Contents
Industry Background
Management
Nutrition
Animal Health
Breeding
Fibre Production
Fibre Marketing
Meat Production and Marketing
Pasture and Weed Control
Economic Analysis
Tanning Skins

B14

Management at Kidding

  • Dr. Elke Scheurmann School of Agriculture and Forestry, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIc. 3052.

Timing of Mating and Kidding

The most important component in a management plan is to decide during which months the goats will kid. In most parts of Australia, goats mate when day length decreases and five months later they kid. The kidding season usually coincides with maximal pasture growth during peak lactation of the does. Consequently the growth rate of kids from birth to weaning depends a lot on the time they are born. Usually, the later in spring the kids are born, the lower is their growth rate. Unfortunately in many parts of Australia the weather is cold, wet and windy, in early spring when the natural kidding season starts.

The goat producer therefore has to decide upon kidding early or late in spring. Kidding late in the season may have the benefit of low kid mortality from weather influence, but may have the consequence of low pre and post weaning growth rate.

Autumn kidding is possible but advisable only if pre-joining food supply is sufficient to guarantee a high ovulation rate in the does and if pasture growth has started sufficiently at a time when the goats are due to kid. It is essential that the plane of nutrition can be raised during four weeks before kidding and can be kept at a high level at least for two months after kidding. In many areas of Australia, that will not be possible in Autumn and early winter. In these, kidding has to coincide with maximum pasture growth.

Available Labour

In stud flocks where individual kidding records have to be kept and kids have to be individually identified and tagged soon after birth, the work load connected with that is much greater than in flock kidding.

In herds where no person can be employed for this purpose, efficiency and accuracy of flock records are usually low as one person can spend only little time with the does. The higher the number of does, the less time and individual care can be given to each individual animal.

The workload that the breeder creates at kidding time is predetermined by the attention (or lack of attention) that is given to joining. The better the condition of the goat at joining (but not too fat), the higher the ovulation rate, the better the response of the does to the introduction of the buck and the shorter the mating period.

In a well fed flock of does, the first few does are mated during the first week after the introduction of the buck, a few more during the second week and approximately 60-70% during the third and fourth week of joining. Then the mating activity tails off with a further smaller peak in the sixth week, where does that have not been mated during their first oestrous cycle are finally mated. The oestrous cycle of the does is 18 to 21 days long.

From the management's point of view, the first two weeks and the last week of joining are expensive, as the 10-15% of does that are mated early and late during the six week joining period need nearly as much time invested in their supervision as the 85-90% that kid in the main three week kidding period.

To reduce the kidding season to 3 or 4 weeks, the following choices are possible:

  1. Two to three weeks before joining shift all your bucks to that part of the farm which lies in the main wind direction and shift the total doe herd to paddocks close (but not next) to them where they can benefit from the smell of the joint buck force.

    At joining split the herd into mating groups and join for four weeks. With this method you give the does more than one oestrous cycle. Does that are cycling early during these four weeks are mated early. If they do not conceive or if the buck overlooked them, they have a second chance three weeks later. If they are not mated during the second oestrous cycle they should be culled.

  2. Before splitting the herd Into mating groups introduce teaser bucks at a rate of .5-1% of the doe herd. After two weeks split the herd into mating groups, take teasers out and introduce fertile bucks. (If you do flock mating just add the fertile bucks to the herd.) The bucks stay in for mating for 22 days. This gives them exactly one oestrous cycle plus three days of the second cycle to become pregnant, and generally 95% of the does become pregnant within these 22 days.

The second method has two benefits:

  1. It puts selection pressure on reproductive traits such as libido in bucks and fertility in does.
  2. It shortens the kidding season and reduces the labour involved with it to three weeks, with a fairly equal percentage of does kidding each day.

Nutrition

For 4 to 6 weeks prior to kidding the plane of nutrition in the flock has to be increased to provide enough energy and nutrients for the does to produce a well grown kid (birthweights with cashmeres and angoras average: female 2.45 +or- .25 Kg, male 2.75 +or- .35 Kg, while dairy breed average more than 3.5 Kg.

A suitable paddock has to be set aside to feed goats during the last weeks of pregnancy, to sustain a rising plane of nutrition. It is not wise to have a sudden change onto lush very good pasture as this may cause indigestion and pregnancy toxaemia with the does at this stage of pregnancy.

Goats that are not kept on a rising plane of nutrition generally are in danger of developing pregnancy toxaemia; the period immediately after hearing and in the last four to six weeks of pregnancy holds the greatest stress. (See Farm Note on pregnancy toxaemia). They are also vulnerable after being kept in the shearing shed or the yards without food for extended periods.

Provided nutrition is sufficient during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy, udder development prior to kidding is optimal and milk production starts on a high level. Does with good milk production have less of a tendency to abandon and mismother kids. Kids of normal birthweight are more active, cause less difficult births than undersized, weak kids, and stimulate the udder with their vigorous suckling. This leads to sustenance of high milk production, provided nutrition does not decrease after kidding.

Control of predation

During the last 4 weeks before kidding the resident fox population has to be reduced by shooting and/or baiting, as foxes seem to be the most important predators for newborn goat kids.

The foxes that are killed will be replaced sooner or later by others from the neighbourhood but that takes a while. The more concentrated and serious the effort of fox reduction the higher the weaning percentage. If no long tasting effect can be achieved, suitable fencing around the kidding paddock can be very helpful in keeping foxes away (provided they do not live in the kidding paddock).

Drenching and Vaccination

Four weeks prior to kidding the does have to be vaccinated (5 in 1 or 2 in 1) against Clostridial diseases such as Pulpy Kidney and Tetanus. They have also to be drenched before being released into the kidding paddock. This reduces the chances that the young kids acquire a big worm load early in life.

If the herd is in an iodine deficient area, at the same time a drench with potassium iodide can be given.

At this stage it is also important to check the goat's feet and foot pare overgrown hooves. A goat that cannot walk properly and consequently does not produce much milk. If foot rot is a problem on the farm, the does can be vaccinated with a footrot vaccine. (Except in an area certified footrot free).

This prevents to a large degree, severe footrot symptoms in lactating does on lush pasture

Kidding Paddocks or Pens.

The kidding paddock should not have been used by other goats, or sheep, for a few months, and it should not have been overstocked with other livestock like weaner cattle.

A kidding paddock must have shelter of some sort. It is better to have several small shelters, windbreaks, trees, shrubs, than one big shed for a large mob. As does separate prior to kidding they avoid large sheds that are used by other does and therefore derive no benefit from it.

Moveable small huts also have no benefit, if there are not as many as does kidding at any one given day. As with large flocks often 50 to 60 does or more kid daily, small huts are impractical, expensive to build and difficult to move.

Natural shelters provide the best protection. It is in the interest of the farmer to plan suitable windbreaks and shelter vegetation to reduce kid losses from weather extremes. As all goats use shelter during bad weather there is usually no grass cover around the shelter and goat droppings are a serious problem in these areas, especially when it rains and the shelter areas turn into mud puddles. A kid that happens to be born there is covered in mud and goat faeces from the moment it is born. The does do not lick them properly, as they do not like to lick the droppings. The kids do not dry out and often cannot cope with the temperature loss due to wet fleece.

Suitable kidding paddocks have a lot of vegetation, or they cover two sides of a hill which enables the does to avoid adverse weather. They may have bracken that gives a lot of cover from predators.

Kidding paddocks should not be overstocked as that results in a high worm egg contamination at a time when the doe has to go through a lot of stress (shearing, late pregnancy, birth, peak lactation, hormonal changes, etc.). The stocking rate has to be as low as possible.

It is unwise to kid in yards, in order to supervise kidding more efficiently. This is connected with a lot of unnecessary problems without any benefits. In yards, the ground is often muddy and parasite contamination high. The goats probably have to be allocated to pens, which involves yarding, drafting, dog noise, etc. The does have to adapt to this environment, which for them is no improvement to pasture.

Kidding in yards involves hand feeding and consequently a total change in diet from pasture to hay and concentrates. To avoid overcrowding of kidding yards the goats have to be shifted after kidding, either into single pens or back to the paddock. It is also unwise to transfer the does into pens immediately prior to kidding, where the doe has to cope with close confinement, in which she is put just for this purpose - once a year for one day to a week. Hay racks, water buckets, etc. restrict her movements further because the vast majority of kidding pens are only half or one third of the necessary size.

If does are to kid in pens, they should be meticulously clean. This involves a new mattress of new bedding (straw) for each individual doe, which has to be renewed after each doe has left the pen. This and the individual feeding is labour intensive. Fresh drinking water has to be available at all times for the doe - but in a container off the ground so that newborn kids cannot fall in and drown.

Gestation Length

The female, or doe, kids about 146 to 153 days after being mated. Most does kid after a gestation length of 148 to 151 days. Under normal circumstances therefore in a flock of does, a similar number of does will be kidding early (before 148 days) and late (after 151 days). If all does kid later than 150 days of pregnancy, milk iodine levels should be checked to determine whether the does are suffering from iodine deficiency.

Kidding pens and all utensils that may be of help during a difficult birth should be prepared and ready for use two weeks before the first doe is due to kid.

Birth

The expulsion of the offspring from the genital tract of a female mammal is called birth. There is no other way for mammals to produce offspring apart from giving birth.

This process is a normal process even though in some cases something may go wrong. The vast majority of females in a mammalian species gives birth several times in their lives without needing any help. The goat is no exception to that rule. The birth of the goat is called “kidding”; offspring are called "kids".

Signs Preceding Birth

Before the birth starts, the body of the doe prepares for birth and lactation. The udder swells up and milk is slowly produced so that newborn kids have immediate access to milk. The doe also produces immune substances in the first milk (the colostrum) during the last weeks of her pregnancy. These protect the newborn kid against bacterial and viral diseases in its new environment.

The process of increasing the size of the udder takes longer in maiden does that in does that have kidded previously. It is important that the doe shows sufficient udder development before kidding. On a flock basis, lack of udder development is a sure sign of insufficient nutrition.

Due to hormonal changes, the birth Is preceded by the softening of all the ligaments of the back, belly, and pelvis of the doe. This occurs three to one day(s) prior to kidding. The flanks look sunken in, the back and pelvic bones are protruding, the vulva swells up. When this process is completed, the tissues are softened up enough so that the expulsion of the kid does not damage the mother or the kid. A doe that is not prepared in that way usually suffers a hard, painful, and prolonged birth, with the additional chance of tissue damage of the birth canal and even other pelvic organs.

At Kidding

The vast majority of does kid at daylight. Only when fed in the evening or when shedded and lights are left on late into the night, a lot of does start kidding during night-time.

Rarely when kidding in a paddock does a doe need assistance after a long hard birth, (less than .2%). In pens and yards up to 5% of does need help, especially when they are shifted in and out of yards frequently. One additional problem with yarding and penning prior to kidding is that some does are actually in the process of birth when they are yarded and dragged into a pen by the horns. This upsets the natural birth process profoundly. So many of the birth problems in the doe may be caused artificially and might have been avoided by leaving them alone in their usual paddock environment and without any interference.

Once birth commences, the doe has to be left alone. Most births are completed without complications and usually the does deliver even big kids finally somehow, although these may be dead then. In close confinement, birth is easier to observe and owners tend to panic earlier than the does.

Birth is seen to happen in three stages:

  1. Opening phase - During this stage, the internal birth canal opens so that the kid can pass through from the womb to the outside world. During stage 1, only the womb contracts rhythmically. These contractions are not visible externally, as the belly muscles do not yet also contract. During the contractions of the womb, the kid -accommodated in the amnion and allantoic sacs is pushed slowly into the cervix.

    The cervix, the narrow part between the womb and the vagina is tightly closed at all times - except during oestrus (to let the semen cells in) and during birth (to let the kid out).

    The opening phase has a duration of up to several hours and both hormonal and mechanical actions are responsible for its successful completion. During this phase, the doe is restless, walks around, bleats sometimes, searches for a suitable spot in the paddock - away from the main mob -sits down, gets up again until the second phase of birth begins.

  2. Expulsion phase - The second stage is easily recognisable. The belly muscles of the doe contract and she presses - either while lying down or while standing - to expel the kid that has now entered the pelvis. This stage, for the first kid (as a single, or the first of twins or more) lasts about half an hour.

    Successive kids in multiple births usually follow in reasonably rapid succession.

    The allantoic and amnion sacs with their fluids act as a kind of shock absorber during pregnancy and also during birth, when the kid's head is pushed into the cervix. The fluids also have the function of making the birth passage slippery once the sacs burst. The doe licks the fluids from the ground. From this moment on, she will not leave this chosen place for quite a while following the birth of her kids.

    Most kids are born head and front legs first. The first part of the kid to appear in the vulva should be the hooves of the front feet, those of one foot a little bit further forward. Then the nose should appear in a position on top of the front feet, between the knees and fetlocks. In this most frequent position, the soles of the front feet face down.

    Whenever the soles of the kid's legs face upwards, wait and see whether the next parts appearing are the hocks of the kid's hind legs. If so, there is no reason to worry as the kid is being born in a normal position but with its rear end first.

    If the front feet appear, soles up or down, and the head is not visible, the doe needs skilled help to deliver her kid since it cannot be born in this position. Sometimes the head and one front foot appear first. This birth takes a bit longer, but if the kid is not too big, or the doe too small or too fat, it is completed successfully. If the head but not front feet are visible, the doe is not able to deliver the kid alone. The birth of a kid born tail first (breech birth) usually is long and very painful for the doe, who will need help.

    Whenever more than two legs are visible in the vulva, the doe needs help, as no kid can be born with more than two feet entering the pelvis at once. It may also be possible that two kids are stuck in the pelvis. The task then is to sort out which legs belong to which kid.

  3. Expulsion of foetal membranes - The third and last stage of birth is completed when the last afterbirth (in the case of multiples) is born. In goats, usually all the kids are born before the afterbirths are born.

    When the last kid is delivered, it pulls out with it a large part of the afterbirth. Whenever only a short bit of afterbirth is hanging out of the vulva after the first kid is born, there is still a chance that the doe will have another kid. After the last kid, it takes usually between half and one hour and sometimes up to eight hours until the foetal membranes are expelled.

    Many goats start eating the foetal membranes, but few ingest them totally. The membranes have no nutritional value; it is possible that eating them is a matter of hygiene, to keep the birth site clean.

    The doe usually loses a small quantity of blood from the vulva after her kids are born. This is no cause for concern. The blood soon dries and sticks, as blackish shiny crusted matter, to the tail hairs and at the back of the udder. Any discharge from the vulva that looks to contain puss or does not dry within a day is abnormal and indicates the doe needs antibiotic treatment.

Assistance During Kidding

As long as progress can be observed, eg. that the allantoic sac, feet and head are pushed out further and further, there is no reason to interfere. The noses and tongues of big kids sometimes turn bluish during a slow expulsion phase of birth, but as long as they do not turn dark purple this is still to be considered normal. The owner may assist then by pulling with some force at the kid's head behind the ears and at each front leg alternatively and in synchrony with labour, but without entering the doe's vulva with the hand. Whenever a kid is pulled out it has to be pulled downwards in the direction of the mother's udder.

Any kid that starts to be born with its head bent backwards needs skilled assistance and correction of this fault inside the mother.

Before any help is given you have to take some preparatory steps:

  1. Fingernails should not be long and/or dirty, and if you do no have scissors brush, soap and hot water available to shorten and clean them, forget birth assistance and call the veterinarian.
  2. Examine the doe and see if she is weak already. If so, would she recover after the kid was removed? Is it likely the kid will be an orphan? Is the kid dead and swelling inside the doe? Is the doe an exceptionally valuable animal? These points should be considered before you examine the goat.

Does that require assistance should be culled from the herd, and also their progeny. Assistance should only be given to relieve the pain and distress in the suffering doe, not to save one more kid. If you are not sure whether either can be saved, it is better to end the goat's life on the spot, especially if the recovered doe would not be marketable due to age, size or condition.

Once a decision to help the doe has been made, all necessary utensils should be prepared. Your veterinarian will give advice on what is required and how to assist. The most important things you need will be: hot water, soap, disinfectant, and lubricant for your hands.

Before starting, the doe has to be moved to where she can be tethered to a fence post or into a pen. The doe's backside has to be washed carefully with disinfectant to keep the birth canal clean from bacteria. If any injuries are visible, call the vet.

Wash your hands carefully three times with disinfectant, apply gel generously to hand and insert in goat's vulva. If your hand is too large and cannot be inserted, give up and call the vet. The doe is not prepared for birth and may need hormonal treatment to open the birth canal or alternatively need a caesarean.

If you find your way to the uterus and to a foot of a kid, you will find that the space is confined. The space will be warm moist and confusing, and there is less space to move your hands than all the diagrams of wombs with goat kids inside indicate.

As most goats have no problems, those that are not able to deliver their kids within a few hours after birth commences, have severe problems. The task is to correct the faulty position of a leg or bent neck, or turn a kid into the right position to enter the pelvis. The inexperienced helper may pull two legs of two different kids into the pelvis and complicate the situation further. If you have pulled out a kid successfully don't lean back with pride or go and have a cup of tea. There may be another kid inside, dead or alive, that needs to be delivered. If you go away without checking for a second (or third) kid you leave the job only half done.

Behaviour of Doe and Kid during and After Birth

Both mother and kids are highly alert during birth and for a few hours following birth. Most does give birth lying down; a few drop their kids while standing. These does may then develop that style of giving birth.

Usually the doe stands up immediately after the kid's hips are born. Some keep lying down and turn their heads to the new kid, to lick and sniff its head. These kids struggle their hind legs out of the mother's vulva and crawl forward towards her head. All goats stand up after a few minutes and lick the kids thoroughly all over, until most of the birth fluids are removed.

After a normal birth - front end first - a normal kid starts breathing and sneezing. It looks around and bleats, within a few seconds, it makes some efforts to get itself into an upright position, so it can stand up. Most kids stand on their feet within 15 minutes of being born; in kids of maiden does this may take half an hour. A kid that does not stand up within one hour following birth needs special attention.

It is not necessary to wipe the kids noses dry to clear them from mucus as the kid will have already started breathing. If the same old towel is used for all kids and hung on the fence, you do more damage to the kid (by wiping bacteria into its mouth and nose) than good.

After the kid stands, it takes only a few minutes to find the udder and suckle. There's no reason for concern if the kid does not drink immediately after birth; the vast majority have access to the udder within two hours.

The kid is born without any protective immune globulins that are responsible for fighting off organisms that cause disease. Therefore, it has to drink the all-important first milk, called colostrum. This has to happen within the first 24 hours of its life, as later on it is unable to use the immune bodies in the mother's colostrum. The colostrum also functions to stimulate the normal action of the kid's gut; it also is rich in energy and minerals. It is not possible to find a substitute for colostrum that is as good as colostrum. After about one week, the mother's milk has normal, white appearance whereas colostrum is yellow, thick, and creamy. Sometimes it has the appearance of pus and some people then think the goat has an infected udder and no milk. Because of the thick consistency of colostrum, some weak kids are not able to suckle enough of it to be sufficiently protected against diseases.

For the mother to be attracted sufficiently to a kid in order to form a functional mother-kid bond, the kid has to look around and behave normally. A kid that does not wriggle around to get on its feet is considered as abnormal by the doe. She may stay with it for a while, but finally she will wander off.

The doe has a strong affection to the place where she had kidded. If the kids are removed from the birthplace and carried away for a distance but still visible to the doe, she becomes very confused because she will not willingly give up the birth site and move to the kids. She stays on the birth site at least for a few hours. During this stage, the kids suckle several times.

After a minimum of a few hours, the mother leaves the birth site for the first time to graze or to drink water - but only when the kids are well hidden (in her opinion) and sleeping. She returns as soon as possible.

Some mothers who have kidded early in the morning shift their kids back to the night camp of the main mob on the same day but most does would not make a move so soon. Some even stay away from the mob for a few days. Maiden does are sometimes not confident enough to stay on their own overnight and may leave their kids in order to spend the night with the main mob. The separation of doe and kid from the herd has the function of developing a good mother-kid bond so that the doe and her kids learn to know each other without being confused by other does and other kids.

Vaccination of Kids

During the first few weeks, the kids are protected against common diseases, Pulpy Kidney and Tetanus by the antibodies that they have ingested in the Colostrum.

At the age of 4- 6 weeks they have to be vaccinated with 5 in 1 or 2 in 1 to give them new protection, as immunity received from the doe loses its effect by then. Four weeks later, the kids have to be re-vaccinated with 5 in 1 or 2 in 1 to achieve a long tasting immunity for 6 months. All kids have to be re-vaccinated at 6 monthly intervals throughout their lives to prevent death from Pulpy Kidney.

At the time of vaccination rings may be put on all unwanted male kids and only selected buck kids are left entire. A short kidding season of 3 - -4 weeks is very helpful in avoiding several vaccination dates as all kids can be vaccinated on the same day.

Weaning

If your flock kids over a period of 10 weeks the youngest kids are vaccinated the first time (at 4 weeks) when the oldest kids should be weaned (14 weeks). With a kidding period of four weeks the age difference is four weeks only, and kids are comparable at weaning so that those with poor growth rate up to weaning can be culled at that stage already. (Even if they are grown out to sell when they reach a suitable bodyweight.)

Kids have to be weaned onto good pasture, the best available at that time of the year. The paddock has to be well fenced to teach the kids some respect for fences. It is undesirable to wean kids into yards as this involves hand feeding, crowding, wet ground and the danger of clinical coccidiosis. If kids have to be handfed after weaning only the best available hay is good enough, to prevent a severe post weaning weight loss. With unsuitable weaning procedures, kids do not regain their weaning weight within a month of weaning and sometimes they do no grow at all for about six months.

At weaning the kids have to be drenched with a product that is effective against the worms on the farm, before they are released onto the new pasture.

Concluding Remarks

The skills of the management at time of mating, kidding and weaning, have the greatest influence on the genetic progress and viability of the herd (in monetary terms). Genetic progress depends to a large extent on the number of kids and does that can be culled each year, and the generation interval, which can be halved if the doe kids can be joined in their first instead of their second year of life.

© 1985 A.C.G.A.