When I brought home my first round of goats, I did a lot of research on how to care for them. I read books, blogs, forums, medical texts, and talked to other goat keepers to learn as much as I could about goats.
When it came time to breed my goats, I did everything I could to make sure they were in prime health. I coddled them through their pregnancies. In fact, I was so nervous about their well-being, that I half-neglected my own.
Well, I was also training to become a Master Gardener back then. So, I had to leave my house for 4 hours to go to a class. Before I did, I checked on the goats. There were no signs to indicate labor was coming, so I went to class unworried.
I came home to find three baby goats running around the goat barn and one dead on the floor. I'd somehow missed everything and lost a baby!
I called the lady I bought this doe from and asked her if she'd had this experience before. She told me that Phoebe, the goat in question, had also snuck off to have triplets without even appearing to be in labor the year before.
Complication # 1: The Surprise Kidder
Since then, Phoebe has had several more rounds of goat babies for me. I've watched her like a hawk to understand her secrets. What I have discovered is that none of the usual signs of labor apply to her.
The ligaments running from her hip to her tail bones don't soften until about 2 hours before labor, rather than 12 hours before, and she carries her babies low. So it's extremely hard to see when her babies drop into birthing position.
Her udder never gets hard. It gets fullish. But it simply doesn't blow up like a balloon in the last 12-24 hours of labor like the rest of my goats. Plus, she is completely silent when giving birth. She doesn't even bleat a tiny bit in discomfort.
Just like in humans, most goats will run approximately the same course when it comes to labor. But, as I discovered my first time through, not all goats will fit the mold. If you have a goat that is hard to read when it comes to signs of labor, then you might need to take alternative measures to be prepared.
For my goat Phoebe, I only take her to my buck when she's in heat, so that way I can calculate her due date with more precision. Then, when we are in range, I give her a few nibbles of alfalfa pellets each time I check on her.
If she turns up her nose at them, she's in labor. That's the only time she turns down food (ever), so I know to stay close from then on.
Complication # 2: Suffocation
Now, my goat Phoebe is basically a freakishly fast developer right at the end. Then, she pops out multiple babies in just a few minutes. I wish all my goats had such easy labor.
The only problem she has, though, is that because the babies come so fast, and she has so many, she can't get them cleaned up before the next one arrives. Plus, for reasons I don't understand, she will only clean them in order of birth.
So, when her last one comes out, if she's still working on the previous baby, she ignores the newest born entirely. With quads, she can't quite get the last one cleaned before that kid succumbs to suffocation.
Whether your goat is a baby factory like my Phoebe or not, the most common goat birth complication is the risk of suffocation. This is why one of the most important, life-saving ways we goat keepers can help our does during labor, is to be ready to clean airways as babies come out.
As kids come out, their nostrils and mouths need to be cleared so they can breathe. Usually, you can rub them clean with a towel. The kids will naturally cough out any mucous stuck in their throats. But, occasionally, if they don't start coughing and clearing their airways, you might need to help.
I read a whole bunch online about swinging kids to clear airways. I did it once and it worked. But, since then I've learned that using a bulb syringe is a much easier way to suction out any blockages.
Complication # 3: Mal-presentation
In a perfect kidding, all goats come out with their feet and head pointed forward. They basically do a belly flop into the world. Every so often though, this doesn't happen as it should.
Unfortunately, I had a kid whose front feet came out to the shoulders. Then its head folded back along its spine. Each time my doe had a contraction, the kid's neck was stretched further back. My doe was having fast, hard contractions at that point. Before I could even get my gloves on to help my doe, the baby died from the trauma.
That kind of mal-presentation is really rare. Hopefully you'll never see it. However, I have also had a few other instances when a single front hoof-poked forward without the head.
Some goat keepers say just wait and see what happens. Even mal-presented babies can come out on their own without assistance most of the time. Plus, some new goat owners may not have enough knowledge of goat anatomy and possible presentations to take corrective action.
In my case, on the advice of my veterinarian, if I see any signs of malpresentation, I immediately put my gloves on and get ready to assist. Before every birth, I also take a few minutes to prepare my “go in and get them kit.”
As mental preparation, I review drawings of birthing positions. Then, I visualize what I would do to correct each mal-presentation so that I am mentally ready if I need to help.
Complication # 4: Too Big
Back before I really understood the importance of choosing dairy goats that were built for breeding, I kept every doe born on my homestead. One of those early does I kept is a milk-producing power-house named Claudine.
Unfortunately, her rump is almost an inch narrower than my next narrowest goat. Her slight frame means she always needs assistance during labor.
Luckily, she's one of those rare goats that can keep milking at full capacity for three years. So, I've only had to breed her twice. But her first kidding was a nightmare.
That poor girl, with her overly narrow rump, had me a single 9-pound buckling. She's only 55 pounds herself. Can you imagine?
That case was pretty extreme and mainly a result of my ignorance about choosing breeding goats. But still, even when a wide-rumped, more robust doe has a single, overly large baby, it can be problematic.
Generally, the risk for overly large single kids is most common in first fresheners. In most cases, intervention by assisting in dislodging the baby is enough. Then, afterward, you may need to give your doe a nutrient drench, some molasses, and alfalfa to help with her recovery.
The kid may also be traumatized by a complicated birth. Check for injuries and treat as necessary. Also, ensure that the kid drinks plenty of colostrum.
In extreme cases when help by pulling is not enough, a cesarean might be necessary to save your doe. This is when having a good veterinarian is important.
Complication # 5: Prolapse
One morning a
I checked her ligaments. Yep, they were soft as could be. She bleated nervously as I petted her too. When another goat approached, she reared up on her hind legs and gave a formidable show of ferocity. Labor was clearly imminent!
I put her in a pen with some goat treats and water and went to look up “red sausage, goat labor” online. That particular search term didn't yield any results, but within a few minutes, I had my answer – anal or rectal prolapse.
Basically, her anal insides were outside because her babies were pushing them out of their way. I read that I should rinse the prolapse well and then put some sugar all over it to reduce swelling. Then, all I had to do was push it back inside.
Well, since I knew Fancy was about to give birth, I figured pushing the prolapse back inside before her contractions ended would be a waste of time. So, I waited until she had her triplets, then I performed the procedure.
It was a weird experience to be sure — you know, handling my goat's innards and all. But the sugar worked like a charm. I kept a close eye on Fancy for a few days to make sure it didn't come back out or that she didn't have adverse effects from such a non-medical seeming procedure. She was really fine.
Anal or rectal, and also vaginal, prolapses are somewhat common during goat labor. If your goat has them every time they kid, they should probably not be used for breeding. But, if it just happens once, then it's relatively simple to fix.
In a severe case, you may need to put in a suture or two to hold the prolapse in place until the muscles take back over and keep it inside. If that doesn't work, it's time to call your vet.
Conclusion to Goat Birth Complications
As a goat keeper, due to some of my own mistakes like keeping goats that are not ideal for breeding, I've run into more than the usual number of goat birth complications. But I am not alone in this.
Many of the best goat keepers who I look to for guidance on how to deal with challenges seem to have had many of the same experiences I've faced. So, while I hope you don't have any of these goat birth complications, they do happen. And, yes – they even happen to good goat keepers.
Be as prepared as you can. Handle goat birth complications to the best of your abilities. If things go wrong, learn from your mistakes.
Oh, and make sure you have the number of a good veterinarian handy. We can do a lot ourselves as competent homesteaders, but sometimes we do need professional advice.
Now, go snuggle your goats. That'll remind you why you are doing this and give you the courage you need to face