I once asked a goat farmer; how do you know if your goat is pregnant. He replied, “If kids hit the ground in 5 months…then you know your goat is pregnant.”
Not much help, I know. I sure didn’t think so either.
Those first few seasons, I pretty much stumbled along with my herd. I was guessing on due dates and hoping for the best.
To be honest, when it comes to kidding, that isn’t a bad way to go about things. Goats have been having babies for thousands of years, and if they were able to get along just fine, not knowing when the kids were coming, then we can too.
The problem is most of us goat farmers also have lives.
We have families and kids. Soccer practice and girl scout meetings. Things we need to plan for and places we need to be.
And let’s face it, we also want to sleep. You know the old saying, a watched pot doesn’t boil? That is true with goats as well. A watched goat, for some reason, will refuse to kid for just about as long as she is able.
My first year, I went out to check on my goats every hour for a few days straight. By the time they actually began kidding I was beyond exhausted and of very little help.
So, having a basic idea of when your goats are going to have their babies will be a bit more than helpful for you and your schedule.
USE OUR GOAT BREEDING CALCULATOR: If you want to know just when your goat will be due to kid, you can enter the breeding date here and get your target due date!!
After 8+ years of goat kidding seasons, I have found quite a few signs that will help you better pinpoint when your goats are getting ready to kid. This list is pretty much my own experiences with my own herd.
It is not even close to scientific or even a strict rule of thumb. But it is my go-to list for what to look for as kidding season approaches so I can, at the very least, have my kidding kit and birthing pens all set up and ready to go.
If you are not sure what a goat birth kit or a kidding pen are, you may want to bookmark those articles to read next. These are two vital parts of kidding that I encourage you to have set up.
They will not only help you to relax, knowing you are ready for just about anything that might come up, but they will help your goats relax as well. And a relaxed goat is crucial to a healthy delivery.
If you want to know just when your goat will be due to kid, you can enter the breeding date here and get your target due date. [widget id=”custom_html-22″]
SLCG Pro Tip: I cannot stress enough the importance of having goats that are people-friendly. This means they are not only comfortable having you near but also having you touch them. Goat fur can mask many clues that a goat is declining in health. Touch your goats, pet them, and feel them. Get acquainted with their body condition so you will be aware when things change not only for kidding clues but for health issues as well.
How long is a goat in labor?
From start to finish, goats can labor for a few hours up to 12 or sometimes longer. Once the sack is visible, kids will usually be born within the hour.
Goat kidding signs – the beginning
Disclaimer: In accordance with FDA guidelines, the information and products offered on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. I am not a medical professional. Before administering any hands-on care, treatment, or medications to your animals please contact a veterinarian first.
Sign #1 Tail Ligaments Become Loose
Tail ligaments are pencil-like rods that run down the rump area of the goat right before the tail. If you are standing behind your goat the ligaments will form an upside-down V.
To find the goat’s tail ligaments, you will want to run your hand down over her spine. As you get close to the tail gently squeeze until you feel the chord-like ligaments.
You should be able to feel the ligaments at the base of the tail about midway through gestation. As a goat’s due date approaches, these ligaments will soften allowing you to pinch your fingers closer together.
A goat’s ligaments will continue to soften until they disappear altogether, allowing you to pinch only what feels like the skin between your thumb and finger.
I suggest getting into the habit of checking each pregnant doe’s ligaments daily. You can do this as you are feeding. While your doe is eating, run your hand down your goat’s back, gently squeezing as you go. Make a mental note of how thin the ligaments are.
This daily habit will also serve to “train” your goat to be more comfortable with you touching her. Even friendly goats may not like to be handled when in labor and by teaching them now that you are safe, they will be more likely to allow you to intervene if necessary.
Sign#2 Your Goat Begins to Form an Udder
As kidding approaches, a goat will begin to produce milk in her udder. This is called “bagging up”. A full udder will be more obvious in older goats that have kidded before.
Not only that, but goats with thicker or dark fir, like our goat Gracy in the picture below, can really hide a full udder. That is why it is so important to touch your goats. Get into the habit of feeling their udders so you are more aware as it starts to fill.
SLCG Pro Tip: I like to shave the udders of our does a few weeks prior to their kidding date. This not only helps me to better see when they begin to bag up, but it also allows me to milk her, later on, more easily. Less hair on the udder means less hair in the milk bucket.
The time range for udders filling can be anywhere from a few weeks before kidding up until a few hours. Not much help, I know, but a sign to watch for nonetheless.
This is where individual goat experience comes in handy. The first year your new goats have their kids will set the stage for each year following. Keep a good log on each of your goats, so you know how long before kidding her udder fills with milk.
This log will come in quite handy as a comparison in the following years not only for each goat in particular but your herd in full.
Sign #3 Swollen Vulva
The vulva is the entrance to the goat’s vagina. It is found under the tail and below the anus. Usually, the vulva is small and tight, hardly noticeable at all.
When labor is approaching the vulva will begin to loosen and look swollen.
This is how their body prepares for labor and the size of the babies to come. The puffier the vulva gets, the closer your goats are to kidding.
Again, not all goats will have this sign, but many of them will. Know your goats from day one, so it is easier for you to see any changes that may alert you that kidding is coming soon.
Sign #4 Babies Drop
As your doe approaches her due date her babies will drop. You can see this by a slight indentation of their upper belly close to their spine. Just like we do before we have our own children, the doe’s kids will drop into position prior to labor.
It is important as time goes on you continually watch your herd consistently for any changes to their bodies. I suggest taking pictures beginning at the time of breeding up until kidding with your phone. This was a lifesaver for me when I first began breeding my goats.
When your does grow slowly, those subtle changes can be hard to catch. By documenting everyone’s progress with photographs you will know for sure when bellies grow, babies drop, and udders fill.
Goat Kidding Signs – The Next Stage
The next few signs are clues that labor is close and you need to be on high alert. I find it helpful to have a goat birthing kit set up and ready to go so if any of our goats deliver early I have all my tools close by.
Sign #5 Talking, Biting, or Nibbling at Her Belly
It amazes me how the maternal instinct will kick in even for first-time fresheners (AKA first-time goat mamas). During the last few weeks, your goat may begin nibbling at her belly or singing in a low hum. This is mama’s way of talking to her kids.
Instinct tells her something is going to happen even if she is not aware of what. Nibbling at her side or humming to her belly is a good sign things are getting close. It is also a good sign that your goat will be a very attentive mother to her kids.
Sign #6 Tail Ligaments are Completely Gone
As I said before, it is a good idea to check your doe’s tail ligaments every day. This is just another way for you to be aware of any changes.
When your finger and thumb can just about touch that means those ligaments are gone and babies are very close.
Sign #7 Udders Get Hard
Another sign kids are close is a hard and sometimes shiny udder. This is another crucial area you will want to get into the habit of checking daily.
How do you check a goat’s udder?
You feel it with your hands. Before an udder fills you will feel nothing other than your goat’s belly. After it begins to fill you will feel a bag beginning to form. As it continues to fill it will get large and hard and shiny.
Another reason to shave your goat’s udder is so you can see when changes happen more easily.
This will do two things.
- Let you know of any changes in firmness.
- Prepare your goat for milking, which can be quite helpful if your goat is a first freshener and skittish about having her udder touched.
Sign #8 Vulva’s Get Swollen, Red, and Very Puffy
Early in this article, we talked about a swollen back end, as a goat is getting closer to kidding her swollen back end will turn puffy and sometimes even red.
This, again is your doe preparing for the birth and her body doing all that it can to be ready for those kids and delivery.
At this point, things will be so puffy that her vulva will stick out and will be fully noticeable from the side.
Goat Kidding Signs – The Final Stage
These final signs usually happen just hours or even minutes before kidding. If you see any of these signs, get your goat into a birthing pen if you have one, if not you can see how to set up a birthing pen here.
If you do not have a birthing pen or room to set up one, try to at least find a corner that is away from the rest of the herd to help your doe have a space where she feels safe and secure.
Sign #9 Discharge
Not everyone sees this sign because you need to be there when it happens. However, a wet tail can also let you know as well.
What does discharge look like?
This can be a small drip to a long thin white string of creamy discharge reaching all the way to the ground. Another sign is a wet or damp tail or even a puddle in your goat’s pen.
Sign #10 Pawing at the ground
If your doe is pawing or scuffing the ground, she is just preparing a bed for her and her babies.
Again this is her maternal instinct telling her kids are about to come.
If you have not moved your doe to a private area, now is the time to do so.
There is nothing worse than moving after labor begins. I had to do this once and it was not only upsetting to my goat it was upsetting to me. This does not mean you can’t move them; I have just found it is far less stressful to move early rather than late.
This is true for both you and your goat.
I want to be clear that you do not need to worry that the other goats in your herd will intentionally hurt the new kids. It’s intentional harm that I am speaking of.
What they will do is come in for a closer look, sometimes all of them at once. Goats are incredibly curious, and they will want to see what is happening and smell what is new.
They do not mean any harm but your goat that is kidding may not realize this and panic causing her to move around and possibly hurting newborn kids or herself.
At the very least, you will want to have a goat kidding pen cleaned and ready to go. This is simply a private stall or area that has fresh bedding, hay, and water—all the things your goat will need both during and after the delivery of her kids.
Sign #11 Stargazing
You know, when I heard about this sign, I never really understood what it meant. After having goats, I totally get it.
My expectant does will just stare off into space, chewing their cud and humming a bit. Yes, they actually hum. I relate it to a sort of meditation—another way they are preparing for kidding and all that is about to happen.
Not all of my does do this, but surprisingly most of them do.
Sign #12 Heads Against the Wall
If your doe has her head against the wall, you know you are minutes away from kids. This is their way of bracing themselves during a contraction.
I have only had a few does do this, so I do not consider this sign a common one; however, I want you to be aware of it.
Heads on the wall mean babies. Right now.
Bonus sign: Another sign that you might notice is your doe peeing quite frequently but not actually doing anything. This is a huge sign that pushing is about to commence!!
What do goat contractions look like?
There are a few clues that will tell you your goat is having a contraction. Here are the most common.
- Head against the wall – Usually, a goat does this to help with the pressure and pain.
- Star gazing – Before things get intense, a goat may stare off into space until a contraction is over.
- Grunting – A goat may grunt, moan, or even yell when they are having a contraction.
- Fidgeting – Goats tend to move around a lot as contractions start. Standing up, lying down, standing up again.
- Teeth grinding – If contractions are painful a goat may grind her teeth.
- Licking or biting – A goat may try to lick or bite their back end during contractions.
Sign #13 Pushing
The most obvious sign is when your doe is pushing. Something that can be seen as well as heard.
This will begin as a low grunt sound that she may make while standing or lying down. As her labor progresses, the grunt will get longer and louder.
More often than not, labor will happen with your doe lying down, but this is not always the case.
There will always be a doe or two that prefers to kid standing up, so listen for the intensity of the push to know just how close things are.
Do not panic if your goat is a screamer; there are always a few in the herd. Just know this is not so much in pain as it is them pushing with all they’ve got.
SLCG Pro Tip: Our barn is close enough to our house that we are able to use baby monitors to help us hear if anything is happening. This can be quite useful in the winter and at night. If you live in a good area with good internet, you can also use a video monitor or even a security camera. We, however, do not have good internet, and that means our only option is a baby monitor, but it does work surprisingly well. Pushing is a very distinguishable sound, and when you hear it once, you will always be able to recognize it.
Knowing the signs of kidding isn’t necessary, but it sure is helpful, especially on a small homestead. When room or shelter is scarce, having a clue or two when a goat is about to kid can keep things from getting chaotic.
My advice to you is to have a game plan in place for when your doe begins to kid, so you are not caught off guard. Remember, your goats, whether a first freshener or a third, will have the instincts to know just what to do and how to do it.
About 95% of all kidding happens without any problems at all. However, there is always a chance that something can go wrong. Here are just a few things to remember before the big day arrives.
Goat Kidding Checklist:
- Have a goat kidding kit prepped and ready to go.
- Alert your vet when things get close and let them know you may be calling for help or advice. Nothing is more important than having a goat you can call when you need help. If there is no large animal vet in your area, you can look out further or find a local goat farmer instead. Sometimes a little encouragement and advice can make all the difference when things get sketchy.
- Prepare a birthing stall or a part of your barn or shed that will keep your doe and her kids safe from the elements and other goats.
- Finally, have your camera ready for some adorable goat kid pictures!
Do you have a plan that you refer to for goat-kidding signs? Share in the comments below; we would love to hear from you!