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Making Heads & Tails
of Tangled Kids

By Christy Harris

I’ve always felt a bit lucky as a dairy goat breeder because I have does that regularly freshen with triplets and quads. However, while multiple births are a boon to my herd numbers and my profit margin (there are always extra to sell) birthing times can be a bit hectic.

While goats often give birth perfectly fine on their own, there are many reasons to become familiar with a hands–on approach. I found that I am much more in tune with my does’ needs at kidding time, if I monitor labor signs, check to be sure kids are in proper birthing positions, and catch potential problems before they become dangerous to the doe or kids.

One of the most important reasons to become this attentive to the freshening doe during labor and delivery labor is that the more experience a breeder has with checking kid positions, the more confidence they have to go in and rearrange kids without hesitation when and if the time arises. One of the most stressful kiddings, for the doe and the goat owner, occurs when multiple kids become intertwined in the birth canal.

Once the doe has had a few strong pushing contractions, it is a good time to do a light internal exam to check on the position of the kid. After a thorough hand washing, put on a plastic or latex glove and apply a quality lubricant like J Lube to the gloved hand. Cleanliness is vital. Go in very slowly, starting with just three fingers and carefully working deeper into the birth canal. The first thing the human hand should feel is the bubble of a birth sac. Most commonly a nose behind extended front feet is in the birth sac. If the kid is in a normal birthing position it should be born with the next few contractions. If not, now is the time to fix it. A delay could mean the next kid will enter the birth canal and become tangled with the first kid.

Kids can become intertwined in the birth canal if help is delayed. A study of possible birthing presentations beforehand pays dividends during the actual delivery, especially if there’s a problem. When multiple kids are in the birth canal, the essential first first step is to determine the position of the first kid. Pulling the second kid forward before the first kid is delivered is never a good thing. Be sure of the birthing order before you start to pull. It can make the difference between life and death for the kids.

Kids can be positioned in various combinations—feet
first, head and one foot first, etc. It can be even tricker to
know which leg belongs to which kid if the doe is carrying
twins or triplets. (Art courtesy of Countryside & Small Stock

If multiple feet are presenting, the first step is to figure out whose foot is whose. Slide a finger up along one of the legs. If it is a front leg, a softly rounded knee is next. If it is a back leg, a sharply pointed hock can be felt instead.

Following the legs should lead to a head or tail. From this point the breeder must work gently to establish the birthing position of the first kid and which leg or legs belong to the second kid.

If there are legs and no head presenting, find the head of the first kid by following a front leg. There should be a bend in the neck. Sometimes the head is tucked around and under the kid’s body. The breeder must carefully wedge a finger in the fold of the neck to carefully bring the head forward.

If a head and three legs seem to be trying to come out at the same time, slide a hand along side the kid’s neck into the armpit to determine which legs belong to the first kid. Slowly bring both legs of the first kid forward. If the second kid’s leg moves ahead, gently push it back. Repeat this pull–push rhythm until the first kid’s head has passed the second kid’s leg.

It is always essential to use good sanitary practices and remain calm and focused while repositioning kids.

Becoming comfortable with checking the presentation of kids on a regular basis can prevent complications.

Being sure of the position of the kid before pulling it forward can make the difference between life or death of the kid.

Sometimes, no matter how careful and gentle one tries to assist, the birth of multiple tangled kids just doesn’t turn out as hoped. Other times, it all works great and the result is an amazing batch of healthy baby goats. The key to success is gentle, timely, and clean, persuasion. There is no substitute for experience, so helping untangle multiple births is something one can only learn by doing. It is always better to get in there and attempt to sort things out if a birthing session is not progressing in a normal manner.

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