing. Working with the mother will help to keep her from being injured by your assistance. Remember that this is a baby animal, and you can hurt it, and the mother, if you get over-zealous.

Once the shoulders are born, the kid will usually just slide out in one slurp. I like to have some clean newspaper for it to land on. (By the way, I don’t use the colored sections of the newspaper, because I have heard that they contain harmful chemicals.) The very first thing you must do is to clear the kid’s mouth and nose of mucous. You can use a clean cloth or towel, or a human baby bulb syringe. The umbilical cord will usually just break. If you feel you need to cut it for some reason, you will want to have some dental floss, clean twine or umbilical clamps to put on the kid side of the cut, because a cut cord will bleed. Sometimes a cord will bleed anyway, so it is good to have something in your kidding kit to put on it, just in case you need it.

Then, pull the newspaper with the kid on it around to the mother’s head and let her lick the kid. After she has had some time to lick the kid all over, pick it up, and dip the cord and the little ends of the hooves in the 7% iodine that you have poured into a small container for this purpose. I keep baby food jars around to put the iodine in. Just put the cord in the jar, and tip the kid back so that the iodine covers all the way to the little belly. This is not a fun thing to have to do as it may burn your eyes, but it will cauterize the entrance areas so that bacteria can’t get into the kid’s system. I am so sensitive to the iodine, that I get some extra paper ready first, then dip over the old paper, put the kid on the fresh paper, pull it over to the mom, and remove the old paper to a trash bin immediately so that the iodine isn’t in the pen where I am.

Excerpt from Raising Meat Goats for Profit by Gail Bowman. May NOT be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.
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