If you have goats on your homestead, you’ve likely wondered about how difficult it might be to breed them and to deal with a pregnant doe. Luckily, all it takes is a little bit of extra attention and care to make sure your pregnant does are well cared for.
Giving them access to plenty of exercise, a clean environment, quality hay, and lots of fresh water is usually all you need to do to ensure a healthy pregnancy and an even healthier birth.
Breeding a Goat: The Process
You should wait to breed your goats until they are in good health. If your doe is currently in milk, that milk should taste mild and creamy. Wait until the spring to breed, and then re-breed the following fall. Wait two years between kiddings. After a doe has her kids, she will be exhausted and needs some time to recuperate.
Does can be bred when they are roughly eight to nine months of age. Eighty pounds is a good weight to aim for. While you can wait a bit longer to give them more time to grow, this can cause your doe to get too fat and fail to ovulate. Watch your does carefully to determine the best time to breed.
Before your doe gets pregnant, make sure you trim her hooves. You won’t want to do this after she has become pregnant, because she will be too awkward and heavy at the end. She may have a hard time getting around, and you won’t want to encumber her by trimming her hooves then.
Breeding earlier in the season will give you a better chance of impregnating your doe when she goes into heat. Ideally, you should keep track of heat cycles on the calendar and then mark when she is bred. Having an exact idea of when she was bred will allow you to be on top of providing her extra supplements and grain, without having to waste money on feeding extra to goats who are not pregnant.
You will know your doe is ready to be bred when she starts exhibiting several telltale signs. These include physical changes, such as a swollen vulva and vaginal discharge. She may vigorously wag her tail or start parading in front of the bucks. She may even start mounting other goats! Finally, one of the most obvious signs of a doe in heat is a drop in milk production.
Once your doe exhibits signs of heat, you can put her in with a book. They may engage in foreplay before breeding, the actual act of which lasts just a few seconds. Separate them again once the deed is done, as bucks can mate up to twenty times a day if given the chance, which is not good for their health.
Signs of Goat Pregnancy
If your goat has been bred, she will look as though she is in exceptionally good health. She will have a shiny coat and clear eyes. She will be active and move easily, without any obvious limping or hobbling. Besides that, you likely won’t be able to tell your goat is pregnant just by looking at her – at least not for the first few months.
After thirty days, you can draw her blood and mail it into a biomedical veterinarian company to have it tested. For about six dollars, they can tell you whether your doe is pregnant. Another alternative is to have a vet come and test her with a portable ultrasound machine. This is expensive, however, and may not be the best method of determining pregnancy.
In most cases, it’s best just to wait a few weeks and you should be able to figure it our for yourself. After at least three months, you should be able to tell which does are pregnant. During the last few months of pregnancy, you can even feel the kids. They will be on the right side of her body, with the rumen on the left.
What Should I Feed My Pregnant Goat?
Hay will continue to be the main ingredient in your goat’s diet, but make sure it is of good quality. You shouldn’t have to supplement too much with other additives. Make sure the hay is free of mold and dust. You will likely need to supplement selenium, copper, magnesium and calcium through a salt or feed.
Supplements can help prevent other pregnancy issues such as weak kids and pregnancy toxemia. Supplement options include olive oil and dried herbs, vitamin mineral supplements, black oil sunflower seeds, and nutritional yeast. Consider feeding a mixture to make sure your goats receive adequate supplements.
You can also continue to feed alfalfa. This can help prevent hypocalcemia, which is a common complication after a doe kids. That being said, alfalfa hay is expensive, so consider feeding only about two cups of alfalfa pellets a day to bred does.
You can double up on this during the last few months of pregnancy and early on after they have kidded. During middle and late gestation, make sure you are not giving your doe any kind of drugs, as this can affect cell development in the kids.
That being said, four weeks prior to kidding, you should vaccinate your doe in order to prevent abortion. The CD&T vaccination ensures that kids will have tetanus immunity through the colostrum they will receive after birth. They should also be given BoSe to prevent white muscle disease. De-worming is also a good idea, and should be done about a week before kidding.
In terms of grain, you should gradually increase the amount of feed you provide to help give her enough energy to finish out her pregnancy. Feed one pound of grain for good body conditioning, and if you are also milking the pregnant goat, add an additional pound of grain for every four pounds of milk.
How to Tell Your Goat is in Labor
Waiting for your goat to kid can be almost as stressful as waiting for your own baby! You will need to keep an eye on various signs during gestation. Most goats’ gestation periods are about 150 days, but anything between 145 and 155 days is considered safe. Once that period arrives, make sure you check on your pregnant goats daily to watch for signs of labor.
About four weeks before kidding, you will start to see changes in your doe’s udder. It is gradually filling in, preparing for the process of kidding, and it will look tight and almost shiny just before delivery. Once you see this change in the skin, there is a high likelihood that kidding will happen in the next twenty-four hours.
You may also notice that your doe loses her tail ligaments. There are two ligaments that run alongside the area where the tail meets the spine. About a day before kidding, the ligaments will soften so much that they will seem nonexistent.
Vaginal discharge is also common. It can happen weeks before the kidding date, but the quantity of discharge can indicate how close your goat is to going into labor. Swollen vulvas, sunken sides, prominent hipbones, a crooked tail, and deliberate isolation are also signs of labor.
You might notice that your goat acts very strangely right before she is ready to give birth. You might see her standing around, not chewing her cud, with her head pressed against a corner. She is likely in pain and having contractions, as well as getting ready to bear down. Your doe may repeatedly paw at the ground, lay down, and get back up, because she is trying to make her nest for kidding.
When your doe starts to have contractions, it’s a sure sign that she is going into labor. You may see her arch her back and her tail will become crooked. Her breathing may become labored, and she might even pant. Keep a close eye on her – the babies are coming soon.
Just as in humans and other mammals, not all signs of labor will appear in all goats. You may be completely unaware that your doe is going into labor until you walk into the barn to find the kids. That being said, knowing the signs of labor can help you be prepared for the tasks ahead.
Preparing for Kidding
Make sure you have plenty of space for your doe when she goes into labor. You should have a place to isolate her in a stall. Give each doe her own stall for the two weeks prior to her due date, as well as four weeks after the anticipated date of birth. Then, the kids will also need their own pens so that they can be safe and away from the rest of the herd until they are up and moving. Make sure you provide the doe and kids access to a hay rack and hanging water bucket.
Your doe may have a hard time acclimating to this new, quiet space, but after a few days, she will settle down. If she is showing extreme anxiety at her isolation, you can put another female in with her, but remove them at least a week before the due date. No other goats should be with the doe when she is kidding.
Your doe will also need to be dried off during the third month of pregnancy. She needs at least two months to grow babies and not produce milk. It’s safe to cut off milk production earlier, too, as long as you aren’t reliant on the milk production.
How to Birth a Goat
Most goats can give birth without human help. However, it’s good to know the basics of kidding in case your mama goat runs into any trouble.
Contractions will likely occur for about twelve hours. Your goat will be extremely restless in this process. Once she starts pushing, the first kid should be delivered in about thirty minutes. If it takes longer, the kid could be mispositioned.
You will begin to see thicker discharge and then a bubble – the amniotic membrane – coming out of the vagina. Once the bubble appears, so will the kid. This takes about another half an hour. If the amniotic membrane does not break when the kid comes out, you will need to break it and clean the fluids from the kid’s mouth.
If the kids are breech, which is common in goats, you don’t necessarily need to panic. Small kids can still be passed even if they are facing the wrong direction. The only risk is that the kids can inhale amniotic fluid. Gently pulling the hind legs can help ensure that the kid’s head comes out promptly.
Caring for a Newborn Goat
Keep a close eye on the mother goat during the first few minutes after delivery. You are not there to take charge but just to help. Once the kid slides out, let the mother goat lick the kid in order to stimulate its breathing process and clean off its mucus.
After half an hour or so, the newborn will likely attempt to nurse. If it doesn’t, this could be a sign of issues. Be sure you wear gloves before touching or examining the kid at all. You may need to lightly tug on the mother’s teats to help rid her of any blockages before she can nurse her young.
Once the doe and kids are stable, move them to a clean, dry place to rest. Keep them away from the rest of the herd and let them spend some time together. Over the next few days, keep an eye on the mother goat and her young. Let her feed in the way she wants. If the doe rejects the kids, milk the goat into a container or bowl, and pour the milk into a baby bottle to feed the young four times a day.
After a few days to a week, the kids will be full of energy and able to eat solid foods. They will still need milk, but can rejoint he rest of the herd after a week or two.
What are Some Pregnancy Related Illnesses in Goats?
Goats are susceptible to a few different illnesses, all of which are easily preventable with a little extra care. Pregnancy toxemia or ketosis is usually detected after the doe has kidded.
This is caused by an energy imbalance in the third trimester, and is the result of the doe failing to take in adequate nutrition to meet the demands of her growing body and kids. Her body will start to use body fat for energy, and will cause her to feel nauseous and stop eating. If your doe starts to show signs of toxemia, feed her large amounts of sugar.
Hypocalcemia is also called milk fever, and it occurs when a milker’s calcium needs are not met. This is more common in does who are heavy milkers, but it can be prevented, as we mentioned, by feeding alfalfa to your does while they are pregnant and in milk.
Muscle disease is another common complication, but this usually occurs in the kids instead of the pregnant doe. This occurs when a mother’s nutritional needs were not met during pregnancy, and usually shows up right when they are born, or shortly after. Because the kids’ muscles could not form properly in utero, they can have weak hearts or other large muscles. Vitamin E and selenium deficiencies are usually to blame.
Finally, when your doe is producing milk to feed her kids, you may find that she develops mastitis. This is an inflammation of the udders and is usually caused by poor hygiene or trauma to the skin.
Although bacterial infections are the most common cause of this disease, viruses and fungi can also be to blame. If your doe develops mastitis, you first need to dry off the teat. If your doe is feeding young, this can be problematic, as you will need to bottle feed the kids until she can safely produce milk again. You may also need to administer medicines like antibiotics or glucocorticoids.
Disclaimer: the advice given in this article should not be considered medical or veterinarian advice. Always seek the help of a professional when dealing with medical issues.
If you’re ready to begin the process of breeding your goats, don’t let the prospect of caring for a pregnant doe intimidate you. With a little extra TLC and loving devotion, you can raise a whole herd of vibrant, energetic kids while making sure their mother is healthy and well-cared for at the same time.
Rebekah is a full-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens, sheep and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies. She has a huge greenhouse and does lots of DIY projects with her husband in her ever-growing homesteading endeavor.