Raising Goats: Breeding and Kidding
Chances are that if you are raising goats you are doing so in order to provide milk for your family. In order to produce milk, your doe must have babies. Most of the dairy breeds are seasonal breeders, which means they come into heat in the fall. Usually between the months of September and January you should start to see signs that your does are in heat. Some signs to look for are tail wagging, vaginal discharge, and being more vocal. If you have a buck or a buck rag, they should start showing interest by licking or rubbing. If you are raising a miniature breed like Nigerian Dwarf Goats, they will breed all year long. A goat pregnancy can be almost as stressful as your own pregnancy—from worrying about nutrition, watching for problems, and counting down the days until delivery. Most of the time, though, your doe will make it to kidding without any intervention from you and you will have a couple of cute kids and lots of milk to share.
Don't Forget Daddy
As you know, it takes two to tango so if you want milk from your doe you will need to find a buck to breed her with. Bucks aren't quite the same as does or withers. If you are a first time goat owner I would advise against buying and housing a buck on your property. One reason is that they will have to be housed separately, away from your does. This means another fenced area, another shelter and more company for him. Another reason is that bucks in rut stink. And I mean really stink. But a buck is also a goat who craves attention and will want to talk to you and have your undivided attention- so you will stink too!
The best option is to find a buck available for a stud fee. You can talk to local farms, search Craigslist or contact your local Dairy Goat Association to find a stud. The genetics of your buck are just as important as the genetics of your doe. It is a good idea to breed your doe to a buck with better conformation than your does. This way you will improve the genetics of your herd and the babies will have better udders, body shape and temperament.
Pregnant Doe? Now What?
Your doe has come into heat and you have bred her with a buck. Now what? You have a couple of options when it comes to confirming the pregnancy. You can draw blood and send it off for a pregnancy test. You can have a vet do an ultrasound. Or you can simply assume that if your doe does not come back into heat in 21 days she is pregnant, and they treat her as such until she proves otherwise.
Taking Care of Your Doe
A goat's gestation period is about 150 days. Use this number when determining the due date, but be prepared for kidding at least a week ahead of time. During pregnancy you will need to up the supplemental feed your doe receives. She will need about a pound of feed per day to keep her healthy. If she is currently milking you will need to dry her off at least 2 months before kidding, if not more. Both pregnancy and milk production takes a lot out of your doe so the more time off, the more healthy she, and her kids, will be. She will also need a Tetanus booster about 4 weeks before she is due, so she can transfer some immunity to her kids. Make sure she has minerals available at all times to prevent a deficiency.
Progression of Pregnancy
As your goat's pregnancy progresses you will start to see some signs that she is pregnant and that things are going according to plan. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between a pregnant goat and a well-fed goat with a good rumen. Goats are naturally big as they eat, but you should start to see your doe expanding a bit from the sides after a few months. About a 6 weeks to a month before kidding you should notice her udder starting to build. You will also be able to feel the babies move 2-4 weeks before kidding. Place your hand low on her abdomen on the right side and see what you feel.
Signs of Labor
As the due date draws closer you can watch your doe for certain signs of impending labor. You might notice her having contractions, she might have increased vaginal discharge and the ligaments around the base of her tail will loosen. When labor is imminent you will notice that the tail ligaments will disappear, she might stand off to herself and "talk" to the babies, and she might make a nest. You will also notice her back arched, her tail crooked and her udder will become large and tight. If you see these signs you probably want to move her to the kidding stall.
Just like you would pack a hospital bag for your baby, you need to pack a birthing kit for your doe so that you have everything you need on hand before the big day arrives. A few of the things you will need:
- towels: to catch babies and clean them up if needed. You can also use puppy pads.
- betadine/iodine: to disinfect the umbilical cord
- scissors: to cut the cord if needed
- string/floss: o tie off the cord if needed
- a flashlight
- gloves: in case you need to assist
- lubricating jelly: in case you need to assist
- Bottles, nipples, goat colostrum (dry): in case the kids won't nurse
- Food and water for the mama to eat once she is done
- Garbage bag: to pack up all the soiled items
I keep all of this in a large bucket near the barn door, starting about a week before the due date.
The Big Day Has Come
If you are like me, the wait for the big day is nerve wracking. Birthing is unpredictable and the not knowing can drive you crazy. But eventually it will happen, and I hope you are around to witness the miracle of birth.
Once you are sure your doe is in labor, and she is safe in the kidding stall, stay close by, but leave her alone. You don't want to interfere too much. She will probably yell and cry out a bit, but eventually you should see some signs of the kids making their way out. What you want to see is feet. If you look and see the tips of two hooves and the tip of a nose, then you are in good shape and your doe should have a pretty normal delivery. Don't interfere: let her work at pushing out the baby.
Once the baby is out, you want to pick it up by its back legs to help drain the fluids out. Wipe its mouth and make sure it is clear. Put the baby on a towel near its mother so that she can lick it and clean it up. New mothers sometimes need help learning what to do.
Twins are the most common in goats, so more than likely another kid will be coming along soon. Once you are pretty sure she is done, and the babies are licked pretty clean and starting to try and get up, you will need to help them find the udder to nurse. You will probably have to help them into the right place and help them stand as they eat. They might not eat for long, but do make sure they get some.
Before you leave:
- clean up any soiled towels
- remove as much of the soiled bedding as you can
- make sure the mom has food and water
- make sure you have seen all the babies eat on their own
- you have tied and cut the umbilical cord, or the mom has chewed it. Dip the cord in iodine to prevent infection.
Aftercare and the First Few Weeks
Once the excitement of birth has settled you will have a couple new kids and a mama that need some special care. A doe in milk will need extra food to keep her milk production up and keep healthy. Make sure she has hay, water and minerals at all times. Keep water off the ground, where the kids can reach it to drink but can't play in it.
Keep the new mom and kids in the kidding pen for the first two or three days so that they can rest and bond. On the third day you can let the mom out for a bit. This is a good time to spend with the kids letting them get used to people. If the weather is nice you can let the kids out with their mother for a few hours each day as well. The mothers usually do a pretty good job protecting their babies from other herd members and kids quickly learn who to leave alone and who they can go near. If you are planning on milking the mother, wait about two weeks before beginning to milk her, so that the kids get all of the colostrum and can get off to a good start.
Goat kids are adorable, springy, amusing little creatures. They are so much fun to have around and to play with and watch. Make sure you get out there and get to know them so that they will make good goats for you, or for others if you are selling them.
Just Getting Started Raising Goats?
- Raising Goats: How to Care for Your Goats
Goats are pretty easy to keep. Find out how much space and food they need and how to provide basic care for these friendly and curious animals
- Raising Goats: How to Choose a Breed
Do you want to get goats? Read this summary of the many different goat breeds to find out which one suits your needs best.