You're excitedly waiting for your goat to have her babies. What do you need to have on hand? What should you expect?
Goat's have a gestation period of 145-155 days. Some breeds such as the mytotonic goat will go all the way to 160 days. Even if you have a confirmed breeding date, your doe might not kid on day 145. You'll have to watch her closely for labor. Having kids is exciting, but it can also be scary if you don't know what to expect or feel unprepared.
Doe's that are nearing labor may be more friendly and vocal than normal. They will pace and paw at the ground. If they have straw they might mound it up into a nest. They will turn their head and murmur or hum at their belly. Mucous will be visible around their vagina - the mucous plug comes out in the 2 weeks prior to labor, but right before labor there will usually be a thick string of white-yellow mucous hanging out. A doe's ligaments will soften in preparation for kidding, giving the flesh around her tail a sunken appearance.
I prefer to separate my does for kidding. I have a pen for this that is big enough for me and another person to comfortably stand and move around in with the doe. This is helpful in case there is trouble during labor and I need to intervene. The kidding pen has it's own outside run, as well, and I use this pen to raise my bottle kids when I don't have a doe in it. Some will let their doe kid with the herd or even out in the pasture, but the advantage to a kidding pen is that it is easy to observe your doe, she can have access to hay and minerals without getting butted by other goats competing for food, and the doe has time to bond with her kids without the herdmates harassing her or the kids.
Here is a video of Aster giving birth. She had already birthed one kid who is in the corner just off screen. Watch this so you're prepared for your own doe's labor.
There are some risks for pregnant does, including ketosis/pregnancy toxemia, milk fever/hypocalcemia, and retained placenta or retained kids. Usually, though, kidding goes smoothly and mom's instincts guide her on what to do.
What should I do before the kids get here?
If you vaccinate your goats, give your doe a booster CDT vaccine 2-4 weeks prior to kidding. This will boost her antibodies and help provide the kids with immunity until they are old enough for their own vaccines. I vaccinate kids at 8 & 12 weeks of age, though some goat keepers prefer to vaccinate at 4 & 8 weeks of age.
I feed my pregnant does a little bit of grain each day on the stand in the last month of pregnancy. This helps prevent pregnancy toxemia, particularly if the doe is a little fat already. While she's on the milk stand I get a chance to evaluate her, feel her ligaments and her udder, and administer any vaccines or supplements. I like to give my does some selenium/vitamin e gel in the last month of pregnancy. My area is selenium deficient and kids can be born too weak from selenium deficiency.
Make sure water buckets in the kidding pen are hung high enough that a kid cannot accidentally fall into one. I use small 1 gallon water buckets in the kidding pen, clipped to the fence. A kid that falls in a bucket may drown or die from being chilled.
Decide if you will be bottle feeding the kids or letting the doe nurse the kids. If you will be bottle feeding, get your bottles and nipples on hand. I always recommend that you keep colostrum gel or frozen colostrum on hand for kids, in case mom is unable or unwilling to nurse a kid, or lacking colostrum for some reason.
The Kidding Kit:
You will need a thermometer, syringes and needles (I recommend 3ml luer lock syringes and 20 gauge 1" needles), calcium drench, fortified b vitamin complex, molasses, iodine, antibiotics such as oxytetracycline or penicillin, selenium/e paste, nutridrench, flashlight or lantern, scale for weighing kids, ketosis test strips, lube in case you need to reach in to pull a kid, probiotic paste, vinegar, and plenty of towels or puppy pee pads to dry kids off. You should have the phone number of a vet with experience in goats, or at the very least a local goat mentor who can give you advice.
If a doe can't eat enough feed to meet her caloric needs, she might suffer from ketosis. This is a build of ketones in her blood, and it is potentially life threatening. Overweight does are at more risk of ketosis. Keeping does at a healthy weight is very important - I cannot stress enough that you should not over feed a pregnant doe! The first 4 months of pregnancy my does only get pasture and hay, no grain. I feed a small ration of grain daily in the last month of pregnancy to provide extra calories and prevent ketosis.
Symptoms of ketosis include tremors, stumbling, shaking, pressing her head against walls, teeth grinding, a dull look in her eyes or depressed demeanor, and a sweet smell to her breath or urine. Keeping ketosis strips on hand is helpful - you can easily buy these strips at any pharmacy and use them to check your doe's urine.
Treatment: mix 2 parts molasses with 1 part water and give her an ounce every 2 hours until symptoms subside. You can alternatively give 2 oz of nutridrench twice a day. If you have calcium drench, give her 5-8 oz daily for 3 days. To help stimulate her appetite, give her an injection of Fortified Vitamin B Complex and some probiotic paste to restore good gut flora.
Milk fever can strike just before labor or in the week just after kidding. The demand of producing milk depletes the doe's blood of calcium. This condition is easily treated but it can be life threatening.
Symptoms of milk fever include shivering, shaking, weakness or refusal to stand, depressed demeanor, lack of appetite, low body temperature, and stalled contractions. Milk "fever" does not actually present with a fever!
Treatment: 8 to 12 oz of calcium drench, repeat 3 times a day with 5-8 ounces of drench until symptoms subside.
The Kidding Pen
Give your doe a draft-free shelter for kidding. I like to pile plenty of straw in my kidding pen for her to nest in, and to keep kids warm after they arrive. If you have a barn camera in the stall or shelter, it makes it much easier to check on her.
After kids have arrived, make sure to peel away the birthing sack from their nose and mouth so they can breathe. Mom usually takes care of this, but it is very important so the kids don't suffocate in the sack. Mom also usually will clean the kids up, but you can help by using towels or puppy pee pads to start drying them off. Dip their cords and feet in a cup of iodine to prevent bacteria from traveling up the wet cord or through the soft feet and entering their blood stream. Use this time to weigh the kids. Weighing kids daily for the first week, and then weekly after that, to ensure they are gaining weight is helpful in monitoring their health.
Make sure the kids are nursing before you leave them. Kids need the colostrum from mom, it is absorbed the first 24 hours of life. Nursing gives them energy and helps them warm up. If you are bottle feeding, go ahead and give them their first bottle of colostrum. I milk the doe's colostrum out right after birth so I can feed it to the kids. If the kids will be raised by mom, leave her in the kidding pen with them for 3 days to bond before moving them back in with the herd.
Write down the kid's birth date so that you can make sure to give the coccidia prevention on time. Don't forget to take lots of pictures!
Stuck Kid or Retained Placenta
If your doe is having trouble giving birth to a kid you may need to put your hand in to reposition the stuck kid or pull the kid out. Clip your nails very short and wash your hands thoroughly with mild soap and warm water. Apply plenty of lube to your hand and wrist/arm. Have a helper hold the doe still, or use restraints to hold her. Gently slide just two fingers in to feel for a kid, if you don't feel a kid there, continue gently pushing your hand inside to feel for the kid. Kids sometimes get tangled together or are in a bad position, you will need to push them back and turn them. If you can get hold of two feet you can usually pull the kid out - pull with the doe's contractions. If you are unable to get the kid turned or unable to pull the kid out, you need to contact a vet immediately for help.
The afterbirth/placenta normally comes a few hours after kidding. It looks like a big blood filled balloon. Do not pull on the placenta or touch it. Many does eat the placenta, so you may not see it if she consumes it while you are away. Does will continue to have some bloody discharge for 2 to 3 weeks after giving birth. If your doe has not passed the afterbirth after 12 hours, or if you notice a strong odor to her discharge, she might have retained placenta. This isn't very common in goats, but it can cause an infection, so you should flush her with a douche mixture of vinegar and antibiotics to remove the placenta and prevent any infection brewing. If you suspect your doe has a retained placenta, contact a vet for help.