BIRTHIN' BABIES
by Keith Smith

Editor's note: This kidding article, first published on the web site boergoats.com during the 2001 kidding season, has new and updated information.

"I don't know nuthin' 'bout birthin' babies!"

Butterfly McQueen's line as Prissy in "Gone With The Wind" goes a long way toward describing a new goat owner's feelings the first time their high dollar doe gets ready to have babies. Goats are pretty good at doing this kidding thing all by themselves but you've gotta' wonder... "What if something goes wrong?". Preparation can lead to a slightly more relaxed goat owner and will probably lead to a healthier doe and kids.

Doe kidding
Photo copyright © Stephanie Morris, Valley Springs, California, USA.

First things, first... The doe gets pregnant. Well, Duh!. Write down the date she was bred and mark your calendar for the day that she's due. The average gestation period for goats is 151 days. I've included the word "average" on purpose - the normal range is 146 to 156 days.
Count 5 months, give or take a day or two, from the day your doe was bred and you'll know when the kids are due. There is a goat gestation calculator at www.BoerGoats.com.

The preparatory medications for your future mamma should include C/D&T at 15 days before delivery accompanied by a good worming. Valbazen is NOT to be used on pregnant does - we know that it causes abortion in the first trimester so just to be sure we've never used it at any stage of pregnancy.

The Normal Goat Birthing Process

Somewhere between the 120th and 145th day after breeding the doe may start to "bag up". Her udder will start to fill with milk - it's not ready yet but is just getting a head start toward being ready to feed the kids. If you run an intensively managed mob this is the time you should move her to a pen near the barn or other shelter that you've designated as your kidding area. Some soon-to-be mammas don't bag up until the last day before delivery.

Two days before she delivers (give or take a day) she may start wandering around looking for an isolated, secure, area away from the herd. Some goats never express this desire; specially if they are in a small closed herd always kept in a small pen. This is also about the time she may start having a thick, opaque, light gray vaginal discharge. This is just lubrication so don't worry about it unless it's pink or red colored - then you probably need to call the vet and solicit their advice.

The kids are usually fairly active during the last month of pregnancy and watching them move around inside mamma is kind of neat. All that activity you see on the left side of mamma... forget it. That's the rumen moving food and digestive stuff around. The kids are on her right side. During the last 12-18 hours before birth most kids settle down and you won't see any "elbows" or "knees" moving around. Also, the prospective mom will start to show other signs about this time - The vulva will become more swollen and less firm. The ligaments just above and to either side of the tail will soften. And... she may start "talking" to her stomach. Another sign that kidding is near is that she'll become sunken in the flanks as the kids move into position in the birth canal.

The next normal activity is "stand up, lay down, stand up, walk around, lay down, stand up, dig the floor, lay down, stand up..." Well, you get the point. Even experienced mammas can get nervous and having you standing around staring at her doesn't help. Just check on her every few minutes. When she develops a thick, stringy, long vaginal discharge she's getting serious about having these kids.

During one of her laying down periods she'll start to "heave" - not the throw up kind, the kind where her rear end comes up off of the floor and she starts calling the buck every name in the book. These heaves will repeat every few minutes and eventually a small balloon of reddish-brown liquid will appear outside of her vulva. This is where the clock begins - note the time and stick around for one of the real thrills of goat tending!

With a few more heaves the bag of fluid may break or it may just get bigger and hang down to the floor - even when she's standing up. The contractions will get closer together and pretty soon she'll have another bag of fluid. Look at it a little closer and you'll see a couple of hooves inside the bag and as she has more contractions you'll soon see a nose. These were the easy parts for her to push out! Next comes the forehead which usually takes a few more very heavy heaves and almost immediately the rest of the kid will follow. If you've been thinking ahead you'll have a stack of clean newspapers laying near and can slip the sports section between the kid and the floor as the little critter comes out of it's mamma. You might want to help, now... use a paper towel to wipe the sack and fluid from around the kids mouth and nose and let mamma do the rest of the cleanup.

After mamma has cleaned the kid to a sparkling shine it's your turn again. Trim the umbilical cord to about 1-2 inches long and dip it in strong (7%) iodine - all the way to the belly. We use an old 35 millimeter film tube as a dipping cup. If you have a date that evening it might be a good idea to wear rubber or plastic gloves during this procedure - iodine stains.

If there is another kid it'll come along in a few minutes and you get to do the nose/mouth cleaning and the belly button dip on it.

Within a half an hour the placenta will be delivered and you can relax. If the doe eats the placenta it won't hurt her and it isn't necessary to nature's plan that she does. If you'd rather you can just take it out to the barnyard and bury it - or better yet, put it into the compost heap.
If the placenta does not deliver within 2 hours you need to call the vet. There is a good chance of a retained fetus.

We like our does to kid in the field... Less cleanup for us and it's easier on the mom and kids. Once the kids are born we move the new family to a bonding pen where they stay for 3-4 days. We prefer a pen 5 feet wide by 5 feet long. This is enough space for the momma to move around and small enough to assist bonding between the new mother and the kids. Some mothers are rather careless with their kids and will lay on them... we put a makeshift stool made from 2x12's in the pen for the kids to lay under.

We give the newborn kids a couple squirts of Goat Nutri-Drench in the kids mouth and spray the umbilical cord with iodine solution to dry the cord and protect the kid from infection. in addition, the kid is given a 5cc injection of Goat Serum right after birth and a second 5cc injection 2-3 hours later. This supercharges their immune system and practically eliminates the maladies that often kill 10-14 day old kids.

Be sure that the newborns nurse. The first milk that the mother releases is thick and yellow. It's called colostrum and is critical to the development of the kids' immune systems. The kid is born with a 6-8 hour supply of a nutrient called "brown fat" but to get additional nutrition and get the immune system going the kid must nurse. If you have a doe with great big teats the kid may not be able to take the teat in its mouth. You must help it.

OK... we've sorta' covered the way things are supposed to happen. Now, take a look at some things that require your assistance.

Dystocia

Dystocia is defined as any event or condition that results in abnormal delivery of babies. It can include everything from early abortion caused by rough herd mates to failure of the mother's cervix to dilate at delivery time. Most cases of Dystocia in goats are caused by management error in the form of over/improper feeding, incorrect medication, lack of proper worming or sanitation, and overcrowding/overstocking. I'm going to cover only the cases where the kids are carried to term or near term and have a chance of survival. I consider this between 135 days after breeding through 153 days after breeding. Before 135 days the chance of survival of the kids is almost zero and after 153 days a vet should be consulted.

Is assistance really needed? A doe that labors over 30 minutes with the front feet and nose of the kid showing and no further progress would appreciate some help. A doe that labors over 45 minutes with nothing or only a small sack of water showing definitely needs help.

Many of the recommendations listed require that you insert your hand and arm inside the doe. We call this "fishing for kids". It's very seldom done in a rush - slow down and use whatever time it takes.

It's sometimes difficult to determine the position(s) of the kid(s) but try this... Imagine what a kid looks like after it is born. Now, in your mind, put that kid in a sack of water inside another sack of water. Again in your mind, think what that kid would feel like to your hand if it were between the two sacks of water.

Fishing is best done with your eyes closed - that way it's easier to compare your memory (from the previous paragraph) with what you are feeling inside the doe. Another point... When maneuvering hooves around inside of a doe it's a good idea to cup the hoof in the palm of your hand to prevent it from injuring the uterus. The hooves of unborn kids come equipped with soft tissue "booties" but it's better to not take a chance.
Wash the vulva and the area around it very well with an antibacterial scrub such as betadine before you stick your hand in there.
Wear rubber OB (shoulder length) gloves if available. If these are not available you can use exam gloves. Buy some OB gloves now... Experience has taught us that rubber dish washing gloves are to thick - they do not allow you to feel the structures inside the doe.
Lubricate the glove well - If you don't have lubricating jelly now, get some. If it's too late you can use mineral oil.

Anytime you stick your hand, gloved or not, inside an animal you are introducing germs into an area that is extremely sensitive to this type of invasion. Consult with your vet as to the proper medication and dosage for eliminating or reducing the effects of possible infections. We use 5cc of AgriCillin administered intra muscularly once a day for three days.

You may also need an OB snare. They can be purchased from most livestock suppliers. Hoegger and Caprine Supply have them in their catalog. If you need one right now they can be made from a length of baling twine. Here is what a commercial one looks like:

OB Snare

The following are some of the more common incorrect ways that kids can get themselves arranged (malpresentations) just before birth. The figures only show one kid each for clarity. Remember that if there are two or more kids you will need to be sure that you aren't pulling on the left leg of one kid and the right leg of another kid - they WILL NOT both fit through the hole together.
Don't spend too much time trying to straighten out malpresentations. If you aren't successful on the first few tries call your vet. It's always better to call them too early than too late!

Normal Fetal Position

 

First, a review of the normal delivery position.
Note that the forelegs are fully extended before they enter the birth canal. The neck is straight and the nose/head is positioned between the forelegs.
The rear legs will straighten out behind the kid as the delivery progresses.

 

This position looks correct at first but notice the way the forelegs are flexed.
Before this kid can be delivered the head and body must be pushed back and the legs pulled to an extended position.
Use the OB snare to keep the hooves from going back into the birth canal when you push on the head.

 

This is what we call the "jack knife". The forelegs are presented normally but the hind legs are also in the birth canal.
The hind legs must be pushed back out of the canal while holding the forelegs with the OB snare.

 

This little fella doesn't know if he wants to be born or not. He wants to "test the water" with just one toe before he jumps out.
When one foreleg is retained both the head and the extended foreleg must be pushed back and the flexed leg straightened and brought into position along side the extended leg.

 

If the head is turned to the side or flipped back along the spine then push the forelegs back to make room for your hand and move the head into the correct position. Hook the OB snare around the kid's head before you remove your hand because they will almost always put their head back where it was if it isn't held straight.

 

The head tilted down toward the belly can sometimes be straightened out without pushing the forelegs all the way back in. Capture the forelegs with the OB snare before sticking your hand in there to re-align the head.

 

With the head and neck turned all the way to the side like this you are in a difficult situation.
Push the forelegs back in, straighten the head and neck and hold them in place with the OB snare while you move the forelegs back into the birth canal.
It is not unusual for this position to result in a bad ending. Fetotomy or Caesarian section are often required.

 

This is the classic breech position. It requires that you press forward on the rump and bring the hind legs into the birth canal. This creates the normal posterior position (below).

 

The posterior position with one leg retained requires that the exposed leg be pushed forward and then both it and the retained leg re-aligned together in the birth canal into the normal posterior position.

 

This is the normal posterior position.
Gently pull the hind legs outward and down (toward the mamma's feet).

 

With the kid upside down you need to rotate it to it's normal position. Easier said than done but once accomplished he'll probably be delivered on the first few heaves after you remove your hand.

 

This position requires that you first rotate the kid to the normal feet down position then extend the forelegs and head for normal delivery.

 

Goats like to roll on their backs to scratch and this can result in torsion of the uterus. The uterus becomes twisted along it's long axis and traps the kid inside. It's like twisting the top of a plastic trash bag. If you feel the twist but can't reach the kid call the vet immediately. If you can get your hand through the twist you will be able to feel the direction of the twist and just "spin" the kid and uterus in the direction necessary to straighten the birth canal out.

Dystocia can be presented in may other ways but most of them cannot be overcome. This article described a few that the average breeder stands a chance of correcting:

I repeat... Don't spend too much time trying to straighten out malpresentations. If you aren't successful on the first few tries call your vet. Give the vet a chance to do the job she/he is trained to do.

I am not a veterinarian and the recommendations in this and all of my articles is based on my best judgment and the experiences encountered in our goat operation. Always consult a qualified goat veterinarian for specific recommendations concerning the health and care of your goats.

This article includes excerpts from Gail Bowman's excellent book Raising Meat Goats For Profit. I recommend that this book be part of every goat owner's library.

Keith and Lucinda Smith are retired Boer goat breeders. They share their own experiences and present other goat news, information and advertisements on their web site magazine www.BoerGoats.com.