The ability to identify goat labor signs gives you notice when it’s time to move the doe to a private area where she can concentrate on the job at hand without interference from the other goats. Knowing goat labor signs also alerts you to be available in case the doe should need your help. Unfortunately, not all pregnant goats show signs that kidding is imminent, but most does show at least some of the following signs.
1. The doe bags up.
“Bagging up” is the way goat keepers describe the development of a doe’s udder, or bag, so she can provide milk for her kids. The process of bagging up and producing milk is called “freshening.” If the doe is a first freshener, her udder will mature gradually, starting around six weeks after she was bred and continuing to fill out as birthing time approaches. If the doe has previously given birth, her udder should have receded while her previous milk cycle was on the decline. Such an older doe may start bagging up a month before she’s due to kid, or she may not bag up until mere days before giving birth. Then again, I’ve had does not bag up until after they gave birth. In most cases, when the udder looks tight and shiny, and the teats tend to point slightly to the sides, kids will appear within about a day.
2. The pelvic ligaments loosen.
Just prior to kidding, the hormone relaxin causes the pelvic ligaments to relax. The pelvic ligaments run beside the doe’s tail, one on each side. If you place the palm of your hand above the doe’s tail, fingers pointed toward the rear, and press down with your thumb and forefinger while moving your hand toward the base of the tail, you will encounter what feels like a thin, stiff rope on each side of the tail. This technique is easier to master on does that are neither fat nor heavily muscled. Practice finding these ligaments so you know what they normally feel like. When the doe nears kidding time, the ligaments lose their tautness and, as a result, the tail looks a little gimpy. When you can’t feel the ligaments at all, expect kids within the day. Many goat keepers find this method to be the most reliable goat labor sign.
3. The doe changes shape.
As kidding time nears and the kids start moving into position, the doe’s belly sags. Within about 12 to 18 hours before she gives birth when you press your palms against her flank, you will no longer be able to feel the kids moving around. As the kids drop, the doe’s sides hollow and her hip bones stick out. As the area above the back legs sinks, the spine appears to become more prominent.
4. The doe discharges mucus.
As kidding time nears, you may see a thick string of white or yellowish mucus dangling from the doe’s vaginal opening. Note that some does will drip cloudy mucus as much as a month prior to kidding. What you’re looking for just prior to kidding is a thick discharge that looks like a long, continuous rope.
5. The doe seeks solitude.
A doe will sometimes separate herself from the rest of the herd just prior to kidding. She may wander off into a pasture and appear to be staring at the ground, mesmerized. This doe is seriously considering having her kids outside, which can be a problem if the weather is rainy or freezing. Try to coax her into a private area under cover. Some goats just want to be alone with they kid — like one first freshener I had that insisted on kidding under a pine tree in a pasture covered with snow. Other does seem to delay kidding until the moment I turn my back. On the other hand, I’ve had does that apparently held off until I got there, whereupon “plop” — out came the kids, one right after the other.
6. The doe gets restless.
A doe that’s going into labor can’t decide if she wants to lie down or stand up. When she’s up, she’ll pace, turn in circles, paw the ground, and sniff at the bedding. She’ll repeatedly stretch, yawn, and maybe grind her teeth. She may look back as if trying to see what’s behind her and lick or bite at her sides. If you visit her in the kidding stall, she may lick your face, hands, and arms.
7. The doe won’t eat.
When a goat’s pregnancy is nearly over, she may not eat for the last few hours, even up to a day.
I’ve never seen a clear explanation as to why this might be. Maybe the pressure of the kids against her rumen makes the doe feel full. On the other hand, some does will eat right up until they kid, and even grab a bite in the middle of giving birth to twins.
8. The doe becomes vocal.
Within a day or so of kidding, some does start bleating in a voice that only a mama doe uses to communicate with her kids. When labor starts, many does let out a loud bawl with each contraction. As contractions get close together, the doe usually grunts as she pushes. You should see the first kid within about 30 minutes.
9. The calendar says so.
Just as a calendar comes in handy for keeping track of a goat’s heat cycle, so also will it tell you when her kidding time is near. If you were on hand when the doe mated with a buck, you can make a pretty close estimate of when she will kid. The gestation period for goats is approximately 150 days, although a doe may kid as much as three days early or five days late. If you keep a record of when your does are bred and when they kid, next time around you’ll have a more accurate idea which doe is likely to kid a little early and which might kid a little on the late side.
10. The water bag bursts.
When the doe starts pushing, you may see a water bag protruding from the vaginal opening. The bag may burst or may come out intact. A second bag, filled with dark fluid, may appear. These bags consist of membranes containing amniotic fluid. They surround and protect the kid(s) up until the time of birth. The next thing you will likely see are the tips of a kid’s front toes, with a tiny nose resting on top. This is the exciting moment you’ve been waiting for — the goat labor sign that indicates the beginning of a normal delivery.
Originally published in 2016 and regularly vetted for accuracy.