It’s finally time! After much anticipation, worry, and excitement…it is finally time. For many goat breeders, waiting the five long months from conception to parturition is pure agony. I am one of those breeders.
Five months ago, bucks and does were matched or semen implanted. And for approximately 150 days now, I’ve dreamed of kids…spotted Nubians, red and black Oberhasli, pure white Saanens, and for our Boer herd…millions of dancing, prancing, healthy white bodies with red heads filled my sleeping (and sleepless) hours.
During the wait, I’ve made sure that our does have all been on a good nutritional program. Grains rations, free choice minerals, good quality hay and/or alfalfa, all make up the pregnant does diets. Plenty of fresh water has been crucial too, and vaccinations. All goats on our farm get C&D w/tetanus in January. Unborn kids absorb protection that will last them for the first six weeks of life, then they’ll need a booster shot.
From four months on in the gestational period, I watch the calendar, and the expectant dams, closely. My Saanen and younger Nubians tend to udder up three weeks to the day that they are going to freshen. My older Nubian doe hides pregnancy very well and tends to fill her udder with milk only six hours prior to freshening. However, even with these udder clues, figuring out exactly when birth will take place is not easy. Some other birth notes to think about can help.
The average gestation period for a goat is 150 days. A normal birth however can and will take place between 143 days to 157 days. Signs that a doe is in labor vary from doe to doe but if you know your goats’ normal behavior, you can become familiar with their individual and sometimes universal signs of labor.
I have noticed that my first fresheners tend to want a little bit of moral support from me when the birthing process begins. But my older does, seem to prefer being left alone. A good sign that kids are imminent is that the doe’s udder will appear to be shiny and full. It should feel firm and warm because it is full of colostrum, a very important "first-milk" for the kid to have as soon as possible after birth.
Another sign of impending birth is the relaxing of tendons around the tail head of the goat. The space between the pin bones, which are located on either side of the tail, widen and loosen. If I can put my index and middle finger comfortably between the tail and a pin bone I know that delivery will be coming soon. This is not a guarantee however, as some does will start to loosen and spread a few weeks before they freshen.
The alert goatkeeper will notice that a doe soon to give birth will undergo other changes as well. Her vulva, which is normally tight, will become slack, lengthen, and begin to open. Also, the kids will drop to a birthing canal position and, instead of looking extremely pregnant and tight-bellied, the doe will look a bit hollow, almost as though the kids have disappeared. There is usually some form of mucous discharge from the vulva at this point. It can be clear to a murky white or light yellowish color. Green is bad and is usually a sign of an infection. Most other colors in the white or yellow zone are perfectly normal.
The doe about to give birth will often want to be away from the other goats. This is usually a good time to place her in a kidding stall, if that is part of your personal birthing plan. This just needs to be a quiet area with fresh straw and no other goats in it. The doe will often pace, act uncomfortable, and "talk" to her rear end.
The actual birthing process is amazing and one of the neatest things to experience. Usually a sac of fluid appears first. Sometimes the tip of a hoof and a nose can be visible through the membranes, before and as they break, when the doe strains with labor pains. Normal presention should be two front feet followed by a head. Sometimes it seems to take forever for the doe to get the legs and head out (particularly young and/or small does) and it’s tempting to jump in there and start pulling. However, I’ve learned it’s best to let nature have a good go at it, and most often the doe does just fine on her own…when normal presentation occurs. After a few pushes, the kid should slide right out of the dam. I try to have clean rags and old towels in the barn during kidding season and sometimes help catch the babies as they are delivered. Every once in a while, a doe will attempt delivery standing up. It’s a long way to the barn floor for a helpless kid. It’s important not to pull on the kid as it is sliding out so that premature strain on the umbilical cord or extra bleeding does not occur. A catching mode is the best support you can give.
The doe often licks the kid a little and then, if there are twins or triplets she will start to deliver the next kid. While she is doing her part, make sure the kid is breathing, take a towel and wipe the mucus off the nose and away from the mouth. I usually towel dry the kid also, rubbing vigorously but not hard, this warms the kid up and helps it to breath and become more alert. If there are multiple kids, do the same with each one. The time between kids depends on the doe, my older Nubian almost always has triplets and they come out fast with very little break between them. A new freshener may take a lot longer between kids.
Once the kids are out, there are several things to be aware of. First of all, the dam needs to dispel her placenta. This can take place immediately or sometimes takes a while. Just be sure to make a note of whether it happens or not. If she does not get rid of the placenta, you need to decide what to do. A retained placenta is a problem worth consulting a vet over, it can lead to serious infection or other problems. Some people do nothing while others will reach inside and try to gently pull it out. If you do nothing there is a risk of her getting an infection in her uterus, however if you pull on it you can tear her uterus and cause severe bleeding, infection, and other problems. I have only had one doe that did not dispel the placenta completely and it was hanging out of her. After consulting with other goat people, and the vet, I took sharp, clean scissors and cut the placenta off a few inches outside the vulva. I then gave her an injection of penicillin and again 12 hours later. When I went out to check on her that night aprox. 14 hours after delivery she had shed the rest of her placenta. If the placenta is completely retained I strongly suggest consulting your vet as to what he recommends.
Some does like to eat their own placenta. It is a personal choice, whether or not to let her eat it. It does provide some sort of special nutrients I’m told. However, instinct or not, it can cause a doe to choke and is generally a pretty nasty business. I usually place it in a bucket and dispose of it after everyone is taken care of.
After the birthing process, most does appreciate a fresh drink of water. Then, after a brief rest, it’s time to either milk her or to let the kids nurse depending on how you are raising them. For kids that are hand raised, it’s important to get that first milk, really colostrum at this point, from the doe and into the house for heat treatment. Then the doe can be taken back to a quiet pen to rest and perhaps munch on her own special treat of hay. It’s important not to overfeed grain or alfalfa in the first hours after birth as the doe’s stomach parts are rearranging according to the additional space now available with the kid(s) gone. Overfeeding can cause stomach upset and other nutritional/appetite problems.
The kids need special care also. Make sure they are dry and up on their feet. Dip each navel in 7% iodine. This is strong enough to cauterize the navel, which prevents infection. If you are raising them on a CAE preventive program, you will not want to allow them to nurse from the mom at all. They should be fed heat-treated colostrum, as much as they will take, within the first 12 hours after birth. After that the kid’s stomach no longer is able to absorb the antibodies the colostrom supplies so it is very important to get them some before they reach the 12-hour mark. If you are not concerned with CAE, you can milk the mom in the barn, put colostrum in a bottle and let the kids nurse off the bottle. Some people even let mom raise the kids for the first three days, however I find that separating kids at this stage is heart breaking for the dam, the kids, and myself.
Once doe and kid(s) are taken care of, it’s time to get out that list of names you’ve been dreaming up and carrying around for weeks. Sit down with a nice cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, whatever your pleasure, and relax. The babies are finally here.