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Kidding difficulties

  • Dr John McDonald, district veterinary officer, Alexandra

When to leave the doe alone. When to help. When to call the vet

Normally, kidding is a "hands off" situation with no need for panic or assistance by the owner. Nevertheless, assistance is necessary if no kids are delivered within half an hour of the doe starting serious straining and breaking of the water bag.

Kidding problems are not common in goats because of the relatively small size of the kids in relation to the diameter of the pelvis of the doe. Nevertheless, some oversized kids occur and there are a number of possible abnormal birth positions due to multiple births and the "legginess" of the kids.

Difficult births are most common in Anglo-Nubians because they are more likely to have triplets or quads, which can get tangled up. Saanen does kidding for the first time may have a big single buck kid with a large head which could cause problems.

Responsible and experienced goat owners can assist most does that are having kidding difficulties. Novice breeders of complicated cases may require assistance from a veterinarian. With multiple kids some experience, commonsense and patience are generally all that is required. Also, avoid using great force, which will injure or paralyse the doe.

The point at which veterinary assistance is required should be discussed with your local practitioner. Depending on the ability of the goat owner and the location of the farm, some practitioners will provide owners with obstetrical lubricant and pessaries to facilitate manipulation of kids within the uterus.

Others will advise against any manipulation past the vagina. In any case, assistance should be sought if no progress is made after manipulation for more than a quarter of an hour. If a Caesarian section is required than any further delays will only exhaust the doe further and increase the risk of the vagina and uterus becoming swollen and bruised.

Kidding - normal

Does will kid (on average) 150 days, or about 5 months from the date of service; this time can range from between 147 to 155 days.

During the final month of pregnancy the doe's girth and udder increase tremendously in size.

Just before kidding, the vulva becomes soft and flabby and the doe may sometimes lose interest in feed, appear restless, grunt or bleat, lie down and get up repeatedly. When she passes strings or clear blood-stained mucous, labor is only hours away.


There are two types of kid presentation at birth, these are:

Front first: when the water bag (a dark round bulge) breaks and is followed by two feet and a nose. Does usually labor for 15 to 45 minutes to deliver the first kid. If all appears well leave her alone. Many owners like to be involved, but they should not upset the doe and cause unnecessary trouble.

Hind first: when two hind feet and no head follow the water bag. The soles of the feet will face up instead of down. It is generally easier for the doe to give birth to a kid in this position without the abrupt bulge of the head. The only problem is that if birth is delayed when the kid is half out, the umbilical cord can be squashed off or broken by the pelvis of the doe so that the kid tries to start breathing while its head is still in the uterus, and it suffocates.

General advice on kidding difficulties


Keep does handy during kidding time to allow frequent inspection, and yarding or shedding should assistance be necessary. Usually the doe will give birth unassisted, but you should be prepared for an abnormal delivery.

Keep your fingernails short during the kidding season in case an emergency requires you to assist in the birth of a kid. Short fingernails will lessen the risk of scratching or tearing the wall of the uterus.

Preparation of the doe

The first step is to catch the doe and restrain her for examination. If she has been in trouble for some time she will be lying on her side and it is in this position that most does can be assisted with the operator kneeling behind them. Sometimes the hindquarters of the doe may need to be elevated to allow a kid to be more easily pushed forward for re-positioning, especially if two kids are blocking the birth canal. A bale of hay under the abdomen may assist.

The hindquarters of the doe should be cleaned with antiseptic and the operators hands and arms should be thoroughly scrubbed and soaked in antiseptic and obstetrical lubricant. Two buckets of warm water are often used – one for washing the doe and the other for use by the operator.

Obstetrical examination

In goats, as in sheep, the wall of the uterus is thin and easily torn compared to the thicker, tougher uterus of cattle. The uterus and vagina of a goat dry out quickly if assistance is prolonged. Saline douches and plenty of obstetrical lubricant are helpful. Obstetrical lubricant can be purchased or made up by shaking antiseptic and clean paraffin oil together.

The examination commences by seeing or feeling if the neck of the uterus has opened, what part or parts of the kid or kids are coming first, and why or if it is stuck. The hand should be slightly cupped, the thumb tucked in between the fingers and inserted through the vulva to feel and assist the kid.

Supplies and drugs

Supplies to have on hand include a couple of snares (strong cord, about 600mm long and with a noose on each end), penicillin injection to be given after assisting, or antibiotic uterine pessaries. These will help eliminate infection that is likely to be introduces when manipulation and assistance is given.

Assistance at kidding

When pulling kids, time your pulling to coordinate with the doe's straining and labor contractions. Once the kid is coming out always pull in a downward direction, that is towards the udder of the doe. Don't yank or pull suddenly and abruptly on the kid, ease it out from side to side, or up and down slightly, to gradually get it out. Rub lubricant around the kid if it becomes dry.

The most common decision which has to be made is whether to feel inside for another kid when the first has been delivered. This presents the danger of introducing infection, and it would be very wise to wash hands and arms again before doing this. If the doe does not continue to strain and the after-birth comes away easily, no further investigation should be needed. If your hand as already been in the uterus, provided your hand and arm are clean, you can check to see that all kids have been removed.

After birth, place the kid near the doe's nose to reinforce mothering instinct, especially if the doe is tired. She will usually lick the kid to get it dry and stimulate better breathing.

If the kid has had a difficult birth and there is "rattling" breathing, hang it upside down to drain, wipe the mucus out of its mouth and give a few gentle taps on the sides. In dirty surroundings, disinfection of the navel with iodine is advised.

Cold is the main killer of weak kids. Artificial heat such as a well-covered hot water bottle in a suitable box, or even a heater or warm oven in the house, may be necessary to get a weak kid going in cold conditions.

Kidding - abnormal

There are a number of abnormal kid positions. Suggested remedies are as follows:

Large head and shoulders - tight delivery

Peel the vulva back over the head while easing the head forward, either using a snare around the back of the head (not the neck) and tightening the mouth, or by grasping the head using a thumb and forefingers in the front of the sockets of the eyes. Pull one leg at a time to make more room. If the kid is much too big or the pelvis too small to make any progress, seek assistance.

Front half out, hips stuck

Gently pull the kid, swinging it from side to side to make it slip out. If this doesn't work, try rotating the kid a quarter turn while pulling.

Head first with one or both legs back

Quite often gentle pulling will assist birth to a small to normal size kid in this position. If no progress is made, check that the legs and head belong to the same kid.

You may have to push the head back to get space to slip the legs up. Shield the uterus from being torn by the hoof by cupping your hand over it as you draw it up over the brim of the pelvis. When the head and two front legs are in position pull the head out. It often helps to attach snares to the head and one or two legs before they are pushed back.

With a large kid often only the swollen head is out, and the kid is dead. The head may have to be cut off the kid before it is pushed back so the front legs can be found and pulled out.

Both legs out, head turned back or down

Identify the front legs (soles facing downwards) slip a noose over each and push them back to allow access to the head.

Pull the head forward with your hand or a noose around the back of the head and tightening inside the mouth. Then pull the front legs out (by means of the attached cords) and ease the kid out in the correct position.

Breech first is an "impossible birth"

The tail may be hanging out but the hind legs are pointed away from the pelvis opening with the kid coming backwards. Push the buttocks forward and ease one hind leg at a time up over the brim of the pelvis in a flexed position, being careful not to tear the uterus with the hoof. Then pull the kid out in a hind-first position.

Crossways with legs pointing away or through the pelvic opening

This will take a bit of figuring out, but again push the kid away and rotate it to allow delivery. If the hind legs are as convenient as the front, chose the hind legs and you won’t have to reposition the head.

Twins coming out together

There are many possibilities. The most common is the hind legs of the second twin coming with the front legs and/or head of the first twin. One twin, usually the one coming backwards, is pushed back allowing the other twin to move ahead. However, the primary rule is to deliver the one which requires the least manoeuvring first. Take your time and work carefully and slowly, so that you know what you are doing.

Abnormal births that require veterinary help

In complicated births, where you don’t feel competent, work for no longer than 15 minutes before you seek assistance. Such situations may include large kids (requiring a caesarean), dead kids which may be swollen (requiring some dismembering), twisting of the uterus, uterine inertia (labor contractions are weak) and monstrosities or deformed kids.

Other problems related to kidding

Retained afterbirth

The placenta is usually passed within one hour of kidding and must be removed within 12 hours of kidding because by then the neck of the womb is mostly closed.

Don't try and unbutton the cotyledons at kidding time because this can cause excessive bleeding. Usually this is done by a vet using an antibiotic cover. Pessaries containing stilboestrol should not be used because they can cause agalacta (drying up of the milk) and nymphomania (constant heat or oestrus).

Metritis or infection of the uterus

Such problems are common after difficult birth and retained afterbirth. The "normal" discharge is thick and dark reddish-brown. It starts a few days after kidding and lasts for two or three weeks before it clears up without treatment. However, if the discharge is a different colour, is purulent (pus) or has a smell and the doe is ill (off her feed, feverish and down in milk production) call the vet.

Prolapse of the vagina, cervix or uterus

This problem can affect either a single doe or occur in outbreaks. Call the vet to treat the first one or two and he will be able to advise you on subsequent action.

Vaginal prolapse can be treated by washing the protruding tissues clean with cold water and antiseptic and gently pushing them back into place. A device can then be inserted to hold the vagina in place. Such devices are a U-shaped wire which is attached to a harness around the chest; a device resembling a plastic cathanger which is tied to the hair; or a 150mm piece of garden hose with one end inserted in the vagina and tape running through holes in the other (outside) end which is then tied to the hair.

An alternative to using these therapies is to gently but firmly replace the prolapsed vagina by hand, then prevent reoccurrence by suturing (sewing) around or across the lips of the vulva.

Expulsion of such devices or stitches occurs unaided at kidding time, provided they are only tied to a little of the hair or only medium strength cotton is used for stitching.

When to call for assistance

Remember that a doe needs assistance if she can't deliver her kids after half an hour's serious effort. Once it is obvious that assistance is necessary, try to size up the situations quickly and decide whether you can cope or not. If a vet is needed, call him early - don't expect him to rush out and perform miracles after you and the doe are thoroughly exhausted.

© 1981 Vic. Dept. Ag.