Abridged from 'Breeding' in ‘Pygmy Goat Keeping’ by Pat Mercer *
My aim will be to provide the inexperienced breeder with enough information to ensure that he or she is as well prepared and as confident as possible.
A female should not be mated until she is at least eighteen months old, however mature she might outwardly appear. She will then be coming up to, or will have just arrived at, her second birthday by the time that she gives birth. Make sure that she is definitely sufficiently well grown to be mated for the first time. Seek advice if you are not sure.
It is absolutely vital that your female is not overweight when taken to be mated. Goats store fat internally around the vital organs, including the uterus. This seriously restricts the space available for expansion during foetal development and during labour. Mal-presentations, and therefore difficult kiddings, can frequently result as a consequence.
Assuming that your goat has been successfully mated then it is now a matter of carrying on as normal. Do not change her feed level. She will begin to increase in size gradually until it becomes increasingly obvious that she is in kid. There is some merit in having her scanned at about six weeks into the pregnancy. Knowing how many kids to expect helps determine her feed pattern for the last six weeks. It will also give you a certain peace of mind knowing that she is in fact in kid and also knowing how many kids to expect.
Preparing for kidding
The gestation period for goats ranges from 145 to 155 days. Anywhere within that period is regarded as normal. Most Pygmy goats give birth earlier rather than later, at 147 to 150 days.
Around two weeks before kidding time, thoroughly clean out and disinfect the kidding pen. Move the pregnant female into it, so that she can get used to micro-organisms that are present in that particular environment. It will also ensure that the antibodies in her colostrum, unique to her, can be established. Make sure that all sources of draught are excluded and that she always has a deep, clean bed available.
Certain pieces of equipment should be prepared in anticipation. Do not leave the gathering together of essentials until a day or so before the imminent kidding date. Goats have a habit of catching us off guard.
Plenty of old towels, varying in size. They must all be spotlessly clean.
A collar and lead as well as someone else present to hold the goat if necessary.
Iodine or an antibiotic spray.
Several sachets of powdered lamb’s colostrum and feeding bottle with appropriate teat (for lambs).
If there is no permanent lighting, a good powerful torch.
A heat lamp with a long chain and a way of attaching it at least one and a half metres above the floor.
A plastic bag or old feed bag to store the afterbirth.
Other useful aids
A CCTV camera fixed up over the pen is extremely useful but does not always work if the goat house is situated too far from the house. A wireless one need not cost the earth and gives a reasonable picture but a cabled one is better if practical. Small screens can be purchased as part of the kit if your camera is not to be connected directly to the TV set. Having cameras installed saves having to go out at frequent intervals at night to check your goat.
If no cameras are available, consider a baby alarm. These again can be most useful with one end placed near the pen and the other in the house. However, be prepared for false alarms as all sounds are recorded, including the munching of the hay which seems to be highly augmented especially at night.
Plenty of warm clothing is a must, especially in the early hours of the morning. A hot water bottle, a packet of biscuits (or the like) and a flask of tea can also be welcome additions. Perhaps even an interesting magazine.
From a personal point of view, prepare yourself for kidding by ensuring that all rings and watches are removed, that nails are trimmed right back, that hands are thoroughly and regularly washed and hair, if long, tied well back out of the way. Waterproof over-trousers are really essential as the surrounding area after birth has taken place can be somewhat wet, not to mention bloody. Needless to say, they should be clean and free from any trace of dirt.
The Kidding Process
Initial signs can be misleading and can start about two weeks before the actual birth. On the other hand, they can present themselves just a few days before the event, so observation from now on is key. These include a puffiness around the vagina and even slight discharge of mucous. At this stage, the udder can begin to develop, gradually increasing in size. The goat could even begin to isolate herself periodically from the rest of the herd. Having access to specific kidding dates is a great help in determining where these initial signs come in the actual birth time-scale. Knowing what happens next is your most useful guide.
The vagina becomes increasingly swollen and puffy, with a visible increase in the string of mucous. The udder looks tight and full. The goat isolates herself from the rest of the herd. If still outside, now is the time to bring her into her kidding pen. Perhaps a companion goat placed in the next pen, visible to her, will help her feel more relaxed and secure, especially if she is a first time kidder. She is now in the first stage of labour.
It is difficult to predict exactly when your animal will progress to the next stage of labour and indeed how long it will remain in the first stage before moving on to the second or birthing stage. It could range from two or three hours to as much as twelve or more. One thing is for sure, you cannot afford to disappear from the scene for long periods of time once she shows the initial signs.
During the first stage, most goats will appear restless, pawing the ground to make a ‘nest’ or bed. This is a primitive instinct and one reason why the bedding should be spotlessly clean throughout, not just on the surface. She may be seen talking to her sides and will constantly move from one position to another.
Initial contractions begin during the first stage, which cause the restless response. The time scale between these first stage contractions and the more forceful, positive ones associated with giving birth proper, as I have already said, is impossible to predict but when the goat begins to push hard, probably lying down (but not always) and stretching out on one side, then birth is not very far away. Now, you must be there. Your goat’s, or indeed your future kid’s, life could literally depend on it.
The female will push hard and gradually the vagina will dilate until the sac will emerge, a bubble-like bag, known sometimes as the water bag. It may well contain the emerging kid, hopefully with two hooves followed by the head, slightly behind the legs. This would be a normal birth, with the kid in the correct, position, and is referred to as an anterior presentation. Once the head and hooves are through, the rest of the body emerges quite quickly.
Sometimes the kid’s face is covered with membranes of the sac, which must be broken and any excess mucous wiped away. Clear the mouth and nostrils with your hands or with a towel, ensuring that the air passages are free and that the kid is breathing. There may well be a little coughing and spluttering for a while, which is why you need to keep drying off the kid’s face and mouth until you are absolutely certain the airways are clear. If there appears to be a lot of fluid being coughed up or coming out of the kid’s nostrils, carefully lift the kid upside down from its back legs to allow the fluid to drain. Whilst upside down, keep clearing its nose and mouth of fluid until it is able to breath normally. This is only likely to occur if a kidding has taken too long or been too stressful.
At this stage the mother will be looking for her kid, wanting to clean it. Give the kid to her for her to carry on with the job, even if by now she is in the process of pushing out another kid. The cleansing of the first kid will not interfere with the contractions and is more likely to take her mind off the pain of the second delivery. Follow the same procedure with the second kid. The drying off of the kids by the mother is an integral part of the bonding process: it is nature’s way. However, should it be a bitterly cold night and the newly born kids are shivering, assistance with a dry towel would be sensible.
Post kidding tasks
Once the kids are relatively dry, leave them with their mother whilst you begin mopping up the wetness from the floor and replacing the wet bedding with dry, clean straw. Bank up the sides of the pen with straw to eliminate any draughts and to add extra warmth.
Next, offer the female a bucket of warm water, to which might be added a level dessert spoonful of powdered glucose or molasses. She will have become quite dehydrated during kidding and will appreciate a long drink. The added glucose will give her a welcome energy boost.
Now turn your attention to the kids who may well by now be staggering onto their feet and looking for the milk bar. The finding of it is by no means automatic: they frequently begin their quest at entirely the wrong end, probing into the front legs or underbelly of their mum. Eventually they tend to work their way down to her rear but could start suckling on the hair around her back legs instead of on her teats. The female’s teats have a plug on the end of them to prevent the entrance of bacteria into the udder. Kids may not have the strength to remove these plugs by suckling so make absolutely sure that there is a flow of milk available by holding the teats, one after the other, in your hand above the opening and squeezing down until the milk begins to flow. It will squirt out once the plugs drop away. Leave the kids for a while to locate the teats by themselves. Mum will also assist by gently butting them towards the correct site. Once you are certain that the kids have been successful in latching on and that their little bellies are relatively full, leave them for a while to continue bonding with their mother.
The first milk from the mother’s udder is called colostrum and it is vital that the kid/s receive a good dose of this within the first six hours after being born. It is very thick and sweet and has several roles within the new born. Firstly it is nice and warm so will keep the body heat up. Remember that kids have a high surface area to volume ratio which means that they lose heat to the surrounding environment, largely by evaporation, very easily. Full bellies will slow this process. The other even more important role of colostrum is to provide the kid with antibodies to give immunity against bacteria and viruses that it will come across in the big wide world and, in basic terms, provide protection against scour and pneumonia. However, the gut of the newborn is only able to absorb these antibodies for a finite amount of time. This ability decreases over the first 10-12 hours of life and by the time that the kid is 24 hours old, its ability to absorb antibodies will have virtually disappeared. So, check that they have had a good feed within 6 hours of being born and if not, milking the mother and bottle feeding/stomach tubing them with the colostrum may become necessary.
The first issue is the latching on of the kid to the mother’s udder. Try as they may, some kids just don’t get it. You cannot allow them to give up and lie down. As has already been stated, colostrum in the stomach within the first six hours is vital. If the kid cannot locate the teat, try squirting the milk around the face of the kid and into the side of its lips. This sometimes works. Try also placing the teat gently in its mouth and squeezing some milk into it. If there is still ‘no go’ try squirting a few drops into its mouth out of a syringe then try again with holding the teat.
If all else fails, it could be necessary to drop by drop feed it using a syringe or even bottle feeding it for a while. Do not give up. A bottlefed kid may well ‘get the message’ if only a day or two later. Most will suckle within the first few hours, with a little patience on your behalf. On many occasion, I have resorted to bottle feeding only to find that the kid, now having got the technique, will convert to suckling from its mother quite naturally within the first day or so, so again, keep on trying. A reluctant kid can also be tube fed but this process is not for the beginner. It requires a vet. or an experienced keeper.
Should bottle feeding be the only answer, it could still bond and live with its mother so do not be too eager to separate the two. If the kid is on the other hand rejected then there could be no alternative other than to have them live apart. Bottle fed kids will require colostrum for the first few days and other than milking off the feeds from its mother, which can be time consuming and not always easy, commercial, powdered sachets of lamb’s colostrum, diluted as directed may have to be used. Keep a few of these in your kidding box, just in case. Following that, powdered ewe’s milk is the only alternative unless you are lucky enough to have dairy goat friends who can supply you with a fresh supply from their herd, possibly to be stored frozen and used when required from your freezer.
A Guide to Bottle Feeding
This is only a rough guide as much depends on the size of the kid. Do not overfeed.
0-1 week 6 feeds of 1-2fl ozs/30-60mls
1-2 weeks 4 feeds of 2-3 fl ozs/60-90mls
2-4 weeks 3 feeds of 4-6 fl ozs/120-160 mls
6 -10 weeks 1-2 feeds of reducing amount
The milk should be presented at a temperature of about 102°F/38.9°C
On most occasions kidding will proceed as described and will be straight forward but you must be prepared for the event not quite going according to plan. The main thing is not to panic. Your tension will be transferred to the goat so keep calm and act appropriately.
A posterior presentation, which is often referred to as a malpresentation, is not a malpresentation at all, but rather a ‘normal’ alternative. In other words, the back legs are presented first. For this, the soles of the hooves are turning upwards and the legs bend upwards. Speed is of the essence in a posterior presentation as the umbilical cord would in all probability be broken, so the kid is no longer reliant upon its mother for its survival. It has to be birthed quickly before it makes an attempt to breath as if it does, then its lungs could quickly fill up with fluid.
Assist with every contraction, gently but firmly pulling on the kids legs, above the ankle joint, moving gradually upwards as it emerges. Once the barrel is obvious, try and hold the rib cage tight in an attempt to stop the kid from taking an inward breath until it is birthed. Once out, break the bag around its head if it is still intact and clear the air passages promptly. It may be already coughing and spluttering and will be in need of assistance to clear its lungs, in which case catch it firmly by its back legs, swinging it gently from side to side, at the same time slapping its chest. Any liquid should soon be removed from the lungs if it has penetrated that far and the newly born kid will start shaking its head, possibly coughing and spluttering. Once its lungs are clear, treat it as you would an anterior presentation.
If it is obvious that the head is protruding without the legs, then definitely call the vet. A leg can sometimes be located by sliding well lubricated fingers up alongside the head and flicking it forward with the fingers cupped over the hoof, until it emerges. If not, then there is a positive risk that if the head is left in that position for too long, it will swell up and will not be able to be pushed back into the uterus. Sometimes a kid can be birthed with only one leg forward but, if possible, try and get both through first.
Another scenario is that of the legs appearing but no sign of the head, which probably has fallen back and is lying sidewards. This certainly needs a vet’s intervention.
If the female has been having strong contractions for some time, say about fifteen to twenty minutes, without anything appearing, although the vagina has dilated, then something is amiss. Time to think about contacting your vet. if only for advice.
Remember that the vet. is not likely to appear as if by magic within the next quarter of an hour or so, especially if your property is quite a distance away, so the quicker he/she can be contacted the better. Most vets. would prefer to attend what turns out to be a false alarm than to be contacted after a ‘just let’s wait and see’ period only to be confronted with a far more difficult situation.
Alternatively, take the goat to the vet’s premises. Prepare the back of an estate vehicle, a van or even a trailer in advance, in order to transport the female should it be necessary. At least then, if a caesarian is necessary, the facilities are on site.
Although having had pygmy goats for the past twenty years, I still would not attempt to remedy a difficult kidding that demands any more from me than has already been described. However, we are fortunate to live only a couple of miles from our veterinary practice which employs excellent staff.
The thing is to act quickly and positively and if a caesarean is deemed necessary, do not despair. Far better to make a decision to perform one earlier than later after long, painful, tiring attempts at correction which leaves the female exhausted and less likely to cope with the additional trauma of a caesarean section on top of everything else. When a decision is made in plenty of time a caesarean section can result in live kids and mother. Both tend to cope remarkably well with the operation.
Once the decision has been made to perform a caesarean section, post operative advice is best sought from the veterinarian who has carried it out.
Some Final Points
The after-birth could take up to eight hours or so to emerge. Whatever you do, do not attempt to pull it out. The mother will probably eat it if you are not present to remove it but there is always a slight risk that she could choke on it (it has been known) so get rid of it if possible. Sometimes, the afterbirth is retained, so if you suspect that all or even a part of it is still inside the goat, then send for the vet.
Do not feed the female too many concentrates for the first couple of days after kidding. It is better to feed good quality roughage and mixed vegetables which she will relish. Introduce her normal quantity of concentrates gradually, then slowly increase the feed to meet the additional demands that feeding her kids will make on her.
Do not forget to worm the female about 48 hours after kidding and to make sure that her vaccination programme is up to date.
I have attempted to give the best advice that I am able to give to inexperienced goat keepers, so good luck and I sincerely hope that all goes well.