Pygmy goats part 6: an introduction to breeding
Newcomers to breeding – for whom this section is primarily intended – will probably have scanned the internet for information, spoken to friends and other goat keepers on the topic and as a consequence, will perhaps be feeling thoroughly confused and a little scared at the prospect. This is all very natural: I well remember how I felt some twenty years ago when I first started. The world wide web was not accessible then which is, I feel, a blessing in certain respects as today there is so much on it that I consider to be uninformed and misleading. Some of the information offered is sound and sensible: it is being able to distinguish between the reliable and the questionable.
My aim will be to provide the inexperienced breeder with enough information to ensure that he or she is as well prepared and as confident as possible. Remember that too much information can sometimes be as damaging as too little, so I shall attempt to steer a middle course.
Make sure that your breeding females are of sound conformation, healthy and from good, well established blood lines. Ideally, anyone new to breeding should start with a female or females that has given birth at least twice beforehand without any complications, but this is not always possible. Most start out with two female kids and breed from these once they reach the goatling stage. Whatever the scenario, try and find out as much as possible about the breeding record of your kids’ parents. Does their mother have a history of birthing difficulties? What about the father? If possible have a look at his off-spring and try and find out if any of them have difficult breeding histories. Remember that your kids owe 50% of their conformation and genetic make up to their dam and 50% to their father, so problems can be inherited from either side.
Do not contemplate owning your own entire male when first starting out. At the very least, you will need to have at the very least a herd of four or five females before even thinking about owning your own. They require special accommodation etc. and should not be purchased without a great deal of guidance from someone whose opinion you can trust. When you do decide to buy your own male , do not buy the first one offered to you. Take your time until you are completely happy with your decision. Apart from selecting a stud animal with good conformation and sound bloodlines, his temperament is of prime importance: the last thing that a relative newcomer needs is a bad tempered billy who will wreck his accommodation and be a nightmare to handle.
Going back to selecting a male for breeding purposes, try and select a stud goat owner who is prepared to offer boarding facilities. They can then mate your females when the appropriate time arrives. Do not select one who just lets the females run with the billy unsupervised, possibly with other people’s females, until they have hopefully been mated. Such a practice is a recipe for disaster in my view, for several reasons. Breeders worth their salt will either take the male to the female when she is ready, supervise a mating, and then repeat the procedure an hour or two later if both parties still appear to have the inclination. Alternatively, the female can be allowed to run, in a limited space, with the male until they mate and then be removed.
If at all possible, visit the premises beforehand so that you can perhaps select a prospective male. Discuss the matter with the owner of the stud goats. Most will be only too pleased to advise.
A vitally important factor to bear in mind is that there are legal requirements governing the taking of animals of either gender to other premises for breeding purposes. These need to be clarified and understood well in advance. If in doubt, contact your local Trading Standards Office who will put you in touch with the appropriate department.
When should a female be mated?
A female should not be mated until she is at least eighteen months old, however mature she might outwardly appear. She will then be coming up or will have just arrived at, her second birthday by the time that she gives birth. Make sure that she is definitely sufficiently well grown to be mated for the first time. Seek advice if you are not sure.
It is absolutely vital that your female is not overweight when taken to be mated. Goats store fat internally around the vital organs, including the uterus. This seriously restricts the space available for expansion during foetal development and during labour. Mal-presentations, and therefore difficult kiddings, can frequently result as a consequence.
I would suggest that any inexperienced goat keeper should wait until October/November before putting the female into kid. She will then kid in March or April with the Spring ahead and with hopefully better weather to come. This would also be advisable on the grounds that seeking veterinary assistance, if necessary, would be easier in better weather conditions: just imagine being snowed in or with icy, dangerous roads when a vet’s presence is necessary.
Recognising the signs of oestrus
Pygmy goats cycle throughout the year but the signs are less obvious during the summer months. They are easier to recognise from about September onwards. Adult females come into season at approximately every three weeks but a goatling’s cycle can be somewhat less predictable. Eventually, though, it will settle down and become more regular.
The signs can vary as can the duration of oestrus. The first indication is the wagging of the tail, which tends to be held a little higher in the air than normal. Some females become quite vocal, incessantly calling for a partner, which can be off putting for neighbours if they are not aware of what is happening. The vaginal entrance can become a little pink and swollen with a degree of mucous present. Stroppy females can actually become more affable, for obvious reasons! Wethers, if kept, can show an unusual interest in the in-season female and can attempt to mount her. A wether is quite useful for detecting such females, often before her owner. Not all of these symptoms are always present. Some females do not call for a mate, whilst others do so in a half hearted manner, often missed. Others may not wag their tails or have a very little show of mucous. It is a matter of careful observation which might not always be accurate.
The period of oestrus can vary from one day to three or four. The second or even the third day is thought to be the best time to mate. It is highly recommended to keep a record of when oestrus occurs for the two or three cycles before taking your female to be mated and then transporting her at least a week before the calculated time of the next cycle if taking advantage of boarding facilities. Being in the presence of a male stud goat can bring on oesrus early.
Once mated, it is a matter of waiting to see if your female returns. Oestrus signs will be repeated if she does and she will need to be mated again. This could occur within three or four days after the original mating, but could also occur when the next cycle is due i.e. three weeks later. To make matters more confusing, your goat could return three weeks later despite being pregnant so the original mating date should never be ignored.
Assuming that your goat has been successfully mated then it is now a matter of carrying on as normal. Do not change her feed level. She will begin to increase in size gradually until it becomes increasingly obvious that she is in kid. There is some merit in having her scanned at about six weeks into the pregnancy. Knowing how many kids to expect helps you determine her feed pattern for the last six weeks. It will also give you a certain peace of mind knowing that she is in fact in kid and also knowing how many kids to expect.
Preparing for kidding
The gestation period for goats ranges from 145 to 155 days. Anywhere within that period is regarded as normal. Most Pygmy goats give birth earlier rather than later, at 147 to 150 days.
Around two weeks before kidding time, thoroughly clean out and disinfect the kidding pen. Move the pregnant female into it, so that she can get used to micro-organisms that are present in that particular environment. It will also ensure that the antibodies in her colostrum, unique to her, can be established. Make sure that all sources of draft are excluded and that she always has a deep, clean bed available.
Certain pieces of equipment should be prepared in anticipation. Don’t leave the gathering together of essentials until a day or so before the imminent kidding date. Goats have a habit of catching us off guard.
- Your vet’s. telephone number displayed in a prominent position or already recorded in your mobile phone, which is at hand
- Plenty of old towels, varying in size. Must all be spotlessly clean
- Lubricating gel
- A collar and lead as well as someone else present to hold the goat if necessary
- Iodine or an antibiotic spray
- Sachet of powdered colostrum and feeding bottle with appropriate teat (for lambs)
- If there is no permanent lighting, a good powerful torch
- A heat lamp with a long chain and a way of attaching it at least 5ft above the floor
- A plastic bag or old feed bag to store the afterbirth
Other useful aids
A CCTV camera fixed up over the pen is an absolute god send but does not always work if the goat house is situated too far from the house. A wireless one need not cost the earth and gives a reasonable picture but a cabled one is better if practical. Small screens can be purchased as part of the kit if your camera is not to be connected directly to the TV set. Having cameras installed saves having to go out at frequent intervals at night to check your goat.
If no cameras are available, consider a baby alarm. These again can be most useful with one end erected on the wall near the pen and the other in the house. However, be prepared for false alarms as all sounds are recorded, including the munching of the hay which seems to be highly augmented especially at night.
Plenty of warm clothing is a must, especially in the early hours of the morning. A hot water bottle, a packet of biscuits (or the like) and a flask of tea can also be welcome additions. Perhaps even an interesting magazine.
From a personal point of view, prepare yourself for kidding by ensuring that all rings and watches are removed, that nails are trimmed right back, that hands are thoroughly and regularly washed and hair, if long, tied well back out of the way. Waterproof over-trousers are really essential as the surrounding area after birth has taken place can be somewhat wet, not to mention bloody. Needless to say, they should be clean and free from any trace of dirt.
The Kidding Process
Initial signs can be misleading and can start about two weeks before the actual birth. On the other hand, they can present themselves just a few days before the event, so observation from now on is key. These include a puffiness around the vagina and even slight discharge of mucous. At this stage, the udder can begin to develop, gradually increasing in size. The goat could even begin to isolate herself periodically from the rest of the herd. Having access to specific kidding dates is a great help in determining where these initial signs come in the actual birth time-scale. Knowing what happens next is your most useful guide.
The vagina becomes increasingly swollen and puffy, with a visible increase in the string of mucous. The udder looks tight and full. The goat isolates herself notably from the rest of the herd. If still out, now is the time to bring her inside, into her kidding pen. Perhaps a companion goat placed in the next pen, visible to her, will help her feel most relaxed and secure, especially if she is a first time kidder. She is now in the first stage of labour.
It is difficult to predict exactly when your animal will progress to the next stage of labour and indeed how long it will remain in the first stage before moving on to the second or birthing stage. It could range from two or three hours to as much as twelve or more. One thing’s for sure, you cannot afford to disappear from the scene for long periods of time once she shows the initial signs.
During the first stage, most goats will appear restless, pawing the ground to make a ‘nest’ or bed. A primitive instinct and one reason why the bedding should be spotlessly clean throughout, not just on the surface. She may be seen talking to her sides and will constantly move from one position to the next.
Initial contractions begin during the first stage, which cause the restless response. The time scale between these first stage contractions and the more forceful, positive ones associated with giving birth proper, as I have already said, is impossible to predict but when the goat begins to push hard, probably lying down (but not always) and stretching out on one side, then birth is not very far away. Now, you must be there. Your goat’s or indeed your future kids life/ves could literally depend on it.
The female will push hard and gradually the vagina will dilate until the sac will emerge, a bubble – like bag, known sometimes as the water bag. It may well contain the emerging kid, hopefully with two hooves followed by the head, slightly behind the legs. This would be a normal birth, with the kid in the correct presentation. Once the head and hooves are through, the rest of the foetus emerges quite quickly.
Sometimes the kid’s face is covered with membranes of the sac, which must be broken and any excess mucous wiped away. Clear the mouth and nostrils with your hands or with a towel, ensuring that the air passages are free and that the kid is breathing. There may well be a little coughing and spluttering for a while, which is why you need to keep drying off the kid’s face and mouth until you are absolutely certain the airways are clear. If there appears to be a lot of fluid being coughed up or coming out of the kid’s nostrils, carefully lift the kid upside down from its back legs to allow the fluid to drain. Whilst upside down, keep clearing its nose and mouth of fluid until it is able to breath normally. This is only likely to occur if a kidding has taken too long or been too stressful.
At this stage the mother will be looking for her kid, wanting to clean it. Give the kid to her for her to carry on with the job, even if by now she is in the process of pushing out another kid. The cleansing of the first kid will not interfere with the contractions and is more likely to take her mind off the pain of the second delivery. Follow the same procedure with the second kid. The drying off of the kids by the mother is an integral part of the bonding process: it is nature’s way. However, should it be a bitterly cold night and the newly born kids are shivering, assistance with a dry towel will be sensible.
Once the kids are relatively dry, leave them with their mother whilst you begin mopping up the wetness from the floor and replacing the wet bedding with dry, clean straw. Bank up the sides of the pen with straw to eliminate any drafts and to add extra warmth.
Above: a video depicting a textbook birth
Next, offer the female a bucket of warm water, to which might be added a level dessert spoonful of powdered glucose or molasses. She will have become quite dehydrated during kidding and will appreciate a long drink. The added glucose will give her a welcome energy boost.
Now turn your attention to the kids who may well by now be staggering onto their feet and looking for the milk bar. The finding of it is by no means automatic: they frequently begin their quest at entirely the wrong end, probing into the front legs or underbelly of their mum. Eventually they tend to work their way down to her rear but could start suckling on the hair around her back legs instead of on her teats. The female’s teats have a plug on the end of them to prevent the entrance of bacteria into the udder. Kids may not have the strength to remove these plugs by suckling so make absolutely sure that there is a flow of milk available by holding the teats, one after the other, in your hand above the opening and squeezing down until the milk begins to flow. It will squirt out once the plugs drop away. Leave the kids for a while to locate the teats by themselves. Mum will also assist by gently butting them towards the correct site. Once you are certain that the kids have been successful in latching on and that their little bellies are relatively full, leave them for a while to continue bonding with their mother.
The first milk from the mother’s udder is called colostrum and is vital that the kid/s receive a good dose of this within the first six days after being born. It is very thick and sweet and has several roles within the new born. Firstly it is nice and warm so will keep the body heat up. Remember that kids have a high surface area to volume ratio which means that they lose heat to the surrounding environment , largely by evaporation, very easily. Full bellies will slow this process. The other even more important role of colostrum is to provide the kid with antibodies to give immunity against bacteria and viruses that it will come across in the big wide world and, in basic terms, provide protection against scour and pneumonia. However, the gut of the newborn is only able to absorb these antibodies for a finite amount of time. This ability decreases over the first 10-12 hours of life and by the time that the kid is 24 hours old, its ability to absorb antibodies will have virtually disappeared. So, check that they have had a good feed within 6 hours of being born and if not, milking the mother and bottle feeding/ stomach tubing them with the colostrum may become necessary.
Starting with the latching on of the kids to their mother’s udder. Try as they may, some kids just don’t get it. You can’t allow them to give up and lie down. As has already been stated, colostrum in their stomachs is essential within the first six hours of birth and ideally, well before that. If the kid cannot locate the teats squirt a little of the milk around the face of the kid and into the side of its lips. This sometimes works. Try also placing the teat gently in its mouth and squeezing some milk into it. If there is still ‘no go’ try squirting a few drops into its mouth out of a syringe then try again with holding the teat. Some kids are just plain stupid and take a time to cotton on.
If all else fails, it could be necessary to drop by drop feed it using a syringe or even bottle feeding it for a while. Don’t give up. A bottle-fed kid may well ‘get the message’ if only a day or two later. Most will suckle within the first few hours, with a little patience on your behalf. On many occasion, I have resorted to bottle feeding only to find that the kid, now having got the technique, will convert to suckling from its mother quite naturally within the first day or so, so again, keep on trying. A reluctant kid can also be tube fed but this process is not for the beginner. It requires a vet. or an experienced keeper.
Should bottle feeding be the only answer, it could still bond and live with its mother so don’t be too eager to separate the two. If the kid is on the other hand rejected then there could be no alternative other than to have them live apart. Bottle fed kids will require colostrum for the first few days and other than milking off the feeds from its mother, which can be time consuming and not always easy, commercial, powdered sachets of lamb’s colostrum, diluted as directed may have to be used. Keep a few of these in your kidding box, just in case. Following that, powdered ewe’s milk is the only alternative unless you are lucky enough to have dairy goat friends who can supply you with a fresh supply from their herd, possibly to be stored frozen and used when required from your freezer.
A Guide to bottle feeding Pygmy goats
This is a rough guide as much depends on the size of the kid. Do not overfeed.
0-1 week – 6 feeds of 1-2fl ozs/30-60mls
1-2 weeks – 4 feeds of 2-3 fl ozs/60-90mls
2-4 weeks – 3 feeds of 4-6 fl ozs/ 120-160 mls
6 -10 weeks – 1-2 feeds of reducing amount
Should be used at a temperature of about 102 F/38.9C (Table taken from PGC Booklet 2008)
On most occasions kidding will proceed as described and will be straight forward but you must be prepared for the event not quite going according to plan. The main thing is not to panic. Your tension will be transferred to the goat so keep calm and act appropriately.
The first so called malpresentation is not, in some people’s books, a malpresentaion at all, but rather a ‘normal’ alternative. This is when there is what is called a posterior presentation. In other words, the back legs are presented first. For this, the soles of the hooves are turning upwards and the legs bend upwards. Speed is of the essence in a posterior presentation as the umbilical cord would in all probability be broken, so the kid is no longer reliant upon its mother for its survival. It has to be birthed quickly before it makes an attempt to breath as if it does, then its lungs could quickly fill up with fluid.
Assist with every contraction, gently but firmly pulling on the kids legs, above the ankle joint, moving gradually upwards as it emerges. Once the barrel is obvious, try and hold the rib cage tight in an attempt to stop the kid from taking an inward breath until it is birthed. Once out, break the bag around its head if it is still intact and clear the air passages promptly. It may be already coughing and spluttering and will be in need of assistance to clear its lungs, in which case catch it firmly between its back legs, swinging it gently from side to side, at the same time slapping its chest. Any liquid should soon be removed from the lungs if it has penetrated that far and the newly born kid will start shaking its head etc. Once its lungs are clear, treat it as you would an anterior presentation.
If the female has been having strong contractions for some time, say about fifteen to twenty minutes, without anything appearing, although the vagina has dilated, then something is amiss. Time to think about contacting your vet. if only for advice.
If it is obvious that the head is protruding without the legs, then definitely call the vet. The legs can sometimes be located by sliding well lubricated fingers up alongside the head and flicking it forward with the fingers cupped over the hoof, until it emerges. If not, then there is a positive risk that if the head is left in that position for too long, that it will swell up and will not be able to be pushed back into the uterus. Sometimes a kid can be birthed with only one leg forward but, if possible, try and get both through first.
Another scenario is that of the legs appearing but no sign of the head, which probably has fallen back and is lying sidewards. This too needs a vet’s intervention.
Remember that the vet is not likely to appear as if by magic within the next quarter of an hour or so, especially if your property is quite a distance away, so the quicker he/she can be contacted the better. Most vets. would prefer to attend what turns out to be a false alarm than to be contacted after a ‘just let’s wait and see’ period only to be confronted with a far more difficult situation.
Alternatively, take the goat to the vet’s premises. Prepare the back of an open-boot vehicle, a van or even a trailer in advance in order to transport the female should it be necessary. At least then, if a caesarian is necessary, the facilities are on site.
Although having had Pygmy goats for the past twenty years, I still would not attempt to remedy a difficult kidding that demands any more from me than has already been described. However, we are fortunate to live only a couple of miles from our veterinary practice which employs excellent staff.
The thing is to act quickly and concisely and if a Caesarean proved necessary, do not despair. Far better to make a decision to perform one earlier than later after long, painful, tiring attempts at correction which leaves the female exhausted and less likely to cope with the additional trauma of a Caesarean section on top of everything else.
Once the decision has been made to perform a caesarean section, post operative advice is best sought from the veterinarian who has carried it out.
A few points before ending
The after-birth could take up to eight hours or so to emerge. Whatever you do, do not attempt to pull it out. The mother will probably eat it if you are not present to remove it but there is always a slight risk that she could choke on it (it has been known) so get rid if possible. Sometimes, the afterbirth is retained, so if you suspect that all or even a part of it is still inside the goat, then send for the vet.
Do not feed the female too many concentrates for the first couple of days after kidding. Better to feed good quality roughage and mixed vegetables which she will relish.Introduce her normal quantity of concentrates gradually, then slowly increase the feed to meet the additional demands that feeding her kids will make on her.
Do not forget to worm the female about 48 hours after kidding and to make sure that her vaccination programme is up to date.
I have attempted to give the best advice that I am able to give to inexperienced goat keepers, so good luck and I sincerely hope that all goes well.
My sincere thanks must go to my veterinary surgeon, Rebecca Darby, who kindly read through this section, making certain amendments that have greatly improved the text.
Pygmy Goats -Management and Veterinary Care. by Lorrie Boldrick D.M.V. A.K.A., Lorrie Blackburn A.K.A. And Lydia Hale. Ist. Edition 1996 All Publishing Company, Orange, California.
The Goatkeepers Veterinary Book by Peter Dunn 3rd Edition Farming Press, Ipswich.
‘Do’s and Dont’s of Kidding’ by Mary Blanevoort, D.V.M. NPGA
‘Best of Memo’ 1976 -1981.
Pygmy Goats – An Introduction to Management and Breeding by P.G.C.
Members, revised edition June 2008 Dinefwr Press, Llandybie, Carms.
Goat Health & Veterinary Care by David Harwood 1st Edition 2006
Crowood Press Ltd. Marlborough
Part 7 An introduction to showing
Part 1 – Before buying your goats
Part 2 – Providing the appropriate environment
Part 3 – Routine tasks
Part 4(a) – Nutrition – the ruminant stomach
Part 4(b) – Nutrition – feeding according to need
Part 5 – Health
Part 6 – An introduction to breeding
Part 7 – Attending shows
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