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. Guessing on due dates and hoping for the best.
To be honest, when it comes to kidding, that really 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.
After 8+ years of goat kidding seasons, I have found there are 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 it 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.
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 so many clues that a goat owner needs to be aware of. Touch your goats, pet them, 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.
Goat kidding signs – the beginning
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. 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 simply 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 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 my does that are going to kid a few weeks prior to their due date. This does two things. First, it helps me to better see when they begin to bag up and second it will allow me to milk her later on more cleanly. That means less hair in the milk that I have to strain out later.
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 none the less.
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 goat so you know how soon your doe forms her udder.
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.
SLCG PRO TIP: It is important as time goes on that you watch your herd constantly for any changes in their bodies. I suggest taking monthly or even weekly pictures beginning at the time of breeding up until kidding begins. Just keep them on your phone to refer to as time goes on. This was a lifesaver for me when I first began breeding my goats. When your girls grow slowly sometimes those changes are hard to catch. With just a few photographs you will know for sure when bellies grow, babies drop, and lady parts get puffy.
The next few signs are clues labor is really close and you need to be on high alert.
Goat Kidding Signs – The Next Stage
Sign #5 Talking, Biting, or Nibbling at Her Belly
It just 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 with 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. This will do two things.
1. Let you know of any changes in firmness.
2. Prepare your goat for milking which can be quite helpful if your goat is a first freshener and skittish of having her udder touched.
Sign #8 Vulva’s Get Swollen, Red, and Very Puffy
So, before we talked about a swollen back end, now we are talking about very puffy and very swollen and sometimes even red back ends. 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 it will stick out and will be fully noticeable from the side.
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) or an out of the way place so she can have a calm private place to kid where she feels safe and secure.
Goat Kidding Signs – The Final Stage
Sign #9 Discharge
Not everyone sees this sign because you really need to be there when it happens. However, a wet tail can also let you know as well. A long thin white string of discharge, a wet or damp tail, or even a puddle in your goat’s pen all mean kids will be here very very soon.
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. This not only is hard to do but it may upset your goat in the process. This does not mean you can’t move them, I have done so on a few occasions, I have just found it is far less stressful to move early 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 ever hurt the new kids. What they will do is come in for a closer look, sometimes all of them. Goats are incredibly curious and they 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 moving 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. 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 does has her head against the wall you know you are minutes away from kids. This is just a way that they brace 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 do 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!!
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 do while standing or laying 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 a baby monitor 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 video monitors or even security cameras. We, however, do not so audio is all we can use 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. There is nothing 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 of goat kidding signs? Share in the comments below, we would love to hear from you!