What to expect when your goat is expecting
Welcoming a new kid into the world is one of the great joys of raising goats, yet it can be somewhat intimidating for new animal owners. Rest assured, nature and the doe will do most of the work. But knowing what to expect and being prepared for common problems will increase your chances of bringing a healthy addition into your herd.
Your goat's pregnancy
The gestation period for goats averages about 150 days, so if you know when your doe was bred, calculating when to start preparing for birth is easy. But if you’re not sure when she was bred, you will probably notice her looking rounder and “showing” her pregnancy around the two month mark. Most pregnancies result in twins, but a goat can have anywhere from 1-4 kids, sometimes even 5, per pregnancy. Your healthy newborn goat kid will likely weigh between 8-11 pounds at birth.
Preparing for a smooth delivery
As your doe’s due date approaches, take extra care to keep the stall bedding clean and dry, or ensure that she is rotating to clean pasture frequently, to provide a more sanitary birthing location. Perhaps most importantly, identify a good veterinarian or experienced goat owner who can help with any complications that you don’t feel prepared to handle alone, and keep their phone number on hand.
Also of importance is prepping a birthing kit. Having a birthing kit ready ahead of time is important for a stress-free delivery. A well-stocked kit should include the following items:
- Flashlight: To better see all angles of your laboring doe and newborn kids
- Several clean, old towels: To cover the bedding during birth, dry off the new kids and clean up birthing fluids. Puppy training pads also work well as a birthing surface.
- Sharp Scissors & Dental Floss: For cutting and tying off the umbilical cords, only if needed.
- 7% Iodine Tincture and an Empty Prescription Bottle: For dipping the kids’ umbilical cords. A pill bottle is a good size & shape for holding the iodine during dipping.
- Betadine Surgical Scrub: To sanitize supplies or your hands, should your doe need birthing assistance.
- Sterile Lubrication: In case you need to enter the doe’s vaginal opening to assist with the birth.
- Garbage Bags: For collecting afterbirth and soiled towels.
- Bottle and Nipple: In case the kid is not able to nurse immediately after birth
- Colostrum Replacer or Supplement: For the first, most critical feedings if the kids are unable to nurse immediately.
- Kid Milk Replacer: For continued nutrition if the kid is not able to nurse effectively.
- Electrolytes: To address the loss of body fluids due to diarrhea in newborn kids. Also of benefit to the doe after laboring.
At about 140 days’ gestation, start checking on your doe least 4 times per day for signs that labor is approaching, or put a video baby monitor in the birthing stall for more constant monitoring. Shaving the doe’s udder, belly, and tail area can help you more clearly see early indications of labor, and make cleanup easier after birth. Signs vary from doe to doe, but some common things to look for are:
- Loosening of Tailhead Ligaments: Place your hand over the base of the doe’s spine, near where the tail begins. With the thumb on one side, and your fingers on the other, feel for a change or softening of the ligaments below the skin. When the ligaments are so loose that you can almost touch fingers to thumb, labor may be just a few hours away.
- Long String of Mucus Under the Tail: White discharge can occur for several days before labor, but an amber color indicates the presence of amniotic fluid and impending birth.
- Looking “Hollowed Out” with Prominent Hipbones: A sign the kid has moved into the birth canal.
- Raised Tailhead or Arched Back: A sign that the doe is having a contraction.
- Restlessness or Pawing at the Ground: When labor is approaching, it can be hard for the doe to get comfortable.
- Any Unusual Behavior: Maybe she’s more affectionate or vocal, maybe more standoffish. But any behavior that is out of the ordinary may indicate she’s about to experience the extraordinary experience of birth!
Your role in the birthing process
Most does need little assistance with delivery. First stage labor (mild contractions) can start as early as 24 hours before birth, so check in on your doe often during this time. Second stage labor, with labor pains and pushing, comes next. At this stage, you may see the water bag, which may or may not break, and sometimes a second, darker-colored bag. In a normal delivery, this stage lasts about an hour.
Your first glimpse of the kid will probably be the nose and front toes – this indicates a normal birth position. Seeing only the nose or only the hooves may indicate you will need to offer the doe some assistance, so it may be time to call your veterinarian or experienced goat owner.
Feeding in the first hours and days
The first eighteen hours is critical for the long-term health of your new kid, and nature will tell the kids to start nursing as soon as possible to get important nutrition into their young bodies. But in the case of the birthing doe’s death, distress, or other complications that keep your new kids from nursing properly, it’s imperative to have bottles, nipples, and emergency nutrition on hand. Large litters of kids can also benefit from supplemental nutrition, as they may not be able to get enough nutrition from the doe alone.
Colostrum, the very first milk provided by the kid’s mother, jump starts the immune system by providing important antibodies that the doe was unable to pass to the kid during pregnancy. The body of a newborn kid is uniquely suited to absorb these antibodies into the bloodstream via the intestines, but only in the first couple of hours after birth. Absorption of these critical antibodies helps set the stage for a long, healthy life.
The mother’s natural colostrum provides the best nutritional start for her newborn kid, because it contains antibodies that are specific to her herd and environment. If the newborn kid does not nurse within 2 hours or does not receive an adequate amount of colostrum, a colostrum replacer or supplement will help provide this critical immune support. Continue to feed colostrum for the first 24 hours of life, according to package directions, if the kid does not begin nursing properly.
Milk Replacer: After the first two days, if the kid is still not nursing properly, milk replacer will help provide the balanced nutrition needed to grow and develop. Always choose a milk replacer that is specifically formulated for goat kids, and follow the packaging mixing and feeding instructions carefully to provide proper nutrition.
Electrolytes: The birth experience exposes newborn kids to a number of microorganisms that can cause digestive distress and cause diarrhea. Because diarrhea can easily lead to dehydration, it is important to supplement the mother’s milk or milk replacer with electrolytes to reverse the effects of body fluids. Be sure to feed electrolytes separately from milk or milk replacer products, and always follow package directions for best results.
With proper birth preparation, early monitoring and newborn nutrition, you will give your newborn kid the best chance of a long, healthy life and be able to enjoy their presence for many years to come.