If you absolutely must know whether or not your bred goats are pregnant, you can always opt to spend money on blood tests, X-rays, or ultrasounds. But all pregnant goats show some visible signs. Learning to recognize goat pregnancy is a rewarding skill that takes time and practice.
1. Failure to return to heat.
A goat that has not been successfully bred typically comes back into heat on her next cycle. The heat cycle of any individual doe can be anywhere from 17 days to about 25 days, so knowing the length of each doe’s heat cycle will tell you when to watch for her next estrus. A doe that settles (gets pregnant) will not come back into typical heat. She may show some signs of estrus on the next cycle or two, but they won’t be as strong as usual. If she’s visiting a buck, she will display little interest in him. Note that if a pregnant doe resorbs her embryo(s), she may come back into heat on her regular cycle or as much as six weeks after being bred. Another fact about goats is that, if it’s the end of the breeding season, a doe that has not been successfully bred may fail to come back into heat.
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2. Appetite goes up, milk production goes down.
The appetite of a pregnant doe gradually increases. If she’s being milked, her milk production may gradually decrease as her udder recedes. If a milker does not stop production on her own, stop milking her two months before the kids are due, to give her body a rest. Since the gestation period for goats is approximately 150 days, stop milking no longer than 120 days after the doe was bred.
3. The doe’s belly tightens.
Two weeks after a doe is successfully bred, her belly will tighten, a feature you can detect by firmly pressing your fingers against her belly just in front of her udder. A settled doe’s belly will feel tense and tight. An unbred, or open, doe’s belly will feel soft. Note that a doe that is not used to being handled may tense her belly out of nervousness, even if she isn’t pregnant.
4. The doe’s personality changes.
Thanks to the hormone progesterone, a settled doe often experiences a personality reversal, usually within about two weeks. If the doe is normally friendly toward you, she may become standoffish. A doe that is typically shy may suddenly become your best friend, eager for back scratches. This change is temporary, lasting only for the duration of the goat pregnancy.
5. The buck’s personality changes.
If the doe is still housed with the breeder buck, the buck may become aggressive toward the bred doe. An otherwise gentlemanly buck may, for instance, start keeping the doe away from the grain feeder. If you notice how the buck normally acts toward each doe, you will be able to detect any change in his behavior.
6. The doe’s barrel swells.
Some pregnant does start filling out almost right away. Others don’t show until a couple of months after being bred, sometimes appearing to balloon overnight. If you measure each doe’s girth (barrel diameter just behind the front legs) at the time of breeding, and then regularly each month, you can detect this gradual increase in size.
7. The doe’s shape changes.
As her fetus(es) develop, the doe’s right side may stick out farther than the left side. Swelling on the left side indicates a full rumen, although when a doe carries two or more kids, they may press into the rumen and cause her to bulge out on the left as well as on the right, giving the doe a boat-like appearance. Some does, especially those that have kidded before, don’t swell at the side, but instead develop a saggy belly. Other does, especially older ones, barely show at all until some six weeks before goat labor begins.
8. The doe snores.
All goats sometimes snore when they’re resting, especially while taking a siesta on a hot summer afternoon. But during goat pregnancy they snore more and louder than usual. Nothing is funnier than approaching a goat barn to hear a chorus of loudly snoring pregnant does.
9. The doe’s udder swells.
The udder of a goat that has kidded in the past may not begin to fill out until about a month, or sometimes only days, before she’s due to kid. If this is the doe’s first goat pregnancy, her udder should begin to gradually develop about six weeks after she settled and become nicely rounded by 12 weeks into gestation.
10. The kids move.
Three-and-a-half to four months after a doe has settled, you may be able to detect movement of the kid(s) she is carrying. Sometimes you can see them kicking against her side. If you press your spread hands against her right side and belly, ahead of the udder, you may feel the movement, especially if the doe is carrying more than one kid.
If you like surprises, you could always use the wait-and-see method of identifying goat pregnancy. You will know your doe was successfully bred when kids suddenly appear in your barn.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.