Baby goats get 60% of their growth in the last month, so does won’t really show until last month. It’s most common for goats to have two kids (as long as they’ve been well cared for). Then, in order of most common, it’s one, three, four, etc, etc. I’ve heard of goats who have had sextuplets! That’s insane though.
Goat udders will start filling up to a week before their due date. Some don’t until a few days before, or even hours before. The hormones of birth really start the milk flowing, but the body does like to prepare. The first milk that comes in is called colostrum, and is packed full of important nutrients and antibodies to get baby immune systems up and running.
There may also be some changes in personality a few days before. Blackberry gets incredibly clingy. Phe, when she kidded before, was just sleepy and wanted to lay on you all the time. Sari? She’s on the other side of the barn squinting at me. (Feelin’ the love, goat.)
As they start preparing, they’ll begin to stake out a spot in the barn they feel the most comfortable dropping kids. You don’t really have control of that, but I do recommend that you have a kidding pen.
Staking out their spots. Blackberry made the funniest noises defending her place!
If you’re planning on bottle-raising, it’s not as important, but if you’re dam raising, it’s pretty important to have a place that mom and babies can be tucked safely away for the first few days. I’ve also noticed that kidding does generally appreciate being secluded from the herd where they don’t have to deal with their herd-mates.
If I catch the doe in time before kidding, I’ll put her in the pen if she’s close. I worry about her having anxiety being separated from the herd before she’s ready, so I don’t usually do this until she starts obviously separating herself. If the kids are already on the ground, I’ll move them to the pen itself. I usually leave them in there for about a week before carefully reintroducing the herd. The pen I have is close to the herd and can see each other, but there’s no risk of babies being stepped on or yearlings getting rambunctious and thinking they need to prove dominance.
If bottle raising, you should also have a warm box for the kid(s), as well as heat-treated colostrum of some sort on the ready!
There’s also a few items I recommend to have on hand. Making a kidding supplies bucket is a good idea.
- Clean towels (for cleaning babies and faces)
- Scissors (for cutting umbilical cords that don’t detach)
- Iodine (especially important for dipping cords, to disinfect them and made sure no bacteria gets in there)
- Bottle and nipple (Even if you’re not bottle raising I recommend having them on hand. The nipples are cheap and can be screw on or rubber; both can be put on a plastic coke bottle or whatever is your fancy. Moms can reject kids, or they can have so many that it’s ridiculous for her to feed them all (and there’s a risk she’ll reject kids). I thought Sari would have triplets this year and I’d need to bottle raise one, but she ended up having just two REALLY BIG kids, so it worked out fine.
There are other recommendations (like kid pullers, etc), but the above are the bare minimums in my opinion.
Okay! And now, the key to goat kidding is watching their ligaments.
There are two ligaments that run out at an angle out from their spine on their rump that connect to either side of their tail like a peace sign. When they kid, those ligaments dissolve to allow the spine to push up for birth. So, dissolved ligaments = goat is ready to kid any time now. You should probably feel the ligaments before getting close to kidding so you know what to compare it all to.
They come out from the spine like my fingers show
Of course, estimating when they’re going to kid BEFORE the ligaments dissolve is tricky and aggravating… they can dissolve very quickly, or very slow. It’s one of those things you have to really watch. Blackberry, for example, starts loosening up days beforehand. Sari doesn’t until the seemingly last minute.
But besides ligaments, these are the things to watch for:
- Restless moving around
- Standing off by herself and digging at the ground — that’s seeking the best place to drop those kids.
- Staring off into space and grinding teeth is usually a symptom of light contractions
- Back arching (usually with tails going up, or flipping back and forth) is when they start getting stronger.
- Mucus — usually thick and yellow or pale yellow. This one is kind of tricky though; Sari has had mucus days before sometimes. But usually it’s a sign of getting close.
- Getting up and lying down over and over is also a big one, as mom tries to readjust babies into the best position.
- Making little noises (that’s not for all goats — mine are just especially vocal)
- Searching around on the ground after contractions
Some goats will want you there during and some won’t. Usually it’s best practice to be nearby but not on top of them; that can make them uncomfortable.
Usually they’ll lay down and it’ll be pretty obvious they’re pushing when the time comes. Some will be vocal, some won’t. There will probably be a fair amount of grunting, getting up and down, searching the group, lying back down and pushing…
There’s a 30 minute rule with goat kidding. If the goat is pushing pretty obviously and there is no kid on the ground within 30 minutes, there’s a problem. Even if there’s a nose or feet, but no progress is being made, there’s something wrong in there.
If you’ve never pulled a kid, you should have a vet or trusted goat herder ready to call. I used to help 40-60 does a year kid, for about five years, so I don’t hesitate to get in there and fix things if a doe is in distress even before the 30 minute rule (I hate to see them in distress, and getting tired especially won’t help anything). But if you’ve never pulled a kid, I hesitate to tell you to try to correct a kid’s positioning. I will be writing a post about common problems and such, which I will link to at the end of this post when it’s done.
But anyway. Kids arriving!
Look, little white toes!
With the picture above, I saw toes only a minutes before the kid was on the ground. In fact, I’d only just cleaned the kid’s face and placed him next to mom, when I turned around the second one was already out!
If you’re bottle raising, I recommend removing kids as soon as possible. It’s pretty sad when mom sees the kids (or gets to lick them) and then the kids are gone.
After the birth, mom should be all about those babies. Licking them is TOP priority; she’ll start even before the other kids are out (if there are more). You’ll probably get a bath as well if mom trusts you. She’ll often talk to them as well (the noises are freaking adorable). Besides cleaning faces to make sure the kids having a clear airway, I usually just leave it all up to mom.
If the kid happens to come out with the umbilical cord still attached, snip that quickly. An attached kid, especially if the mom stands, can tug too hard on the placenta and rip her uterus, or give the kid a hernia.
If the doe stands up, you can check to see if there’s more kids by lifting up firmly and quickly right in front of her udder. If you feel anything hard that moves around, there’s another kid. If it’s just gush you feel, and can lift up quite a ways, then she’s done.
The doe will eventually get up (if she’s not already) and kids will start rooting around for milk. Technically, kids don’t need milk for several hours after birth; they’ve been fed by the umbilical cord up until they came out. Either way, kids are born with the instinct to find the milk now, and it’s equally adorable and funny to watch, because they can be pretty uncoordinated and dumb about it.
Spray or dip those cords in iodine, after the kids are out. This will kill any bacteria and prevent an infection.
Especially good moms will lift their feet up very high and set them down very carefully to avoid stepping on babies, but some moms are dumb and will step on babies. Kids are surprisingly resilient, but injuries can occur. Watch out for those tiny little legs getting stepped on!
Some moms won’t get the idea of nursing immediately. They’ll jump or kick, which really won’t help the kids be able to nurse. If that happens, it’s usually fixed by holding her still to assisting the kids to nurse a few times. I usually will pin the doe against the wall and hold up a back leg (so she can’t kick or move without unbalancing — they trust me, so that usually works). Does will usually get the idea afterwards.
Sometimes you’ll have to do it for a few days to let the kids nurse before the dam gets it. Or, if the moms seem like they’re completely rejecting kids (won’t let them nurse, not interested in cleaning them or talking to them, or in bad cases, butting them away), you’ll need to bottle feed. That’s pretty uncommon, and usually those cases are because of a hard labor where the mom’s instincts get confused.
After all kids are out, the placenta will emerge. I’m not sure if there’s a ‘rule’ about when it should, but if it’s been over 12 hours I would worry about a retained placenta. Call your vet for that. Usually it starts emerging within a couple hours, and will look a little like this:
She laid down and got some straw on it, obviously
DO NOT try to pull it out. The body detaches it all on it’s own and slowly; if you tug you could tear her uterus. If it’s been hanging there for hours without change, you can gently tug and see if it’s just detached but stuck there. But don’t overdo it.
Does might try to eat it. It’s an instinct, to clean up all their mess so predators are less attracted. It’s not a terrible idea to let her eat it (there are quite a few vitamins in there that can help the doe) but they can get sick from eating the whole thing. If the moms are interested in it, I usually let them eat some and bury the rest.
After birth, I personally prefer to get hot water with molasses for the doe. It helps replenish some iron and energy, and the does love it. I’ve had moms down half a bucket in one go. It’s a nice treat for the doe after working so hard!
After that… it’s rest and bonding time! The dam usually takes a power nap after, especially if it was a hard labor. Kid personalities vary; some will be all over everything and some will nap too. I usually hang out for a while afterwards (because how can you not!?) to make sure everyone is acting healthy and get attention.
If dam raised, it’s especially important to spend a lot of time with kids in the first hours of their life, and the following weeks. They need to associate you with herd. I usually grab a book to read, or get some paperwork done with a kid or two snoozing on my lap. Adding a half an hour during morning and night chores to sit down and play with them usually will suffice. They’re such time wasters; kid’s absolute joy of discovering how to do things like jump and play is heartbreakingly cute. I usually end up playing with them for longer than that. It’s almost impossible not to!
After that… well, that’s pretty much it! Just pay attention, make sure nobody is acting too weird or lethargic (though lots of sleeping is normal in the first couple days), and enjoy those new baby kids.
I’ll write another post on after-kidding care (for mom and kids) here shortly. Until then, any questions?
Naptime, after a hard labor. Sari (dam), 2017