What to Do During All Stages of Goat Gestation
It’s that time of year when many goat owners focus on pregnant goat care, as they’re either preparing to breed or have already bred their does. Spring kidding is one of my favorite times of the year on the farm and there is much to do to prepare yourself and your doe for the new arrivals. Some of that goat pregnancy preparation should have started before your doe was even bred. Goat gestation may only be five months, but pregnant goat care really begins months before your doe ever meets the buck! Below I’ve put together a timeline with the most important things to remember as you prepare for having a pregnant goat. Care needs to be taken at every step of the process. While this article is geared toward dairy goats, most of the principles will still apply for meat, fiber, and pet goats.
Prior to Breeding:
Pregnant goat care begins before you even breed your goat! First, be sure she’s at a healthy weight before you have her bred. Overweight goats have a harder time getting pregnant and may have a more uncomfortable pregnancy while underweight goats will have difficulty putting on any weight once they are growing a baby, and even a harder time gaining once they are in milk. So your best bet is to get them to an optimal weight before you breed them. I, personally, like to have a little excess weight on my heavier milkers before I breed them because I know once they are in milk it will be nearly impossible to increase or even maintain weight.
Always important for your goats is adequate shelter from the wind, rain, or snow as well as from extreme sun and heat. But it’s even more important to be sure they can stay comfortable during the five months they are pregnant. In addition to adequate shelter, you’ll also want your doe to be as healthy as possible before she is bred. Keeping her up-to-date on vaccinations and worming is especially important before her body goes through the stress of a pregnancy.
I’ve made the mistake before of not handling my yearlings quite enough before they are bred, and then once they kid I find it really hard to work with these new mamas with their raging hormones and confusion about having a little one (or more) to care for. I’ve found it’s really worth the investment of time to be sure my young does know how to lead and get handled, jump up on a stand for foot trims, clipping, and other procedures, and in general that they are calm and well-behaved. And speaking of foot trims, this is incredibly important for breeding goats. Trim your goats’ hooves every 6-8 weeks from the time they are kids so that their foot grows properly and can support the added weight that will come with bearing kids.
It’s also a good idea to track your doe’s heat cycles so you know when she’ll be ready to breed and can plan the timing of the kidding dates to fit your needs. You’ll also start to know how that particular doe behaves when she is in heat — some are loud and obvious and others are a bit more sly. By tracking the heat cycles you’ll be ready to breed when the time comes.
It is important not to stress your does out between 2-3 weeks post-breeding as this is the time when the embryos are implanting and pregnancy is beginning. Try to limit stressful changes to your doe’s routines and avoid any travel with her during this time.
Once your doe is bred it will be more important than ever that she has high quality hay or alfalfa as well as free-choice minerals. Healthy mamas make healthy babies! If you want to confirm your doe’s pregnancy you can do this at 30 days with a blood test (sample sent to a lab) or with an ultrasound at 40 days post-breeding. I like to do the blood test at 30 days and at the same time have the lab run a CAE test. If you’re not familiar with caprine arthritis encephalitis, this is an incurable disease that is eventually fatal to goats. The only way to get it out of your herd is to prevent it in the first place. CAE is primarily passed through the mother’s milk so I test everyone when I run pregnancy blood tests so that I know that they are all clear and we don’t accidentally pass the dreaded disease on to new kids if it should happen to occur in a doe.
Two months prior to kidding:
If your doe is still in milk when she is bred, it’s fine to continue milking her for two or three more months, but she should be dry for the last two months of her pregnancy so that all that energy can go to babies. Many breeders like to dry treat does with an intra-mammary infusion to prevent mastitis upon kidding. If you do this, just remember to consider the milk and meat withdrawal times for this medication. And since pregnant goat care includes good conditioning, this is also a good time to adjust her food intake depending on how her weight looks at this stage. If a little underweight, you may start adding a bit more to her diet. If she’s looking extremely large, don’t cut her diet back too far, but don’t overdo it either as this will add to her discomfort and can make for large babies that may be harder to deliver.
One month before kidding:
If your doe has not been eating grain up to this point in her pregnancy, this may be a time to gradually introduce it. Once she is in milk, she will need a lot of extra calories to maintain her milk production, but adding too much grain at one time can lead to bloat or other problems, so use the last month to gradually get her used to a higher volume of richer food. It’s also a good idea to give your doe a CD&T vaccine at this point. Not only is she probably due for her own semi-annual booster, but giving it about a month before kidding will give her kids an added immunity boost until they are old enough to get their own vaccinations.
Don’t forget to include hoof trimming as part of your pregnant goat care plan! I like to trim my does’ hooves about a month before the due date as it will be increasingly difficult for her to jump up onto the stand for trimming the heavier she gets. Growth hormones during pregnancy can make the hooves grow faster, and the added weight she is carrying while pregnant make it all that much more important that she is standing on healthy feet. Another thing I like to do about a month or so before kidding is to trim the long hairs around her tail and back of legs. This makes cleanup after kidding a little easier for everyone!
One week before kidding:
These next few tips are less about pregnant goat care itself as they are about getting yourself ready for the upcoming kidding. The better prepared you are the more likely that your doe will have a calm and successful kidding experience. First, be sure to clean and prepare a kidding stall so that she is comfortable and the kids are born in a somewhat sanitary environment. I prefer not to use shavings as the bedding for the stalls as the babies can inhale the fine wood chips and the shavings will also stick to the wet newborns. Instead, use clean fresh straw for your bedding. You’ll also want to be sure your kidding kit is stocked with all the items you might need, including your vet or a trusted goat mentor’s phone number in case of emergency. It’s also a good idea to have some powdered or frozen colostrum on hand just in case there is any problem with the mother’s milk during the first few hours after birth when it is crucial for the newborn to receive this life-sustaining substance.
A day or two before kidding:
Once you’re within a day or two of your doe’s expected due date, your pregnant goat care shifts to housing. It’s wise to move your doe to a private stall or kidding area with a goat companion for company. She will feel less stressed and the kidding itself will be less chaotic if the whole herd isn’t in her stall pushing and shoving! But since goats are herd animals, you don’t want her to be all alone as that may stress her out. Once she’s settled with a friend, it’s time to start watching for behavioral and physical goat labor signs.
By preparing both yourself and your doe before and throughout her pregnancy, you will be setting her and her new kids up for a healthy and successful start. Soon you’ll be ready for the excitement of the kidding itself and will be welcoming some new little additions to your farm!
Prior to breeding:
- Make sure your doe is at a healthy weight
- Make sure your doe has adequate shelter
- Make sure she is up-to-date on vaccines and if necessary, worming
- Work with your doe to be sure she can be easily handled, jump up on milk stand, etc.
- Keep feet well-trimmed
- Begin tracking heat cycle
- Don’t stress her out 2-3 weeks post-breeding
- Feed high quality hay and/or alfalfa
- Provide free choice minerals
- Confirm pregnancy with blood test or ultrasound
- Do CAE test
Two months before kidding:
- Dry doe off if in milk
- Optional: dry treat with intra-mammary infusion
- Adjust feed/hay amounts if over or under weight
One month before kidding:
- If not currently getting grain, start to gradually introduce grain
- Give CD&T vaccine
- Trim hooves
- Trim long hairs around tail and back of legs
One week before kidding:
- Clean/prepare kidding stall
- Make sure kidding kit is stocked
- Have powdered or frozen colostrum on hand
- Have your vet and/or goat mentor’s phone numbers available
A day or two before kidding:
- Move doe to a private stall or kidding area with a goat companion for company
- Watch for behavioral and physical changes that indicate labor is near
Originally published in the January/February 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.