Originally published in the January/February 2017 issue of Dairy Goat Journal. Subscribe for more great stories!
By Katherine Drovdahl, MH CR CA DipHIr CEIT QTP
So you’ve been crossing off the days, anxiously awaiting your new bundle(s) of joy that the goat stork will surely bring. Or so you thought. Now you’re not so sure. No matter how many years you’ve been breeding goats you will find that there will usually be one or two situations that will have you scratching your head looking for answers most every year. Caprine pregnancies are not exceptions to this. I’ve had breeders with a couple more into goats (we’re nearing 20 years) tell me that they have thought for sure that a doe wasn’t pregnant only to have them kid just one day later. Most of us have probably also heard of surprise kiddings from does that one didn’t think were bred or does kidding three weeks before expecting them. Or a doe testing as pregnant later coming back as open. I’ve had most of these happen right here on my farm. How do these things happen? Let’s explore some of these things that goats can keep us guessing on.
You will hear this many times from many people. It is important to write down every breeding date on a doe. Every time. Even the ones that you breed on your way to running an errand into town because you just noticed that Hallie goat is hanging out near the buck pen flagging away. I mention this because I too have missed writing one of these down every few years. The other reason is you may have a doe recycle and of course your appropriate response to that is to rebreed her. Her response to that may be to actually kid on the first breeding and not the one you just did. That is why Lullaby surprised us by kidding three weeks before we were expecting kids in early 2000. She wasn’t ovulating on heat number two but her hormones hadn’t gotten in sync enough to not show a heat that “second” cycle. This is also important so that you can keep records to see if you get repeat performances from a particular doe or family line. It’s also important so that you are feeding your doe correctly for a third trimester doe. Most does kid somewhere in the 140 to 155 day window, with 140 being usually the earliest safe full term deliveries, 150 being considered “standard” which your goat won’t read, and over 150 days common for Swiss and Nubian breeds. My LaManchas used to religiously kid at 146 to 148 days as is common with this breed that doesn’t need extra time to “bake on ears” (just kidding). One of the benefits I’ve found with an alternative herd is that my LaManchas have actually moved their due dates to 150 to 152 days, allowing those kids another two to six days of maturation in utero.
Now how could even an experienced breeder miss a doe being pregnant? Actually it’s not that difficult. A large doe carrying a small single kid can have enough depth and width to hide their pregnancy. Very deep bodied does combined with gravity can hold the kid or kids down low in the body never filling in their flank area which is something I can usually notice beginning around ten weeks of gestation. Also an overweight doe can sometimes hide a pregnancy. Though their udder will usually start developing a few days to a few weeks before kidding, they don’t have to actually fill an udder until actual kidding or immediately afterwards. I have found that the more years I get from having had a vaccinated/chemical raised herd, the less likely I’m to have a doe that will udder up weeks in advance causing her discomfort and increased likelihood of mastitis.
I’ve had two does kid that I didn’t think were bred. Both of those were off of “clean-up buck” breedings to old does. One was a doe that hadn’t been bred for several years due to mobility issues that we didn’t expect to breed at 11 ½. Well, we have her son, Hallel here from this year’s kiddings so that’s what I get for thinking. We had a 13 1/2 take a few years ago, that we didn’t think was ovulating anymore. So… If you really don’t want a doe bred, make sure she’s not in the pen if you decide to run a buck in the doe pen late season to catch any does that reabsorbed.
Let me briefly go over common methods of pregnancy checking which are all close to 100% accurate before we discuss why a goat may become open after testing pregnant. Any of these can be performed at 30 days or later after breeding your doe. Ultrasound can be performed by a veterinarian or an experienced breeder and can often give you a count of how many kids are in there at the time. Remember that at this stage kids are easy to lose and reabsorb, so you may not actually put that many on the ground. This is my least favorite method due to cost and possible risk to tiny nerves and a tiny young nervous system developing. A milk sample can be directly milked into a milk sample vial (fill at least half way full) and mailed to a DHIA lab that accepts milk tests for pregnancy checks. These tests are about $4 before shipping and are considered 96 to 98% accurate. One can also use BioTracking (www.biotracking.com) or call 1-208-882-9736 MST to get information on sending in a blood test to them or one of their associate labs. This test costs $4.50 to $6.50 depending on the lab used and is considered 99.9% accurate on goats at least 30 days post breeding. For most people drawing blood is easy to learn from your veterinarian, another experienced goat breeder or even by watching a video on www.Youtube.com. The blood and milk testing labs will provide you with paperwork with your test response level showing them as open, bred or needing a recheck if they fall on borderline numbers.
So, now what about the doe that pregnancy checked as bred but then shows up open again? What happened? Just like with human or other mammal pregnancy a bred doe may not retain her precious cargo. Mechanical injury to the uterus area can come from a doe fighting hard or falling hard. A slip from a milk stand or even on a wet or muddy surface can be all it takes to slip a young kid or kids off of the umbilicus. If these kids are younger than third trimester their body will often break down and reabsorb the unborn kid or kids. A doe that is in very late second trimester or in third trimester will usually abort the kids. A doe that gets overly stressed from a move to a different farm during pregnancy (even if you think she looks fine her immune system is still taking a big hit), is stressed because of a dog or predator chase, goes through a larger health crisis or anything else that may cause her body to become very acidic very fast or drop stress hormones fast may cause her body to lose the pregnancy. A doe with inferior housing in which she doesn’t feel safe (stress hormones), isn’t protected from weather or is malnourished may also drop a pregnancy in favor of sustaining the doe. Of course, there are also disease conditions such as Chlamydia from cats, Q Fever or other conditions that can cause a pregnancy to terminate after a positive pregnancy test.
So how do you know whether you should retest a goat or not once she’s been determined to be bred? Most goats will hold their pregnancies just fine, so I don’t want you to panic thinking your goat or goats may lose theirs. They probably won’t. Here’s a story showing how we found one to be open this year after a positive blood test.
We required a doe in mid-September of last year from out of state. She came to us having been bred two months prior with a recent blood test showing her as bred. The blood test was done so that we would know how to take care of her and when to adjust our care according to her pregnancy. She’s a mellow doe and we kept her separate from the herd, but next to the herd so they could get used to each other without being able to pound on each other as we didn’t want to jeopardize the unborn kids. A day after the herd has lost interest in her we turned her in with the herd and didn’t notice any abnormal behavior from her or her herd mates so we expected all would be well. However a month later (mid-October) she began acting a bit bucky which was a tip off that her hormones were changing. She also started hanging out near our buck pen, but did not exhibit any in-heat behavior such as trying to rub on the buck, the fencing or flagging her tail. She also wasn’t vocal. In my herd it’s not normal for a doe to act bucky after she is settled (pregnant from the previous cycle). Then two months after she arrived almost to the day, she came into a very obvious strong heat as evidenced by intense flagging, rubbing on the fence and reaching through the cattle panel to rub her head on the buck. The timing was perfect for her to have reabsorbed her pregnancy and then begin to recycle again—typically considered about two months if they are going to recycle again the same season and be breedable. It would be normal to rebreed if they exhibit a normal appearing cycle without any abnormal discharge, so we did. Leaving her unbred another year (she has been unbred and dry for some time) could decrease our ability to get her bred a year later. To be on the safe side we drew blood the day after breeding and sent this sample into Biotracking. She did indeed come up with her numbers strongly showing her as “open,” indicating she had lost her first pregnancy awhile back. Remember since it takes a 30-day minimum of pregnancy to get a good progesterone reading in the blood it was fine to draw the blood the day after breeding for a test.
There are things you can do to minimize losing kids. Be sure your doe is well nourished and properly housed. In fact, if she is on a raising plane of nutrition a few weeks before and at breeding then you may encourage her body to ovulate more and increase your opportunities for more kids. Being sure they have housing that keeps rain, snow and wind off of them, which enough fresh air moving above their body levels to keep urine or stale air from building up in their stalls. Avoid moving does once they are bred. I didn’t have a choice in this situation as she was already bred before I got her back home and this was her second move of the year. Because of this I don’t sell does once I have bred them but will kid them out before I offer them for sale again. We did have a large out-of-state move this past January (2016) in which we moved our entire herd at 3 ½ to four months of gestation without a single loss of pregnancy. It did help that the herd moved together and didn’t change owners or routines. Using lavender or small amounts of clary sage with them at times of a move which help keep their systems calm. I also feed a natural whole food vitamin E source black oiled sunflower seeds (watch for mold!), cold pressed natural sunflower seed oil or wheat germ oil to help placentas to stay strongly attached to the uterine wall. Of course it’s wise to stop feeding the vitamin E source a couple weeks from their due dates so their placenta will want to let go post kidding. It takes some time for the placenta to be strengthened this way so for best results start feeding these a few weeks before you plan any moves. I routinely feed my goats a natural E source all year long except just prior to kidding.
Happy New Year Blessings including a barn being full of happy, healthy bouncy kids!
About the author: Katherine and her beloved husband Jerry are owned by their LaManchas, horses, alpacas and gardens on a small piece of paradise in Washington State. Her varied international alternative degrees and certifications including Master of Herbology and lifelong experience with creatures of many kinds give her unique insight into guiding others through human or creature wellness problems. Her wellness products and consultations are available at www.firmeadowllc.com.
Originally published in the January/February 2017 issue of Dairy Goat Journal. Subscribe for more great stories!