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Early signs of goat labor

Playing with goats

I'm stealing Mark's spot to hit up our readers for timely advice. This morning, I became convinced that Abigail was going into labor, but now I'm not sure if what I'm seeing counts as contractions. At intervals, I'll see a ripple slide across her baby bump, often with a bulgy kid-part pushing out in an ungainly fashion. Once, I put my hand there and felt a hard kid hoof. Is this simply kids repositioning pre-labor, or do those movements count as contractions?

Goat chewing her cud

Other signs of imminent delivery abound. I caught Abigail arching her back like a cat once this morning, she's been yawning frequently, and she seems intent upon scratching the top of her head against the fence. Actually, our usually standoffish goat even came over and lay down right in front of me, then put her head in my lap asking for a head scratch. Meanwhile, Abigail has also been adamantly chasing our little doeling out of her immediate vicinity. Otherwise, though, she seems content to eat hay and chew her cud as usual.

So, what do you think --- should I be camping out in the starplate coop and locking our doe in her kidding stall, or relaxing until tomorrow?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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When it' s real labor you'll know. The contractions are very obvious towards the end. You'll notice a relaxed vulva with maybe a discharge before things get going. Several of girls get "needy" , wanting us with them. : )
Comment by Rys Sat Feb 28 17:49:58 2015
I have no advice on goats. But you are awesome, amazing, homesteaders, doing really cool hard things.
Comment by Kathleen Sat Feb 28 22:54:43 2015
Comment by Terry Sun Mar 1 09:20:39 2015

No advice really since I have never owned a goat, only cows and sheep. Probably what you're seeing is the babies or baby getting in position. She'll be uncomfortable and will seek you out and want your other goat to leave her alone because frankly it hurts a bit.

She's getting close! Good Luck!

Comment by Nita Sun Mar 1 09:32:25 2015

Hi Anna,

I found your blog recently and I am enjoying the reading.

Do you know when your doe bred and when she is due? Is this her first kidding? These are things I always take into account when watching for signs of labor in a doe.

The last few days before giving birth, my does usually, but not always show some specific signs. Are her hips spread and loose? Has her udder been filling, but is still soft, or in the last 24 hours has it really filled in and become much firmer? This does not happen with all does, but it does with many of them in my experience. The yawning and arching of the back may be signs of the kids shifting into position for birthing and an expression of the pain that comes with the final days of preparation of the doe's body. She may also pass some mucous, some but not a lot, a few weeks before she goes into labor.

Right before hard labor, if you happen to be in the vicinity, you will be able to see her vertebrae from her hip bones down to her tail become very pronounced, with the hips looking very boney and hollow. Sometimes you will see her vulva suck in rather dramatically with the onset of hard contractions. Once she is in hard labor she may lay down and get up many times. My does will usually, but not always lay down for a hard contraction. Sometimes if they are standing there is a very pronounced sudden arching of the back. If they are laying down, many times the back legs will be stuck out straight and their heads are pointed straight up. Be ready. Some goats holler, loudly, as they have the last hard contractions right before birth. Some don't. The first time I heard that I really thought something was wrong, but it wasn't. But it could be.

If your doe is laying down and pushing for all she is worth for 30 minutes or so and nothing is happening, there is probably two kids trying to come out together. Then you have to go in and sort them out, so they can be born. The doe will not be able to give birth otherwise and will tire herself out trying. I really hope this doesn't happen to you. It can be very nerve wracking, but still result in a successful birth and healthy animals. The first time will be the hardest. Then after that, you'll know what to do.

I have quite a few articles on our blog detailing and showing pictures of many of the things I have tried to describe if you want to look them over. I hope this has been some help to you and that your doe has strong healthy babies. By the way, if I'm there when the kids are born, I scoop the mucous out of their mouths and dry them off with a towel, while leaving them laying right there with the doe, right after they are born. Especially if it's cold. We have never used a heat lamp or any source of outside heat. Just make sure they are dry and fed and have fresh dry hay to snuggle in after all of the birthing liquid is passed.

Please contact me with any questions I can help you with. I love having goats, milking, and making cheese. It's a great way to live. Best of luck.


Comment by Fern Sun Mar 1 09:39:19 2015
Thank you to everyone for your insightful comments! This morning, Abigail looked like she wasn't quite ready to pop out kids yet, so I think you were all right that this was merely the precursor stage while kids are getting into position to be born. Ligaments actually feel a bit firmer than yesterday, and although there's a little discharge, it's the same whitish stuff I saw a bit of last week. So, maybe I'm just a nervous nellie and the kids will come at their later possible due date.
Comment by anna Sun Mar 1 10:10:41 2015
I have nothing whatsoever useful to add, but I have been checking your blog more than once a day for at least a month now in anticipation of the big day. Who knew someone else's goat could be so exciting? Wishing you all luck and ease and health for the new kid(s).
Comment by Rhiannon Sun Mar 1 14:14:34 2015

In my experience, the doe sometimes becomes more vocal and looks around at her backside beginning a couple of days before kidding. One of my girls always starts licking me around that time. The udder will bag up noticeably.
The ligaments around the spine above the tail loosen considerably, so that you can almost wrap your hand around the spine right there.
The vulvar area spreads out and looks soft and pink. Look at her bottom as often as makes you happy.. look for the mucus. It will be a big drippy strand. When you see that, labor is imminent. Good luck to you and Abigail!

Comment by Suzanne Mon Mar 2 09:40:53 2015
Go Anna!!! We're all following with anticipation.!!!!!
Comment by Donna Tue Mar 3 10:20:29 2015
My mamma goat has been showing signs of kidding for the past 2 days. Her shanks are hollowing and her tail is thinning. She has also been having a thick milky discharge. I'm a "momma goat newbie" and am wondering if this is a normal discharge before giving birth. Thanks in advance for any advice you can give me.
Comment by Lynne Thu Oct 1 15:48:43 2015
Lynne --- Please keep in mind I've only been present at one goat birth, so take my advice with a grain of salt. That said, I saw some whitish mucous from our doe a full five days before our kid was born. So you may still have a few days left. Good luck! I hope it goes well.
Comment by anna Thu Oct 1 16:29:04 2015

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